Heart of the Glade
Tales of Kids Machina – A Critical Role FanFic Shortstory
by J.D. Beckwith
“I’m telling you, Max, she went this way!” Mercy said from above him as she pointed her ring bedazzled finger in the direction of the nearby wood. The carpet she lay on wobbled a bit as a gust of wind caught it, threatening to overturn its tiny ten year old passenger.
“You were just as sure the other day too, but you and Raven spent two hours wandering around wondering how I was throwing twigs at you,” Max retorted with a snide chuckle.
“Just because you cheated with that invisibility potion you ‘borrowed’ from Uncle Gilmore’s store doesn’t mean Raven will. She’s tricky, but she plays fair.”
Max sticks his tongue out at his sister. “As father always says: ‘The prodigious implementation of ingenuity is not cheating’.”
Mercy rolls her eyes and replies, “Well, as mother always says: ‘Let the ranger do the tracking, and the barbarian do the hacking’. There’s a patch of folded over touch-me-nots with a patch of flowers missing right over there. She went that way.”
“I am NOT a barbarian,” Max groused as he takes out his spy glass and trains it on the patch of flowers. After studying it for a moment he put it away and said with a very matter-of-fact tone, “You’re right. She went this way.” He then began walking in the direction indicated as if it was his intention all along.
This particular round of their daily game of Stealth and Perception had been going on for almost an hour already. Aunt Kiki had let them go early from their daily druid crafting session, and since Aunt Cassandra was busy entertaining some Tal’Dorei high muckety-mucks, today’s civics lesson had also been postponed. The girls had decided to forego a time limit on the round, which was testing Max’s patience. He really wanted to get back to his tinkering shop try out the newest set of tools his Uncle Tarry had sent to him. Instead, here he was stomping through the meadows around Whitestone looking for cousin Raven’s hiding place. He knew he’d never be left alone unless he ‘trained’ (as she called it) with this twin for a while.
As they made their way to the edge of the small patch of woods just south of town, they carefully tested what they saw against their memory of the area, looking for anything ‘out of place’. “I’m going to go higher,” Mercy said.
“Not too high. You know the wind gets tricky above treetop level this time of day. I don’t’ want to have to drag you back to Momma Pike’s Temple again.” Max reminded her.
“Yes, I know, worry-wort”, she said as she gained altitude. Mercy hung tightly to the edge of the carpet as she made a circuit of the small glade. She sighed as she noticed Trinket watching from a nearby hilltop. She had been about to go higher, but she knew he would report her to her mom later if she did. He took his responsibilities as High Guardian of the de Rolo Clan very seriously. Even though he was a tattletale bear, she did love him very much. She waved at him, and he raised one paw and waved back to her. She smiled as she continued her search.
She saw her brother flipping through his sketchbook, no doubt comparing some drawing or other he had of this glade to its current state. As she skirted the treetops, they became denser toward the center of the glade, making it hard to see into the interior. Seeing nothing immediately eye-catching, she continued on until she was over the south road – the agreed to boundary for their game – and lowered herself to just above head height in order to see over the brush and hedges along the woods edge into its heart. As she glided her way slowly back towards town, she caught a glimpse of movement.
“I’ve found something,” she whispered after touching a small stone on her earring.
“Well, what is it?” Max replied through the earpiece.
“I’m about to go check. It’s not far from you. West side of the glade, near the old rock overhang you fell off that time.”
“On my way.” he replied.
As she approached the spot where the motion was, she saw several small mice scamper across a turtle’s shell as they make their way around a fifteen or so foot tall rock jutting up sideways from the ground. Behind it, she can see the wide trunk of a small tree. It looked like a miniature version of the Sun Tree, but scaled down to a tenth or less of the size. This was odd, because the lowest branches seemed too large to be barely five feet off the ground. She smiled, knowing this must be Raven trying out her polymorph skills again. As she stealthily edged around the up-thrust of stone on her carpet, she saw her brother approach out of the corner of her eye. He nodded to her as he smiled and began a crouching walk up the rock.
