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The heart of things

Chapter Text

For hundreds of years, there in the heart of the Savalirwood laid the Blooming Groove. Tucked away deep into the forest, it was a place of rest, of mourning and of peace. And for many years, a place of loneliness as well. Caduceus Clay took care of the humble home on his own, Tending to the graves and gardens that surrounded the house. For years now the once crowded home housed just a single firbolg. It was bound to happen, after their parent’s death, the Clay siblings had to make a choice of dwelling in it or moving on. They all did the latter, except for Caduceus Clay.

He didn’t hold it against his siblings of course. He was proud of them, and wished them all the best for what life could bring them. They made sure to send him messages and even visit on the rare occasion they could. But firbolgs had a bad sense of time, and those periods could stretch for long. He stayed because the memories of this place he grew in didn’t hurt him more than they brought him a bittersweet happiness. Someone had to take care of the graves after all. They couldn’t look after themselves.

It’s what he told himself as dull after dull day passed him by, but Caduceus never really left the Blooming Grove.

Seasons went by and he fell victim to stagnation, feeling a strange comfort in just how mundane his daily decisions were.

Wake up, clean up, make food, take care of this place, pray, sleep, repeat.

Sometimes he’d get people too, coming to bury their dead. For the occasion, he’d bring his nicer tea and his comfort. He’d listen to their sorrows and let them break down so they could start building themselves up again. And then, they’d leave. Strangely enough, few ever came back to visit any dead buried there. Caduceus wasn’t too sure if that was good or bad, but he never dwelled on it too much. He just did his part.

He couldn’t even remember what the last time he had gone to any city was. He would sometimes tell himself he’d go soon, to fix his breaking appliances or to replace things that didn’t grow in the near nature. But he’d put it off, finding another silly solution to avoid fixing the problem.

Maybe he was avoiding many things.

But no one lived close enough to judge him. It was just him, the wildmother and the dead.

Two of those couldn’t express any disappointments they could have about him.

And so Caduceus Clay lived his life like that for many years.

 

But there wouldn’t be a story to tell if things had remained like that forever. 

 

 

Caduceus stares at the bush of roses by the gate. A frown is stuck on his face as he examines the poor wilting things. They were beautiful things, a red so vivid, only a few days ago.

Now they were just dying.

“Are you feeling down? Or is something else bothering you?” He mumbles to the flowers, letting his fingers carefully thread through the leaves. He hadn’t made any significant changes in his routine to have resulted in such a sudden change in them, but sometimes plants could get moody, so all Caduceus could do was keep an eye and try to remedy any damages best he could.

The roses didn’t answer him anyway.

He gets up from his crouch and dusts his knees of mud. He was out collecting a few more vegetables to eat when the little plant caught his attention. He adjusts the basket that is on his back and continues his way through the open gates of the Blooming Grove.

There’s another sea of colors within there from the different wild plants growing about, though not as colorful as they could be due to the season. But fall has a beauty of its own, and Caduceus appreciates it nonetheless.

Stepping over fallen leaves and past stone slabs, he makes his way to his wooden house.

He pushes the door open with one hand, humming as he lets himself in. The door is never locked, there’s only him there, and anyone else is welcome inside for a moment if respite.

He takes the basket off his back and drops it on the table in the kitchen.

He opens it and sniffs the inside.

He was thinking about making veggie stew today. Again. But he has some mushrooms now, so something just a little different.

He doesn’t mind either way. Veggie stew is great.

It was warm, tasty, homey, and it was what his mother made him whenever he was sick or had trouble sleeping. With the cold coming soon, it felt only fitting.

And if it helped Caduceus withs sleeping problems too, then that was just great.

It was not often that Caduceus felt himself fighting against the throes of sleep. But lately, a night's rest had become just a wish. Insomnia struck him as a strange feeling crawled through his skin at night, and once sleep came, it was short and left him feeling unrested.

It wasn’t very nice, but as with most things in his life, he just waited patiently for it to pass.

And veggie stew hopefully would help.

 

He starts washing the produce, humming along to a song in his head. He peels and chops down everything he needs for the recipe. He likes the place. From where he stands, he can see through the large windows of the kitchen on the wall in front of him, and past that, he can catch a glimpse of the entrance of the grove. It’s specially nice in times like these, when the sun starts setting and the whole place starts getting painted in oranges and pinks. Though he’s a fan of the sunrise too.

He goes through the motions of cooking with not too much attention, but with enough care, and in time he is rewarded with a big pot filled with veggie stew.

It’s too much for one person. Specially him.

He serves himself a portion and sits down in the living room with a piping hot bowl.

He starts working again on this scarf he was trying to make, sipping on his soup as he goes until night time comes and it is time to sleep.

He puts away his leftovers and lets his project lie somewhere safe.

“Good night.” He tells the house and retires to his room.

It's a big room for one person, especially when he was used to sharing it with at least one sibling, but the place was changed so that it only housed his bed. There is a wardrobe, a desk, a nice carpet to sit down and think and lots of space to just wander around.

Some plants as well, that Caduceus checks on before retiring for bed.

He lays down, drawing his covers up and breathes in. 

He hopes for a good night of sleep.

He closes his eyes and breathes out.

Caduceus wakes up with the taste of mud on his tongue.

His eyes snap open and there’s an edge of panic in his heart but no recollection of the reason for it.

His hands shake and an unnatural cold runs through his body.

He tries his best to calm down, breathing in and out slowly, rubbing his hands on his arms to gather some heat.

It happened again.

Sunlight is already filtering through his window and that’s a relief, because it meant Caduceus at least managed to sleep through the whole night. He still feels tired, and the panic is hanging on slightly, but that too shall pass.

He gets up from his bed, still wrapped in his blanket and leaves his room.

It’s very early in the morning, the chill air of the night still hanging around. It isn’t too cold yet, it will take a few months until the cold truly settles in and snow will be covering the grounds of the forest.

Caduceus puts a kettle over the fire and starts making some tea. He looks out the window as he waits. Calming himself down properly with the visage of his home.

He pours the tea into a cup and walks outside. The morning does him good. It has a smell and life of its own, like the whole world is waking up as well.

He walks up all the way to the gates, letting the sun hit him and warm him up as much as the tea.

He closes his eyes and just listens. Paying attention to how his heart now thumped calmly in his chest. How the forest moved around him.

He remains like that for several minutes.

He then stretches his arms, hearing a pop as his bones settle. He scratches his head and takes another glance around. Might as well get started with the day. No need to get food today, maybe he’ll finish his sewing project? That sounds nice.

He turns to head back in, but stops,  looking at the rose bush by the gate.

He frowns, crouching by them like he did the day before.

They were still dying, but curiously a layer of ice seemed to coat the flowers.

“Huh…”

Caduceus glanced around at other plants around. There seemed to be three bushes in a row with ice melting on them. Just those. 

“What could be happening here?” He asks them.

As always, they don’t answer.

He goes back inside and thinks about it for a bit. When no explanation comes of it, he thinks about something else.

 

He works on his scarf until it is a few many centimeters longer. He tends to his plants.

He eats his leftovers.

He tries to relax.

As the sun makes its way down from the sky, Caduceus can’t help the dread that crawls up his skin. He’s come to accept that the bad nights just can’t be helped, didn’t mean he enjoyed it. There’s something off about it, wrong. He takes some time in the afternoon to meditate. Clear his thoughts. Think about what was causing him to be so tense. 

Maybe he should write to his siblings, just check on them. One less concern in his mind.

Maybe this was an omen.

 

And soon night came, and Caduceus couldn’t make up any more excuses to stay up.

“Good night.” He tells the house again as he settles for the night.

Breathing in deeply.

And out.

Caduceus wakes up with the taste of mud on his tongue.

He pushes himself off his bed with chest heaving, breathing through his nose.

It’s the middle of the night. He can hear the rain pattering against his window outside. It’s almost a storm.

He’s freezing.

A lightning strikes far away, his whole room flashing white for a second.

With his heart still beating rapidly, he gets up.

He sets off to make himself some tea.

He hugs himself and walks through the empty house, rubbing his arms and stepping into the kitchen. 

He fills the kettle with water and puts it over the fire.

His eyes are screwed shut as he breathes deeply, leaning back on the counter.

The house is too cold. Too cold.

The noises too loud.

There’s a crackle of lightning and another flash.

Caduceus turns his head, looking at the way to the entrance of the house. There’s water on the ground.

He leans off the counters, apprehensive, and takes careful steps towards the living room.

There’s indeed water on the floor, and as he approaches, he notices a trail of water leading off towards the entrance.

 

The door to the outside is wide open, rain water splattering inside.

He gently pushes the door closed, glancing about.

The house is buried in shadows. Nothing moving.

He follows the water trail inside. Bare feet silent on the stone floor.

He makes his way through the living room, one careful step at a time.

The house is still too cold.

The water droplets stop when they reach the kitchen.

 

It is empty.

He wants to call out for whoever or whatever seemed to have walked into his home, but something in him makes him stop.

He watches carefully for every corner of the room. Any movement in it. But all there is the noise of the rain outside and the small flicker of flames from the stove.

Caduceus goes back to leaning against the counter, staring out the window.

 

It is so cold he can see his breath as he exhales.

His limbs feel stiff as he rests his palms against the cold stone pressed against his back.

He can hear his heart beat.

He can hear his blood run through his veins.

There’s a spark of light.

Caduceus stares intently at his reflection briefly reflected in the window, made clear from the lightning strike.

A loud crackle echoes through the air.

 

Caduceus tries to move, easing the tension off his shoulders, but realizes he can’t even flinch, stuck in that position. Eyes pointed towards the window, body tense against the counter.

There’s a spark of light.

In the reflection of the mirror he seems himself, and a figure behind him. Eyes of blood red. 

He can’t move.

He’s cast in darkness once more and he can’t move.

He can feel the figure behind him, curled horns sitting on their head. Hands moving up. Caduceus can feel the static, the cold as the hand draws up towards his neck.

A loud crackle echoes through the air.

He can’t even breathe.

 

His kettle whistles loudly as steam escapes and suddenly Caduceus can lean forward and turn off the fire. He turns on his heels and he’s alone in the dark.

He breathes in and out, looking around his kitchen as noise fills the place once again.

 

The cold is gone.

He draws a hand to his neck.

 

There’s a taste of mud on his tongue.

Chapter Text

Caduceus, who had grown up around the dead, was fully aware of life and mortality. Even still he had never quite seen a ghost before. He did have a belief of souls and the idea of departing or not, but that’s what the graveyard was for. Helping the dead  move on and find peace.

It was a pleasure to be a part of this cycle and be able to return people to the dirt, as terrifying as the concept was to some people. He was proud in his careful service, which is possibly why he had never seen a ghost before.

Because those souls were gone.

To have a place be haunted meant bad things. Unfinished business. Resentment. Pain.

Ghosts were a product of tragedy, usually, so he thought. So when Caduceus realizes there’s a lost soul wandering through the Blooming Grove, he laments for it.

 

It took some time to accept that that could have been a spirit. But the rain water still dried inside his home and the nightmares felt nothing and too much like the night before.

 

Caduceus spends his next day tending closely to each grave, making sure that the stone is clean and new flowers are put in. He leaves a prayer to each, trying to recall as much as he can from the buried. He wishes each of them peace and comfort.

He goes to sleep and wakes up with the taste of mud on his tongue.

 

The ghost hasn’t harmed him yet. Hasn’t shown up since that storm, but the whole place has been feeling off. Caduceus still can’t have a single night of rest, and nothing tells him it’s going away. Or that the ghost won’t do him any harm in the future.

He thinks, based on the fact that the ghost is still around, that they weren’t buried within the grounds of the Blooming Grove. Caduceus made sure to leave the place clean and properly blessed. So if he wanted to get down to the bottom of this. He would have to leave his home.

He packs a small bag with water and a few snacks. A blanket, some gardening tools and anything he’d need for prayer, all shoved in as well. He slings it over his shoulder and grabs the cane he uses when going for longer walks. 

He walks off the gates, but stops by the bush of roses.

Dead.

“Is that what is hurting you?” He asks them, a little saddened.

They don’t answer.

 

He hums, looking around. He doesn’t know where to search for a ghost really. He’s no ghost hunter. He decides to walk in the direction the rose bushes are stationed, to the left of the gate. The ghost must have been passing by there, so they had to come from that direction, he guessed.

 

He starts walking.

 

He listens to the birds chirping, the noise of the trees moving with the wind, animals scrambling around. It’s the music of life, he thinks. He closes his eyes and lets the wildmother carry him to his destination. Stepping over rocks and roots and ducking under branches. He walks until he can hear his breath coming out his lungs, a familiar burn starting to build up on his legs.

He stops for a bit and takes a sip of water.

He walks for hours, nibbling on his food every now and then. Stopping to watch nature. Making sure there wasn’t anything too dangerous around.

His ears wave around a bit, taking in the noises around. He searches for any sign of his wayward visitor. There's nothing but yellowing trees around him. After several hours he decides to continue his search another day.

 

Funny thing about walking around blindly without direction is that it’s very easy to get lost.

“Oh well…” He says, searching for anything familiar.

 

When nothing comes up, he just turns around and starts heading back. He’ll make his way home. Eventually. Or end up somewhere else. But he is sure he will head back home. It is just a gut feeling. It is best he rush though, else he be outside during the night. 

With a ghost haunting him that doesn’t sound very nice.

He continues his careful way through the forest.

 

It’s a different place. Or maybe not. He tries to commit it to memory as he walks. He’s running out of food soon too, but there is a warm meal to be made at home.

Finally an opening clears through the woods, the wooden house standing in the middle of it.

Correction: a wooden shack.

It is not his home, but rather a shabby looking shack, mostly taken over by plants.

He eyes the place curiously.

Maybe he saw this place before, maybe didn’t. It feels familiar enough. It hasn't stuck to his mind, but right now… he decides to take a look.

“Hello.” He greets the place.

The shack has two large wooden doors in the front and a few boarded off windows on its walls.

There’s a thick chain with a lock hanging from the doors, but it is just hanging, rusted and useless. There’s a gap big enough for his arm to go through between the slightly ajar doors. He peeks inside and from the lights filtering through windows he can see wildlife has claimed the inside as well.

 

He pulls the door further open, squeezing himself through. He’s mindful of any critters or poisonous thing living inside, but it seems no animals made the place their home. The place has a peculiar stale smell. At the center of the room a group of chairs and other seats in different states of disrepair are gathered in the semblance of a circle. A desk is pushed under one of the windows.

There’s a tool rack hanging on a wall, a shovel, pliers and a crowbar hanging from it. There are also two cabinets and a wooden post pushed to the corner.

Even with all the furniture, Caduceus can move comfortably through the room. There’s also a hatch on the floor, under a few dirty rugs and a ladder leading to another floor, that covers only a third of the place. The floor is low enough (and Caduceus is tall enough) that he can spot a dirty mini fridge sitting there.

Further back, underneath the second floor there are two doors.

One is slightly ajar, revealing a bathroom. The smell coming out of that particular room was even… more unique, so Caduceus closes the door.

He opens the next door and there he finds a generator.

There’s something still plugged to it. A power cord, to which another cable is attached. It’s a long cable from where several little lights hang off of. The lights are hung across the whole room, no doubt lighting the whole place up if turned on.

But he’s sure the generator would not work at the moment.

The place is empty and it is full. It houses no one but it tells a story of the time it did. And it’s now become a home to something else.

The coldness of the place doesn’t escape Caduceus either.

He goes to open one of the cabinets and finds a dirty old blanket within, molding inside. The second one is locked, so he doesn’t pry.

He moves to the hatch, crouching down with a pop to his joints and a grunt.

The latch is made of metal, showing signs of wear.

He wraps his hand around the handle and pulls. It doesn’t budge. He tries one more time for good measure, but it is either really stuck or locked. Once again, there’s nothing he can do about it. Perhaps he could open with the crowbar available, but he’s not even sure he’s strong enough to use a crowbar.

His ear twitches, hearing a faint noise. He feels his hairs stand out and he frowns, turning his head around, because when that happens it usually means that something- WACK

A sharp pain blossoms in the back of his head. Caduceus clutches it, tumbling down on his side.

“Ow.” He blinks his eyes, feeling the world spin around him.

“What the-? Fuck! I thought-!! Who the fuck are you?!

Caduceus hears a voice calling out, feminine, but leaning on the lower range, though almost shrill in its surprise. It takes him a bit of time to associate it to the figure standing above him. A human woman, hair shaved on the sides and tied in a bun, a leather jacket and, most importantly, a wooden staff in her hands. That’s probably what hit him.

He cringes, rubbing the sore spot on his head.

“Caduceus Clay, hi.” He introduces himself, trying to get back to his feet. He grabs his cane he accidentally dropped and leans on it with a grunt.

“The hell you’re doing here?” She asks again, running a hand through her hair. She’s clearly agitated, so Caduceus tries to put his calmest demeanor.

“I was walking back home from my track, but this place caught my attention. It looked interesting.”

“Home? You live around here?”

“Yeah.” He clarifies. “At the Blooming Grove. Do you know it?”

She looks at him with suspicion, but her posture isn’t so aggressive anymore. Neither is it apologetic. She just got spooked.

“I heard of it…”

She stays in silence for a moment, eyes drifting over the room. Her expression closes off as she looks at it.

“I’ve, uhm… I’ve introduced myself, who do I have the pleasure to make my acquaintance?”

The woman looks at him again.

“Beau. Beauregard.”

“Beau Beauregard.” He nods.

She sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose between two fingers.

“Just Beau.”

“I see.” He keeps nodding. “Is this place owned by you?”

“No.” She answers quickly. “I’m in here on business for the Cobalt Soul.”

“Cobalt Soul?”

“You haven’t heard of it?”

“I’m afraid I’m a… a bit of a hermit.” He smiles.

She gives him a side glance.

“We investigate shit. Keep things honest, punish the guilt proper, all that jazz.”

He hums.

“Well, miss Beau, I hope there isn’t any investigation you plan to do here now.”

“Why?” She crosses her arms, chin up.

“The sun will set soon. As someone who has spent their entire life in these woods, I don’t recommend being out once it gets dark.”

She huffs, almost amused.

“I can handle dark.”

“I don’t doubt it.” He pushes past her, careful. “How about an invitation then? The grove has a warm place and food. I’m sure work can get done tomorrow. And I could answer any questions you might have about this place.”

She breaks eye contact again, looking through the room with a distant look in her eyes. Pensive.

There’s a frown stuck on her brows.

He waits for her to think.

She breathes in and then out, her shoulders slumping slightly.

“Hell, why not. Fine. Just… lead the way.”

He smiles at her.

She puts her staff on her back, hanging beneath the backpack she carried.

Beau closes the doors of the cabin behind them and stares it down for a second before following. Caduceus tries not to pry, making his way (hopefully) towards his home without saying anything, but he is somewhat hyper aware of Beau. The way she was walking, how closed off her expression and posture were.

He doesn’t ask.

 

His timing is precise. The sky is dyed in oranges and steadily becoming darker when he spots the familiar gate of the Grove. 

“Here we are.” He announces, looking back. Beau’s head snaps in his direction, distracted with herself, and then to the graveyard at the entrance of the home.

There’s curiosity written in the way she looks around, but she still doesn’t speak.

He pushes open the door to his home and cleans his feet at the entrance.

“You can hang your jacket here if you want. I’ll fetch us some food.”

He drops his backpack gently over a hanger and starts making his way to the kitchen. He stops, looking back as Beau removes her jacket to reveal a blue tank top underneath.

“You’re free to join me in the kitchen if you’d so wish. There’s a seat.”

She hums, following after him, her eyes roam through the place.

"Tea?" He asks, setting a kettle on the stove and starting to prepare a quick meal.

"Sure." She answers. She drags her backpack onto her lap, zipping it open and pulling a file from within.

Caduceus pays only half a mind, setting the tea to be served and working on making some delicious sandwiches for dinner. When Beau is within his sight, he sees her scrutinize the files like they’re personally offending her.

“You’ve been here for a long time?” She asks.

“Since I was born.” Caduceus answers, setting a teacup for her. She nods in thanks.

“There’s been a few disappearances around the Savalirwoods.” She sips.

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. And deaths.”

“Huh.” He frowns. 

She pulls a picture from a clip and puts it on the table. Caduceus leans over to examine it. It’s a picture of a halfling man. Scraggly hair, scraggly goatee.

“This is the seventh missing case in less than 2 months.”

He spends a few more seconds looking at it closely.

“Familiar?”

“Not really.” He answers leaning back away and finishing up the sandwiches.

“His name is Protto.” She takes another gulp from her tea. “Lived his whole life in Shady Creek Run. Went missing 3 days ago.”

“Shady Creek…” he sets his plate of sandwiches in front of Beau, sitting himself opposite of her, and grabs one to eat. “I’ve never been there.”

“Well, I don’t recommend it. The name says it all.” She warns, grabbing a sandwich herself. “But you know the area around here?”

