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Essek does an impressive job of not reacting when he enters the bakery and Reani is waiting with a flower crown in hand. Jester warned her he might resist a little, but that flower crowns are good for twitchy time wizards with bad people after them. (Which is, according to Jester, the situation Essek is in presently.) He arrived via translocation to the outskirts of town about ten minutes ago and made his way, apparently, without incident into the city and to the bakery Jester had instructed him toward.

Reani ignores a small flutter of infatuation, there and gone like a passing smile, when the very pretty friend of the Mighty Nein gives her a very quick up and down. His eyes are pale lavender, squinting slightly in the light inside the bakery. He’s wearing a heavy, fur-lined cloak that drapes to the floor, covering his entire body, but as he moves into the room and pulls his hood down, Reani can see the shaved white sections along the side of his head have started to grow in a little. He’s basically as she recalls him from their briefest of meetings nearly two years ago.

“Reani, I presume?” His voice is gently accented and resigned, it seems, to what’s coming. “Jester insisted this was necessary?”

Reani nods brightly, beaming as she holds out the elaborately looped circle of lily-white and gently purple flowers.

“Welcome to Uthadurn,” she says.

Essek visibly looks upward as though entreating some god for strength (a good sign!) but ducks his head slightly to allow her to lie the crown around his head, tucking the vines fetchingly behind his ears. He’s not very tall at all compared to a lot of the Mighty Nein, only about five foot five or so by her estimation. (And light enough to throw around says the part of her that’s always assessing people for their throwability.) Reani can’t be sure because Essek’s face is so dark in this light, but he seems a little flushed as he straightens up with the circlet of flowers caught up in his hair.  

“Thank you. This is a kind welcome, Miss Reani. I don’t— Oh. I didn’t see you—you had that.”

He stares at the black moss cupcake suddenly in his hand like it’s somewhat dangerous.

Reani bumps the cupcake in her own hand with he one in his hand like a toast and says, cheerily, “It’s tradition!”

“It’s not,” says the baker a little bemused from behind the counter. “But you’d best do it, stranger.”

Essek is a good sport about it and does take a bite of the cupcake with Reani. The Lightbringer loops a companionable arm though Essek’s elbow. He tenses slightly, before kind of relaxing into the act of normalcy.

“Let’s walk a bit. We can see the town or head directly to my place. My plan is to keep to familiar territory, but whatever you think is less suspicious.”

He hesitates.  “I mean this in the kindest way possible: I don’t think there will be any going unnoticed while I’m in your company.” He seems to re-assess his statement in Common, and adds, “We’re both a little… high contrast.”

“No one cares about dark elves out here.” Reani takes another bite of cupcake and says thru a mouthful, “But you are super handsome and that’s gonna get some, uh, attention, maybe. Can you look different?”

Essek glances toward the baker who has ducked tactfully into the backroom. He waves a hand, shimmers, and becomes a blonde half-elf in the exact garb he was wearing previously. He nods and pulls his hood up a little, stepping back out into the evening with her. Reani leads the way. The night air is still, lit only by the glitter of the streetlamps through the thoroughfares of the Deliberation Disk and the sleepy bustle of night life, shop keeps finishing their closings, off-shift workers heading home at last.

An ideal time to move unnoticed in the crowds.

“So,” says Reani, maintaining her amicable arm-clasp with her new friend. “The Nein say you’ve got bad people after you. You shouldn’t worry though; as long as you’re with me I’ll protect you with my life.” She smiles. “That said, you must be awfully good to have villains chasing you across the country.”

Essek, even disguised, seems visibly surprised at that. “I wouldn’t say that. My pursuers are just the regular ilk often employed as bounty hunters. Their moral fabric is no commentary on my own.”

“So, if they pop up here trying to kill you, do you want me to kill them or sit on them?” Reani asks. “If they’re bad guys, its no problem. My patron says I’m okay to make whatever calls I want while he’s away so bad guys are absolutely on the table for kill on sight. Your choice.”