Turning her focus back to the spot where Raven’s tree-form was, she prepared to yell out a shout of ‘Found you!’, but stopped herself quickly when she took in what is possibly the oddest sight she has ever witnessed in her young life. Before her, the tree-form of her druidic cousin, Raven, had revealed her face and shoulders from the side of her bark covered self. One finger of her right hand, complete with twig and leaf sticking up from the tip, hovered over her mouth in the gesture for silence as she stared at Mercy.
Her left hand casually stroked the silky strands of shoulder-length silvery-white hair of a young male goliath that was asleep with his back resting on her trunk. His ears were quite odd for a goliath, as they stuck out and wrapped around toward the back of his head, almost touching, with small whisker-thin wisps at the ends. Starting at the tips of those ears, and flowing down across his grayish-blue skinned face, neck, and bare muscular chest – even down through the leather waistcloth kilt he wears – all the way to his bare feet, ran a pattern of markings. Mercy had seen goliath fate marks before, but never had she seen so many curved ones. These seem to flow around his eyes, nose and ears more like water instead of the normal jagged lightning bolt style she knew.
She found it difficult to focus on anything but him for a long moment until a large brown lump, which she had taken to be a mound of dirt, suddenly shifted. It raised its head up and opened its jaws into a huge fang encrusted yawn which snaps shut with startling force. Then the snout turned and fell onto the stomach of the young goliath, who let out a small grunt and flopped a hand over the muzzle. Both the boy and the beast still slept as Raven continued to stroke the boy’s hair.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Raven whispered to Mercy.
Mercy gave Raven one of her patented ‘You’re so weird’ looks, then started to ask “Who is…” However, before she can utter the third syllable, her brother suddenly stood atop the rock and shouted.
“Aha! Aren’t you a little short for a Sun Tree, Raven!”
The sudden shout caused the pair of sleepers to startle awake. The creature immediately jumped between Max and his goliath companion, who scrambled away on all fours while fumbling to pick up a small quarterstaff that had been lying by his side. As he regained his footing, he turned to face them trying to snarl like his companion, but the fear on his face made it into more of a comical grimace.
“Wait! They’re friends!” Raven shouted. She quickly transformed back into her true form, with small black wings peaking from her shoulders and tiny two pointed antlers atop her head. She held her hands palm out toward the boy and his guardian, but then clumsily swept one in front of her as an errant gust blew a tangle of her red hair across her heavily freckled face. “This is Max and Mercy. They were looking for me, remember?”
The boy’s stance started to relax a bit, but then he noticed Mercy for the first time, hovering about four feet up on the flying carpet. He jumped again, turning to get a view that encompassed them all. The beast in front of him made another menacing snarl, this time in Mercy’s direction.
“Please, Corm, they won’t hurt you. I promise.” Raven said. “Guys,” she continued, “this is Corm. He sort of found me before you did, and we were talking. He fell asleep while we were waiting for you to find me too. Oh, and this is Taz,” she said, pointing to very disgruntled animal. “He’s kinda grumpy.”
Mercy had backed off (and up) a few feet, while Max had his hand now resting on his sword hilt. He eyed the animal and the boy cautiously. “Be careful Raven, he seems more than a bit grumpy right now. In fact, I would say he’s very displeased.”
Relaxing again, the boy said, “Taz, settle, it’s ok for now. Come.” The goliath boy stabbed his quarterstaff on the ground beside him. Instantly, the animal turned and rounded his companion, sitting on the ground beside him. Its head is almost at the boy’s waist, which for a goliath of his age, twelve or there-about, is still shoulder height to the other three children.
“What is he?” Max asks, pointing to Taz.
“He’s a dire wolverine, he’s my companion,” the boy replied.
“Where did you come from?” Mercy asked, gliding closer to her brother’s perch. He stepped onto the carpet with her, using her shoulder to maintain his balance. Mercy then glided the carpet toward Raven, and they both stepped down to the forest floor beside her.
“Well, I’ve come a long way since I started, but I was born in the feywild. Have you ever heard of it?”
“Yes, of course, our parents have told us a lot about it.” Mercy answers. “But that’s a whole other plane. Where did you come to this plane?”