“I know it well enough. I can certainly find my way through it.”

“You’d know if something was amiss then? If people passed through somewhere or were camping around? This is fucking delicious.” She says with a mouthful of bread.

“Thanks. Maybe, I can try. Nature does tell us a lot of things if we’re willing to listen.”

She nods.

“You haven’t seen anyone like him around lately though?” She finishes her sandwich, grabbing for the next one.

“No. There hasn’t been a lot of… people in quite a long time, really. I guess the grove is a bit off ways from your common graveyard. A beautiful place though.”

“What do you do around here, uh, mr. Clay?” 

“Well. I tend to graves, make sure they’re clean and loved for, and that there’s nice things growing around them. I make tea.”

Beau huffs.

“Putting those two one after the other like that makes it sound like they’re related.”

“They are.” 

She stops for a second.

“What?”

“There’s good tea that grows out of graveyards.” He explains.

Her face twists into discomfort.

“Dead people tea?”

“Sure.”

A grimace is stuck on her features.

“Do you cook dead people too?”

“Why would I cook people?” He asks confused.

She seems to look at him incredulously, then at the plate of sandwiches. She sighs and grabs another one.

“Do you…” she hesitates for a bit. “Did you ever bury strangers? I mean, people without names. Just… dropped off?”

He tilts his head in thought.

“Not that I recall. Usually people bring friends, or family members. Some wildmother worshippers come here for generations even.”

Beau just nods along.

“Why?” Caduceus asks.

“Just wondering.” She pushes her unfinished tea away.

“Am I a suspect?”

She almost scoffs.

“Nah. I don’t think you line up with... the person I suspect.” Her amusement dies as she speaks. She tries to wrangle it back. “Also it’d be like… pretty fucking awkward if the person investigating a potential serial killer just walked into the culprit’s place, right?”

“That seems unfortunate.” He agrees.

“Don’t try anything though. I’ll fucking hit you again.” She warns, a finger pointing in his direction.

“I don’t want that.” He doesn’t pout. 

“The truth is, I need to find that man, before he ends up dead too. But I don’t even know where to start looking. We recovered only 3 bodies so far, all kinda spread out through the woods.”

“You need help to navigate around.”

“What?” She shakes her head. “Maybe? Just directions help.”

“I want to go with you, if you’d have me. It concerns me that those things are happening so close to my home.”

“I…” Beau looks off, seeming like she wants to argue. But she just sighs instead. “Yeah, I guess you can come. I don’t know. It’s not really fun.”

“I know. But it’s important.”

He gets up putting the now empty plate in the sink.

“I have a spare room you can use. It’s very good that I keep it clean. Here.” He leads Beau through the house. Beau quickly puts the picture back into her files and slip them back into her backpack, zipping it closed.

“God, is it a dead person’s room?” She complains.

“No. It was my sister’s when she was younger. She lives elsewhere now. I’m sure she doesn’t mind.”

He opens the door to Clarabelle’s room. She was always the rebel of the family. Not too willingly to sit quietly through lessons of prayers of the wildmother. She likes to show her love to nature and life her own way. Caduceus adores her deeply. He hopes the room will provide at least some positive energies for Beau.

Beau looks around the room with the same respectful curiosity she did the rest of the house.

“There’s a bathroom here,-” He points at the second door on the opposite wall of the corridor. “and another one down the hallway. You are free to use both. I once again recommend you don’t go outside during the night in these woods… They house things that… uhm… sometimes can be delicate to deal with. Dangerous even. It’s best we don’t disturb them.” He tries to warn her.

Beau’s expression remains impassive, but her body seems to tense in a way that tells Caduceus of apprehension. It’s a response he wasn’t expecting from her. Or perhaps he had jumped to conclusions regarding her personality.

“Well… if any time during the night you need me for anything, you have my permission to wake me up. Really, I don’t mind.” He leaves his reassurances.

“Right. Thank you, man. I’ll… I appreciate the help.”

“It’s nice to have company. And I’m happy to assist.” He smiles at her. “Good night, miss Beauregard.”

“Good night.” 

He bows his head and goes to his room. He’s happy for the chat, appropriately saddened by the circumstances and admittedly, a little fearful for what the night may bring. So he prays for safety, hopes for the best…

And goes to sleep.

 

Caduceus wakes up with the taste of mud on his tongue.

 

It takes a second for his brain to catch up with the memories of the day before, and then Caduceus is looking out his window. It’s early morning. Nothing feels out of place, except the fatigue he had grown used to the past few days. He tries to get off the best quickly.

He makes his way down the hall with a little sees of worry in his guts, specially when he spots the door to Clarabelle’s room open. When he peers inside, there’s no sign of Beauregard. No backpack, no boots, the bed is made and the room is as clean as Caduceus left it the day before. 

He leans back into the corridor and glances towards the entrance.

Before he can entertain any more thoughts though , the bathroom door opens, and from within comes out a Beauregard, her face still humid.

“Good morning. I hope I didn’t leave you waiting.”

“No, it’s fine. I just woke up.” She says, stretching her arms out.

“I can fix us some breakfast and we can set off after.”

“Sure.” Beau follows him to the kitchen. She spots the dirty dishes from the night before and calls out. “Let me get that for you.”

“Oh, it’s fine. You’re a guest.” Caduceus tries to politely fight.

“Nah, man. Just paying back the favor.” She turns on the sink and starts washing.

Caduceus doesn’t complain. He instead grabs an assortment of fruits from his fridge that will soon go old and chop them into a nice fruit salad.

They both work in silence for a while, which gives Caduceus enough time to subtly check on the room.

It didn’t rain at night. There were no water or mud tracks going in the house. Everyone was in the same place he left it. Which hopefully meant there were no unwanted visitors.

Beauregard seemed even more tense than she was at night, a tiredness behind her eyes.

They sit down to eat.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Hm?” Beauregard looks up at him, distracted. “Yeah.” It’s all she offers.

“That’s nice.” He nods.

They don’t talk.

 

Once they’re finished eating, Caduceus grabs a few more snacks and fills his water bottle, putting it all on his ready to go backpack. Beau is out the door before him, and he turns around as he closes the front door and decides to lock it. It feels weird, but he has a feeling he won’t be coming back too soon.

 

Beauregard looks at him patiently waiting.

“So. Where to?” Caduceus asks.

“Most bodies found were south west of here. So there first?” She says.

“Okay.”

Caduceus takes the lead.

 

They walk in silence as well. Caduceus keeps an eye out for anything out of the ordinary, but takes things at the pace he usually does. After some significant time, he passes by the shack once more. Beauregard keeps her eyes on it the whole time they walk by. It puts a frown on her face. But they soon walk past it and her expression becomes closed off, her thoughts in a far away place. It takes a bit of time for Caduceus to be sure, but with how Beau acts, how she’s been acting… It feels like she’s relieved to not be alone.

Caduceus knows a lot about loneliness after all. Except Beau currently wears hers over a mantle of dread.

“What do you know about the Iron Shepherds, Caduceus?” She breaks the silence.

He hums, giving the name a thought.

“I’ve heard it before, but I don’t know where.”

“They’re a gang, basically. Really shitty people. Got involved in a shitton of problems. People trafficking, mercenary work, illegal trade.” She explains.

“It sounds bad.”

“It is. They were most active about 10 years ago. Acted around Shady Creek. They’ve been off the radar for a while now though.”

Caduceus waits for her to continue.

“So far, every disappearance in my files has been from members of this gang. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”

“You think it’s vengeance at work?”

“That, rivalry, betrayal. I don’t know.” She shrugs. “You get involved with shifty people, things can go pretty bad.”

Caduceus hummed in agreement.

“My parents always warned about the danger of the woods, and the dangers of people. I think I was naive enough to never realize the extent of it.”

“It’s better like that. Kids shouldn’t know that shit.”

“Do you think they deserve it? The missing persons.”

“What?”

Caduceus asks again.

“Do you think they deserve going missing and dying?”

Beauregard remains in silence for a while. Pensive. Just following Caduceus’ footsteps.

“Maybe… yeah. Probably. But I shouldn’t say it.”

“Why?” He asks.

“Because I don’t want to think about the things I deserve.”

That makes Caduceus wonder, but Beauregard fails to elaborate. He leaves it at that, letting her words sink in.

 

They walk for hours in total. Taking an occasional break to drink some water. Having a small talk every now and then, bust mostly just atent. 

 

“What do you know about dead people.” Beauregard asks at one point.

“They start going stinky really fast if you don’t do something about it.”

“No, I mean like… just- forget it.”

He glances back at her, ear twitching up.

“Forget it. It’s dumb.”

“No question is a dumb question.”

“I have friends that can challenge that thought.”

“Curiosity is good.”

“Curiosity can get you in a lot of trouble.” She rebukes.

“What are you afraid of, miss Beauregard?”

“What?” She stops moving.

Caduceus stops as well, turning back to look at her. He talks slowly, calmly.

“What questions are you afraid will get answered?”

“What are you talking about.” Her posture quickly closes off. Caduceus worries he might have pried too soon, but maybe Beauregard had been comfortable with silence too long.

I said it before that I wanted to assist you. And I meant it. Which means that, well, I’m here to listen. To see. And well, I’m seeing.”

Beauregard marches up to him.

“Look. You don’t know shit about me. I’m thankful, really. But shut the fuck up.”

There’s a strange smell in the air. Caduceus’ nose twitches.

“I’m doing my job. The only question I have is “who’s doing this”, okay? And I’ll be happy when that’s answered and I’m just laying the fuck down at home.” She says, calm, but almost threatening.

Caduceus’ eyes move from her to the side.

“Miss Beauregard-“

“Just Beau! God!” She makes it to walk away. Caduceus clutches her arm.

“Hey!” She protests, and for a second he fears she’ll hit him. But he points out to where his eyes had been drawn and hers follow as well.

There, a few meters ahead of him, partially buried in the ground, laid the body of a man. A halfling, skin greyed, goatee scraggly and eyes gouged into pools of red, tears of blood dripping down a face stuck in a horrified expression.

They are both stunned into silence for a moment.

“Fuck.” Beau whispers.

She approaches the body, leaning in to inspect it.

“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Her voice gets an edge of panic as she takes in the image.

“Fucking fuck!” She runs a hand through her hair.

 

Caduceus looks down at the body of the missing person. There’s an awful smell in the air, bugs circling around. And strangely, there’s a taste of mud on Caduceus’ tongue.

Chapter Text

Beau is carefully pacing about, mumbling to herself. She doesn’t seem bothered by the gruesome vision of the corpse but rather the fact that it is indeed a corpse she found. At least that’s what Caduceus gathers.

He approaches carefully as well, crouching down to take a look.

The blood inside the eye sockets have darkened significantly, emitting a putrid smell and attracting all sorts of maggots and insects. Caduceus finds it miraculous that he can still see a leftover trail of blood from where it seeped down the corpse’s cheeks. As if blood kept pouring out even several hours after death. 

He can’t see any other wounds in the corpse, but it is also mostly buried in the dirt, only the head and shoulders, along parts of the arms showing up. He would rather not touch it as it is. He was pretty sure it wasn’t a good idea to mess with a crime scene.

“Fucking hell…” He hears Beau mutter once again. When he looks up at her, she has her hands on her waist, looking away.

“I need to… fuck… We gotta… report this to the Cobalt Reserve I guess.” She sighs, walking closer once again. She stares at the corpse with a deep frown etched on her face.

“Don’t feel too bad. This corpse is a least three days old, so you weren’t here to even try to stop it, I think.” Caduceus gets up, leaning on his walking stick to help.

“Really? How can you tell?” 

“Well… Rigor Mortis already took place, and from the discoloration and the bugs gathering, it’s at least 24 hours old. Now, if you look at the mud around it…” He points out with a finger. “It’s settled pretty tight around the corpse. It rained two nights ago, so that means the rain settled the mud around the corpse. It’s what I think.”

Beau crouches down the same way Caduceus did a moment before, looking for his observations.

“I guess…” She mumbles. She stares for a while more, and then gets up. “Did you find any other signs of anyone else being here? Anything that might have done this?”

He looks around for a while, not really expecting to find much.

“Since it rained I don’t think there are any trails left… Yeah… I don’t see anything, sorry.”

She crosses her arms.

“Just my luck… “ She pulls a map from her backpack. “Cad, can you point out where we are?”

He approaches her, observing the map she carries. It’s the Savalirwood and the surrounding areas. He can see the blooming grove too inside of it, marked as such. He searches around for a bit before finding what he hopes is their current location. He points it out for her.

“Cool. And my car is that way… so…” She thinks for a bit. 

Then she puts the map away and moves.

“Come on. We gotta tell the reserve. And try to find the last fucker before he ends up like this as well.”

“Where are we headed to, if I may ask?” He asks, keeping pace with her.

“Zadash. The Cobalt Soul has an archive there. There’s some people that I need to talk to as well.” She then stops walking, turning around, embarrassment written in her face. “Fuck, sorry dude, I was just… dragging you that way without thinking. Uh, we can head back to your house, I can put out some money for-”

He waves her off.

“It’s fine. I’m happy to aid in any way I can.” He doesn’t mention other possible underlying reasons.

Beau nods along, half distracted.

“Just… need to find my damn car.”

They trudge for a while, an uneasy silence settling over them. Caduceus is almost anxious at the prospect of leaving the woods for the first time in many years. But he thinks the message has made itself clear: this is the path he should be on. He can’t help but think that the ghost lost by the Blooming Grove and the deaths around the Savalirwood are related.

 

They eventually hit the border of the woods, and after a little while, Beau uncovers a car, tucked away out of view. Her car, apparently. Caduceus isn’t too familiar with those. He’s seen them, but never paid them any mind. All he can tell about this one is that it is dark and small. Or small for Caduceus’ size. Once he sits on the passenger seat, his knees don’t really fit beneath the panel in front of him and his head scrapes against the roof.

“Oh. My bad.” Beau extends her sympathies to him. “Sure you wanna head into Zadash?”

“Yeah. It’s fine.” He would nod but it’s a very hard task at the moment. 

“Alright.”

 

Beau drives away. It’s a weird feeling, being in a car. Moving faster than his legs could ever carry him. There’s a knot on his stomach, but there’s also the fresh wind passing by them. The outside view of the Savalirwood becoming a blur behind him.

It isn’t too bad.

 

They reach Zadash fairly quick, with how far away it always seemed to be in Caduceus’ mind (but that was the wonders of cars), and Beau slows down through the streets of civilization, driving with purpose as she rounded corners and went past buildings. She then stops in front of a particularly big establishment. Caduceus reads the plaque by the entrance and sees familiar words. “Cobalt Soul Reserve of Zadash”.

“Here we are.” Beau announces, turning off the car and getting off. Caduceus follows suit, looking around as curiously as people looked at him.

Beau walks up the few steps of the entrance and through the large open doors.

“I’m gonna report what we found and they’ll get some authorities to check it out.” She explains.

She walks through the entrance with confidence on her steps. She weaves through people, walking through arcs and rows of books.

“Zeenoth.” She calls out. An elf turns around, curly blonde hair following along as he looks at Beauregard. 

“Ah, Beauregard.” He greets her, drawing his attention away from other matters.

“You seen Dairon anywhere? I’ve got stuff.” She asks, eyes still scanning around.

“They’re upstairs. You know they won’t like it, Beauregard.” He warns her. Beauregard ignores him. “Who’s this?” He looks towards Caduceus.

“Caduceus Clay.” He introduces himself.

“He’s living in the Blooming Grove. He found the body. Watch over him? Thanks.” Beauregard darts away towards the stairs and leaves Caduceus alone with this Zeenoth individual. It doesn’t escape him the way Beauregard worded their earlier discovery, but he decides not to call attention to it. He does make a mental note of it however.

“A Clay, are you? I thought you all moved out a while ago?” He asks. It’s a bit surprising that he knows his family name, but sometimes people did. And it shouldn’t be too surprising that someone working with knowledge should, well, know things, he guessed.

“Well, not all of them. I’m still here.” He smiles. 

“So you are.” He nods. “Still carrying the same burying rites?”

“Yeah.” 

There’s a pause. Zeenoth sways from one feet to the other, seeming impatient, or not knowing what to do with the firbolg in front of him.

“I apologize for anything Beauregard is trying to drag you into. She’s smart, and reliable, but sometimes she relies too much on a hands on approach to things.”

“It’s fine.” He dismisses him. “It’s a, uhm… It’s a concerning matter, people going missing, and... dying. I’ll be relieved once it is resolved.”

“Well. If it becomes too much, you can always just report back to here or the authorities and we’ll take matters off her hands, and no one will bother you any further.”

“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.” He nods.

“Now… I have matters to attend to. Feel free to browse through our library within this sector if you so wish.” He waves a hand around, signing towards the rows of bookshelves that surrounded the place. 

“Thank you. Maybe I will.”

Zeenoth nods once more.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Clay. Good Afternoon.” 

“The pleasure was all mine.” Caduceus waves at him. And then he is alone in the middle of a huge library of some sorts.

“Huh…”

He paces around, reading the back of some books. 

It’s a lot. Lot’s of topics, lot’s of things he doesn’t quite understand. Nothing really catches his attention and he is easily distracted from it all, paying attention to the wood carvings on the bookshelves and other decorations instead. It’s all nice but it also becomes a little easy to get distracted from. Nature here doesn’t sing the way it does in the woods.

He watches the people instead. He recognizes the workers by the blue uniforms they wear, there was a rank system probably by the different uniforms. Most people inside the building were members of the Cobalt Soul, apparently, but some would walk accompanied by another person, pacing through the different spacious rooms. There was a variation of people too. Mostly they were humans, but there was the occasional halfling or elf too. He had spotted a dragonborn in blue uniform carrying a large pile at some point, and some moments ago a tiefling in a frilly dress walked in and leaned against the central desk to probably ask a few questions.

He’s about to walk up there as well to ask about making tea when he spots Beauregard walking down the stairs.

He’s relieved and is about to ask her how her conversation went. But it’s clear as soon as he sees her expression that it couldn’t have gone well.

“Hey.” He greets her anyway.

“Hey.” She breathes slowly. “Sorry. I did all I had to here. Body’s reported, it will be dealt with. I think there’s-”

“BEAU!” A shout cuts through Beauregard’s words, her head snapping to the source. Caduceus sees the tiefling darting in their direction seconds before she collides with Beauregard, who holds her arms out to grab her.

“Jessie, what are you doing here?” She’s stunned out of her bad mood, pulling away from the impromptu hug.

The blue tiefling smiles widely at her, short hair bobbing with her excited little jumps. Her tail swishes behind her, following along the movement of her dress. 

“I saw your car outside! Duh! This place is on the way to the bakery so when I saw your car I was like “Hey! Beau is in Zadash and she didn’t say hi to me yet, so I’ll say Hi to her!”, so hi Beau!” She grins as the words spill out of her mouth. It is very charming if not overwhelming, Caduceus finds he doesn’t mind, and neither did Beau it seemed.

“I was going to say hi.” Beau looks legitimately embarrassed about it, but the tiefling goes over her.

“I know. It’s nice to see you though! You look so goooood!” 

Beau rolls her eyes affectionately. 

“Jester, this is Caduceus. He’s helping me through some Cobalt business.”

The girl, Jester, turns to look at Caduceus, she leans back to look up at him. 

“Holy moly. Hi! I’m Jester! Beau’s my best friend.” She introduces herself.

“Hey.” He tries coming off as friendly, but maybe he doesn’t quite reach the enthusiasm, try as he might. “I’m Caduceus Clay. I just met Beauregard yesterday.” 

“Are you with the Cobalt?” She asks him.

“No, he lives in the Blooming Grove.” Beau clarifies. Jester looks at her with a tilt of her head. “You know. That cemetery in the Savalirwoods?”

“Oh!” She bounces on her feet in recognition. “So you’re the one living there! I saw it so many times it’s so cool, I didn’t step on any of the graves though I promise you.” She says.

“I believe you.” Caduceus manages out.

“Cool. Hey Beau so are you coming over now or what?”

Beauregard scratches at her arm.

“I don’t know, Jessie. I need to take Cad back to-”

“No it’s fine! He can come over too! Caduceus come over for tea. It’ll be really good, I’ll make us food and you can tell us ghost stories about the cemetery.”

Something about that sentence makes Beauregard stiffen up. 

“If I’m not imposing.” He finds himself answering.

“Great! So we’re coming over. Let’s go Beau!” She grabs Beauregard’s wrists and starts tugging her to the entrance.

“Ah shit, my donuts.” She lets go, going back to the counter and grabbing the box of donuts she left there before resuming dragging Beau “Okay, now let’s go.”

They all hop into Beauregard’s car, with Caduceus on the passenger seat and Jester on the back.

“It’s really nice to see you, Beau. It’s been a few weeks already.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Jessie.” She says as she drives off.

