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Story Time: Adventures in Babysitting

A little light AU for your reading pleasure! For those of you who are unaware, it is 100% canon that if Tode and Cybilene grew up together, they would be Creepy Twins. We get to explore that through the eyes of their cousin/babysitter Augie. Enjoy!

*

Bartholomew and Cybilene aren’t normal.

Yes, obviously, “normal” is kind of an insulting concept, I know, Kibs. Like yes, the big folk are the weird ones, and definitely need to get their priorities straight about creativity and community and joy, yes, blah blah blah—

But that’s not what I’m talking about, okay? Bartholomew and Cybilene. They’re just…strange.

All right so for an example—I’m babysitting them last week. Auntie and Uncle had some errands to run and needed an extra set of eyes. So I’m making them some dinner and I call them, like hey Cyb and Bart, come eat. Now they don’t answer, but I figure they’re just playing and I turn around.

And they’re right behind me, being completely silent. Holding hands. And they say—in unison, mind you—“Yes Augie?”

Why are you—no it was creepy, Kibs, I’m telling you!

Maybe you had to be there.

Okay but then I’m tucking them into bed, right, and then I say good night to Cybilene and she says—and this is verbatim— “Will you tuck our friend in too?” And I’m of course like, what friend? I’m thinking she’s talking about a teddy bear or something. But no, Kibs. She points to an empty corner and says, “The Shadow Man.”

The Shadow Man, Kibs.

And then Bart says, “He doesn’t like you.”

Like.

What am I supposed to do with that.

No, Kibs! No! It was not a joke! They are too young to do pranks! Their idea of pranks is coloring something with the wrong crayon!

All right fine, you want the kicker?

I closed their door. Their parents told me to and they have a night light, it’s fine. And then I sit down in the kitchen and make myself a snack and read my book.

And then.

I hear a noise outside. And you know how it is when you’re babysitting, you get paranoid. So I grabbed a cricket bat from the umbrella stand—

No, Kibs, I don’t know why they have a cricket bat in the umbrella stand.

Anyway, grab the bat, and then I open the front door.

And Kibs. I swear to the gods. They’re standing there on the porch.

I don’t know, I said the first thing that came to mind! How did you get out there! And Cybilene says, “He’s sleepwalking.” And mind you, his eyes were wide open.

Yeah, I put them back to bed immediately, and just for funsies I check the window. It’s locked from the inside, Kibs.

All I’m saying is that Cybilene and Bartholomew are creepy. They are not normal.

…I’m gonna ask Aunty and Uncle for a raise next time.

January Story Time: Ascendance of the Chief

This one is a morose sort of story, but I missed Betty. If your new year hasn’t started well, then she’s here to commiserate. Content warning for discussions of death, grief, and reference to (and brief description of) corpses.
(Remember, our Patreon supporters get first dibs on Story Time every month, and they can suggest prompts too.)
*

A teenage Betty walks away from the last camp of her clan.

Orc clans are semi-nomadic. They might go to the same places year after year, but they never stay. Eventually the weather changes, the hunting and gathering conditions change, the trade changes, and they move on. Betty knows she must do the same. The wind direction could change any day now, leaving this spot, which currently huddles in the lee of a hill, exposed to precipitation.

Orcs do not bury their dead. Betty considered it even so; better not to see them anymore, better to honor her human mother by adopting her practice for honoring the dead, since apparently Betty is not orc enough to die.

She decided against it in the end, because she knows that the other clans will hear of this tragedy, will come to pay respects, will be puzzled and perhaps angered to find them stuck into the ground like potatoes. They will find out that she is chief—old Darguuz, the last elder left, handed her the necklace with her dying gasps—and they will cast judgment on her actions, because all orcs cast judgment on their chiefs as a matter of course, and an orc is not afraid of anything, much less critique. And furthermore, how is Betty to know if the poison of their illness will not seep into the ground and spread?

So Betty burns them, as is tradition. It takes a long time, and several fires. Betty keeps her mind carefully blank as she works, and after the task is done, she won’t remember anything of it except the end, watching the fires to be sure they don’t spread, fashioning herself a mask to keep out the smell.