“I first began my Seeking near a place called Vasselheim. Since, I’ve traveled a long way finding bits and pieces of the Story as I went. I was able to convince an old woman I met to teleport me to Tal’Dorei. I ended up on a very nasty and stinky place called Stillben. From there I wandered north and west until I found a town that knew many tales that are part of the Story that I Seek. That was the last place I was in, called Westruun, and it has led me here.”
The twins looked at one another skeptically. Max said, “You traveled all that way alone? No parents with you?”
He looked at them a bit confused. “Of course. But I wasn’t really alone. Taz was with me.” He patted the head of the wolverine who rumbled and turned his head to have his ear scratched.
“What’s this ‘Story’ you keep talking about?” Max asked.
“Oh, that. It’s from my mother actually. The Story of the Skywatcher she calls it. I think she made up the name, but I like it, so I use it. My mother loves stories you see.” He propped his staff against a tree and walked off a few feet. From behind a large boulder he pulled a small two wheeled cart with harness. In the front of it rested a pack that he quickly set aside. In the rear was a hide covering a larger burden. He carefully unfastened some of the tie-downs and flipped the hide back. The others made their way closer, keeping a wary eye on Taz, to see what was there. Now uncovered, there was a stack of more than two dozen books of various sizes and colors. “I’ve managed to collect a few for her, for when I return.”
“So, your story is about collecting books?” Mercy asked.
“Oh, no,” Corm replied, “The books are just other stories I find along the way. The real Story of the Skywatcher is about me. It’s just that I don’t know the beginning yet. At least not the whole beginning. I know my mother’s part, but I’m working on knowing my father’s part. Until I find that out, I can’t really make it mine, you know?” He stared at them as if expecting them to understand exactly what he meant, but they stared back with blank or confused expressions.
“I don’t get it.” Raven said. “Your story can’t start until you know your parent’s story? But isn’t your story already started? I mean, here you are.”
“Well, it’s complicated,” he said. He frowned, thinking intently. He started to try to explain more, but was interrupted by a rising sound coming from outside the woods. A thud-thuddathudthud mixed with a hmmrf-snort echoed through the trees. The group turned suddenly as the lowering sun was blocked by the heavy breathing dark form of Trinket who skidded to a halt. He saw the form of Taz instantly and reared up on his hind legs, bawling a hideous roar in challenge. It seems he had heard the growls from before, and having lost sight of the children, must have reasoned they were in trouble.
Taz instinctively bared his own fangs and jumped in front of Corm once more in a protective stance. Corm also lunged for his own weapon.
The children all began to yell at once, telling Trinket, Taz, and Corm that everyone was friendly. It was such a cacophony, however, that no one could understand anything. Finally, Corm slammed his staff on the ground again and a bluish-white beam jumped from the top of it in two directions, one connected with his own forehead, the other toward Trinket’s. Taz instantly became quiet, although alert, and the others children stopped babbling as well. What ensued next was the weirdest exchange that any of them had ever witnessed. Corm began to grumble, growl, snort, and make all sorts of strange sounds. Trinket sat on his haunches on the stone and grumble-growled back in turn. This continued back and forth for several exchanges until finally, Trinket got up and began walking back toward Whitestone as if nothing ever happened. The bluish-white beam that connected Corm and his staff to Trinket blinked out.
All three of the Whitestone children stood with slack-jawed amazement as Corm turned and lifted the front of his small wagon and made a motion to Taz. The wolverine obediently walked over and into small harness set on the wagon’s front, which Corm loosely looped and clasped around his neck. The both began walking toward the road before he looked at the other three and said, “Well, are you coming?” He then turned and followed Taz out of the wood without waiting for an answer.
“Wha…what just happened?” Max asked the two girls beside him.
“I have no idea.” Raven said. Then with a smile she took off running after the pair and said, “But it was so friggin’ cool!”
“Hey, wait for us!” Mercy yelled. She jumped back onto the carpet and started after them as well.
“Mercy! No fair! The round is over! It’s supposed to be my turn to fly the carpet now!” Max complained as he scrambled to catch up to the group. He tapped his earring and said. “I know you can hear me! Come back here!”
Over the earpiece he hears a reply, but not the one he was expecting. It’s his mother’s voice instead. “Well, I know YOU can hear ME, Maximillian de Rolo. Where are you and your sister? I just got a very weird message from Trinket saying you were coming home with a guest. What have you been up to? Is Raven with you?”