“Do you want a donut, Caduceus?” She shoves a hand to the front of the car with a little donut held out as an offering.

“I’ll pass for now.”

Jester shrugs.

“Your loss.” She shoves it in her mouth.

“Oh, by the way Beau, you know who called me?”

“Who?” Beau asks, eyes on the road.

“Fjord.” Beau sighs, Jester talking over it. “He said he’s coming over too. That’s how I found out you were near Zadash. You’re in trouuublee.” She sings-song.

“Ugh! It’s not-!” Beau sputters. “Look, I’m doing legit stuff.”

“I didn’t say anything. I’ll help you, like, I’ll be your sidekick. Here.” She shoves her arm to the front once again holding out a donut close to Beau’s face. Beaus glances at it and bites into it without taking her hands off the steering wheel.

Jester retreats back to her seat and Beau uses one hand to hold the donut.

“Depending on what Fjord brings me, there might not even be anything to look into.”

“Pffft, boring.” Jester grabs another donut for herself. “I can’t believe you told stuff to Fjord and not me.”

“I didn’t tell him anything! I just asked him a question and he got all worked up about it.”

“Ask me questions, Beau!” She whines.

Beau just babbles incoherently for a moment.

“Caduceus! What is it like living in a forest?”

“Oh!” He’s caught off guard by the sudden attention. “Oh, it’s nice. Very fresh. Calm. Pretty beetles.”

“Have you seen like, any mythical creatures?”

“Not that I recall, no. I think.” He answers.

“I’ve seen an unicorn once, they’re real, you know?”

“They are?” His ear perks up.

“Yeah! They’re like fat little horses with a big horn.” She puts a hand on her forehead, extending her finger to mimic said horn. 

“Really?”

“Yeah!” She replies in a high pitch. “They’re super dangerous. That’s my house!” She points out over Caduceus’ shoulder to an apartment complex. It looks like it is one the newer buildings in town, laying closer to the nicer part of the city. Beauregard parks her car and Jester almost jumps off the car.

“This is so cool, I’m really happy. I have some cupcake batter in my fridge.”

Beauregard cringes.

“From when?”

“No, no, it’s new I swear! It’s really good!” She assures Beau, hopping ahead of her with her keys jingling in her grasp. They walk up a set of stairs and stop at a door with the number 24 etched on it. 

It’s weird being in an apartment complex. The corridors are strangely tight to Caduceus, concrete making everything seem suffocating in a way. There are a few windows pointing to the outside, letting sunlight filter into the building. The walls are also painted in light colors, but there are no real decorations besides the blue carpet under his feet.

Jester opens the door and shoves herself in.

“Welcome to my home! You can sit anywhere.”

“Thank you.” Caduceus lets himself in right after Beauregard.

 

The place is very bright. All the furniture is in light shades of pink, blue or white. The decoration pends to the delicate side as well, except for the few pieces that seem a mish mash of colors and styles. One that catches his eyes specially is a painting of a technicolor penis, hanging next to the archway leading down a corridor.

 

Jester closes the door and rushes past them, walking past a dining table and into the kitchen adjoined to the dining room. Beauregard sits herself on the table, so Caduceus follows suit.

“Do you guys want anything to drink?”

“What do you have?” Beau asks.

“Hmmm… ice tea or soda.”

“... ice tea.”

“Ice tea?” Caduceus asks with a tilt of his head.

“Yeah.” Jester answers. “Have you never had ice tea, Caduceus?”

“Not really.”

“Oh you have to try it!” She pours a bottle into two glasses and brings them over.

The color is dark, so it seems like some sort of black tea. When Caduceus sniffs it, there isn’t the typical waft he gets from his mixes.

He takes a careful sip.

Well… He’s pretty sure he’s making a face.

It’s cold, like the name implied and it is so sweet he could qualify this as juice. Or maybe Caduceus just fell out with modern times and his definition of tea no longer applies, which would be a tragic turn of events.

“Tell us.” Jester demands, sitting at the table.

“Hm?” He tilts his head.

“The ghost stories! Do you see a lot of dead people?” She asks excitedly. Beau eyes him over her glass, definitely paying attention.

“Oh. I do, I guess. See dead people. It’s usually before we bury them though.”

“And after?”

“Not so much, really.” 

“Is it not scary? Sleeping around dead people.”

“They’re sleeping too. Indefinitely.”

“Sheesh. Do you have any ghost stories?”

Caduceus thinks for a second. About the nightmares, the dirt, the reflection on his window.

“Lately… something has been… off around the blooming grove.” He says slowly. Jester leans up closer, enraptured for the moment.

“I’m not really sure what’s happening, but there’s this… feeling. It’s cold. And suffocating. It’s been around for a few weeks now. Something unsettling, unnatural. I think it’s calling for help.”

A loud noise rings through the space, cutting through the tension that formed around them. Jester turns her head to look behind her. She rushes up, turning off the alarm she set up and throwing the tray of cupcakes into the pre-heated oven.

Caduceus glances to his left and can’t help but notice the tense way Beauregard is carrying herself now, eyes unfocused and expression pinched in worry.

“Do you think zombies can really eat things? Like. If I gave a zombie a cupcake would it get digested? Do zombies shit?”

“I… I don’t know...huh…” Caduceus answers.

“I think they do.”

There’s another ring, this time coming from the front door.

“Oh! That’s probably Fjord!” Jester rushes over, bounding for the door and unlocking it. Beauregard downs her glass of ice tea in one go, slipping back into her bored stance.

“Fjord!” Jester shouts, hugging someone out of Caduceus’ line of sight.

“Hey Jester, is Beau around? I think that was her car outside.” A voice comes out, deep and gentle. From behind the door steps out a half-orc. Tall, skin in teal with spots of green, hair dark with white strands dotting it around the temples and forehead, his beard with the same treatment. He’s carrying a two stack of square, large but short boxes. “I got us pizza, just in case you were making pastries for dinner again.”

“Hey Fjord.” Beau greets casually.

“Hey Beau, I-“ Fjord’s eyes flick over to where Caduceus is sitting. “Oh, sorry I didn’t know you had guests. Uh. I’m Fjord.” He pushes out a hand from under the boxes and Caduceus shakes it, smiling as he does.

“Hi, I’m Caduceus Clay.” He introduces himself.

Fjord puts the, uh, pizza boxes down on the table.

“He’s helping me with Cobalt stuff.” Beau says unprompted.

Fjords frowns.

“You’re with the Iron Shepherds?” He asks.

“The Shepherds?!” Jester joins them back at the table.

“No, he’s from the Blooming Grove. He spotted one of the bodies.”

“The bodies?” Fjord asks.

“Yeah! The missing ones?”

“Beauregard…” Fjord warns, voice stern.

“Whoa, what’s happening?” Jester jumps in, looking back and forth from one friend to the other.

“A few days ago, Beau called me asking two questions:-“ he holds out one finger. “If I still had the keys for the cabin’s stash.” He holds out another. “And if anyone in port Damali had caught sight of Lorenzo passing through.”

Beauregard crosses her arms, staring at him in defiance.

“Lorenzo?” Jester asks, concern etched on her face for the first time.

“Did you find him?” Beauregard asks him.

“No.” He replies. “No one’s seen him in years ever since he fucked off to another continent.”

Beauregard sighs, leaning back into her seat.

“Why are you looking for that asshole?” Jester asks again.

“It’s… stuff.” Beauregard waves a hand through the air.

“Sorry, Beauregard. I don’t think that’s it. It’s almost winter. I think this is about Mollymauk.”

Beau’s reaction is instantaneous, riled up and tense.

“It’s not.” She snaps back.

”It's been what, ten years or something? And I think you’re doing it again.”

“I’m serious! Keg said-.” Beau stops talking, eyes darting to Caduceus quickly before focusing on Fjord again. “Can we like, talk?”

Fjord also glances at Caduceus, posture shattering a bit with embarrassment.

“Yeah. Yes, sure. Sorry about that.” That last part seems directed at him, so he answers.

“It’s fine.” He says. 

Beauregard gets off her seat.

“We’ll be back in ten minutes.” She calls out, leaving through the front door. Fjord follows her, closing the door behind them.

The apartment feels weirdly silent.

Jester sighs, dropping her head to the table.

“I’m sorry. I swear we’re friends.” She pouts at him.

“It’s alright. I understand that was probably coming from a place of concern.” Caduceus reassures her. 

“Yeah.” She picks at something on the table.

Caduceus ponders for a bit.

“Excuse me for asking, but, who is Mollymauk?”

Jester perks up, sitting back up.

“Oh he was our friend! He was so cool, he could tell the future and he had such cool clothes. And he was a tiefling like me and he did some art too we had so much in common. Me, Beau, Fjord, Molly and some other friends all used to hang out at this cabin in the woods, right? And we did all sorts of cool important stuff, it was really nice.” She explains with fondness. It doesn’t escape Caduceus how it was always phrased in the past.

“What happened?”

Jester drops her head into one of her hands, tracing patterns on the wood with the other.

“One day he just vanished. Puff. No signs or anything. It was some tense times for all of us so anything could’ve happened really. We spent several months looking for him, but he was kinda hard to find, like, legally?” She shrugs. “He just never showed up again. Beau blames herself for it. She changed a lot for his sake. For the best! But still…”

She sighs.

“I miss him too. I even managed to settle here in Zadash just in case he was around here. But I haven’t found him either. After like, nine years you can’t help but wonder, you know?”

Caduceus nods.

“Loss is hard. Paired up with uncertainty, the thought that they might come back? I understand how terrifying it can be.”

“But I trust Beau!” She exclaims, looking at Caduceus. “She’s very smart, and responsible. She might feel guilty but she isn’t one to just mop around, you know? If she’s here looking for something then it’s because there’s something to look for.”

“I trust her too.” He confesses. “I get a feeling that there’s indeed something at work here.”

“See! I like you.” She opens one of the boxes and pulls out a pizza slice. 



She takes a bite of it, getting up from her seat and using her other hand to clean up any wrinkles on her dress. She strides over back to her kitchen, leaning against the counters while she waits for her cupcakes to be done baking.

Caduceus remains seated, a calm but pensive expression in his face. He moves his tail slowly, taking another sip of his tea and pulling another funny face for a moment.

Jester isn’t sure why Beau dragged him in, but he seems nice and knowledgeable enough. Jester is also not one to reject people, the more the merrier in fact! It’s just all a very confusing situation.

It doesn’t fly over Jester’s head that Fjord might be right in a way. It’s not the first time Beau started following strange leads around the Savalirwood for their friend, but she meant it when she said she trusted Beau.

She also wanted to know what happened.

She also felt guilty in a way.

She takes another bite of her pizza, absentmindedly watching the cupcakes in the oven.



----

 

9 years ago, in the heart of the Savalirwood, Jester paced over the little trail that made its way deep into the woods.

 

She was always aware of the danger of walking through the woods by herself. Not in the sense that the woods were dangerous, no, but in the one where she shouldn’t really be outside her “hideout”. It wasn’t a home, not without her mother. It was such a small place but it felt so empty with only herself there. Sure Artagan visited her often, but it still felt lonely. It was the price she had to pay for stuff that wasn’t too much of her fault.

So what if she sneaked about sometimes? No one knew she even left Nicodranas. They couldn’t possibly find her here, that’s why she was in here after all! To not be found.

She spotted the cabin and felt herself growing more excited. 

It felt lonely being stuck in a house far away from home, but she found out that she could chase away that loneliness by hiding in an even tinier and stranger home, in the middle of the woods with a few friends.

“That you, Jessie?” She heard Beau call from behind the cabin. She walked around it, pants slightly dirty with mud, rubbing a hand on her forehead.

“Hi Beau!” She greeted, adjusting the basket in her grip. “Wacha doing?”

“Oh, I was just cleaning some of the grass here.” She leaned against the cabin and crossed her arms in that funny way that made her arms seem bigger. “What do you have there?”

“A board game. And a pie! I tried making one from the book Yasha gave me, you know?”

Jester pushed the door to the cabin open, letting herself in. Beau trailed behind her, dusting her jeans of dirt.

“What kind of pie?”

“You will know.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Has anyone else arrived yet?”

“Caleb was here. He went back to town to grab something.” 

Jester took her shoes off placing them by the door and walking around on her tiptoes. The place was kept clean by them, which was nice, it had an unique smell of nature and not so much the smell of what had to be rotting that it once had. The wooden floor was kept clean and so was the wine red carpet they threw over it. Jester loved how fluffy it was. She walked over it, feeling giddy. She dropped her basket on the desk by the window and pulled out her wrapped up pie, setting it down for Beau to see. She placed the board game on the desk as well. 

Beau walked past her, climbing the ladder to the upper floor.

“You want a soda?” She called.

“Yes, please!” Jester answered. 

Beau grabbed something off the fridge and hopped down the ladder, carrying a bottle for Jester.

“Thank you.” She opened it and took a sip, before offering it to Beau as well.

Beau thanked her with a nod, taking her own sip.

Jester glanced around the room. Maybe they should keep decorating it. Sure the place looked nothing like the empty little cabin it was 3 months ago when they first came there, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t be even better. There was a whole wall that Jester had painted with several works of art, but maybe she could give the same treatment to the other ones. Or bring some new furniture. It’d probably start getting cramped, but why not.

Or maybe they could expand the cabin. Add more rooms. With Yasha and Beau, that sounded doable. 

There was a knock on the door, and Fjord came in.

“Hey, guess what I found abandoned on the road.” He said, carrying a crate of beer on his arms. He walked in and behind him was none other than Mollymauk Tealeaf.

“Abandoned never.” He said with a finger out. “Simply awaiting. I am where I’m needed to be.”

Fjord rolled his eyes, putting the crate down to take his shoes off.

“Right, and not where you wait for me to give you a ride here?” 

“No!” He shook his head, taking his sweet time taking off those long boots of his. “That, my friend, is the work of fate.”

“Hi Molly!” Jester greeted running over to hug him.

“Hello, sweet pie. How are you doing?” He grinned at her.

“Great! AND, I made pie! How did you know ?” She gasped.

“The work of fate!” He said once more, and Fjord grunted. Jester giggled.

“Hey, is Yasha coming?” Beau asked, sitting down on her usual chair, legs dangling over the armrest.

“You’re not even gonna say hello?” Molly leaned over the backrest of the chair, looking down at Beau.

“No, you didn’t bring me anything.”

He looks appalled. 

“You think Fjord brought such quality beer for our meet-up?” He pointed at Fjord, who was putting said beer inside their mini fridge.

“Hey!” He protested from his spot.

“Alright, fuck you, answer my question.” Beau said in lieu of a real greeting.

Molly shook his head disapprovingly. 

“As much as it pains me to say it, my dear angel is not available for our meetup. Busy with things. You know.” He waved a hand around. “She apologizes and says she’ll make it up to it next time.”

Beau kinda deflated at those words.

“Awn. I made the pie for her.” Jester pouted. 

“Sorry, dear. I’m sure she wouldn’t miss it if she had the option.” Molly comforted her.

“I know.” Jester mumbled. “Did you bring your cards?

“Of course. Never leave without them.”

“Ooh! Can you keep teaching me them then? While we wait for Caleb and Nott.”

“Sure.” He said, in that strange accent of his. He waved her closer with his fingers, sitting down on the carpet inside their circle of seats. She sat in front of him, watching as he worked his magic. He took a velvety bag off the pocket of his coat. From inside, he drew his cards, becoming worn at the edges. He deftly shuffled them, practice showing in the way they seemed to dance around his fingers.

“Any specific spread you want to know about today?”

Jester hummed in thought, a finger to her chin as she glanced around the room.

She leaned forwards, dragging her butt closer to Molly and speaking in almost a whisper to him.

“What can you tell me about love, Molly?”

Molly grinned.

“Oh, my dear Jester. There’s so much I can tell you.”

He shuffled his cards a little more, and started setting them down on the floor in front of him.

 

----



Jester’s alarm rings again, bringing her back to reality. It means it’s been 15 minutes, and her cupcakes are ready. Done perfectly to the instructions of her favorite cookbook.

 

——

 

Caduceus waits patiently for everyone to settle down. They do, with Jester leaving her cupcakes to cool down on the counter and Fjord and Beau coming back inside, much less tense then they were before.

“Sorry about that, that’s a terrible first impression I left.” Fjord apologizes, scratching the back of his head and not really meeting Caduceus’s eyes as he sits by the table once more.

“Yeah. My bad.” Beau apologizes as well.

“It’s fine.” He tells them once more. “It happens.”

“Tell me about yourself though.” Fjord clears his throat. “Beau said you’re from the Blooming Grove? Was it like living there? I honestly thought the place was abandoned for a while.

“Oh, no. It’s a nice place. Very calm. I just don’t leave a lot.”

“Have you been living there for a long time? I remember passing by it a few times when we used to visit the cabin.”

“Yeah. My entire life. My siblings left it some years ago, so I think I was busier back then, getting used to living alone.”

“Awn, Caduceus, you were all alone there? If I had known I would’ve invited you to the cabin too!” Jester sits back on the table, setting down a plate for each person and putting a slice of pizza on her plate.

“Oh thank you. I don’t know if I would’ve taken that offer back then, to be honest.”

“Really? Why?” She asks.

Caduceus eyes the pizza. It’s another thing he never had, and it leaves him confused.

“I was a bit more recluse then, with people. Does this have meat in it?”

“Oh, here.” Fjord turns the box around, showing a half where some broccoli were peppered over the… cheese? “This one doesn’t have any.”

Caduceus thanks him and grabs a slice.

“Speaking of recluse, how’s the sea been treating you, Fjord?” Beau asks, and it soon becomes a comfortable conversation between friends. Caduceus is included every once in a while, but mostly it is just the other three speaking.

The noise is something Caduceus’ was almost getting used to not hearing. It was very comforting to be able to just be around people for a while.

They finish eating their dinner and Jester’s blueberry cupcakes and it becomes dark outside.

“Please stay the night! Like a sleepover! Please please I swear it’ll be so fun!” Jester begs.

Caduceus finds it hard to tell her no. He has a feeling he’s not the only one struggling, for soon they’re all preparing to sleep, with Beau and Jester sharing a room and Fjord and Caduceus sharing another. There are two neat beds in his. He takes the one closest to the window.

It’s the first time in recent memory that Caduceus is sleeping somewhere other than his home.

It’s been a week of experiencing new things.

The lights are out and he’s settling in when Fjords talks to him.

“Sorry about all of this. I really hope we’re not bothering you.”

“It’s fine. This is all very exciting actually. It’s different.”

Fjord chuckles.

“Exciting sure would be a word to describe our little group. Least it was. Weird would be another one.”

“The cabin friends?” Caduceus turns his head to look at him. Fjord has his arms crossed behind his head, a fond smile on his face.

“Yeah. We all bumped into each other by pure accident, but we stuck like magnets. We were all going through shit then. Jester had to come against her will and refused to lay low. Beau was going through some justifiable rebel feelings. And I was just pacing around, insecure with myself, going after a father that left.”

His eyes carry a nostalgia to them.

“We carried shit on our backs and we all felt lonely. But then we found a cabin in the woods and suddenly we had somewhere where none of these feelings had to exist for a while. We could just be dumb and happy about things, and knock some sense into eachother when needed.”

He chuckles. 

“It had its down, but it had many ups. We might not all be that close anymore but we all miss it. But I guess we can’t have it anymore. It feels weird going back without Molly there. Feels, empty? Ever since he left.” He shrugs. 

“You think he left?”

“I mean, based on personal experience.” He says with a frown, arms crossing over his chest instead. “I kinda wish that’s not the case. But I don’t know if that would be better. Molly could be as shady as the next bastard in shady creek. Who knows what really happened. We did look for him, Beau definitely is still at it.”

Then he drags a hand over his face.

“God, I have no idea why I'm telling you this.”

“It’s something important to you. Your friends. I don’t mind listening if you wish to speak.”

Fjord groans in apparent embarrassment.

“Thank you for listening then.”

“It’s no problem.

“I’ll just sleep. Good night, Caduceus.”

“Good night, Fjord.”

 

Caduceus falls asleep not long after.

 

————

 

He walks through the woods. It’s night and the world is black and white in his eyes. He walks over a trail he has walked over a thousand times before. His steps take him to the cabin in the woods.

He walks decisively to the front door.

He knocks.

 

No one answers.

So he knocks harder.

There is still no answer so he grabs at the handles and shakes them.

They barely budget, locked tightly.

There’s a crawling hysteria coming up his throat so he rattles harder.

It comes up and seizes on his lungs, grip warm and painful.

He tries to take a breath but nothing comes in.

He coughs out and his throat burns.

He can’t really breathe, wheezing pathetically, body locked in one position, a heavy weight seeming to press against him.

 

It's burning.

It’s so cold.

He can’t move. Can’t cry.

Can’t breathe.

 

Caduceus wakes up sitting up on his bed.

His nostril’s flare with each strangled breath he takes.

The sun is just peaking out on the horizon.