“I see,” says Essek, though he is giving her a curious side-eye. “I’m being pursued by three bounty hunters. Their benefactors are not evil, but the men themselves are… overly eager to their work, I suppose? They leveled threats of violence that were above and beyond their call as mercenaries.” There’s detectable discomfort in his tone, clearly recalling the details in that moment. “I’ve been pursued by bounty hunters before, professional men and women, who I would have regretted killing in the course of their duties. Luckily, I’ve avoided unnecessary violence thus far.”

“Good,” says Reani, the free hand on her scimitar hilt relaxing a little.

Here Essek gets a little somber. “This new group is more ruthless. I would not protest if you moved to dissuade my pursuers rather than killing them or were to withdraw from a confrontation all together. I am not here on the expectation that you will do any violence for me, Miss Reani. Only taking up the hospitality of mutual friends while I try to gather myself and confuse their trail.”

“Aww,” says Reani, touching a palm to her chest. “That’s sweet. But I’ll just kill ‘em.”

Essek blinks. “Oh.” A beat. “Appreciated?”

They stroll through the streets for a time, Reani giving a full and pleasant tour. Essek is tense most of that time, despite her reassurances that blending with the crowd is more conducive to disappearing and they will retire to her home soon enough. Even in her humanoid form, she can smell it on him that he’s been in a fight recently, sweated and been hot with adrenaline within the last twelve hours and that the suddenness of Jester’s entreaty had likely been an act of desperation.

Reani knows what hunted people look like.

They sit down at a small café near The Tumbling Tankards, the distant din of singing acting as a muffle for their conversation. Essek eats just a little of the flatbread Reani orders and looks entirely awkward about all of this.

“So you’re not living in Rosohna anymore? I didn’t get to stay very long last time, but it seemed nice when I was there.”

“Ah, no. I had a falling out with some of the people there.”

“Can I ask what kind of falling out?”

His pale eyes flicker. “Best not to.”

“Secrets. Right. Yes. You’re a secret-y person,” says Reani knowingly. Then, voice getting a little squeaky, she clears her throat. “Right? That’s what Jester said. Is that right?”

“Yes. I worked, for a time, in information acquisition of a sort. Again, best not to get into the details.”

“Right. Right.” Reani drums her fingers on the table, trying to will herself not to push. “You know, since I visited Rosahna and met the Mighty Nein I’ve been working on, uh, researching more. Asked my patron a lot about the, ah, nuances of stuff. I used by a little hardline about—” a delicate pause here where Essek’s eyebrows knit— “stuff,” Reani says. “Going to Rosahna and hearing my friends talk about how nice it was. How nice the people were. How… alike to any other place? I dunno, it got me thinking.”

Essek’s smile gets a little crooked. “The Mighty Nein have that effect.”

“You too, huh?”

“Yes. I… was a very different person when we last met. They rather changed my disposition on many things.” His eyes drop, scanning idly along the imperfections in the table. “They improved me if I’m honest. My pursuits before were misguided.”

“And now you fight crime,” whispers Reani.

“Excuse me?”

What?”  Reani clears her throat, busily tossing her hair over her shoulders. “I didn’t say anything. Hmm?”

Essek looks a little bemused. “Did Jester intimate to you that I fight crime?”

“Maybe,” says Reani, a little embarrassed now.

“I have, only when called upon, assisted Beauregard and Caleb in pursuits that could be considered ‘crime fighting’.” He does finger quotes here in a way that seems less like a natural mannerism than one he picked up. “On my own time, I pursue my own security.”

Reani isn’t sure what that emotion is. The one he has when he says that.

“Well, I don’t know if our mutual friends told you but—” Reani lowers he voice conspiratorially, “I also fight crime. It’s kinda my thing.” She smiles when Essek kind of arches his brows. “You know, fighting evil and stuff.”

“Evil?” he says.

“Yeah, you know.” She picks up a piece of flatbreak and pops it in her mouth. “Take out bad people.”

Essek’s eyes get big for a split second, then he quickly gets interested in the flatbread too. Reani pretends not to notice while her guest busies himself eating for a minute. She can see gears turning despite his casual demeanor. See that he got just an iota more nervous than he was before.

“So, you just need some down time to regroup?” asks Reani.

“Hmm?” Essek jerks out of a thought. “Oh, yes. One of them used some kind of… nerve agent against me. It’s made anything but ritual casting difficult for the time being.” He removes one glove, raising his bare hand, palm down. She can see there is an infinitesimal shake in his fingers, an occasional twitch in individual digits. “Getting here was dangerous, but given the position they’d put me in, my odds were better to try for Uthadurn.”

