they're kids, right? @exbeekeeper
( one ) this was written in january of 2018, when i was 17, so the quality is less than that of more recent work. it's here for posterity.

When Kerrek first encountered Vox Machina, he’d privately referred to them as the new kids. The ones who’d taken up the mantle he’d dropped a lifetime ago in that jungle, his friends’ screams ringing out in his ears, running, running, boarding the boat and sailing away, their bodies cradled in linen, Asta the warlock crying over the corpse of her lover, her voice fading into the sea. He’d felt a stab of guilt that day when the white-haired one had approached him. His face was hard, the planes of it angular and tired, his eyes ringed with sleeplessness, but even still he’d looked so young. Barely twenty-three. The boy, Percy, he’d learn later, had asked him if he knew any blacksmiths who could help him and his family - and, oh, there was that word, family, family - slay the Hope-Devourer. He’d turned him away, not yet quite ready to face the ghosts of his past given shape in the form of seven kids who didn’t have any idea what the world would ask of people like them.

He heard what had happened from Asta. Asta, who moved to Westruun with him, without whom he would have collapsed entirely. They had had their differences in the old days, of course they had - Asta and her self-serving callousness, her unerring belief in the ‘greater good,’ her willingness to sacrifice innocents if it meant they could kill whatever the latest “big bad” was more easily. They’d quarreled like you wouldn’t believe, back then, when everything was still full of heroism and light, when Kerrek still believed he could save everyone. After Reifenmist it was different. The weapons had fallen away, and it had been just the two of them against everything. He became a blacksmith; she took up farming. She was the only family he had left.

So of course Asta had been the one to tell him. “Kerr,” she’d said, barging into his house without so much as a knock (some things never change), “Kerrek, those kids are out there springing some hare-brained trap on the dragon.” Kerrek had sighed deeply into his ale.

“We pulled some stunts in our time, too, As. When we settled in here we promised to take a step back from all that, and we were clear on what that had to mean. There are always going to be kids out there fighting dragons. We can’t save all of them.”

And so he and Asta had tended to the town’s wounded. He ushered scared parents and uncomprehending children out through the sewers, fought off the oversized beasts that dwelled down there, occasionally sneaking a glance to the skies. The dragon came around midday. He watched it in the skies, saw the arrows hitting it, and knew it had to be that girl, the dark haired half-elven ranger, the one who reminded him so much of Lenna it had hurt to watch her banter back and forth with her brother. Her brother, the paladin. God.

Kerr downed another drink and carried on. When the dragon flew away, two of those kids pursuing it on the backs of eagles, another one hanging on a chain from an axe embedded into its side, the ranger girl trailing behind on her broom, the other three nowhere to be seen… well. He knew all too well what had probably happened. He only hoped whoever managed to survive long enough to think to would follow their instincts and flee, no matter the guilt that would follow. He hoped they would manage to drag their friends’ bodies with them. Maybe he and Asta could assist in the burial, could give them advice on healing, moving forward. He thought briefly about collecting her from the pyres and journeying up the mountain to aid them, but thought better of it. He couldn’t get locked into that world again. Kerr didn’t see them return that night, or the following morning, and he assumed the worst.

So when not three, not four, but all seven of those kids came back weary but triumphant, dragon’s teeth in hand, he almost didn’t believe it. He was protecting a scouting party when he saw them, all sat around one of his pyres, taking a rest - the paladin boy offering up a prayer to whatever god he’d dedicated himself to while the druid grew wildflowers around the makeshift gravesite - he closed his eyes in a prayer of his own. Thank you, thank you. He would have given those kids the burials they deserved, of course he would’ve. That didn’t mean he’d wanted to.

He raised a hand to hail them, but the ranger hailed him first, calling out to him, as alert and on her guard as Lenna ever was. It sends a stab of pain through his chest as he approaches them, pain that doesn’t subside throughout the conversation, that only strengthens when she tells him they’re going to kill the other three because god if that doesn’t sound like the girl he’d always thought of as his sister. As they talk, Kerrek notices things. He notices things about all of them, individually, and about the way they fit together.