Caduceus doesn’t exactly remember what it was he was so afraid of in his dreams.

He gets off his bed walking carefully so as to not wake up Fjord, who slept soundly.

He walks through the corridor, going towards the bathroom.

He can hear water running.

Can hear coughing and spitting.

 

He gingerly walks until he is standing by the bathroom door .

Beauregard is arched over the sink, water is running down and she’s spitting into the basin.

When she raises her head she startles visibly at the sight of Caduceus’ reflection on the mirror in front of her. She doesn’t scream, but she jerks violently up, turning around to look at him.

“God fucking-! You scared the shit out of me.” She mumbles angrily.

It’s a coincidence that Beauregard is there washing her mouth.

He’d like to do that too.

After all, he woke up with the taste of mud on his tongue again.

Chapter Text

It was a quiet morning. A quiet and briefly tense morning.

Beauregard was on edge ever since Caduceus bumped into her earlier. She quickly excused herself and left the apartment, leaving Caduceus to try to gather his bearings after his nightmare.

Beau returned soon after with groceries. Coffee and bread, more specifically. She set out to brew the coffee in silence and she now stands by the kitchen counter with her arms crossed, willing the thing to brew faster under her heated gaze.

Caduceus sat by the now clean dinner table. Waiting for a sign, as usual.

Beauregard offers him a mug of coffee and he accepts.

She’s more relaxed the emptier her mug gets. Or the further up the sun goes. And so is Caduceus.

Fjord is up as well eventually, he grabs himself a mug of coffee too and the three sit in silence for a bit.

“How was your sleep?” He asks Caduceus, hair still endearingly sticking out places where it was squashed during the night.

“It was interesting. It’s pretty noisy here, I didn’t expect apartments to make that much noise. Lots of objects.”

“Objects are noisy?” He raises an eyebrow.

“Yeah. The forest is noisy too, of course. But it’s living things. Like, insects, or animals, or the wind on trees.” He explains. “In here it's dead things. It’s interesting. That not living things can make noise. That we can hear it.”

“Caduceus, that's so ominous.” He hears Jester speak as she approaches the table. She yawns, stretching her arms. “Good morning you guys.”

They all echo their good mornings back.

“What are the plans for today?” Jester asks, grabbing a new glass of ice tea for herself.

“I’m probably taking Caduceus back home.” Beau answers, dragging a chair back for Jester to plop on.

“Aaawn, but he just got here.” Jester pouts.

“I arrived yesterday.” Caduceus corrects.

“Yeah, but there’s a lot more you have to see in Zadash! You haven’t gone to my favorite bakery, or met Pumat! Do you know Pumat?”

“Not really.” He answers.

“See!”

“Jester, leave the man be.” Fjord interrupted.

Caduceus was unsure if he meant him or said Pumat.

“Well, that sounds lovely. Honestly I guess I could just visit again to see more.”

“Yes!” Jester cheers, clapping her hands together. “You can drive over and we can hang out.”

“Oh, I don’t have a car.”

“Fjord can drive you over.”

“Jester, I don’t live here.”

“I have a bicycle.” Caduceus says. It probably is still standing. Probably. Oh that’d be a lot of exercise.

“I can have Arty pick you up. Or Beau! You just have to call me! Here.” Jester gets up suddenly, her chair scraping against the floor. Fjord grabs it before it can fall over.

Jester rushes to a desk, pulling open a drawer and from it a notebook and a pen. She writes down something, ripping the page off and holding it out to Caduceus.

“You can call me whenever and we can chat and hang out every day now.”

Caduceus smiles.

“Thank you. That sounds great, thank you.”

“Do you want to give me your number too?”

“Oh!” Caduceus says. He doesn’t know his number. He has a telephone, but he only uses it to talk to his siblings. He did write down the number in case he needed it, and he’s glad he did! It is in a piece of paper under the phone itself in his home and inside his notebook.

Which is on the backpack he took with him.

“I think it is in my bag, hold on.” He gets up, much calmer than Jester, and walks to where he left his bag the night before in the guest room. He pulls out the little empty notebook and, much like Jester did, copies the number on a new page, ripping it out and handing it over to Jester.

“Yaaay we’re best buddies now.” She celebrates.

“I did drag you here, though. So if you want to just walk around the city for a while I don’t mind giving you a lift.” Beau says, changing the topic back.

Caduceus thinks for a moment.

“I feel like you’ve been very kind to have me. Maybe I could pay back the favor and make a meal for you. I’d like to shop for some things my home is missing while I’m in the city. I mean, if you want to join me, that is.”

“Yes! Sure!” Jester agrees, nodding excitedly.

“As long as we’re not imposing.” Fjord adds.

Beau just shrugs, seeming fine by it.

“I'm gonna change and we can have so much fun shopping it’s gonna be great.” Jester rushes out of the room and into her bedroom, seemingly to get ready and Beau and Fjord move to clean up the breakfast table in a manner that speaks of years of familiarity.

It brings a strange nostalgia to Caduceus. He hasn’t known these people for years, but he knows what it is like to have a table full, chores distributed and done out of kindness. 

He confesses that he misses it.

Jester rushes back for a moment.

“Caduceus, is it okay if I give your number to Arty? He kinda has to have a way to reach out to me in case of emergencies so…”

“Yes, sure. That’s fine.”

“Cool! I’m gonna call him then!”

She leaves once again, making her call. Her loud voice is muffled through the walls as she speaks into the phone.

Caduceus looks back at the other two.

“Who’s Arty?” He asks. The response is instantaneous. Both Fjord and Beau seem to deflate or tense up in unamusement at the mention of the name.

“Artagan. He’s… responsible for Jester. Let’s put it that way.” Fjord answers.

“That guy sucks. Like, we appreciate what he did, and hate him for what he didn’t. And what he did too. Fuck, do you remember that damn festival?” Beau turns to Fjord.

“You think I wouldn’t? Bastard’s face had gotten redder than that damn hair of his!” Fjord exclaims, gesturing wildly around his head.

Beau snickers.

“Uh oh. Should I be concerned?”

“Nah.” Fjord answers. “He’s useless, but he helps.” He says contradicting himself.

“Jester likes him, and he…” Beau sighs, speaking as if the sentence physically hurts her to say it “he keeps her safe. We fucking make sure he does.”

“Well, it’s nice to know she has friends that got her back.” Caduceus says.

Fjord and Beau seem to relax at that statement, a bit of embarrassment even making way into their posture.

“Well… we try. Jester can handle herself, and honestly? I think it's other people that can’t handle her. She’s a whole menace on her own.” Fjord says. Beau chuckles.

“True that. It’s why I like her.”

Fjord throws a glance at Beau, an eyebrow going up.

“What?! You too! Don’t look at me like that!” She ducks from his gaze, crossing her arms and turning away.

Fjord raises his eyebrows again, it’s a look Caduceus doesn’t quite get the meaning of, but he seems pleased. It’s at least amusing.

 

Once Jester is done with her call, she changes into a new cute frilly dress and they all head out, getting inside Beauregard’s car. Caduceus is once again made to sit on the passenger seat while Fjord and Jester take the back.

Beauregard drives them to the market and Jester quickly drags Caduceus around, telling him about all the things he should see or try. He nods along, happy to listen, as hard as it gets to follow sometimes. He fills a basket with ingredients that don’t grow near home and a new pot. He worries that money could become an issue, but it seems he has enough to cover it.

It is a lively morning and soon he’s heading back home with new friends.

He’s excited, he’s comfortable, but there’s a nagging feeling in the back of his head that he cannot name.

 

Beauregard parks in the same spot she did before.

They all come out of the car and stare into the Savalirwood.

Caduceus takes a deep breath, feeling the fresh breeze of nature’s lungs. It’s alive in the opposite way cities are. It's vast; it’s empty and it is full at the same time.

It’s home.

 

He leads the way.

They walk in comfortable silence on their way to the Grove. The air is chilled but not cold, the sun high in the sky. Caduceus is already thinking on what to prepare. Something that won’t take too long. Something nice. He knows a recipe his mother left him. That will do, yes.

He’s lost in thought so much it is only by the fact that he has been walking this same path his whole life that he makes it home without getting side tracked.

“That’s my home.” He points out opening the outside gates.

It is as he left it.

The roses by the entrance have all died.

 

“Hello spirits.” Jester mumbles, drawing an alarmed stare from Fjord. They follow Caduceus along, eyes curiously taking in the cemetery before the house. Caduceus is familiar enough with the visage.

He unlocks the front door and lets himself in, breathing in the air of his home.

“Welcome. Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll prepare something for us.” He holds the door open for his guests to walk in. 

“This is such a pretty place, Caduceus!” Jester exclaims examining everything her eyes can land on.

“Yes. Cozy.” Fjord nods along.

“Thank you.” He answers happily. He leaves the door open, taking his groceries to the kitchen.

“You’re cooking? Can I help? I’m really good.” Jester approaches him, invading his personal space.

“Oh, I don’t want to inconvenience you.” He answers, setting down his groceries.

“No, it’s fine! I love hanging out!”

Caduceus feels a bit defensive for some reason. But he ponders a bit, and eventually relents. It’s an innocent enough social activity if he lets it be.

“Sure. You can start by chopping these if you want.”

Jester woops in celebration. And it doesn’t take long until Fjord and Beau are assisting him as well. It seems altruism is built into them when it comes to friends. It is very sweet.

They ask him about his home, his family. He tells them stories about them both, and about himself. It’s maybe not enough interesting stories for the time he has lived, but they’re still dear to him.

Lunch is a wonderful affair.

“Caduceus this is way too good. I know I was there watching, but how the hell did you make this?” Fjord tells wide eyed as he shoves another spoonful of rice mushroom soup into his mouth.

“Thanks. It’s a recipe I really like.”

“Man… I need to learn salty things better.” Jester pouts. “I can do just… pie this good.”

“Aren’t your pies like all sweet too?” Beau asks.

“I know some salty ones! I even brought a few when I used to do the pie rotation at the cabin!”

“Oh yeah.” Beau recalls.

“Oh! You know what!” Jester exclaims. “We should visit the cabin!”

 

There’s a pause.

 

“You sure?” Fjord asks.

“Yeah! It’s been so long! We should totally check it out.”

“I did. It’s all trashed up now.” Beau answers, a little more guarded than she was a moment before. Caduceus makes note of it, tilting his head to the side.

“But I want to see it myself! Maybe we could repair it.”

“You did want to go there again anyway, right Beau? You asked for these?” Fjord pulls a ring of keys from his pocket. A single key hanging from it.

Beau stares them down for a moment before shrugging casually.

“Sure. We could visit it.”

“Do you want to come too, Caduceus? I don’t want to leave you out.” Jester asks, turning her boundless energy to him.

“If it is okay.”

“Yeah! And you can tell us stuff about the forest! And we’ll tell you the stuff we used to do when we hung out!”

“That sounds great.” He smiles.

So they finish their meals, and, after cleaning up their plates, they head outside.

It’s gotten colder, the air chilly despite the sun warming them up under its light.

There’s a lot of time to spare but Caduceus gets a strange sense of urgency. It is not in his nature to rush things however, so he shrugs it off, walking at his calm pace with his cane.

Beau is walking ahead of him, Jester walking besides her. Caduceus is hanging a little back with Fjord near him. They walk for a while. Jester tries to call out places she is sure she recognizes, several times with varying degrees of failure. It takes a while for them to arrive, but soon enough they spot the old cabin.

“Woooow it’s all fucked uuup!” Jester whistles.

 

She hurries up ahead, doing a little pass around the house.

Fjord stops, putting his hands on his hips.

“It kind of got swallowed by the vegetation, huh. I should have gotten used to it seeing how much brine covered shit I see but...wow. This is different.”

He breathes in deeply and out, thinking to himself. Caduceus leaves him at it.

Beau is…

Beau is frowning.

“Hey Cad.” She calls out. “You didn’t come back here that night we met, did you?”

“No.” He answers. “Why?”

She frowns , glancing back at the doors.

“I thought I closed the place.”

“I didn’t pay attention. Maybe the doors are broken?” He approaches, and Fjord follows, curious.

“Yeah…” she mumbles non commitantly.

“Wait! Don’t go in without me!” Jester pulls out from the other side of the house. She rushes close to them. Beau pushes the doors open letting herself in. 

They all follow suit.

“Wow, yeah we can’t sleep here at all…” Jester notes, glancing about. “Aawn, my mural…” she pouts.

Caduceus glances at the wall she was glaring at, noting a faded painting covering most of the wall. He thinks “most” because he can’t really tell where the painting begins and where it ends anymore, corroded by the elements.

“It is a bit of a mess here, right? No one took the fridge?” Fjord craned his neck to look at the short second floor.

“We kinda just scattered.” Beau shrugs. 

“I feel bad… this place looked so nice, you should’ve seen it Caduceus. It was ours.” Jester says, falling silent right after.

It spreads to them all, laying heavy over their heads. It feels like mourning for a bit, how they seem to sag their shoulders, looking at ghosts of what the place was. Caduceus can tell what mourning looks like after all.

“We could fix the place up.” Fjord lays a hand on Jester’s shoulder.

“Hmmm I don’t know. It wouldn't be the same.”

“You don’t need to make it the same. It likely won’t be anymore.” Caduceus calls, drawing the eyes of everyone. “Doesn’t mean it can’t be something new. Something nice. It doesn’t have to be what it used to be to honor the memory of what it was.” He stops for a bit. “Did that sound confusing?”

Jester chuckles.

“No, I get it. You’re right…” she smiles, softly. “Thanks Caduceus… I’ll think about it.”

He smiles back.

“This place is pretty big though, I kinda forgot. It used to feel so cramped when we were here.” Fjord says.

“Yeah, that’s ‘cause we were spreading our shit everywhere. The training dummy is still here.” Beau points at a tall wooden post Caduceus saw during his first visit. 

“Gods, we had that, huh?” Fjord says.

“Hey, dude. Can I have the keys?” Beau asks.

“Really? You actually want to check that out?”

“Yeah.” She answers quickly.

Fjord sighs.

He fishes for something in his pockets, coming out with the ring of keys. Beau takes it from his hands.

She walks away, heading towards the hatch on the floor Caduceus had seen before. There’s an air of anxiety around them all as she kneels by it. Jester and Fjord leaning over her to peer into it.

She puts the key into the lock, turning it. It clicks and Beau pulls up the metal door.

The metal groans and then screeches as it comes up.

The first thing Caduceus notes is the smell of stale air and decay.

The second is an empty metal compartment, speckles of dirt covering the interior.

 

There’s nothing inside.

 

“We’ll… it’s just as we left it.” Fjord says.

Beau is frowning.

“Were you expecting it not to be, Beau?” Jester asks.

“Huh?” Beau looks up. “No… I mean… I don’t know. It just seemed-.” She cuts herself off with a sigh, running a hand through her hair. “I don’t know… I was just… thinking.”

They don’t respond.

“Well, I hope you have that out of your mind now.” Fjord says.

Beau closes the hatch, locking it.

“Sure.”

She gets up. Handing the keys back to Fjord who pockets them once more.

That’s when Caduceus notes something. Not on Fjord or Beau, but the floor. Over the rotting wood planks that made the surface they walked on.

A drying trail of something. The green following it wilting, drying under harsh conditions. He follows the trail with his eyes, where the grass died and something dripped.

It is a straight line, going from the hatch and out the open doors.

He squints his eyes, trying to follow it further down.

It keeps going outside, the faintest of trails.

 

There was a weird feeling to the image. 

He stares at the spot his eyes landed on.

He thinks for a bit, feeling this weird thing at the back of his head.

It clicks to him that in his nightmares the night before, that’s where he had been standing. 

Outside, looking in.

Caduceus could almost see himself inside the house, looking at that spot with concern.

 

He does feel like he’s being watched.

 

“How much would we have to build from scratch to save the house?” Jester asks pouting. It breaks Caduceus from his stupor. He didn’t notice he had been spacing out for a while actually.

“I honestly don’t know.” Fjord answers. “You want to do it?”

“I want to think about it.” She says.

“We can look into it, Jessie. Later.” Beau adds.

“We should head back then. There’s not much else to look at here now.” Jester sighs dramatically.

“Alright.” Beau dusts her knees and starts making her out with Jester in tow.

“If you say so.” Fjord says, casting another longing glance about. It’s forlorn, the way he does it.

“The house won’t be gone once you leave. You can always return when you miss it.” Caduceus tells him. Fjord eyes him.

“I guess that’s exactly my problem. I can’t seem to shake off my ghosts.”

He smiles briefly at Caduceus, turning around and leaving.

Caduceus casts a last look around.

 

He heads out.

 

Caduceus closes the door behind him, aware of Beau’s eyes burning against his back as he does it.

“It looks kinda cool though. It’s camouflaged.” Jester ponders, tilting her head as she inspects the house.

“It kinda was already before though.” Beau indulges her, taking her eyes off Caduceus.

“Yeah but it’s more now.”

Caduceus reaches where they are, looking back into the house.

He takes a step to the side, watching the cabin.

It’s the exact place of his dreams.

Or nightmares.

 

He looks at the house entrance, following the trail of dying grass. It comes to where he’s standing and he turns around looking behind him for the rest of the way.

It forks out, he notices. It’s harder to follow the trail then, but one is surely going in the way he must go to head home.

It’s a peculiar discovery.

 

Beauregard started looking at him again.

He keeps eye contact, inviting her to speak up.

She turns her eyes away, getting back into her conversation.

 

They walk back to his home and Caduceus is paying attention. He glances at the seemingly random intervals where the grass has died, trails of death around. They keep showing up until the entrance of the blooming grove, where the bush of roses has wilted.

He glances out, and maybe it continues further beyond. Past the Grove.

 

He lets his friends in once again.

He makes them tea.

He sets the tray down on the living room, where the others settled to chat. Jester has her sketchbook out propped on her legs, doodling to her heart’s content. Fjord reaches out for the tea with a thanks.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what was it you were looking for?” Caduceus asks, settling down with his own poured cup.

“Huh?” Fjord asks.

“In that little hatch. You all seemed a bit apprehensive about it.”

There’s a pause where the three of them trade glances.

“It’s kind of a secret, really.” Jester says.

“Oh?” Caduceus tilts his head.

“Not anymore kind of, since we don’t have it.” Beau points out.

“True. But we had like, a million fucking gold in jewelry.” Jester nods, going back to her drawing.

“Really?” Caduceus asks, surprised.

“No, not like that, it’s…” Fjord sighs. “It’s a little more complicated and a bit bad looking in hindsight but, we really didn’t know what to do with it.”

Beau leans back on her seat, laid out in a purposefully relaxed position. Fjord responds by adjusting himself to sit more properly.

“Well, it’s… one day someone, I don’t remember who, might’ve been Veth. Someone found something in the river near the cabin. More specifically a necklace with a jewel hanging from it. It was a very pretty thing, looked untouched by the weather too. And since we were all kinda in shit at the time and desperately needing a way out of our situation, we took it. But then Caleb, our friend, mentioned seeing it before. And it bothered him, because Caleb has a pretty good memory, so if he notices something it’s because it probably is important. But he couldn’t remember what it was exactly.”

He leans forward.

“So we decided to hang onto it until we figured out what it was.”

“And did you?” Caduceus asks.

Fjord laughs dryly.

“Can’t really tell you if we really did… but damn did we find out something.

 

——

 

9 years ago, in the heart of the Savalirwood, Fjord sat down on his favored seat inside the cabin.

He somehow still felt sweat collecting on his skin from the running he did earlier. His new “morning training” as Beau called it. He ran and he did his first set of reps, and the second. The third though…

He eyed the empty space where he was supposed to be doing them, the stupid fucking training dummy staring at him, even without any features. 

The judgy mother fucker.

It was not like anyone else would rat him out on slacking a bit. Molly was the only one there too, and right now he was just lounging on the sofa, a magazine held over his head as his tail swishing lazily back and forward. Molly usually tried to antagonize Beau as much as he could, so maybe he’d take his side on this one.

Molly seemed to notice his eyes lingering, for he tilted his head to the side a bit, eyeing Fjord through his arms. He seemed to. It was hard to tell with those eyes of his. The smile that came to his face sold it though.

“Gave up already?”

Fjord cleared his throat.

“Catching my breath. You know. Tough training.”

Molly smiled wider.

“I can tell. I’ve pretended to read this page 3 times already.”

Fjord grunted. 

“Well, do you want to give it a try? Train with me. And Beau.” He adds.

“Hah!” Molly let out a startled laugh. He dropped the magazine, turning so that he laid on his side, arm hanging off the couch. “The only way you or anyone else is seeing me sweat like that is when I’m naked and feeling much more superficial kinds of pains.” 

“Noted.” Fjord cut him, getting up to resume his reps. He wouldn’t let Molly keep going on that train of thought then and if he did he wanted to have something to blame on the pink his face would get.

He did the first set of exercises, breathing in and out like he was taught.