“Can they teleport?” she asks, her tone sharpening a little.

“It’s unclear to me. They caught me unawares and it was their martial members who laid hands on me. I managed a Dimension Door and got enough distance to contact Jester and lay down the circle. But I need rest.”

“Well, plants and their effects are a specialty of mine.” Reani stands up immediately, beaming. “Let’s head to my place, I’ll give you a little diagnostic, see if I can’t give you a tonic to knock that out of your system. You can have the bed.”

“I wouldn’t ask that of you,” Essek starts to protest.

“Nah, I sleep as a wolf at night anyway. I’ll literally be a guard dog so no worries. The bed is for guests.”

She holds out a hand and watches him instinctively obviously not want to take her hand, then visibly soften when she wiggles her fingers invitingly. He is, after all, Jester Lavorre’s friend. He takes her hand briefly to stand up, leaving a gold on the table to pay.


Reani pretty quickly identifies the poison in Essek’s system after sitting him down and casting a few basic identification spells.

Extract of rigorweed, a fast-acting root tincture. When absorbed through mucus membrane it causes paralysis. There are still traces of it on the wizard’s skin, her magic revealing its place and its nature simultaneously. Essek sits in her small dimly-lit living room, englamoured now, and letting her look him over. Here are the details she knows without asking: Essek’s pursuers wet a rag of paralytic agent and (presumably while he slept or was distracted) covered his nose and mouth with it. They didn’t get a perfect seal as there is a shimmering smear of it across the wizard’s windpipe, like he wrenched his head up and to the right.

So his verbalization of the Dimension Door must have been unencumbered enough to tear him out of danger. But just barely.

Reani wets a washcloth and hands it to him. “You should get whatever is left off it off your skin.”

He takes a cloth, the backs of his eyes flickering animal green in the half-light. “It’s a contact poison?”

“No, but in vapor form it can cause nerve issues and it’s dried on your skin so that could be bad if you go to bed, rub it off on a pillow, and breathe it in your sleep.”

“Ah.” Essek removes his cloak, shrugging it off over the back of his seat. He starts carefully wiping his jaw and neck. “Thank you, Miss Reani.”

“Just Reani if you please. Rigorweed is a professional drug. Not a killing drug though. So that bounty for you is ‘alive’ yes?”

“Either, but alive is the higher bounty,” says Essek.

“Gross.” Reani dismisses her spell of poison detection. “I’ll fix you some tea. I have a few roots that should neutralize whatever is left in your system. Then you can hit them with wizard magic if they find you somehow.”

Essek leans back in his seat, laying one arm on the table and here – divested of his heavy cloak and down to his tunic and base outfit – he looks suddenly tired. He lifts a hand to rub his temple, eyes closing briefly.

“Thank you. That would be nice. I’m feeling a little disarmed right now.”

Reani is already rifling through her small apothecary of dried herbs, her back to Essek while she talks.

“Wizards need magic to be dangerous. Don’t worry, I’ll get you back to full murder-ready in a jiffy. You just relax for a bit, okay?”

The pot is steeped within ten minutes. In that time, Essek is near drifting off at her small tea table and stirs only when she sets the teacup by his hand. He gives her a sleepy nod, sitting up and downing half the cup like a dose of medicine. He grimaces, but settles back in with the warm cup in hand. He glances at the black and green teapot sitting on the table between them, then at the plate of sudden muffins that appears next the pot.

“I,” says Reani when he looks about to protest again, “am an amazing host. I want you to be comfortable.”

“You’re very kind.”

“I don’t know about that.” She settles into the chair across from him. “I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

Essek finishes the cup in his hand. “How much should I drink?”

“That’s more than enough,” says Reani, watching her guest closely.

“Your arcane study is druidic, is it not? Your patron is one of natural order?” he asks. “Your magic suggests as much, but you carry steel easily enough.”

“Oh, no. I mean… well, I am a druid but my patron is someone else. An angel actually.” She picks up one of the muffins and starts picking pieces off it and chewing them. “He’s the one that asked me to come here. He’s asked me to start acting more independently, but he gives me a lot of advice.”