Max began a reply with “Umm, yes, mother. Raven is with us, we…” when Raven starts talking over the top of him at about a thousand words per second.
“Oh, Aunty Vex, we met a boy in the woods, and he has a wolverine, and he can talk to Trinket, and he says he’s from the feywild and…” The excited and confused explanation of the events of the past few minutes continued in pretty much a random order until finally, Vex interrupted.
“Raven… Raven, dear… Raven… RAVEN!” She finally stopped talking, panting a bit, so Vex continued. “Catch your breath, Darling. You can tell me the rest when you get to the castle, all right? Max, Mercy, see you in a bit. And this better not be something else I’m going to have to pay for!”
“It’s not, mother, I promise!” Mercy said. She slowed and dipped to just above the ground to let both Max and Raven jump on the carpet with her. Together, they flew beside their new friend and his cart pulling companion in a small entourage behind Trinket as they made their way into the courtyard of Whitestone Castle.
As they passed through the front portcullis, they could see all their parents standing off to the side. Mercy and Max’s father, Percy, and his sister, their Aunt Cassandra, were in deep conversation with the diplomatic envoy from Emon. Uncle Gilmore and Aunty Alura were also with them, and would probably be leaving with them from the transportation circle in the courtyard soon. Various guards stood around, but had very little reaction to the group as they moved toward the group. Vex’alhia excused herself and pulled Keyleth and Vax along with her to another part of the courtyard while beckoning them to come to her.
At the sight of her father, Raven jumped off the carpet and sprinted toward him. As she arrived, he knelt down and said, “Hey there, Feathers! What have you gotten into this time?” She got within two steps of him then made a tremendous leap into the air in his direction. He caught her in mid-air, lifting her above his head, and proceeded to swing her in a huge circle while she cackled loudly. He did one final toss straight up into the air. Keyleth cringed and held one hand up as if to cast a spell to catch her. Raven laughed even louder as he caught her and began to bear-hug her till she squealed.
Keyleth let out a pent up breath and smacked him on the shoulder. “You know I hate it when you do that!”
“Oh, fiddle-faddle, woman, you know I’m not going to drop her!” He leaned down and placed her on the ground again. “Your mother is such a worry-wart. You know that?” to which she nodded vigorously.
By this point, the troupe has reached them. Trinket moves to Vex’s side and sits looking at them. He mumbles something, and Corm nods his head.
“So, who’s your friend here, Feathers?” Vax steps up and holds his hand out toward Corm, who takes it and gives a firm shake. “Nice grip! I’m Vax. What’s your name?”
“I’m Corm.” He notices a patch on the side of Vax’s cloak, and twists his head to get a better look. “Are you part of a member of Vox Machina?”
Vax gives a bemused glance at Vex and Keyleth. “Well… that depends. You aren’t a rakshasa in disguise are you?” he said, only half-jokingly. Keyleth tenses for a moment before realizing he’s kidding, and swats him on the shoulder again with a frown. Corm just stared at him, very confused.
“Yes, darling,” Vex stepped into the conversation, “we all are members of Vox Machina.” She points out the three of them, as well as Percy. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, does that mean you know Grog? Grog Strongjaw?” Corm asked.
As soon as he asks the question, Grog himself walks up from the direction of the kitchens, gnawing on what appears to be the last few bites of a ham hock. “Yeah, we know him. He’s me. Who’s asking?” He tossed the bone into a nearby brazier and stepped around the group. As he did, Grog finally saw Corm for the first time and stopped, a bemused look spreading across his face. “Hey, it’s a goliath kid. Sort of. Where’d you come from li’l man?”
As soon as he saw Grog, Corm immediately walked up to him, toe-to-toe, staring almost straight up at him. Grog returned the stare, almost looking straight down. There was silence for a minute.
Finally, Corm said, “My name is Corm Strongjaw, Skywatcher of the Glade of Nahla, Seeker of the Story. Now that I’ve found you, my story can begin. My heart is your heart.” And with that pronouncement, he grabs Grog around the waist in as big an embrace as he can manage. “It’s great to finally meet you, father.”
— And that’s where we’ll end our story today… —