“You’re fit though.” He said, catching his breath. “I think Yasha said once.” He gulped in air. “That you train.”

“It’s different.” Molly was back at glancing at his magazine, flipping pages randomly. “More flexibility involved.”

“Right.” Fjord turned back around.

“That one wasn’t an innuendo you dirty minded man.” Molly pointed at him accusingly.

“Hard to tell with you.” He said defensively.

“Fair enough.”  He shrugged. “You don’t want to do my training though.”

“Why?” Fjord asked, hands on his hips.

Molly raised an eyebrow up at him. 

“It’s how I can do those things you get all freaked out about.”

“You mean like the leg thing-STOP! NO! MOLLY STOP!” 

Before Fjord could finish his sentence, Molly sat up on the couch, grabbing a hold of one of his feet and bringing it over his head and then behind it, leaving it there.

It did freak Fjord out. His leg was going to fucking pop off. He looked away, one hand covering his vision where Molly was.

“It’s fine!” Molly said, amused as hell.

“It’s weird!” 

Fjord heard a noise of the door opening over Molly’s snorting.

“Hey.” Beau’s voice called.

“Heya.” Molly greeted back.

“Beau, did he take it off?” Fjord asked.

“What? What are you two doing?”

Fjord peeked at Molly. He was sitting with his legs crossed in front of him and an elbow leaned on one of his knees.

“Nothing.” Fjord cleared his throat.

“Did you even finish training?” She asked.

“Yup.” Fjord lied, swinging his arms around and ignoring the look Molly was giving him. “What is that you got there? Wow, a book?” He approached her, scratching his nose.

Beau only squinted up at him for a second.

“Yeah. Caleb was talking about that necklace so we decided to look into it. We found this last night. I managed to get it out of the library this morning.”

She plopped the book down on the desk by the window.

She ran her fingers through the top of the pages, coming to a bookmark and opening it.

“This is about like, old Xhorhasian culture and shit. They have these luxons, which are basically a sacred thing to them. Xhorhasians believe in reincarnation, mostly. or they did. Don’t know. Basically there was this belief souls could be contained in a luxon so they could safely find a new body to be born into. Luxons would help keep their souls… legit?” She tried to explain. “It’s long, and interesting. So they can’t really build luxons, but they did build things in their shape. It’s iconic, anyway.”

She pointed at a picture of a dodecahedron of sorts made of a dark crystal. It was pretty in its own way, and the color and maybe the shape did resemble the necklace they had found.

“So we have one?” Molly asked from where he was standing near Fjord, arms crossed. He didn’t even notice him coming up.

“No. I said they couldn’t build a luxon. But they tried to reproduce them, for sure.”

Beau flipped the page.

“Lots of things were built to celebrate them, like holy symbols, or just symbols in general, but some people tried to recreate it in other forms. Xhorhas has the luxon beacons that still exist, but some were lost with time, taken by other cultures or other shit.”

“And that’s the thing.” Beau turned a few more pages. “Some people talk about people taking lost luxons or parts of them and rebuilding them to try to get their powers to work again. So me and Caleb went over some shit and he talked about a visit to the Assembly’s office when he was younger and documents and shit. Expositions. And we dug a little further and we found this.”

She pulled a page out of the book, clearly from somewhere else. It was a drawing made in charcoal, text complementing a description of it.

The drawing itself was of a necklace, a beautiful decoration holding onto a dark jewel.

“Bloody hells…” Molly mumbled near him.

“You’re telling me… we accidentally fished a fucking historical piece from Xhorhas out of the damn river?” Fjord asked, baffled.

“It could be a fake. I don’t know.” She shrugged. “But it’s not like we know where it was before or how it’d end up here.”

“Shit…” Fjord let out.

“Are we sure that’s the one we found?” Molly asked.

“Wanna take a look?” Beau offered.

They walked up to where the hatch was, lifting the carpet out of the way. Beau took the key out of its hiding spot, opening up the hatch to reveal a small cardboard box, painted in stripes. She took it out, opening up the lid.

Inside, sitting atop a folded bunch of silk, was a gorgeous necklace, decorated in silver, details carefully fabricated as to appear like a dark gem, cut in dodecahedron shape, was gently held by the roots of a tree.

 

An identical visage of the drawing in Beau’s hand.



Fuck…

 

——

 

“We kinda didn’t know what to do with it.” Fjord says, scratching the back of his head. “Like, logically we should’ve just handed it over to the Cobalt Soul or some museum or some shit. But we were all in Shady Creek then. It is a fishy fucking place. And like I said, we were in some deep shit. So we just… hid it. Trying to see how we could use it to help us.”

“That doesn’t sound smart.” Caduceus frowns.

“Yeah.” Fjord concedes. “Desperation does that. It could be a fake though. We had to make sure. Or we told ourselves that.”

“What happened to it?” Caduceus asks.

Fjord stops talking, eyes falling down to his hands, propped on his knees in front of him.

The whole room seems to still as Caduceus’ words died out. It’s obviously an uncomfortable subject to all of them.

“It disappeared.” Beau answers. “One day it was there, the next it wasn’t. We don’t know what happened to it.”

“Huh. That’s unfortunate.”

Beau scoffs.

“We… well… we split up a little after that. Stuff happened and it became hard for us to be there, so we just… drifted apart.” Fjord explains.

Jester is awfully quiet through the conversation, her pencil stilled on her page for several minutes, despite her eyes being trained on her sketchbook.

Strong friendships forged on difficult times being torn by an object seems like a sad thing in Caduceus’ eyes. And he can tell the three people with him feel the same. There’s clear fondness between them, and an effort to be together.

It’s an effort made for years apparently.

Jester opens her mouth.

“It wasn’t-“

She’s interrupted by a loud ring that startles everyone in the house. For a few seconds Caduceus is confused about what the noise could be when he remembers that it was the sound of his home’s phone.

“Excuse me.” He gets up, going over the desk on which the phone was.

He picks it up, putting it to his ear, as weird as it was.

“Hello?” He asks.

“Please. Is this the… residence of a uhm… Caduceus Clay?” A low voice speaks, words dragged and mumbled in the manner of his speech.

“Yeah.” Caduceus answers.

“W...w…would a Fjord per chance be nearby at the m...moment?” He asks. 

“Yeah.” He answers again.

There’s a pause.

“Well… can I talk to him? Tell him it’s Orly.”

“Oh, right.” Caduceus let’s the phone down, walking to the living room.

“Fjord. It’s for you. It’s uh… Orly, apparently.” He says.

Fjord’s eyebrows shoot up, he gets up from his seat quickly.

“Shit. Where’s the-?” Caduceus points to where the phone rested, a few steps away.

“Thanks.” Fjord says, strutting over and picking it up.

“Orly?” He asks. “Yeah, yeah sorry about that. I know I told you to call Jester.”

“Tell him hiiiii!” Jester shouts over her shoulder.

“She’s saying hi.” Fjord says into the receiver.

“Yes. Uhum. What of it?”

Fjord listens for a moment and then freezes. There’s a stretch of silence as he waits for the other end of the conversation to stop.

“Wait. And you’re sure of it? Absolutely sure?”

Another pause.

“Shit.” He pinches the bridge of his nose.

“No, it’s fine. Thank you, Orly. Sorry for the trouble. Yeah, take care” he puts the phone down.

He sighs leaning back and banging the back of his head weakly onto the wall.

“What? What was it?” Beau asks, perking up from her seat.

“Well, Orly just brought me some news from Port Damali.”

Fjord looks at Beau, an emotion Caduceus couldn't quite name on his face.

“What were your theories? Because Lorenzo went through fucking Port Damali on his way here a few days ago.”

“What?!” Jester lets her sketchbook drop on her legs.

Fjord looks at her.

“Lorenzo is back in fucking Shady Creek Run.”

 

Chapter Text

Caduceus laid on his bed staring at the dark ceiling above. It was getting late by now. He had been laying in bed for a while already, but sleep wasn’t coming to him.

His friends were sleeping in the other rooms. They decided they’d stay the night and go back to the city in the morning. Beauregard would be heading to Shady Creek to investigate, Fjord and Jester would return to Zadash. Fjord had work. Jester couldn’t leave her apartment for long.

Caduceus was already home.

It was what they discussed for an hour or so after the call.

Lorenzo was an important piece of the puzzle, a big figure of the Iron Shepherds. A piece that could predicted. That could perhaps be saved.

 

Caduceus was unmoved by the visage of death, but those murders did sit wrong with him. 

 

It was the coincidences. The pieces that didn’t quite fit yet sitting upon the same table. It was a series of corpses, a detective with a burden and a lost soul trapped within the woods. 

And it was him in the middle of it all.

 

He sits up on his bed. His ears twitching slightly.

He didn’t hear anything really. Just had this hunch.

He waits for a bit more, the feeling sitting within him, stirring him into action.

So he gets up.

He walks carefully, bare footed, through the door of his room. Pushing the wood gently.

It’s cold outside, he feels it on his skin. And there’s the smell of wet dirt in the air that suggests rain is coming. The wind waving his hair suggests a storm instead.

He shivers, rubbing his arms in a quick motion.

He better hurry.

 

He heads off past the door and through the trail he walked several times already.

He finds the front door. The grass crunches where he steps, approaching the house. He’s gotta try to talk to her at least.

The humid air laps against his cheeks. 

He’s walking slow. 

No. 

Time is moving slow.

He’s reaching for the double doors, a fist raised.

 

Wait.

Where is he?

 

Who’s he looking for?



Caduceus is startled by a knock.

 

He freezes in the middle of his living room, looking at his front door, still securely locked.

It’s only a few steps away.

 

Through the blurred glass pane, Caduceus can see the silhouette of a figure standing outside.



It knocks again.

 

Did it see him? Does it know he’s standing there?

 

The knock is louder, echoing almost like thunder.

And thunder does flash in the darkened skies outside.

 

He doesn’t dare move. Doesn’t dare breathe.

 

There’s no movement.

 

It’s because of that, because of the absolute silence, that Caduceus catches it when the handle is slowly turned. A bit, then more. And more.

 

Did he lock the doors?

 

The door clicks.

 

Caduceus eyes shoot open, breath doming in fast, covers caught in his limbs.

Parts of his nightmare linger. 

He can taste dirt in his tongue.

Tastes copper too.

 

He exhales, laying back down.

He needs to solve this soon.

 

——

 

He is tired enough to fall asleep again, despite the dreadful nightmare haunting his night. It’s not a lot more sleep, but it’s something.

He gets up, and heads to one of the bathrooms to get ready for the morning.

When he heads to the living room Beauregard is already up. She’s sitting in one of the comfortable chairs, her files spread on her lap. Looking as tired as she does every morning (in Caduceus’ experience).

She nods in his direction, and he smiles back.





“I’ll call you to chat!” Jester promises him as she hugs him. It’s a good hug, he thinks. He has to lean down a lot but Jester squeezes enough to know you’re cared for.

“I’ll look up to it then.” He says back.

“It’s been nice knowing you, I hope we get to meet again soon.” Fjord tells him.

Beau just jerks her chin up.

“Thanks, Cad.”

“It’s no problem at all.” He answers.

He waves them goodbye.

And once again he’s alone at home.

 

For a moment he just takes a deep breath, enjoying the calm.

He’s used to it, it’s not too bad. 

He stands at his front door for a bit.

Then he turns around and gets to cleaning his little home.

 

He puts the new pots for good use, checks on the graveyard again, breathes the air, and falls into routine.

Like previously said, he’s used to it.

 

He sleeps with his door locked.

Dreams of horrors he doesn’t quite recall.

All that sticks is the dirt, the path, the knocking.

He feels he's getting better at remembering the details.

 

Jester calls him the next day. She had pastries and Beau left to work. 

“Would you like me to keep you updated if Beau finds anything?” She asks absentmindedly.

He pauses.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that, yes.” He finds himself answering. It feels important he does.

 

Two more days pass. And on the third afternoon, Caduceus stares out his door.

It’s winter.

Caduceus is exhausted, his sleeping hours are plagued with visions he can’t control that just slip through his fingers. His waking hours start becoming tiresome. Especially when the sun starts dipping into the horizon, just like it is doing now, painting the skies orange.

There’s something calling to him. Something he must do. Somewhere he must go.

 

He grabs his cane and bag and sets off.

He’s doing the reverse way of his visions, walking towards their starting point as further as he can go.

He walks and walks, his breathing and the sound of leaves crunching beneath his feet the only sounds he hears.

It feels so loud.

 

It’s dark when he reaches the cabin.

It’s exactly like it is in his dreams, except this one is broken and empty.

He walks up to the doors and the urge is to knock.

The doors are open.

 

He lets himself in, eyes trying to adapt to the darkness. He reaches into his bag for a flashlight, impressed he made it so far without any light, and turns it on. The light flickers on, shining a yellow circle on the opposite wall to him, the back wall.

 

He closes the doors behind him and walks carefully, shining the flashlight around the room to inspect it.The place looks the same as he last saw it. Or not? It’s confusing. He frowns. It is exactly as he, Beau, Fjord and Jester left it, but it shouldn’t be, in his expectations.

It is.



It is not.

He shines the beacon to the metal hatch on the floor.

The hatch is burst open, the metal twisted up.

It’s empty, just as it was before.

 

A lightning strikes far away, shining light through the dirty windows of the cabin. Caduceus shines his light around again, looking for clues.

They become clearer.

Some things were dragged just a bit away. Tools pulled off the wall. The windows are still closed, most things still untouched. There wasn’t a lot of searching done around. Whoever came here knew where to look.

 

There’s a knock on the door.

The flashlight falls out his fingers in his scare.

His heart beats hard against his ribcage.

The flashlight rolls, the circle of light casting dancing shadows against the walls as it moves.

He’s alone, but he’s certain he heard the noise.

He stands still, listening in once again.

 

There’s another knock.



He knows what comes next.

 

Caduceus ducks down, hiding himself underneath one of the long forgotten couches, body pressed against the plant covered floor, the smell of rotting wood hitting him.

 

He hears it when the doors open. Slowly creaking as they are pushed.

Caduceus can’t see it from where he’s hiding, he doesn’t dare moving lest he makes a noise. His breathing is already so loud.

Through the rubble he can catch a glimpse of the shadows against the wall moving. Someone stepping through the beam of light from his fallen flashlight.

He hears the steps too.

 

They come closer. Boots against creaking wood.

They come closer.

One step at a time.

 

He sees the boots step in front of his hiding spot.

They stop.

 

It’s all he can see. The boots.

Dark leather, wet. With snow.

It’s cold.

Something drips on the floor.

When Caduceus breathes he can see it where it condenses against the cold air.

Something drips on the floor.

 

He hears breathing.

Caduceus holds his breath.













His lungs burn. It’s like he can hear his heart beat and that too is too loud.

There’s another noise, one Caduceus isn’t sure he’s truly hearing, for he's holding his breath. But it’s what he hears. Breathing.

Or whining?

He isn’t sure at all.

He needs to breathe though, he can taste dirt in his mouth, with copper. His lungs burn, a weight settling on them so heavy. There’s a need to thrash, but he doesn’t move.

 

The boots drag against the floor, turning around, and move. 

One step. Another.

 

There’s a purple tail dragging behind them.



The shadow walks past the light, and the sounds of boots leave.



Caduceus breathes.

He coughs, pushing air back into his lungs.

He drags himself off his hiding spot.

The cold lingers for a bit, a coat of frost clinging to where the figure stepped.

Where it stood, there’s a small pool of blood. In the middle of the room.

 

Nothing else touched at all.

 

It doesn’t explain anything to Caduceus at all, other than maybe Mollymauk seems to be searching for something too.

 

——

 

When Caduceus opens his eyes, there’s a few moments where confusion strikes him.

There’s something off about his room. He blinks and stares up at the dark ceiling, and slowly it clicks to him that this time, he hadn’t been in a dream at all.

He sits up, off the dirty floor of the cold cabin and there’s a gap in his memory but that’s where he went to sleep.

How much of it had he dreamed?

 

He glances at the middle of the room and there’s no blood. But there's still frost, marking a trail out the door. It doesn’t go any further into the house, however.

Caduceus stands up and walks to that spot where the figure stood before.

From there he can see the bent metal hatch. It’s too far to reach. He could reach for the couch he had hid under, but that was it.

The wall ahead of him shows nothing, just the two closed doors and the other floor of the cabin.

He takes note of it and heads back home.

 

Stepping through the open doors, Caduceus rubs his hands. It got pretty cold, he knew there was snow to come soon. He is lucky he stayed warm somehow inside the open cabin. It is a miracle he isn’t sick, or unwell.

To be fair, he felt cold now, but waking up, he mostly felt tired.

He studies the grass at his feet, besides the frosted blades.

He can’t tell if the trail there is his own or someone else’s. Or if it is a trail at all.

There’s nothing he can do about it.

 

He gets back home.

He still feels like he could be dreaming, but he’s tired, and hungry, and that feels inappropriate for a dream. So he gets to the first order of business and gets himself some food, just grabbing a fruit out of his dingy fridge and nibbling on it.

He lets his thoughts simmer for a while more, about what he saw in the cabin. Tries to apply logic to it all. Once again, that’s not his forte.

But he wants to try anyway. 

He must.

 

The thoughts come and go as he gets through his day. He’s done those tasks so many times, he can do it with his eyes closed now. It’s very automatic, so he can be just unfocused enough, letting time pass him by to keep thinking those thoughts.

He is startled out of his skin when his phone rings.

 

He shakes off the feeling, noticing the rapidly descending sun and truds over to his phone, picking it up from the receiver.

 

“Hi.” He drawls.

“Hi, Caduceus! It’s me, Jester again. I wanted to ask if you think ferrets could travel?”

He ponders.

“Yeah. But how?”

“Oh, I mean in carrier, or my shoulders.” Jester’s voice sounds from the phone, almost distracted.

“I guess. I don’t know, I’ve never carried a ferret.” 

“That’s fair. How are you doing?” Her voice gets clearer, and Caduceus can almost feel her looking up at him.

“I… I had a, uh. A very strange morning. I think someone has been in your cabin.”

“Really?!” Caduceus hears a thud in the other side of the line. “You saw them?”

“No. But the doors were open. And someone broke into the hatch?”

“Crap...” Jester mumbles. “No clue who it was?”

“No.” He answers honestly. “I have a feeling they’ll return though. If they were looking for something, they didn’t find it.”

There’s a pause as Jester thinks.

“We should tell Beau, it could be bad.”

“Yeah, I hoped to do so.”

“I could give you a lift to Shady Creek. What do you think?”

Caduceus’ eyebrows rise up.

“We would visit her?”

“Yeah! She’s investigating Lorenzo’s trail, if she got something we can just tell her and leave. And if we got something she can come with us.”

There’s a part of Caduceus that thinks just calling Beauregard would be much easier.

“Okay. Yeah.” He agrees instead. 

“Good. I’m going to pick you up now, bye.”

“Now?” Caduceus asks, but all the response he gets is the beep of the phone.

 

Ah. He just emptied his bag too.

He fills it once again with some spare clothing and other needed things, grabbing his cane to take as well. Jester would be taking a while to get there, he might as well get closer to her too.

 

He walks outside, locking his home behind him.

He’s been leaving it alone a lot lately.

 

He leaves the Savalirwood behind.

 

——

 

When Caduceus encounters Jester in the outside of the forest she’s wearing yet another very cute dress, though she’s wearing winter thighs under it. She doesn’t hesitate to hop over to hug him.

Her car has a bunch of boxes in the back, and by what he can see of them, Caduceus assumes Jester decided to really take into consideration renovating the cabin.

Shady Creek is closer to the Savalirwood than Zadash. They’ll get there much faster, is what Jester rambled about for the first few minutes. It’s a quick spill of words, followed by lots of smiles and then extended silences. It’s the way she drums her fingers and not once asks too much.

Jester is nervous.

Caduceus of course wants to help, so he might as well try it.

“Jester.” He calls her from the backseat.

“Yeah?” She quickly answers.

“Are you worried about Beauregard?”

She freezes for barely a second.

“Yeah. I mean, Beau is pretty badass, but I’m still her friend, so it’s normal to worry when she’s doing dangerous stuff.”

“But you’re not worried like normally, yeah?”

Jester keeps her eyes on the road.

She thinks, her tail thumping on the carpeted floor of the car.

She sighs.

“Well, it’s just… Last time something like this happened… it wasn’t good. For any of us but specially for Beau. I don’t want it to be like that again.”

“You mean when your friend disappeared?”

“Yeah…” she agreed sadly.

“Maybe I’m just scared so it’s getting in the way of my judgement. Maybe she’s okay!” She shrugs. “She just felt so guilty, Cad. It wasn’t her fault. And whatever is going on here, it’s not her fault either.”

Jester glances at him from the rear mirror.

“Can I ask you a favor?”

“Yeah.” Caduceus answers, leaning forward.

“You weren’t there when it first happened, so you’ve only seen the Beau from now.”