“An actual manifest angelic entity communes with you?”

“Sometimes.” She smiles. “How are you feeling?”

“Good. Warm,” says Essek immediately. He folds his arms on the table, leaning his weight there. “I think there was tension and its… not there anymore.” He rolls his neck a little, the longer part of his white undercut dropping over his forehead. He sighs, almost smiling. “Feels good. I don’t… it’s strange almost.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

He looks at her sharply.

She looks at him, her chin in her hand, her other arm tucked around her elbow.

He sits back. “What did I just drink?”

“Nothing you can do anything about now.”

Essek stares at her. Incredulous.

“You poisoned me?”

“No. I drugged you.”

His expression creases. “Why?” He shakes his head, very near sputtering in shock and then rage and then an edge of panic. “They said I could trust you. I don’t understand.”

“You can trust me,” says Reani. “If you’re what you say you are.” She gets up and moves the tea pot out of the way, off the table and onto a bookshelf nearby. Essek watches her do this, but she knows he’s going to struggle to move. He doesn’t flinch even when she moves around the table, dragging a chair, then pulling his chair to face hers. “You see, I have a rule. And I need to know if my friends are accidentally working with a dangerous person.”

“Oh no,” whispers Essek, gripping the edge of his seat.

“Okay,” says Reani, “just answer me honestly. Easy-peasy.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

“Only if you’re bad.”

“Oh my god,” says Essek. “Fuck.”

“Okaaay, were off to a good start,” says Reani. “Focus. I know that stuff’s a little strong but it’s important. Are you trying to hurt my friends?”

“No.” Essek swallows. There’s sweat on his brow now. “Never.”

“Okay good. Are you evil?”

Essek gives this sort of strangled laugh, then claps a hand over his mouth. His eyes are panicked, pupils blown.

“Don’t throw up. Just answer. Not answering it gonna make everything start hurting.”

He moves his hand off his lips but keeps it near his face like a half mask. “I don’t know,” he says, sounding sick. “I don’t know if I’m evil, but I’m not good. I don’t think I’m good.”

“What’s the worst thing you’ve done?”

The panic is so intense now, his hand is shaking as he again uses it to cover his mouth.

“C’mon.” Reani kind of pokes his knee.

Essek shakes his head, eyes huge.

 “You better tell me.” She picks up his empty teacup, rolling it between her palms. “That stuff grows in the feywild and it hates secrets.”

Essek struggles for a moment longer, then his palm comes off his mouth as if invisible hands are dragging his wrist down, the dryad’s draught taking dreadful root in his bloodstream. He’s almost coughing the words up:

 “I betrayed my… my country. I gave an artifact to organizations within the Empire.” He tries to bite down on the words, but his chin is pulled up again as if invisible hands are taking hold of him. Panting, every word a strain he says, “A war was started because of this subterfuge. Thousands died. The war would have begun within months, I knew this, I was the Shadowhand of Bright Queen. My actions sparked the conflict early for my own benefit.”

His pale eyes are wide, blinking rapidly, tears slide down his face and drop from his chin, but he can’t look away from Reani.

“I tried to hide what I’d done. I am on the run even now from my own government who pursue me, certain now of my crimes. The hunters they send after me are evil men, yes, but evil men hunting another evil man.” He laughs then, one short breath, almost a relief. “The Mighty Nein know, but they think my living is a better restitution than my dying. I cannot say if they are wrong. Sometimes, I think I’ve tricked them. Charmed them into letting me walk free of justice.”

Essek’s shoulders have relaxed now, his body no longer shaking. He’s relaxed into the hold of the poison entirely now, his gaze unfocusing as he looks at her now, seated in her living room where she has seated dozens just like him. Just like this.

“The worst thing I ever did was trade thousands of lives for my own curiosity, then escape justice for it.”

Reani stares. “Why would they do that?” She can hear that he voice has a gotten a little small, a little hurt. “Why would Beau and the others let you get away with that?”

“They didn’t want to, but revealing what I’d done would have kicked the war back off after they worked so hard to end it. So they just… held their tongue.”

“Will killing you now start up a war?”

