Here’s a little story about real friendship, from everyone’s second favorite bard (after Fina of course). Enjoy!
Max has friends everywhere.
That was the first thing Killiker learned about Maximillian Allerus. It was a mutual friend who introduced them, a windblown storm cleric named Sunny.
“You’re gonna like this guy,” she’d told Killiker. “They’re seriously the best.”
“How do you know this Max fellow?” Killiker asked.
“Everyone knows Max!” she’d said. “He’s got friends everywhere.”
And then Max burst into the tavern, demanding a drink and slapping the other patrons on the back. They did know everyone, or so it seemed, and everyone was glad to see them.
“So, Killiker, you’re a bard!” Max said, once he had taken a perch on a stool with a companionable arm around Sunny. “What’s your medium of choice?”
“My voice,” said Killiker, projecting his most personable self, as he always did when he was trying to make a good first impression. And under normal circumstances, Killiker would watch in relish as his golden words settled on his audience like a dove, immediately endearing him to the listener.
But Max accepted the words with a smile that looked almost…hungry. “Incredible.”
And suddenly Killiker had an idea of what it was like to be drawn in by a handsome, charming stranger.
Max has friends everywhere.
It seemed that every stop meant a restructure of the party—a member bidding them farewell or joining up. Killiker had never met so many astounding adventurers in his life, and he’d been adventuring for a couple of centuries. Max drew them all in to himself, attracting them like planets to one of the suns, in the sort of social dance that would make a politician dizzy. Max was universally beloved, universally respected, and almost no one could say no to them. Killiker included.
“What is the point,” Max had demanded one day, waxing poetic, “of being out in the country with no city lights if you don’t take the time to look at the stars?”
Which was how, against Killiker’s better judgment, he and Max found themselves lying in an open field with no fire looking at the night sky, along with a wizard called Cybilene and a dragonborn fighter called Yak, who had been friends with Max for years.
“Look for shooting stars,” Max trilled. “I’m sure we could all use a little luck.”
“Except you, maybe,” Cybilene teased. “I swear, there’s no one as lucky as you.”
“Max has had their woes,” Yak scoffed.
“Is that so?” Killiker asked, ensuring that his tone was light even though he wanted the information very badly.
“It’s true,” Max said, with mock solemnity. “What a hard life I’ve had.”
Cybilene chuckled. “Yes, I’m sure it’s very difficult being friends with everyone you meet.”
“A curse!” Max declared, and the gathered party laughed along with him. “No, but Yak isn’t entirely wrong. There was a time when my life could have looked very different. So much more…boring.”
“It’s hard to imagine you being boring,” Killiker said, watching the stars twinkle in the heavens.
“Why would you choose that?” Cybilene asked.
“Ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Max said, almost merrily. “It wouldn’t have been my choice. A family that claims to love you can build you a gilded cage.”
Despite the characteristic glibness, a silence fell on the four stargazers.
“How did you get out of that cage?” Killiker asked gently.
Max readjusted in the grass next to Killiker, sighing, but not discontentedly. “My dear Killiker, I realized the truth of things.”
“What’s the truth?” Cybilene asked.
Killiker could hear the glee in Max’s voice when he responded: “I can do whatever I want.”
“Max, please, listen to me,” Killiker said, and he didn’t bother trying to hide the magic in his voice when he put forth this request, despite the fact that he knew Max would hate him for it.
Max said nothing, only kept walking out into the dark of the night.
“Please don’t leave,” Killiker insisted to no avail. “Not like this.”
Max did stop now, abruptly, staring up at the stars. They were sharp and cold up here in the glacial mountains, like pinpricks. They seemed somehow farther away.
“I expected Cybilene to turn on me, you know that?” Max said.
The statement left Killiker baffled. “Turn on you?”
“Family is a gilded cage,” they went on, still looking only at the stars. “One Cybilene locked herself into weeks ago.”
Killiker stepped forward, in front of Max, to look him in the eye. “You think asking you to let this go means she’s betrayed you?”
“You don’t see it, do you?” snapped Max, finally meeting Killiker’s eye. “She’ll never be on our side again. She belongs to them now.”
Killiker was stunned. “She doesn’t—she never belonged to you.”
Max glared. Technically speaking, they were shorter than Killiker, but when they got like this, things like actual physical facts didn’t tend to matter. Killiker found himself afraid.
Finally, Max said, “Don’t make me lose you too.”
Rosie had put a drink in Killiker’s hand. Killiker had threatened her with a sword yesterday, and today she’d bought him a drink. And she wasn’t even flirting. It was a drink of camaraderie.
He watched the crew of adventurers that Cybilene had coaxed him into, for once at a loss for words. Cybilene and Tode didn’t so much converse as vibe—they weren’t making up for lost time, it was as if they’d never been apart. And the rest of them laughed, chatted, passed attention from one to another easily. No politics, no headgames, no cult of personality.
Killiker had forgotten what that was like.
The guilt from his last conversation with Max still hung heavy over his shoulders, but it was beginning to ebb. Maybe he had spent too long in the company of someone who really wasn’t a good person. Not that Killiker considered himself a good person, but he was beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t change tack.
As for Max…well. They’d be fine. They didn’t need Killiker.
Max had friends everywhere.