Jester clutches tighter at her steering wheel.

“Can you keep an eye on her in case she just starts being too hard on herself again? I trust you can tell it. And you are very nice, and Beau trusts you.”

Her voice grows smaller.

“I want her to believe it when someone tells her…” she trails off.

Caduceus knows he isn’t going to hear the rest of if, so he nods.

“Of course. I’ll keep an eye.”

He gives Jester a moment before continuing.

“You know, it’s hard to change what someone thinks of themselves, especially when they are so strict about it. But I could tell she cares about you, and believes you. She heard you, she just needs the time to internalize it. And sometimes it takes a long time. But she’s listening.”

Jester smiles.

“Yeah, Fjord used to have to poke her into admitting that we cared for her and she was all smushy for us.” Her smile grows wider. “I think we got to her, a little bit.”

 

“Thank you, Caduceus.”

“Oh, it’s no problem at all.”

 

——-

 

Reaching Shady Creek Run is much less of an ordeal than reaching Zadash. The streets are much tighter and the buildings, much lower. It’s almost dizzying the way the streets would turn and twist, almost as if the city grew organically instead of being man made.

Jester would stick her neck forward, eyes squinting as she stared at store fronts and street names, searching for the place she told Beau was staying while she investigated.

 

It’s getting dark pretty soon.

 

The building in question eventually pops into view. An Inn. 

The entrance a mere corridor where maybe two people could fit at once. They park and squeeze their way inside. Caduceus has to duck at one point to avoid hitting his head on a hanging lightbulb.

 

There’s an elf sitting behind a counter with a magazine in their hands.

Their eyes flick up when Jester and Caduceus come in.

Jester waves.

“Hi, we’re just seeing a friend.”

The elf stares only for a second more before looking back to their magazine like the other two were never there.

“C’mon, she’s in room 12.” Jester walks up the whinnying wooden stairs that led to rooms. Which was interesting because if there were no rooms in the first floor why would the ones on the second start at 10?

While Caduceus is pondering, Jester knocks on door 12.

“It’s meeee.” She sing songs, her rapping on the door playing in a rhythm.

There’s a noise of clinking chains as the door is unlocked, and from behind it emerges a Beauregard. Her hair down and disheveled.

“Jess?! What are you doing here? You can’t be in Shady Creek!” She tells with genuine concern.

“I know! That’s why you’ll hide me until I leave!” She pushes past Beau, hanging from her arm for a bit as she does.

Beau doesn’t argue, but seems conflicted.

“Hi.” Caduceus greets.

“Hey. Can I help?” She tells him, closing the door after he lets himself in. She dusts her pants of imaginary dirt, pushing her hair off her shoulders.

“No, thanks.”

“Yes! He found clues!” Jester interrupts.

“Oh! I did find clues. I think. Just one.”

“Alright. I’m listening. Coffee? I’d offer something else but this shithole’s got nothing.”

Beau asks them, grabbing her mug and filling it with coffee for herself. There’s no steam coming out of it, and by the way she shakes her thermos, there mustn't be much coffee left.

“No, thank you.” Caduceus says.

Beau shrugs. She signs for them to sit by the only desk in the room. A room with a desk with 4 chairs, a small fridge, a small tv and a bed, and a closed door on one of the walls that most likely led to a bathroom.

 

On the desk, Caduceus identifies the files Beau had been carrying with her since they met. Files about the past victims. There’s one of the man they found dead in the woods now. There’s also an open journal, one page filled with text and the next halfway through.

It all seems very impressive, to be able to keep track of so much information.

“Okay, what’s the clue you have?” Beau sits down sipping her cold coffee.

Jester and him sit down as well.

 

“Well. I went to the cabin again and someone broke into the hatch.”

Beau frowns.

“The hatch?”

“Yeah. I think they used one of the tools there.”

“Did you see anyone?”

“No.”

“So it could’ve been anyone.”

“Yeah.”

Beau crosses her arms, leaning back into her chair.

“It could’ve been him , though.” Jester leans in.

Beau glances at her.

“I don’t know…” she pushes her hair away again. “He’s been moving a lot. Lorenzo. And there hasn’t been anything on the Shepherds lately. The old people or new members. The only time members were seen was before they died, and they were still spotted alone. So either Lorenzo and his gang are acting very under the radar or he’s alone.”

Beau flips through her notes.

“Got here when Orly said he did. He’s only been spotted here and there, seeking information, by the people he contacted.”

“He could be looking for the necklace.” Jester throws in.

“In the cabin? That’d require him knowing we had it in the first place, then knowing we hid it in there. And that thing’s been gone for a while now, it just doesn’t make sense for him to look there.”

“But his gang was around when we hung there, right? Maybe he knew.” Jester pouts. “They did get close enough to us that I had to leave for a bit.”

There’s a look that crosses Beau’s face. Or rather, a lack of. Her expression freezing. It’s a deliberate hiding of her emotions. Jester notices it too.

“Why would he try to get it now? On such old information? It’s a really big guess.” Beau argues.

“Maybe it’s not old information.” Caduceus says. “Maybe it’s new information that is old, but is new to him.”

Beau raises an eyebrow at him.

“And where’d he get that?”

Caduceus thinks back on the trail walked on every night. Thinks of the knocking. Thinks of the spot in the middle of the cabin. Where he stood.

“Maybe he saw it in a dream.”

Beau’s expression stays cold, betraying nothing of her feelings. There’s a nervous twitch of her fingers. Her eyes staring at Caduceus.

She knew he wasn’t joking.

“Yeah, we don’t know he wasn’t there. We’re just trying to put that possibility out there!” Jester nods.

Beau snaps out of it, turning her head to Jester.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“You need to rest, Beau. How are you going to think if you’re tired? You need to take a break from thinking about all this before thinking harder.” Jester gets off her seat, bouncing off the bed. “This bed sucks ! Beau come here!” She sticks her arms out, beckoning Beau closer.

And Beau goes without a complaint.

“I can’t really rest, I need to find him before he dies or something.” She says, sitting besides Jester. The tiefling holds her and leans backwards, so the two of them are laying down across the bed, with Jester petting Beau’s hair.

“You can’t think if your head is all jittery from coffee though. Just chill with me for 10 minutes.”

“Alright…” Beau mumbles.

“You can lay down too, Caduceus!” Jester invites him.

“I’m okay here, thank you.” He tells them.

Jester just nods.

She starts humming a song then, maybe a lullaby. It’s a song Caduceus has never heard before. It’s beautiful, and soothing. The notes come and go, like waves in the sea. He just listens in for a while, letting himself drift.

 

She then sings another song, and another (though this one’s lyrics were rather inappropriate in spite of its catchy melody) and soon it becomes late.

“I gotta go home now.” Jester says. “But wasn’t it nice to just chill?” 

Beau jerks up, eyes heavy.

“Uhm, yeah.” She clears her throat. “Thank you, Jester. Really.” 

“It’s no problem, silly.” Jester smiles. “You can always call me for help, you know?”

“Yeah.” Beau smiles.

“Ok, I’ll go now. Please take care Beau.” Jester gets up, fixing her dress and heading for the door.

“Wait. Sorry, Cad. Can I-?” Beau gets off the bed. “It’s… I need your help with something… on the locations of the bodies. Can I ask you to stay a bit? I can drive you home later.”

“Should I stay?” Jester hesitates by the door.

“No, no.” Beau waves her hands. “I shouldn’t keep you, and this might take a while.”

“Okay.” Jester trades a quick glance with Caduceus, her earlier request coming to mind.

“I don’t mind staying a bit. Don’t worry.” He tells them.

Jester nods.

“Alright.” Jester says. “Good night then. Call me!” She hugs Beau after she opens the door. 

Beau hugs her back.

“Be careful.” She tells her.

“Bye Caduceus!” She waves over Beau’s shoulders.

“Bye!” He waves back.

And with that, Jester leaves.

Beau closes the door, locking it and it is just the two of them.

And silence.




“So.” Caduceus says. “How can I help?”

Beau glances out the only window in the room for a second. There’s only a wall from the building next to the room to look at though.

She takes a seat again and sips at her mug. She realizes it is empty with a frown.

She groans.

“Do you really think Lorenzo went to the cabin?”

“I don’t know. But if he hasn’t, I have a feeling he will.”

“Why?” Beau glares at him.

“I think there’s something compelling all those people to go there.” He waves at the files on the desk. “One by one. And I think it’s compelling you too.”

Beau crosses her arms, discomfort seeping through her composure.

“What makes you say so?”

“Am I wrong?” Caduceus asks instead.

She pauses, eyes darting away from him.

“No.”

“For how long have you been having trouble sleeping?”

“For as long as I’ve been involved in this.” Beauregard closes one of the files in front of her with a flick of her hand.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m tired.” She interrupts. “This fucking sucks. It feels personal to me, and I’m doing my fucking best, but it doesn’t make sense.”

“What is compelling you to do this, then? Compelling these people to come here?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t?”

“It’d be insane.” 

“What would be?”

Beauregard sighs, flipping her hair over her shoulders again. 

“Nothing. There’s gotta be a contact. It’s likely Lorenzo was searching for someone here. I’ll find them.”

“And you? Who brought you here?”

“I’m working.” She got up, piling all files up together.

Subject avoided.

Huh.

“But you wanted me to stay to talk about it.”

Beau gives him a warning glare.

“We can talk about it tomorrow, when we’re rested. I’m honestly beat.” He says.

Beau’s look withers down.

“Yeah. You can take the bed. I haven’t used it. Sorry I kept you here.” 

She does look apologetic as she cleans up her mess.

“Don’t worry about it. I understand.” He waves her off.

She turns towards the little bathroom. Before she closes the door, Caduceus speaks up.

“You know, I was compelled to go to the cabin too.”

She pauses at the door. But doesn’t turn around.

Doesn’t say anything.

 

She goes in and closes the door behind her.

 

 

It‘s disorienting, how his nightmares keep coming to him. How the strange room shifts and he’s both laying down and walking. He’s still and he’s searching.

And he’s at the doors of the cabin.

And he knocks.

Reality twists and he’s himself and he’s not.

He’s up at a scream, and the images of the door are still imprinted in his eyes when he moves off the bed to lay hand on Beau’s arched back, from where she sits on her sleeping mat, hands pressed firmly against her eyes.

His heart is hammering in his chest and Beau’s back shudders as she tries to keep calm.

Fuck !” She cries between gasps.

 

The sun is both rising and is gone. And he listens to Beauregard say it out loud. Pushing the words out her lungs in gasps.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry I fucked it up! I am! It’s my fucking fault!”

And over it, he hears in the echoes of his dreams a voice come out his lips, as he knocks.

It calls out.

Beauregard.

Open the door.

Chapter Text

9 years ago, in the heart of Savalirwood, Beauregard thought she could take on the world. Or rather, she felt she had to.

Beauregard wanted to prove the world she could make it. Could be someone to be proud of. Not someone who was beaten into shape. 

Someone who built themselves up.

 

That train of thought ended up with her building lots of metaphorical walls around her instead. And within them, pent up anger would bounce around until it hurt her or any poor soul wandering too close.

 

The Cobalt thought she was ready enough to investigate on her own though, so she took the opportunity and left to Shady Creek as soon as she could. Doing small jobs of gathering info here and there, getting into bar fights a little often. 

It was how she dealt with it.

But then Jester and Fjord showed. And then Caleb, and Veth. And Molly and Yasha.

And then the cabin.

She spent a lot of time in the cabin. She even installed a training dummy there, and one of the closets had just her and Caleb’s books occupying half of it.

It felt like a home.

Those people felt like family. 

But Beau had a job, and most importantly, she still had her emotional baggage to dispose of.

She’d chase crime, get drunk, fight. Repeat.

Crawl into a bar, dig dirt on a noble family, punch a guy.

Go back to the cabin with her bike, get patched up by a friend, go back to the Cobalt and read.

Crawl into another bar, listen in.

Listen in about human trafficking.

Down her drink faster and write it down.

She’d put it in her journal and think.

Think what it would mean if Beauregard could bust the Iron Shepherds on her own.

 

And she’d punch another guy.

 

“You’ve got a little something on your chin. Might be a tooth that has fallen off.” Mollymauk called as she walked into the cabin. Beauregard was there often, but Mollymauk might as well live there. Beau was pretty sure he didn’t have a home, and if he was not sleeping there he was either couch surfing or passed out drunk somewhere. Or both.

“Ugh. Is it that bad?” She rubbed her thumb over her split lip, still recovering from the fight she had earlier. The other guy had it worse.

“Well I’m certain you could play it off as a horrifying allergic reaction.”

“Yeah. To your incense.” She stepped over Molly and whatever crap he was playing at on the floor, including said lit incense. She climbed over the ladder to the mini fridge on the second floor and grabbed a pack of ice.

“Ah yes. This one’s called Dignity. It makes sense you’d end up like that.”

Beau kicked him lightly ( in her books, but made Molly groan in pain) on the way to the sofa. She laid down with a grunt, dropping the pack on her face.

“You alright?” Mollymauk asked anyway, rubbing at his leg.

“Yeah. Just crashing for a bit before I head out.”

She heard Molly shifting around.

“It’s midnight.”

She just shrugged.

“Got this lead on the gang I’ve been watching the past few weeks. It’s just contraband but I think if I follow that I can find some deeper shit.”

“Should I go with you?”

“Nah.” She took the ice of her face to look at Molly. “It’s just recon stuff.”

He squinted at her, as if doubting her words. But he didn’t say anything else. Just shrugged and looked back to his cards.

Beau just laid there, slipping into an almost meditative state, listening to Mollymauk shuffling his cards. He was at it for a few minutes, until she heard two flicks of the cards being laid down.

Then two more as Molly flipped them around.

And then there was silence.

 

Beau dozed off like that.

 

She jerked awake later, eyes darting around. It was still dark. Darker even, since now the lights in the cabin were off, except for the lamp on the desk. She found that the ice pack that was on her face was missing now, which was probably for the best.

Looking around properly she could barely see the spaded tip of Molly’s tail hanging off the second floor. He was most likely sleeping on the big mattress they had on the floor there.

Beau searched for the clock they had in the desk and looked at the time.

4 am.

Thank fuck her body just seemed to wake her up whenever she needed to be up.

She grabbed her pack from the corner of the room and silently made her way to the door, making sure to lock it behind her as she left.

 

She was following her latest tip. It came from a dwarven woman named Keg, after some alcohol and a fling. Keg was involved with some dangerous people, dangerous people that were doing dangerous things. She wanted out, but had no way to do it. Not without her life being on the line.

So Beau made a deal with her: Keg would tip her off on a hotspot of the Shepherds, where some illegal trade would happen that night, Beau would use her connection to the Cobalt to get her out.

 

She trusted Keg’s intentions. So far all her info had been right, regarding other members and stashes. But her info was also often old. It looked like by putting distance from other members, Keg also lost the privilege of new information.

So Beau gave her the address of the cabin for her to go to in case of an emergency or to drop any info that was too important to wait. And for the Nein, she left a little note telling them to just let the butch dwarven in.

And Keg told her where and when this trade of stolen goods was happening.

 

Now Beau just needed to sneak in there and get enough proof of illegal shit happening, get names and locations, and send it all back to the Zadash archive.

And shove it in everyone’s faces in there...

 

It was extremely dark outside. The moon was bright but Beau could still barely see where she went. She carried this battery powered dim light with her just so she could watch her step and read her map. Anything brighter and Beau risked giving away her position. The woes of being a human.

 

She moved with haste, but still careful, mindful if any landmarks, and several minutes into her trek she finally saw signs of other people.

She killed her light and crouched, stealthing closer to the orange light source she could see. She unwrapped her blue sash, putting it over her shoulders and turning it into a hood to cover her features as best she could.

She hid on the tall grass hiding herself behind one of the nearby trees.

It looked like some sort of camping grounds. There was one tent set up and a pile of crates next to it. In the center of the clearing was a fire, which was the light she spotted before.

 

There were people too. A man standing by the desk, arms crossed. Wearing a coat over his lithe frame, leaning against the desk. Cornered by another man, this one much taller and brutish, flanked by two other people.

Beau recognized the tall man. Bald, full of tattoos.

 

That was Lorenzo.

Beauregard didn’t expect to find the leader of the Iron Shepherds curating a smuggling business. This was bad news. Either this was more serious than Keg thought to be, or something else entirely. 

Either way Keg’s info was slightly off.

Beau came closer, trying to listen in without being spotted.

 

She could hear the rumble of Lorenzo’s voice.

“Where?” He grunted.

“Had any of us known, I wouldn’t be here.”

Beau crawled slowly around the group of people. They seemed distracted by the tension of their conversation. She knew if she just kept moving she could approach the crates and the tent and hopefully find something incriminating enough.

“I was clear in my intentions. I want nothing with your group of grave robbers other than-“

“I understand.” The man said hurriedly. “But to find-“

The man gurgled and Beau looked back, watching as Lorenzo grabbed the man by the throat.

“Now, I understand we have a allyship of sorts at the moment. But it would do you good to not forget your manners, and not interrupt me.”

Beau walked closer to the crates, stepping into the clearing. Lorenzo’s back to her.

The man stopped struggling, and Lorenzo let go. He coughed air back into his lungs.

“C-“ he cleared his throat. “One of our own is sure we’ll both find what we’re looking for in these woods. It’s a matter of finding who knows where exactly.”

The crates were closed. No way to glance inside.

She could see the inside of the tent though.

Could see a desk where some paper sat on top of.

She leaned into the tent, trying to look through the papers. It was too dark.

“Be quick. Or you’ll find my patience has a limit, Jurrell.” Lorenzo spoke.

She needed to hurry.

“Sure. We wish no-.” The man stopped talking. “Wait. Who’s that?”

Fuck.

Beau grabbed a fistful of papers and didn’t even wait.

She ran.

“Stop!” She heard a shout behind her.

She darted away trying to use the trees to cover her form.

A loud explosion rang through the air and she realized that she was being fucking shot at!

“Fuck you!” She shouted back at them, breath burning through her lungs as she hoped for any gods that were listening that they wouldn’t hit her.

She wasn’t built to withstand bullet wounds. But she doubted anyone could run fast enough to catch up with her.

Every gunshot sent her heart beating faster and faster, but she didn’t look back.

She adjusted her course best she could to go towards Shady Creek.

Soon she couldn’t hear guns anymore over her heavy breathing but she kept going.

She only stopped to catch her breath once she hit the road.

 

Fuck…

 

————

 

Beau squatted on a shitty hotel in Shady Creek, eyes darting over her shoulders to watch if she was being followed. She slept and no one killed her in her sleep, so it all seemed okay.

For now.

Luckily she wasn’t hit too. Mostly she just got scrapes from bursting through tree branches during her escape.

Her clothes were all dirtied up too.

 

But most importantly: the papers.

3 pages she grabbed were blank, which was a waste.

Another one seemed to be an inventory… of food. Which was not at all helpful. It could be coded. The products meaning something else, but she had no way to translate it or prove it.

 

The other page was addressed to someone.

 

“We wish to discuss the terms of our allyship.” It read. 

“As to our leader, it is in our interest to keep his location hidden, thus any known locations of his stay should be moved. We shall send one of our own alongside information we gathered as per agreed on. May our business run smoothly.”

And under it all an eye was drawn, surrounded by eight dots.

 

Beau cursed under her breath.

It didn’t help her much. All she gathered was that the Iron Shepherds were working with another group to find something or someone, that Lorenzo was there and that the other group’s leader was basically an anonymous guy.

She had a symbol now at least. She should focus on following that lead.

So she did.

Beau mostly laid low for a couple of days, trying to not get spotted and going through the pages she stole over and over again to make sure she didn’t miss anything.

She traveled back to Zadash, visiting the library there. She found nothing about the symbol and nothing about the name she heard.

She’d have to do some field research again.

 

So in the morning she headed back to the cabin.

She hurried through the cold autumn air, pushing her way inside fast. The doors were unlocked, meaning someone was up and around.

“Oh, hi Beau.” The unmistakable voice of Fjord rang out.

“Hey, is Caleb around?” She asked, heading for the closet for a warmer jacket she left there.

“No. Haven’t heard of him in a bit, actually. Don’t think he’s in town.”

“Great.” Beau mumbled sarcastically. She changed jackets, putting the one she was wearing in the closet and grabbed a pen and a sticky note.

She drew the eye symbol and wrote down “know this one? let me know.” She then stuck it on the cover of one of Caleb’s books.

“You okay?” Fjord asked leaning over her shoulder to see what she was doing. She shoved the book back in its place.

“Yeah. Why?”

“You’ve got that mood again.”

She crossed her arms.

“What mood?”

He pointed at her, poking at her arm.

“That one. Where you’re all prickly about shit instead of talking to your friends.”

“I am talking. I left Caleb a note.”

Fjord glared at her.

She glared back.

“I’m just working.” She mumbled.

“And you’re stressed under that weight?”