“No. There’s been delay enough and confusion enough about my activities that, actually, killing me might prevent war. The details of what I know could set off a new conflict, barring the intercession of the Mighty Nein and the Cobalt Soul.”

Reani sits there a while.

“I don’t know why they would send you here. To me.” She set the teacup in her hands aside, just so by the muffin plate. “Do you think they sent you here so I’d kill you? Am I justice?”

“I personally think Jester forgot your moral imperatives might require you to kill me upon revelation and then forgot to mention it to me.” He sounds almost exasperated. “I would not read too deeply into it.”

“I don’t get it. Why do they trust you?”

He laughs a little, the sound slow and drunk in its tenor. “I don’t know. I suppose it’s because they had power over me for so long, but chose not to harm me. Because I came with them into the Astral Sea to fight an apocalypse with them. Because I broke reality for them. Because they’ve forgiven me and they know me well enough that I can’t… I can’t make up for what I’ve done so I will always, always be doing what they ask of me despite the fact I don’t have to anymore. Because they’re good and I’m nothing like them.”

He’s letting the words come like conversation. Almost sleepy. He’s so completely held by the dryad draught that it lets him move his hands normally and clasp one hand in the other, rubbing it in an anxious tic.

“They trust me because Caleb tells them I’m different now.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.” He says it like he’s surprised. “Yes, I’m different.”

“But you’re not good.”

“I don’t think so.”

“But you do good because they tell you to?”

“When they tell me and when I have opportunity. As I said—” he smiles, but its just a shape of it— “I can’t ever make up for it. So it’s what my life must be now.”

Reani says nothing. Then, “That’s super unhelpful, Essek. I don’t know what to do with that.” She gets up in a huff and paces her small apartment, worrying her thumbnail between her teeth. “Shoot. If you were just secretly evil, I was gonna let the overdose kill you, but now I don’t know.”

“Huh?” says Essek, fully inebriated now.

“Oh, that stuff is super toxic. You’ll feel truthful and weird for another…” She looks him up and down. “You’re like, what, one-hundred and thirty pounds? Another twenty minutes and you’ll go unconscious then stop breathing. It’s a super nice death actually. I only use this stuff for people I’m not sure about. Usually they just confess all their murders and it’s easy. You’re complicated.” She bites her nail anxiously. “Samliel didn’t say to kill you or anything. This is just my gut. But you’re totally a war criminal.”

Essek is just staring at her, a weird calm now on his face.

“If you did kill me,” says Essek. “It’s not like I wouldn’t deserve it.”

“Shoot! Look, you can’t say that!” Reani waves her hands, casting dramatically around the empty room. “Now I’m really not sure if I should kill you. Bad guys never think they deserve what’s coming to them. Dammit, this is exactly what Nott and Beau were talking about. Except you actually had super bad intentions and did bad things and there’s, like, not even any grey. You did evil things.”

She feels a flare of temper, of righteous indignation.

“All those people are dead because you were doing selfish stuff. That is evil. The rule is evil dies.”

He smiles at her and it’s so strange. “You’re not wrong.”

“You deserve to die.”

“More than most.”

“So I should… I should kill you.”

“I don’t know if you should kill me.” He gestures and the motion is off kilter. “That would put you in an awkward position with the Mighty Nein who I am, again, ninety-nine percent sure simply forgot that you might kill me out of moral obligation.” A beat. “Apologies, that doesn’t really help you, does it?”

“Uuuuuugh!” She throws her head back. “No, Essek! That doesn’t help.”

He tilts his head at her. “Again, apologies. I should be worried that I’m dying, but your drug is stopping me feeling that, I think, so instead I think this is a little funny and fatalistic.”

“Right?” says Reani. “Dryad draught. Like I said, it’s a really nice death.”

“Oh, yes,” Essek says, “the best I’ve had.”

“Shoot. You’re not making this very easy,” Reani complains, pacing the floor now in front of her captive. “You’re all sad about your crimes and not even fighting my special feywild poison or anything. Like lots of criminals are sad about getting caught and about consequences, but not really about their crimes.”

“I mean, I’m very much sad about getting caught,” says Essek, his brow knitting with a vague wiggle of drunk-person emphasis. “To be clear, I would absolutely run out of this room and try to get away from you if I could. You are trying to kill me. I would rather not be dead.”