Two of them he already knows, vaguely. They were Wilhand’s great-great grandkids, the ones who lived in that tiny brick house up in the temple sector and always used to spearhead the neighborhood kids’ most wild antics, the girl, Pike, up on her younger brother’s shoulders, always fierce, always brave, always kind. He remembers, later, during their teen years, how they’d go out of their way to help people - nothing big, Pike at the time had just taken her oath and Grog wasn’t much for religion, hadn’t found his calling - but together they’d help neighbors with heavy boxes, carry things for the priests of Sarenrae at the temple just down the road, protect animals from the cruelty of children. The two were a force to be reckoned with. Whenever Grog left town on longer jobs - caravan escort, package delivery to the surrounding towns, that kind of thing - Pike would devote herself to her studies in the temples.

Not much has changed since then. Pike’s a hell of a lot stronger than she was, but so is Grog, and the two of them are as close as they ever were. Grog’s strength doesn’t seem so aimless anymore. He channels it to protect her - to protect all of them. Pike’s an accomplished healer now - she revived a child with a touch, Kerr remembers, his mother had told him as he was getting her out of the city, and she was selfless almost to a fault. They were both still so young.

The other gnome, Scanlan, is a bit harder to read. He laughs and sings and winks at the ladies, and he sits up on Grog’s other shoulder and serenades Pike (who tolerates it with a smile), but that isn’t all there is. He’s a powerful caster, stronger than he wants anyone to think, and there is a coldness and an anger behind his goofy exterior that gives Kerrek chills to think about.

At first, Kerrek thinks Vax reminds him the most of himself. They’re both paladins, both seem carry the burden of the moral one on their shoulders, both siblings to rangers with too much lost and too much still to lose, but… Vax is new at this whole thing. He’s spent his whole life a moral conundrum, Kerr can tell, flitting from one life to the next in the blink of an eye, Vex the only constant, and he’s only recently expanded his family to include the others. He’s prone to theatrics, and to the most stupid of solo missions to the point where he’s got his own alarm word and he uses it often.

In the end, it’s the druid who Kerrek connects with. She is lost, and tired, and so drained from all the fighting, the fleeing, the moral quandaries and follies of her friends that she can hardly sleep, eat, breathe from it. She asks him if they’re even doing the right thing. She asks him how she can know that all the sacrifices they’ve made, the lives they’ve taken, the children they couldn’t save, were worth all the ones they might have. Kerr gives her the best answers he can, and then he goes home and he drinks.

The beastmaster, Vex, is fiercely independent. She’s not the face of the group, by any means, keeps asking the singer for some book, which is weird, but she tells him there’s gold for the people up in the beast’s old lair and he’s grateful for her honesty. She reminds him more of Lenna with every word she speaks, and eventually he has to turn away. He sees the way she looks at the white-haired tinkerer, and he closes his eyes because there isn’t any way that ends happily. Not with the hazards of their occupation, and the cold anger, the fear and self-loathing in the boy’s eyes, and her own strange shyness when it comes to things that matter, not to mention the elven heritage that will cause her to lose him in sixty years even in the best case scenario.

The tinkerer reminds him of how Asta used to be. He’s no warlock, not by any stretch of the word, but Kerrek is still a paladin and he can still see the remnants of something malevolent and shadowed dripping down his soul. And he’s living with it, making the best of this, and Kerr can tell he loves his family with all the fury of a mother bear, and he looks at Vex like he wants to be fragile around her, but he still throws around spells he shouldn’t know and sarcastic remarks he shouldn’t care to make like they ever could save him.

When they leave, Kerrek has to resist the urge to apologize for his inability to warn them of everything that’s to come. After all, they’re just kids.

even though this is old, i still eat comments for power <3
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