“No.” She mumbled again, not looking at him.

“And you’re gonna trust us to help?”

“That’d be illegal. Ouch” she rubbed her arm where he poked her.

“Will you at least go wind out with me?”

She grumbled.

“I’ll invite Jester.”

She grumbled louder, shrugging.

“It’s set then. Let’s go to that spot Yasha likes, see if she’s there, huh?”

Beau just made another noise.

He patted her back. And she patted his too, hearing him wheezing at what was basically a slap hitting him in the back. He deserved it.

 

Jester indeed turned up, though Yasha wasn’t there. 

It was great. They laughed and had a great time and Beau even opened up a bit about the papers she stole, though she skipped over who they belonged to and how she got them.

They didn’t crack any codes in them, but they had a blast pretending they were.

“I’ve gotta work tomorrow but the day after I’ll visit the cabin ‘cause the next pie in the cooking book is this moon pie thing so we could all eat it while watching a movie and we’d all be schnugling.” Jester explained excitedly on their way out the bar. “So you should bring a movie. Or ask someone to do it.”

Beau was admittedly a little tipsy, but she was happy with the idea, nodding along Jester’s words.

“Well.” She sighed loudly. “I’m taking this one to his house I guess.” She patted Fjord’s arm.

“You say it like it’s really bad?” Fjord said back.

“Of course it isn’t, Fjord!” She patted his arm again. “Do you want a lift too, Beau?”

“Just to the Savalirwood.”

“Okay!”

 

They laughed some more and Beau waved her friends good bye, as she headed back to the cabin, hoping that maybe Caleb had gotten there during the afternoon.

She strided unbothered, it’s a path she knew by heart then. Follow through here for a few minutes, turn at this weird rock, follow along the path for a few more. You know you’re on the right way when that tree that splits in two comes up.

Then you walk some more for a while and you are face to face to the double doors of the cabin.

Beauregard froze, limbs locking as she spotted it.

On top of the wood, a message in red was painted over the wall, large enough to be spotted from far away.

 

COME OUT TO CHAT

 

A symbol of an eye sat under it. A wide open eye with eight dots surrounding it.

She hurried around the cabin, going into the back door and grabbing a bucket from the storage, filling it up with water. She quickly gathered the cleaning supplies and started scrubbing the paint off as hard as she could, in an almost manic way.

She watched with restrained panic as the water in the bucket turned red and the sun started coming down the horizon. She scrubbed and scrubbed and thankfully soon she was wet and taking heaving breaths through her nose, but there was no sign there was anything there in the first place.

 

She threw the water away and put everything back it’s place.



Fuck!

 

She walked into the cabin, pacing around, hand brushing her hair back.

She darted over to the desk. Caleb’s book was missing. She hoped he was the one to take it. There was another surge of alertness. She looked around for any sign of a break in. The doors were locked sure but what if ?

A round through the cabin revealed everything still where it was left.

Beau shoved the carpet off the floor revealing the metal hatch where they hid the necklace.

She got the keys from her keyring and opened it, heart beating hard enough to sound through her ears.

She unlocked it.

She grabbed the box where they stored it.

She opened that too.

 

The necklace was still there.

She breathed in and out.

In and out, until she was calmer.

It wouldn’t do for her to get so desperate. It was all the games those fuckers played. Threats, installing fear to control people. They didn’t break anything, they didn’t take anything.

It was just words.

She just needed to calm down and think.

 

She gingerly put the box back in its place, locking the hatch again.

 

She hadn’t been careful, and things got much more dangerous.

Were they around? Did they see anyone else? What did they want?

What would they do?

What had she stumbled into?

 

Beau felt cold shivers run through her body, trying to figure a way out.

She needed to talk to Dairon, head back to the Cobalt Reserve to get her shit together.

She had to keep everyone away from the cabin until the Iron Shepherds, or those grave robbers, left.

Her bicycle was still by the cabin. She couldn’t make it into Zadash that day, the sun was already down. She could however squat in Shady Creek again and leave to Zadash in the morning.

She left another note for her friends.

 

“Dangerous people around”

“Be careful”

 

And the next morning, she took her bike away.

 

She hurried through the city to the Cobalt Soul reserve, dashing through the roads until hitting Zadash and then zigzagging through the streets. She parked her bike half haphazardly and ran her way up the entrance stairs to the library.

It was her luck Zeenoth was by the front desk.

“Beauregard.” He called, pushing himself away from the desk.

“Not now.” She mumbled back, trying to speed walk past him.

“Beauregard, wait a moment.” He hurried up besides her.

“I said not now!” She barked.

He merely frowned at her.

“I regret to inform you that this is about your friend.”

Beau paused for a moment, making Zeenoth bump into her.

“What friend?”

“Fjord, if I recall correctly. He called earlier, asked to pass you a number to call when you got here. Said it was urgent.” He handed over a note scribbled on a paper.

Beau cursed under her breath, snatching the paper away and making her way back to where the phones were.

She could hear Zeenoth sighing behind her but had no time to spare.

She dialed the number and waited as the phone rang.

And waited.

And waited.

“Hello?” The familiar, gruff voice of Fjord sounded out. The type of voice he put out to sound more intimidating than he really was.

“Fjord, what’s happening?”

“Beau!” His voice seemed to sound higher with relief. “It’s pretty bad. Well, not that bad. There’s been some gang activity growing around Shadycreek that seeped into the Savalirwood. Looks like our cabin was under their radar. Those shady types were caught walking through Zadash, suspiciously close to Jester’s apartment.”

Beau felt her blood run cold.

“Artagan says it’s nothing to worry about, but his higher ups disagree. It’s too risky to put her witness protection program on the “maybes”. They want to move her, Beau. Again.”

Beau ran a hand through her hair.

“Is she alright?”

“Yeah, she’s fine.” Beau could hear his voice get a bit distant for a moment, as if he turned his head away from the phone to check. “I’m with her and Artagan. We’re trying to see if laying low for a little bit is enough. We don’t even know if those Shepherd guys or whatever even know about Jester’s history in Nicodranas. But we don’t want to risk it.”

Beau pinched her nose. She did it. She was the one who was responsible for this.

“I’ll… I’ll figure it out, okay? I’ll solve it.” She glared at the wall in front of her, feeling the weight of her words settle on her.

“You will? Can the Cobalt Soul look into it?”

“Yeah I was… I… Yeah, I’ll fix it.”

“... alright.” Fjord hesitated. “I trust you. Just be careful, alright?”

“Sure… and Fjord?”

“Yeah?”

Beau tried to formulate her words best she could, taking her time.

“Tell Jess… tell her that… just… take care.”

“We will.” He reassured her, and she swore inside her head, banging her forehead against the wall. “I’ll try staying on this number as long as I can, so you can check on us tomorrow.”

“Sure.”

“Goodbye, Beau.”

“Bye, Fjord.”

He hung up.

Beau clutched the phone to her chest.

Thinking.



She caused this, and the Shepherds were quick to retaliate. To show they were watching.

Well… if they wanted her…

They’d have to fucking get her.

 

She hopped onto her bike again, heading back towards the cabin, and past it, deep into the woods. To the spot where she first saw the meeting.

She reached into her backpack, pulling out her foldable Bo staff.

From it, she snagged one of the papers she stole as well and a pen.

“Come to fucking chat.” She wrote down, leaving the note stuck to a tree.

 

She made her way back to the cabin.

Once she was close enough to see it, something else caught her eye, making her freeze for a second.

“Beauregard!”

It was only Mollymauk, rushing her way. Great.

“The friend of yours showed up a few days back. The dwarf lass?”

“Keg?” She stopped on her tracks.

“Yeah, that one. Just your type.”

“When? What did she say?” Beau pressed him. He stepped back.

“About 4 days ago. Meant to tell you but you just disappeared on me.”

“What did she say?”

Molly frowned.

“Uh… nothing much. Asked for cobalt protection already for her, said-“ he raised his hands, making quotation marks with his fingers “-“the guys” were going in hiding and a few spots were still on? Or something, didn’t quite catch that.”

Beau grunted.

“Any idea where Caleb, Veth or Yasha are?”

He looked defensive for a bit, recoiling at her words.

“Veth is out of town, I think she’s meeting Caleb. Yasha is in Shady Creek I think. Why?”

“Go hang out with Yasha tonight. Or whatever.” She demanded, pushing past him into the cabin,

He frowned harder at her.

“I’m not going to Shady Creek, I-.What are you doing?”

“Fixing things.”

Mollymauk grabbed her arm, making her stop. She could shake him off, and he was well aware of that, but she stopped anyway.

“What are you talking about?”

She stared up at him, ready to blow up as it was always like between them. But something stopped her, maybe it was the way he was looking at her with genuine concern. Maybe it was the fear that swam behind her own eyes. Maybe they really just meant something to each other.

 

She deflated a bit, looking away from his eyes.

“I fucked up, Molly.”

“Why? What happened?”

She tugged her arm and Molly let go.

“I fucked up. So I’ll take responsibility and fix it. I don’t want Jester, or Fjord, or anyone else to suffer for the shit my bad job performance did.”

Beau was staring at Molly’s feet, but there’s a definite shift as he studied her,

“What did you do?” He asked after a pause. “Is this about that gang you were talking about.”

“Yes.” She warned him. “Stay away from the Iron Shepherds, Molly.”

He tensed up.

“How…?”

“Look. They’ll come storming from their hideout north into that cabin any time tonight, I’m sure. So just… stay away from it okay?”

She turned away.

“Where are you going?”

“I told you.” She called over her shoulder. “To fix it.”

“Are you insane ?!” He rushed close to her. “And how do you plan to do that?”

“I’ll deal with it.”

“Beau,“ he grabbed her arm again, but this time she shook him off.

He blew back at her.

“You should be running the other way, idiot!”

“Fuck you , Molly!” She barked back at him. “I’m not letting the family I care about get hurt because of my dumb mistakes!” She breathed heavily, holding back the hot bubbling feelings that threatened to explode. “This, this thing we have. It’s too precious. I don’t want to destroy it. The Nein.”

Mollymauk seemed taken aback by her words anyway. Stopping short on saying what he wanted to. He closed his mouth, voice going softer.

“Beauregard...”

“Just stay away from the fucking cabin, please.” She warned him, with less heat, yet still stern. God she hoped she didn’t sound like her fucking father.

“Please.” She added, unlike him.

Molly didn’t have any words for her.

Good.

She sat down on the couch, staring at a wall.

She felt Molly’s eyes burning through her back for a bit. He looked away.

And then, he left.



 

The cabin looked the same way it always did, hidden between the trees of the Savalirwood. The inside was also the same still, the only difference being the uncomfortable churning inside her stomach. It seemed vile, to taint the story of such a happy place with such cruel business, but maybe Beauregard wasn’t good at making people proud, or good things last.

How pathetic.

She locked the door behind her, leaving the key at the keyhole.

She grabbed a few cans of beer from the mini fridge.

She opened her staff and slid down the wall, sitting on the floor where she had a clear view of the door.

She cracked open the beer can and chugged it down, feeling the cold drink go down heavily.

Now all she had to do was wait.

Wait and solve it, the only wait she knew how to solve things.

By dragging it all to the ground.

 

She blinked, watching the door carefully, listening in for anything. She watched the sun go down, further and further, until it was completely dark outside. She let the dark fall on her as well, taking another can to her lips.

She almost jumped off her skin when the knocking started.

Once. Twice. Three times.

“Beauregard.” Mollymauk called from the other side of the doors. They rattled as he tried opening them.

Beau’s heart jumped to her throat.

“Beauregard, open the door.”

He tried again.

“Beauregard!” He called more forcefully.

She didn’t answer.

She could barely breathe through the knot in her chest.

She could tell he waited outside for a bit.

For a while.

 

And then…

Gone again.

 

And then that knot tightened up, and she looked up at the ceiling, trying to hold back her tears.

What was she doing? This wasn’t facing anything. This was giving up.

Why?

Was it really the best she could do?

Maybe it was.

She rubbed her eyes, gasping for air.

 

She kept waiting.

And waiting.

 

And waiting…

 

She suddenly jerked up.

There was something off.

She blinked through her bleary vision.

It was morning.

She fell asleep.

“Fuck.” She swore under her breath, picking herself off the floor, knocking a few cans out her way as she did.

It was morning and she was fine.

 

She unlocked the doors and walked outside.

She found the cabin unmarked, looking the same way it always did.

She walked back inside and waited some more, stomach still twisting. Had she just misjudged how important the Iron Shepherds thought she was?

 

What happened?

She mentally went through everything she knew.

The dealings. The gangs searching for something. The threats. Jester. Mollymauk.

Did… did someone else get involved? That couldn’t be… Mollymauk himself told her they were all out of the picture.

The only ones close to that mess were Beauregard… and Mollymauk.

Molly had been by the cabin that night.

But he had no reason to meet the Shepherds.

Unless they met him .

She just shook her head.

 

She waited more, letting anxiety gnaw on her, limbs aching for a fight.

She waited until the sun was starting to make its way down the sky again, hunger and fear becoming indiscernible from each other in her guts.

 

It was then that she had a wild thought, one she should’ve had before,

That perhaps, the thing the Shepherds were looking for was right under their noses all this time. Or rather, under Beau’s. The necklace they found was extremely valuable anyway.

Maybe that could be used as leverage. Maybe that could be used against them

Maybe that could protect her friends.

 

She stared intently at the hatch.

Could it be…?

She grabbed her keys again, circling through until she reached the copy of the hatch key.

She kicked the carpet away and fell to her knees, quickly unlocking the hatch and throwing it open. 

The box was still there. She grabbed it, opening the lid.

 

It was empty.

It was empty!

Her heart raced as she looked around in a futile attempt to figure out where it could’ve gone.

 

She was there all night, there's no way anyone got it out of there then.

Maybe the Shepherds found it, and that’s why they let her be. She didn’t have any proof on them anyway. But that made no sense, there was no sign of a break in. Keg didn’t have a key, nor did she know about the necklace, so she couldn’t have taken it.

Mollymauk was in the cabin before Beau though. She bumped into him when she arrived. But she had no proof and he had no apparent reason to do that. 

Unless…

No! That didn’t get anywhere! She didn’t know when she last saw it! It could’ve been anyone! It did her no good to dwell on it when she should be figuring out where the Shepherds had gone.

 

So she left the camp and went towards their meeting point.

A long trek through burning lungs later and she found an empty clearing. No signs whatsoever that anyone had been there.

Her note was gone too.

She swore, trying to remember the places Keg warned as places where the Shepherds would conduct business.

 

She walked for hours, until hunger and fatigue made her whole body shake.

She was alone.

They were all fucking gone.

She returned to the cabin and it was just as she left it. Door open, box thrown down, hatch thrown open.

Where the fuck was Mollymauk?

 

She closed it all and grabbed her bike, heading to Zadash.

She was wobbling on her feet up the stairs of the Cobalt Soul Reserve, throwing herself at the phones there.

She dialed the number she was given the day before.

 

It rang.

And rang.

And rang.

 

“Hello?”

“Fjord.” She gulped. “Is everything alright there?”

“Yeah.” He answered calmly. “Things got quieter today. Those guys haven’t been in Zadash again, so hopefully it was just a coincidence. Jester will still have to be on the low for a bit though, but she might stay.”

Beau rested her forehead against the wall.

“Are you alright? I can hear you breathing through the phone.” Fjord said with concern.

“Do you… do you know where that necklace is?”

“The luxon thing? In the same place it always is. Why?”

She remained in silence.

“It’s not there? What happened?”

She breathed in.

“Have you seen anyone else? Yasha? Molly? Caleb? Veth?”

“No. Only seen Jester since we hung out the other day. Is the necklace gone, Beau?” She could hear how tenser he got with every passing second.

“Yeah.”

“Was it the Shepherds?”

She bit her lip.

“I don’t think so.” Her voice cracked. It was her honest answer.

“Beau-“

“Let me know if you see anyone else, okay?” She interrupted, hanging the phone.

 

Beauregard reported Shepherd activity in the area.

She got protection from the Cobalt Soul for Keg. She finally ate something while giving out all the information she could. And when they swept the area they found nothing.

Not a single trail of the Iron Shepherds or the other group they were dealing with.

 

It meant Beauregard wasn’t in danger anymore, and that Jester could return, Fjord coming with her. And on the third day, Beau put a missing person’s alert out at the Cobalt Soul for Mollymauk.

Caleb showed up after, and so did Veth. And eventually, Yasha as well.

She specially didn’t take well to the news.

Beauregard sweeped the woods several times, exploring every nook and cranny, even bothering a firbolg woman that tended to the grounds of the cemetery that was her home, going as far as diving into bars in Shady Creek, despite his unexplainable aversion of the place, all in the search for Mollymauk Tealeaf.

 

But just like that, he was gone.

And she knew she did it.

By closing the door on his face.

She knew Mollymauk had to be responsible for the Shepherds sudden disappearance. It was just too much of a coincidence.

And Molly just had that talent to make the unlikely happen.

She did it.

 

So she stayed, and looked for him.

When Veth could finally return to her family. When Caleb left to grow. When Yasha was gone with the storm again. When the sea called for Fjord once more. And when Jester was allowed more freedom and the opportunity to see her mother again.

 

Beau stayed and worked her ass off and became the best at what she did.

But she never really found out what happened that night.

Not enough information, and some of it lost to memory.

It was all just past.

Until some weeks ago, when Beauregard had a strange dream. A strange dream that would repeat itself. Where she walked through the woods, the cabin calling for her.

Until Keg knocked on her apartment, scared shitlesd, claiming to be haunted, asking for help.

 

The members of the Iron Shepherds that were active on that night were dying one by one, and she didn’t want to be the next.

Beauregard took the case right away, and she drove back to that damned, sweet place.

And she met Caduceus.

And the dreams got worse.

 

And she realised- no, she accepted this for what it was.

This was justice.

And she was as guilty as the rest.

Chapter Text

Beauregard seemed to calm down significantly after telling her story. Caduceus wishes he could’ve served some tea to go as well, but unfortunately, he had no way to prepare one at the current condition. So they just sit at the small table, not quite looking at each other.

Beauregard is mostly silent after the confession - for that’s what her story feels like. It’s something he knows she had been holding in, for all those years. 

Guilt can bring unbearable weights. Weights that drag people down until they break.

It’s a sad sight to see.

 

“You know,” He says, watching her stare holes into the table. “I think you’re doing your friend a bit of a disservice there.”

She glares up at him.

“I mean, he made his choice. You didn’t make him do it. It doesn’t seem right for him to just overlook that.”

“I don’t know. He was kinda petty.” There’s amusement in her words. It’s gone as quickly as it came.

“Well, I mean no disrespect, but, it might not be about you.”

Her face hardens again.

“I think I’ve become involved with this as well at this point. The dreams. The haunting.” He explains. “And if I recall correctly, I’m quite positive really that I  wasn’t present for those events.” 

She looks away again.

“I don’t know. I don’t know how any of this is happening, or why. I can’t fucking figure out ghosts and shit. Maybe he got corrupted or something.”

“So that would be a cry for help, wouldn’t it?”

She shrugs, huffing.

“Sure, if murdering is that.”

“I mean, it seems like he’s stuck in that night, reliving it. The same steps. That’s what those dreams are, right? It doesn’t seem like he knows the way out.”

Beauregard buries her face in her hands, grunting.

“Fuck… I’m really just believing in ghosts right now.”

 “What else would it be?”

“A serial killer.” She says, her voice muffled. “A serial killer and our delusions.”

“It could be.”

She grunts.

“I don’t know.” She sighs. “I don’t know how any of this works. I can’t figure it out, but I have to. If it is him… I owe him that much.” Her voice grows weaker as she speaks. Not in the lack of conviction behind them, but like a secret she whispered to herself.

A personal debt.

 

Caduceus gives her a few more moments, watching the fear drain from her semblance with each breath. Fear that turns into acceptance, that in turn, becomes resolve. 

Now that’s much better.

 

“We can rest a bit more and then get back to work when the sun is up. I’m beat.”

“Yeah, sure.” She replies. 

They head back into their sleeping arrangements, laying down and hoping to catch a bit more sleep before facing the day.

 

It is restless.

----

 

Beauregard brings coffee to them both, lying her documents over the table.

Caduceus only sips at his cup. The drink is… something. Beauregard did call it Shit Coffee, but it was the closest thing at hand in the place they slept at.

His attention snapped back to Beauregard as she pointed down.

 

“Lorenzo has been searching for someone in here. I believe it was one of the people from the group they hired back then. They were connected to that night as well in a way, but no one outside the Iron Shepherds has died yet. But I think it is worth it to look into it. People also seem more comfortable giving information about them than Lorenzo. “

She glances to Caduceus and he nods to let her know he’s listening.

“I don’t have any names, just the eye imagery and the fact that Lorenzo is probably looking for them. But some people have recognized the eye imagery.”

She draws a circle with her fingers over a map of the city of Shady Creek.