“This is terrible.” Reani sits down across from her captive. “I wish Jester would message me. I mean, I don’t want to kill you. You’re their hot wizard friend and it sounds like they know you’re a bad guy. I know they don’t do things like I do, but this is… its big bad. It’s really bad. You’re not a good person.”

There’s a silence for a while.

“You know,” says Essek, “I told Beauregard once that no one should get to declare themselves good or bad. That it’s a quality determined by the consensus of others. I can tell you what I think about myself, that I do not feel like I am a good man. That I believe I deserve to die even if I don’t want to die. I can tell you that but… it’s not up to me.” He stares down at his palms, staring into the lines of his hands. “It up to you and the Mighty Nein and others who know me. They get to decide if my continuity in the world is of benefit or not.”

Reani can tell Essek is starting to drift. He’s not fighting this drug like all his predecessors.

“What did Beau say to that?”

“She said… I think she said she thought I was… good.”

He’s leaning his weight against the table now, folding one arm against the tabletop as he slowly drops his temple against his folded arm. His eyes flutter a little, the pale contrast of his lashes against dark skin so weirdly peaceful even as Reani can hear his breath getting shallow. His weight is getting boneless, unconsciousness stealing over like a warm blanket.

He murmurs something.

She thinks he says, “I’m tired.” Just once.

Then she has an unconscious drow wizard on her tea table.  

There’s quiet. Just the distant murmur of the city outside, the creak of the beams that support the walls of this room. Her own heart humming in her ears and the ongoing silence that is hers and hers alone to fill.

Then Reani panics. She rushes forward, quickly looping her hands around the back of Essek’s head, cupping his jaw and patting his face urgently. He’s completely unresponsive in her hands, eyes closed, dark features slack with unnatural sleep as the sudden terror comes upon her – What have I done!? What did I do? – that she’s done a bad thing.

“No, no, no,” Reani whispers. “Oh no. Stop that. Wake up! I was supposed to have more time to think, you jerk!”

Essek groans a little in his stupor.

Reani can feel his pulse under her fingers, beneath the line of his jaw, can feel it getting thready and weak as his body absolutely succumbs --- and Reani says a word that belongs to angels and archfey, her eyes glowing, and she drags her thumbs across Essek’s cheeks like you wipe tears from a person’s face in comfort and magic surges off her palms. It’s gold and green and hits his skin, then his bloodstream, diffusing through him like a root-system so his entire body is briefly lit up from the inside. Reani feels the poison become a neutral agent inside him, undoing her act of violence and he inhales deeply.

“Essek!?”

Pale purple eyes blink groggily.

“Oh good. Whew! I thought you died.”

“Am I not dying?” Essek asks, grimacing.

“No, butthead. You’re not dying.” Reani steps back.

Essek straightens up in his chair, wiping his face with his sleeve. “Good. That’s… mmhmm.” He winces. “Apologies. What is happening then?”

Reani bends down in front of him, looking him right in the eyes. “I’m gonna do what Caleb and Beau have been doing. I’m gonna have you do some community service.”

“I don’t think that’s what Beau and Caleb have been doing. You are crediting them with incredible amounts of foresight—”

“Well, it’s what I’m doing.” She points at him. “You.” She points at herself. “Me.” She punches her fist into the palm of her opposite hand. “Crime fighting. That’s what were gonna do until I’m convinced you’re not evil.”

“I have intense apprehensions,” says Essek.

“Same. But I’m gonna put a little faith in you, Thelyss.” She points. “But mostly, if you try to wiggle out of this I’m gonna turn into a giant spider and hunt you down.”

“Don’t do that,” says Essek.”

“Great. We start tomorrow.”


It about two weeks later, that Reani remembers she’s supposed to kill Essek if he shows signs of being evil. Up until now, it’s not been something she’s consciously forgot on account of verbally reminding Essek that she intends to kill him if he ‘does anything evil’ and to which he would usually say something like, “I’m not intending to do anything ‘evil’, Reani, but you said that my taking an extra donut at breakfast yesterday was a sign I’m back-slipping and that makes me nervous.” Blah, blah, blah.