The fires burn for days, and Betty watches them, only falling into fitful sleep when the last one is burned down to embers. She sleeps for nearly a day and a night.

She leaves behind her pits of blackened detritus, as well as the still-pitched tents of her people. She scratches a warning on an exposed rock face on the hill, so that other orcs will not be tempted to go into the tents and catch the same disease, just in case the smoking bones are not warning enough. So much lost. So much left to lose.

She camps, avoiding people, because the darkness of night and the sounds of its denizens are a comfort in her solitude, her grief, as she whispers the stories a chief is supposed to know over and over, wracking her brains for the bits she can’t recall until the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping into the day, only to keep walking, following the same roads as her people always have.

One road travels along a human trade route. Normally the clan reaches this place just in time for a slew of caravans to trade with, or fight with, but either way it’s welcome company. Betty doesn’t see them when she reaches the road; perhaps she’s traveled too fast, without the herd of her family to temper her speed. She meets only one person, a human, with a donkey-drawn vegetable cart.

“Hey! You!” the human calls. A man, she thinks, a human man, who looks at her without the tenor of fear that her people usually get. He recognizes her as merely half-orc, Betty is sure of that.

He speaks Common, and Betty responds in kind. It’s not her first language—it’s nobody’s, not even the humans—and the words are thick on her tongue. “What do you want?”

“You look like a strong girl,” he says, and waves a hand at his cart, which has a wheel stuck in a rut. “Can you help me lift this out?”

A chief cares for her own people, but a chief also parlays with outsiders, and one good turn deserves another. Betty shrugs and lifts, digging in her heels and finding it hardly a trial with the man’s help. She sets it on solid ground, where it will not be stuck again.

“Thank you kindly!” he says, wiping his brow. “I thought I was going to be in trouble there. Say, can I offer you a silver piece for your trouble? Or perhaps a ride to the city?” He throws a thumb over his shoulder, the wrong way.

Betty considers, and then looks back over her shoulder. The smoke has long faded, but she remembers where her people lay.

She didn’t have a plan. She followed the paths of her forefathers blindly, grief-stricken, with no motivation or need to do anything different. But she is chief, and no chief would let a single emotion rule them, not without considering all angles. A chief has a plan. A chief is not moved by whims, but does what’s best for the clan. Even if the clan is only one person.

“Both?” Betty suggests, looking back to the man.

The man smiles and digs a coin out of his pocket. “It’s a deal. Hop on!”

This is the first coin Betty makes as chief. It will not be the last.

December Story Time: Customer Service Voice

December Story Time! This month we bring you a tale of terrible customers. Treat your service industry professionals with respect, folks!

 

ZARA
(uncharacteristically bright; a service industry voice)
Hi! What can I get for you today?

 

CUSTOMER
Wow, um…sorry, you’re my waiter?

 

ZARA
(customer service with a knife edge)
Yeeesss?

 

CUSTOMER
Wow, didn’t. Didn’t expect…

 

ZARA
Expect what?

 

CUSTOMER
Well, someone like you.

 

Zara takes a breath to steel her dwindling patience.

 

CUSTOMER
Anyway, yeah, can I get a meat pie and ummm…what’s good here to drink?

 

ZARA
The dark ale is good.

 

CUSTOMER
Ew.

 

ZARA
(disgusted)
There’s also a summer cider.

 

CUSTOMER
Why didn’t you say that to begin with?

 

ZARA
Maybe because I can’t read your mind.

 

CUSTOMER
What was that?

 

ZARA
Nothing.

 

CUSTOMER
Look, you are being really rude. I don’t know if this is some kind of diversity hire—

 

ZARA
Excuse me?

 

CUSTOMER
—but frankly I think tieflings shouldn’t be the forward face of service industries.

 

ZARA
Oh really.

 

CUSTOMER
Look, I’m not a bigot, okay! People will just think a certain thing about the place if a tiefling’s serving them.

 

ZARA
And what exactly will they think.