“This is where I’ve been pointed towards so far, and it’s where I intend to search today.”

Caduceus nods.

“All good?”

“Yeah.” He nods again. “Just have to keep an eye out.”

Beauregard frowns at him in bafflement.

----

The deeper they dive into Shady Creek Run, the more alive the city feels. Not in the way it bustles with movement and colors, because it doesn’t, but in the way streets and buildings sprawl around almost organically instead of planned. It’s suffocating.

 

And deep they go. Caduceus draws a lot of attention to himself, and though he smiles at those that stare at him, it isn’t really reciprocated. 

 

And then Beauregard starts questioning people. Asking about a group, about eyes, anything. She’s usually met with shrugs, shakes of heads or straight up avoidance. It makes Beau grumpier.

“This approach is kinda not good.” She explains. “If this person is trying to hide, they could learn that people are looking for them and just vanish. Then we’re fucked.”

It’s tiring, but they are unrelenting. 

And eventually, they stumble upon their first clue, on a bar so small Caduceus could barely fit in. An elven waitress listened to them with a puzzled look into something seemed to click in her mind.

“Ah, yes! The, what was it that guy called it? Tomb Takers? Something like that.”

Beau pipped up.

“Tomb Takers?” It seems to click in her mind as well.

“Yeah!” The woman says. “With the eyes. It’s what the guy said.”

“What guy?” Beau pushes.

“Broody guy.” She scratches at her blonde beard. “Was in hurry and all hiding himself. He asked about those guys too, asked them if any passed by here.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Well, I told him I didn’t see any of them, but he could check the Warm Yew, guy there knows everything, I swear.”

Beau nods. 

“Thanks.” She calls and quickly leaves.

“No problem!” The elf calls behind them with a wave.

Caduceus waves back.

 

They once again squeeze through streets.

 

They find the Warm Yew. 

It’s hard to tell what it is at first, trinkets scattered through shelves. Books as well, and a few chairs available. It’s almost a junk shop, but Caduceus is still not sure at his third glance.

Beauregard is looking around for anyone when a man pops out from behind a counter.

“Hello?!” He calls out, startling the hell out of Beauregard.

“My fucking-...” She shakes her head. “I’m looking for a person. From the Tomb Takers, I believe? Group with Eye imagery, probably shady as fuck. I think they’re in town.”

The man is not very tall, standing shorter than Beauregard, arms covered in tattoos of several designs and a pair of old glasses sitting over his nose. His hair has mostly greyed out and threatening to fall down, even as it grew long, down to the man’s shoulders.

“The Tomb Takers, huh? Curious people that bunch. It’ll do you no good to look into them. Too late anyway, they dispersed, gone, left. Nothing to see here.” He brings a book out and starts browsing through it.

“Gone? I’m looking for one of them, at least one should be in town?”

“Can’t help you there, lady. I don’t follow every weirdo that comes in town.” He continues flipping through pages. In a nervous manner that told Caduceus that he is just trying to hide something.

“Excuse me, uh, what’s your name?” Caduceus called.

The man glances up at him.

“Mortimer.”

“Hi, I’m Caduceus, Clay.” He introduces himself. “We don’t mean any trouble here. You see, some people have been getting hurt, and we’re trying to look into what’s happening here. So, uh, if you could point us in a direction to help, we’d appreciate it.”

The man eyes Caduceus suspiciously, and then glances at Beau.

She sighs and pulls out a card.

“I’m with the Cobalt Soul. Did a guy pass by here earlier asking similar questions?”

Mortimer glares at the card, then up, eyes darting from Caduceus to Beau again, and again, until finally giving in.

“Yes. Though he was much more specific... I didn’t lie, you know? The Tomb Takers were just another irrelevant bunch of mercenaries that was born here. They scattered years ago. Some still passed by here from time to time but they’re mostly unheard of.”

He closes his book, searching for something under the counter.

“Buncha weirdos, they were. Dealt with old shit. Always looking for trade of very specific things. Might’ve been a cult. I never manage to buy a single interesting thing from them because they just wouldn’t give them away.”

He pulls a pipe, lighting it.

“However, there is one of them living nearby. They arrived again pretty recently too. Tabaxi lady. Cree is her name I believe. Last I heard of her she was sleeping at the Amenity. But you didn’t hear this from me, alright?” 

“The man that was asking about her, was it Lorenzo?”

The man pauses for a second, glancing nervously around.

“No. I know he’s in town. That’s it. And no disrespect, but I wouldn’t tell you if I knew more. I like my ugly hide the way it is.”

“Right.” So not Lorenzo. That posed a curious question. “We’ll be leaving then.” Beauregard slapped a few coins on the counter, turning to leave.

The man gathers them in his pocket so quick it almost seems like they were never there.

“Bye strangers.” He puffs out smoke.

 

They squeeze out, heading once again for their search.

“Who the fuck is searching for this Cree woman? Am I just going in a completely off direction?” Beau tilts her head back to look at Caduceus as they walk.

“Well, I don’t think we can really tell until we find him. Or Cree.” He answers.

“I’m getting fucking nothing. I think it checks though. The Tomb Takers. If they were a group that searched “treasures”- “ She makes quotation marks with her fingers. “Then it isn’t so far-fetched to imagine them working with the Iron Shepherds then. They were searching for something then. Cree’s our only lead anyway at the moment so…” 

Beau shrugs.

“You think they were after the necklace?” Caduceus asks.

“Maybe.” She sticks her hands in her pockets. “It kinda checks. Antique. Probably religious. Worth a lot of money. We should’ve gotten rid of that thing.”

“It's easier to judge our mistakes in hindsight.” He says.

Beau huffs.

“I guess.”

 

So they walk, again, through the streets. It takes them a while to get to the Amenity. It is located in a nicer part of town, if such a comparison is fair. The buildings do seem to have a bit more care to how they are constructed and kept, and the streets wider as they seem to follow a single line towards the Savalirwoods. 

It is a building a few stories high, painted white on the outside, “Amenity” painted above the entrance.

They go in and stand at the reception desk.

“Can I help you?” The woman asks.

“We’re looking for a Tabaxi woman named Cree. She has a room here.”

“We don’t divulge information of our clients, miss.” 

Beau bulls her card once more.

“I’m investigating for the Cobalt Soul.”

The woman frowns as she inspects Beau’s card.

She eventually hands it back. Still suspicious.

“She’s in room 36… Please don’t cause trouble.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. C’mon Cad.” Beau points with her head and Caduceus nods his thanks to the woman, following behind Beau.

They go up two flights of stairs, reaching rooms thirty to thirty nine.

The door line both sides of the corridor, stretching a few meters ahead of them. Uneven numbers to their left, even to their right.

They start walking. 32. 34.

36.

Beau knocks on the door.

And they wait.

 

Nothing.

 

She knocks again, glancing up at Caduceus.

When nothing happens again she grasps at the handle.

The door opens.

 

Beau pushes through fast.

The room is much larger than the one they slept at, and definitely cleaner, though it seems to be a bit at a disarray, closet and drawers left open and sheets turned. 

Like someone had rummaged through the room in search of something.

Beau walks in, quiet and careful and Caduceus follows.

There are no signs of a fight of any sorts. It’s a bit messy but almost purposefully, things pushed into piles as if accounted for and sheets thrown to one side to reveal part of the bed. The window is open and the curtains swishing with the wind. And something else beyond it.

Caduceus frowned, tilting his head.

“I think they went out the window.” He calls out.

Beau spares him only a quick glance before darting towards the window and reaching out to her right outside.

It looks like she finds something.

She grunts as she grabs onto someone that was standing on the balcony outside and pulls them back inside the room. They fight valiantly, smacking their hand on Beau’s face and swearing. Beau wins the struggle however and soon they are both falling on a pile on the floor. A tangled mess of limbs and coats.

Beau fights off the limbs reaching for her, pinning the person under her.

“Fucking hells, you-!” She freezes. “ Caleb?!

The man under her freezes as well, scarf falling off his face.

“Beauregard?” He calls in an accent definitely not from Shady Creek,

It’s a familiar name to Caduceus, only from Beau’s story. 

“What the fuck were you doing out the window?! You could’ve died, man!”

He tries to get up with a grunt and Beau gets off of him, helping him to his feet.

“Well, someone was trying to walk in and I had nowhere to hide.” He explains himself, batting at his coat. His shoulder length copper hair is tangled and so is the scarf around his neck, but he doesn’t seem too bothered by it. “I didn’t know it was you.”

“You thought it was Cree.” She says crossing her arms over her chest.

“Ja.” His eyes dart towards Caduceus and he frowns, mouth pressing into a thin line. “Who’s that?”

“Caleb, this is Caduceus. Caduceus, this is Caleb.” She introduces them. “Caduceus is from the Blooming Grove.”

“The cemetery?” 

“Yes. That one. And he’s helping me with an investigation. Now the question, Caleb, is what are you doing in this room that is certainly not yours.”

“Hey.” Caduceus greets with an easy smile, just to ease the tension that seems to emanate off the man. It doesn’t help much, but Caleb stops looking at him to address Beauregard once more.

“Investigating.”

“You were asking around for Cree.” Beau doesn’t ask, but rather states.

“Yes.”

“Okay. Explain.”

Caleb glances around.

He points behind Caduceus for a second.

“Can you?” Caduceus looks behind him at the open door.

“Oh. Alright.” He closes it.

Caleb is adjusting his scarf over his neck when Caduceus returns.

“Spit it out.” Beau waves her hand.

Caleb doesn’t seem any more irritated by the tone or behaviour.

“I found something, recently, in Rexxentrum. A journal, more specifically. It belonged to a, well… Someone who has been convicted for some rather unbecoming dealings of an assembly member.”

“Who?” Beau asks.

“That’s not relevant.” Caleb dodges. “What matters is I found writing about dealings with mercenaries in Shady Creek. It didn’t matter too much since she was already convicted, but something caught my attention.”

Caleb reaches for an inside pocket of his coat. A page. He hands it out to Beauregard.

“This symbol. It was familiar to me. I’ve seen it once before. In fact, you showed it to me. Nine years ago. I remember looking into it then too. But now I know who they are. So…”

Beauregard frowned at the page. It showed an eye in red, circled by eye red circles. Eight other eyes.

“Caleb why… Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

Caleb picked at the sleeve of his coat.

“I didn’t think it important enough to bother you. The Tomb Takers have already disbanded. I wouldn’t think the Cobalt Soul interested in them anymore.”

“This is not about the Cobalt Soul.” Beauregard calls out. “I’m your friend, Caleb.”

Caleb glances quickly at Caduceus.

He turns to Beauregard again.

“It’s been nine years. I just thought it wouldn’t be relevant.”

There’s something Caleb wants to say, or he doesn’t want to say. But Caduceus catches on that he’s not saying it while Caduceus is standing there.

“Should I leave?” He points towards the door behind him again.

“No.” Beau says over Caleb’s “Yes.”.

“He’s not leaving.” Beau stands strong in front of Caleb. She struggles a bit, trying to find the words to say. “I don’t even know-... I…” She sighs. “You know this fucking matters to me.”

Caleb remains steeled as well.

“You really think this has something to do with Mollymauk?”

“Yes.”

They remain in silence. Beau staring Caleb down, and Caleb looking somewhere over her shoulders.

He gives in. Speaking slowly.

“I’m sorry, Beauregard. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Beauregard grunts.

“I know that. Just… ugh. What do you know of Cree?”

“Well.” He looks around the room. “She used to live here in Shady Creek. Had a store where she’d buy and sell trinkets. It was mostly an upfront. The Tomb Takers dealt with very specific items. Rare things. They scattered some time ago. Cree has been working at a pub in Zadash for some time, but she moved back here a couple of weeks ago. She’s been missing for the past couple of days.”

“She’s missing?”

“Ja. Didn’t show up last night or today.”

Beauregard tenses up.

“You broke in yesterday?”

“No. Just staked outside.” He scratched at his arm again. “Came in today to search for clues.”

“Any idea where she could be?”

“One of her old trading posts, possibly. There’s a couple in the city, a few in the woods. Next would be in Zadash.”

“Did she write anything down about going to the Savalirwood?”

Caleb tilts his head in thought.

“No. She didn’t.”

Beau just nods.

“What about someone looking for her?”

“I think she had a contact here, but I don’t know.”

Beauregard sighs, running a hand through her hair.

“What do you know, Beauregard?” Caleb asks.

“The Tomb Takers had dealings with the Iron Shepherds years ago. Around the Shady Creek and the Savalirwood.”

Caleb hums.

“Well, they’re all disappearing and dying brutally. The Iron Shepherds. In the woods. Lorenzo is the remaining member that hasn’t turned up dead yet. I think Cree would be our way to get to him but if she’s gone and dead too we’re fucked.”

Caleb seems to pale at it.

Was ?” He says in another language. 

“If Cree is being targeted too we need to find her before she ends up dead too. So we gotta hurry.”

“Wait.” Caleb shakes his head. “You think the events of nine years ago have something to do with… with those deaths?”

Beauregard hesitates for a second.

“It seems like it. It’s a lot of coincidences. I don’t know. I would love to catch someone before they die to try to figure it out.”

Caleb nods slowly, hands gripping at his arms.

“Okay… Okay… Alright.” He shakes himself out of it, looking around. “So we look into her meeting spots… And hope to find her.”

“Yeah… Lead the way?”

Caleb nods.

 

They leave the room after Caleb.

 

“What about you?” Caleb addresses Caduceus.

“What?” He asks, confused.

“What do you have to do with all of this?”

Caduceus can tell there’s no ill intent behind the question. He thinks.

“Oh, I live in the Savalirwoods. I’ve been helping Beauregard with finding the bodies, I think.”  He scratches at his beard. “I have good intuition.”

Caleb purses his lips again.

“Intuition.”

“Yeah.” He smiles. “I think a little outside vision on this topic will do good.”

“But you just said you live in the woods.”

“Oh, I meant metaphorically.”

“Hm.” Caleb doesn’t seem too convinced by anything. But again, he doesn’t seem bothered. Caduceus thinks Caleb just might have a curious nature to him. And a nervous one, by the way he always drags tension on his entire body and seems incapable of unwinding.

Or that’s just Caduceus’ presence that is making him uncomfortable.

Not time to dwell on it. They are on a tight deadline afterall.

 

They follow Caleb as he directs them through the city. It’s gonna get dark soon, and Caduceus’ legs are aching from all the walking but he’s not yet complaining. It’s better to put all this matter at rest as soon as possible, so some physical ache is a small price to pay so far.

 

“There was a store close to here where she would trade.” Caleb explains, squeezing between two buildings to get through. “It was her main spot.”

He rubs his hands from the cold and points ahead to a small building. A single door remains closed, the only window in the front boarded up. There are no plaques or anything of the kind to identify it as a commercial building, but Caleb seems confident that is the place.

 

He pushes through the door, grunting as it squeaks.

The inside is dark and suffocating, a heavy layer of dust covering every surface and cobwebs gathering around. The place is tight enough that they have to walk in almost a single file.

There are a few empty shelves against the walls and a counter at the end of the corridor.

Beauregard pulls out a flashlight, clicking it on.

 

Rats scattered around.

Beauregard audibly shudders.

 

Caleb keeps walking, going behind the counter and pulling open a wooden hatch door.

“Down we go.” He announces.

“It smells bad in here.” Beau complains. She crouches by the hatch entrance, shining the light down as Caleb climbs down a metal ladder. Caduceus stands behind her, glancing down as well.

“It does seem very abandoned.” Caduceus remarks.

“Even if she isn’t here, we should at least look for anything pointing out where she could be.” Caleb stops when he reaches the floor. He pulls a face, squinting up at the light shining down on him. “Oh, it smells even worse here. It is very, very bad.”

“Cool. Great.” Beau hands the flashlight to Caduceus. “Keep it on the stairs.”

He shines it down as Beau joins Caleb.

“Holy shit!” She cries out. “It smells like something died ! Gods!” She puts a hand over her nose and mouth, extending the other up to Caduceus.

He drops the flashlight to her and climbs down as she shines the way for him. The steps are uncomfortably dirty under his hands.

There are noises too. Probably more rats.

“Beauregard. I think I stepped on something.” Caleb says.

“Just a sec, man.” She answers, waiting for Caduceus to reach the floor. The air is definitely rancid with something. It’s nauseating.

“Beauregard-“

“Hold up!”

Caduceus steps on the stone floor.

“It’s fine.” Beauregard twists, shining the light at Caleb’s feet.

He is stepping on something wet, they realize. He moves his foot and it leaves a mark on the ground. It’s a little river of liquid that dribbled down from further ahead.

Beauregard follows the trail, shadows dancing as rats caught in the beam dart away to hide.

There’s little in that room besides the stone floor and walls and a few crates pushed to the sides, so it is very easy for them to spot the body on the floor ahead, oozing blood and vermin.

“Ough… fuck.” Beauregard shines the light away, sickness clear in her voice. It’s gruesome. The quick glance Caduceus got at the corpse was enough to send a shiver down his spine. 

“Was… was that Cree?!” Beau shines  the light at the figure’s legs, looking at stained pants and boots, and a tail covered in black fur.

“I… I think so… I’m not… I… I think I’ll be sick… I have…” Caleb speaks in clipped sentences, seeming not too keen to breathe in the putrid air.

He turns around grabbing onto the ladder and climbing back up hurriedly. Beauregard watches.

“Ugh… let’s…” she beckons Caduceus with her head.

“Actually…” he stops her. “Do you want me to take a look at the body? You can go up with Caleb. I’ll be there in a moment.”

Beauregard only thinks for a bit.

“Alright, sure.” She hands him the flashlight. “We’ll be outside.” She pats his arms as he takes it before leaving.

Caduceus turns back towards the corpse as the sound of Beauregard climbing the steps rings through the room.

 

The rats are still scattering. The corpse is… well… not in optimal conditions. A lot of it has already been eaten away. It doesn’t look too old, a couple of days maybe? Perhaps less. Caduceus tries to look closely. There aren’t any discernible wounds that would have caused the death, but the gaps in the flesh caused by the vermin might have hidden them.

Curiously enough, this body, unlike the one he found in the wounds, doesn’t have blood pouring out every hole in its face. And Caduceus looks closely at the black fur on the tabaxi’s face for it.

“Huh…” he doesn’t know what that means yet.

 

That’s all he can gather however, so he steps away and climbs up the ladder.

 

Beauregard and Caleb are waiting by the door outside. Caleb looks pale, picking at his sleeves again and head hanging low. Beauregard looks up at Caduceus as he approaches. Tense.

 

“She’s been dead for at most three days, I think.” He says.

“Fuck…” Beau mumbles under her breath. “She died in there, right? Not anywhere else and dragged in.”

“There would be marks around the shop if that were the case.” Caleb says quickly, in one breath, not moving his eyes off the ground. “The basement only has one entrance.”

“I know, it’s just… it’s odd.” She says.

 

There’s a moment of silence as they think.

“Beauregard.” Caleb calls, still not moving his gaze. “How do these things tie together? The Iron Shepherds, the Tomb Takers, that night, these deaths. How do they connect?”

Beau hesitates for a moment.

“It’s… well.” She breathes in and out slowly. “They were dealing near the cabin. They knew we were there. I think they suspected we had something valuable. That necklace. They threatened us.”

“But I hid it. From everyone.” She confesses. “I thought… maybe I could fix it. Except I fucking didn’t.”

She rests her back against the wall, bumping her head against the stone, looking up at the darkening skies.

“Mollymauk must’ve given them what they wanted. And who knows what they did to him. But they left after that. And now they’re all dying. One by one. Everyone who was involved in that affair. Probably… Just… fucking-” She shrugs, hands waving through the air. “Bleeding from everywhere. No explanation. All in the woods. All drawn here to die.”

Caleb nods. Several times.

“Ja it… it checks, ja, okay. It makes sense, of course.” He turns to face them, still looking down. “We need to go somewhere private. There’s something I have to tell you.”

Beau stands up straighter at attention.

“What is it?”

“Somewhere private.” Caleb answers again, rubbing his arm. “Anywhere.”

“Sure.” Beau answers, looking at him in concern.

 

They start making it back to the cheap place Beau had paid for. She gets a bigger room, which wasn’t much of an improvement but could fit them three in.

Not once Caleb looked at them or said anything, even over Beau trading glances with Caduceus over his head. Caduceus didn’t know the man well enough to know how concerned he should be.



Once inside their room, Beau closes the door behind them. They all take a seat on the beds.

“Well… what is it?” Beau asks. “What do you have to tell?”

Caleb glances up only at her torso.

“You got it wrong.” He starts. “Mollymauk couldn’t have given away the Luxon, and couldn‘t have been responsible for the Tomb Takers leaving.”

“Okay. Why?” Beau asks, crossing her legs.

Caleb glares at her.

“Because I was the one who stole the Luxon.” He says firmly.

“I gave the Tomb Takers what they wanted.”