Essek maintains his disguise in Uthadurn. His bounty hunters haven’t been able to track him thus fast, and so Reani has pretty much decided said bounty hunters must suck. Alternately, they don’t suck but Reani and Essek have been in the Savalier Wood hunting bad guys and no normal person goes in those woods wiilingly.

“I cannot emphasize enough that I don’t typically do field work.”

“Really? See, I thought you were doing pretty well!”

Essek, who is floating about fifteen feet above the fight she is having, his hands glowing with a weird negative light, just calls down, “On your left!”

She jukes, a sword swing sailing over her head, then spins around and drives her blade straight through her opponent, kicking his body off as she pulls her scimitar free. The remaining Jagentoth mook screams, clutching an identical wound that opens up in his belly and the weird tether of grey light between him and his dead partner disappears. He collapses slowly into the underbrush and for a moment there is only an eerie silence in the shadows of the Savalier Wood.  

Essek’s hands stop glowing and he drifts warily back down to earth.

“That’s a neat trick,” says Reani, wiping blood from her sword. “Time magic is pretty useful, huh?”

“Dunamancy is the magic of quantum states, but it’s not explicitly time magic in all forms,” says Essek, tone and expression very dry.

“Uh-huh.”

Essek sighs, looking toward the canopy. “You know, Caduceus lives in this area.”

“Right. And were not going there because you’ll tattle.”

“You mean, I’ll communicate to our mutual friend that you have been holding me somewhat hostage to do vigilante justice in a lawless backwood.” His tone is completely two-dimensional in its flatness. “I already declined to inform on your activities the last time Jester messaged me to ask after my well-being and, as I’ve said before, the Jagentoths trade in magical artifacts is of interest to me. You don’t have to—”

“Remind you that I have to kill you if you do something evil?”

“Yes.” He looks visibly frustrated. “That. But I was going to say he and his family might offer some respite or aid in this Jagentoth issue. They are, after all, pushing their smuggling routes further toward the heart of the wood.”

“Hmm, I mean, tea might be nice.”

“Caduceus Clay would likely send us home with a backpack full, if you asked it.”

“I mean I do love tea…”

Essek’s eyes flash as he waves a hand over the variety of dead bodies, all in various states of shredded.

Reani’s draconic half-shifts paired with Essek’s vitality pairing tends to make these fights go fast, to say nothing of crushing other magic users like paper lanterns when Essek figures out who the arcane-users are. He’s gotten less resistant to the idea of popping people’s skull like grapes after the first trade caravan he’d freed only to find half a dozen children on their way to the Shady Creek auction house.

Then he got very keen on Reani’s rehabilitation program for dark wizards.

“That one has the bag of holding,” he says, pointing to one of the smaller women, one with her head twisted the wrong way on her spinal column. “Shall I destroy it and sent the content and a few of their bodies into the Astral Sea, or do you want to take some it as evidence?”

“Nah, space ‘em. There aren’t any laws to appeal to out here.”

“Very well.” He gestures as a dagger floats up from the ground, turns, and slashes precisely into the little bag. There’s a sudden pop and howl as that space briefly becomes a screaming black hole, into which the body of the woman and three of her compatriots are sucked. The hole collapses shut on itself and then it’s quiet again.

Essek looks at her.

“Where to next? Do you have a target?”

“Mmmhmm.” She gets a map out, frowns when she leaves a sticky print of blood on it.

Essek waves a hand at her and the blood, sweat, and other grossness disappears from her clothes and hair.

“Why thank you. That’s very un-evil of you.”

“My pleasure,” says Essek, again, without any expression at all on his face. But she thinks the corner of his mouth quirks when she looks away.

Reani is still unsure about the correct way to operate in the murky middle ground between white and black. Samliel hasn’t commented yet about her partnership with Essek Thelyss, who hasn’t tried even once to blow her up with gravity magic to use time spells to make her an old lady or something. She cannot be sure yet that Essek is particularly good, but she’s starting to suspect he at the very least is not an evil person. Maybe a formerly evil person. Who still fails the final donut test on a regular basis, but not currently evil.

They consult the map of the Savalier Wood for a while, discuss their next move. Reani turns into an owlbear and, together, they set off to do some good.