 

CUSTOMER
Well…you know…

 

ZARA
Yessss?

 

CUSTOMER
I mean…if there’s a demon on staff then what other evil magics are going on in the place?

 

ZARA
Evil magics?

 

CUSTOMER
Woah, hey now, don’t get defensive. I’m just saying.

 

ZARA
You’re ‘just saying’ an awful lot—

 

CUSTOMER
See, demons are just evil. They can’t help it.

 

ZARA
You think I’m evil!

 

CUSTOMER
It’s not your fault if you are.

 

ZARA
Gods, you’re stupid.

 

CUSTOMER
Excuse me! I’d like to speak to your manager.

 

ZARA
(voice echoing, becoming louder)
I bet you would.

 

Fire noises…

 

ZARA
(later)
I’m not going to apologize.

 

MANAGER
I mean I wouldn’t either. That guy sucked.

 

ZARA
Then I’m not fired?

 

MANAGER
Oh you’re very fired.

 

ZARA
Fine, I didn’t want to work here anyway.

 

MANAGER
Then why did you apply?

 

ZARA
Shut up!

November Story Time: Equestrian Pursuits

Hey, it’s November Story Time! A deleted scene for your enjoyment.

 

VELUNE
How did we do?

 

STERLING
Unfortunately our money only went so far. We managed to acquire three horses.

 

BETTY
You could’ve argued lower.

 

STERLING
I think perhaps the hostler was just a bit distracted by you holding a lumpy rug.

 

VELUNE
I’m sure three horses can manage four people.

 

MELTYRE
Depends on the horses. Betty, you better take the biggest one if you’re not going to let go of Fina.

 

BETTY
I’m not.

 

STERLING
Excuse me, I’m used to riding larger horses, as a paladin—

 

MELTYRE
It’s not like the principle changes when they’re smaller.

 

STERLING
Do you expect me to ride this elderly mare?

 

MELTYRE
She’s not elderly

 

STERLING
A paladin of my skillset—

 

MELTYRE
If Velune and I are sharing, we’ll need the younger horse.

 

VELUNE
(relieved)
Oh, are we sharing? That’s fine.

 

BETTY
Hm.

 

STERLING
Surely you don’t expect me to approach my family’s historic home riding an old nag.

 

MELTYRE
She’s not a nag! And me and Velune together weigh more than you, even with your armor.

 

BETTY
Velune, do you know how to ride a horse?

 

Pause.

 

VELUNE
I…I wouldn’t say that, exactly—

 

STERLING
My gods.

 

VELUNE
I am quite familiar with the theory!

 

STERLING
Nothing for it then, we’ll have to teach you.

 

BETTY
We don’t have time.

 

STERLING
When beginning to study equestrianism, it’s important to remember the posture—

 

BETTY
We don’t have time.

 

STERLING
I’m afraid you may be right—

 

MELTYRE
Look, I’ll help, okay? I taught my sisters, it’ll be fine.

 

VELUNE
(unsure)
Yes, I’m sure.

 

MELTYRE
Okay, so the main thing is to sit up straight and to hold on with your knees. And if you think you’re falling off, just say something.

 

VELUNE
All right…

 

MELTYRE
Now c’mon, I’ll give you a boost.

 

Scrabbling around.

 

MELTYRE
…That’s the wrong foot, hang on.

 

VELUNE
Whatever do you mean, the wrong foot?

 

MELTYRE
You’re going to end up on the horse backwards.

 

VELUNE
What in every god’s name are you talking about?

 

BETTY
Trust him, you will. And hurry up.

 

VELUNE
All right, all right.

 

STERLING
How do you know how to ride a horse anyway?

 

MELTYRE
I grew up on a farm.

 

STERLING
(mystified)
Really?

 

MELTYRE
Yeah.
(grunt)
There you go.

 

VELUNE
Oh! This is! So much higher than I was expecting!

 

MELTYRE
It’s okay, I promise. Hang on.
(horse mounting sounds)
Okay, ready?

 

STERLING
I suppose.

 

BETTY
Finally, let’s go.