Finally having caught up with Critical Role, I found myself with a hole in my schedule that I didn’t quite know how to fill. Luckily enough the internet was there in my time of need, and while several other D&D streams and podcasts failed to grab me, I managed to find one that did. The Adventure Zone is a D&D podcast put out by the McElroy brothers (also known for My Brother, My Brother, And Me and their various other podcasts on the Maximum Fun network) that follows three quirky characters—Magnus the warrior, Merle the cleric, and Taako the wizard—as they do everything in their power to derail all that Griffin, the DM, creates for them. Despite the fact that I’m nowhere near caught up with TAZ, I decided that this was a perfect time to look for fic. The obvious choice would have been to look for AU fic where I wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about spoilers. What ended up grabbing me, though, was the complete opposite: a post-canon fic that explores the struggles, tragedies, and joys that come with being an adventurer.
Warning for potential spoilers—not like I would know—and discussions of depression and self-harm.
The divide between life and death was a drab place. There was nothing but a wash of greyscale. Emerging from the rift between the light pollution that was Taako’s apartment and the permanent twilight of the astral plane, Kravitz had to squint before he could see. His stone buzzed before he’d made it back to his office.
When no answer came but the caw of a raven somewhere far from the stone, Kravitz knew he was in trouble. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I know I sort of disappeared for a couple days.”
Silence was his reply.
“He needed me,” Kravitz rumbled. He flicked his scythe to the side of the office door, fumbling to close the door with the stone in his other hand.
There was the distant rush of water. The caw outside the Eternal Stockade echoed through the stone.
A bead of sweat rolled down his temple. Kravitz stood, staring at his office door and waiting. The door opened slowly, a shuddering creak rattling the godstone hinges. It filled with a vaguely humanoid shadow. The blackness slowly crept up the sides of the doorway as if water was flooding the outside world, leaving only inky darkness beyond. A hand extended from the blackness, pushing out from the doorway like the shadow was a thick curtain.
The hand stretched towards Kravitz and he cowered back. It paused inches from his chest like it was holding something. Kravitz shakily held out his palm. The talons opened and dropped a ring in the center of where his love line was. Kravitz had long learned that nothing was ever coincidence and that every detail in these interactions mattered.
A snap of her fingers and she was gone.
Kravitz blinked into the empty hallway outside. The stone had gone dead. He craddled the ring close to his heart.
Why had she chosen to reward him?
Even though I haven’t met him for myself in canon yet, I already adore Kravitz, this universe’s Grim Reaper. And one of the things I enjoy most about him so far is the juxtaposition between him and his beau, Taako—that and it’s actually canon that they’re an item. Taako seems to be a pretty happy-go-lucky dude who does what thrills him and not much else while Kravitz has an understanding of the macabre task put before him and does it with a certain elegance. You wouldn’t immediately put them together, but upon seeing how happy they make each other and how much they want the other to be happy, you stop questioning it and start rooting for them. It’s this desire to see the other happy that puts Evitcani’s The Meaning of Life into motion.
The fic opens up on a funeral–Magnus’s, to be exact. After finally meeting his long-sought-after end at the ire of a dragon, the others must begin to cope with the fact that the dog-loving warrior is no longer around. Taako takes this the hardest out of everyone, and despite reassuring Kravitz that he’s ultimately all right in that flippant manner typical of him, the truth hits Kravitz as hard as a dragon’s tail when Taako calls him that night, drunk, babbling about how soon he’s going to be with him and his departed friend. Rushing immediately to Taako’s side, Kravitz does what he can to sober up his boyfriend and get the toxins out of his system, trying to remove all the sharp implements from Taako’s home with as calm a head as he’s able. The conflict arises, though, in that Death cannot avoid his work indefinitely, even to take care of a suicidal boyfriend who refuses to talk about his issues, and that Kravitz is finding more than ever that he really has no idea how to handle all these human emotions that he’s long since left behind.
So far Evitcani has done what I think is a really good job at portraying Taako’s depression and just how deep it really runs. Taako is a difficult character to get a read on, and that’s the way he likes it—always seemingly covering up or muting his true feelings with jokes and sarcasm. Yet in the end, Taako is terrified of being alone and has always been preparing himself for the day when someone leaves him, but those preparations are never enough. It probably didn’t make things better that Magnus’s death was so abrupt either. Even though Taako is fully aware of what happened the night he called Kravitz, he keeps playing it off and gets frustrated when Kravitz tries to connect with him more deeply about his personal issues, or when he works with Taako’s other friends to make sure Taako is as safe as they can manage. It’s frustrating to watch at times, but depression is a very frustrating illness both for those who have it and those who watch the effects it has on its victim.
It’s also lovely to see just how many people care about Taako and are willing to look out for him. My favorite example, unsurprisingly, comes from my favorite adopted son: child detective Angus McDonald. Angus, now grown, has his own life with his own schedule. However, he always makes sure to see Taako every week, making Taako promise that each Monday they’ll have breakfast together. It’s a small thing, but as Angus explains it’s a way to gently make sure that Taako has something to look forward to–to have something to keep on living for. (Also the fact that Angus considers Taako his dad is muy bueno.)
According to Evitcani, The Meaning of Life will be updating daily until the story is complete. While the amount of chapters the story will eventually have is still unknown, at five chapters and around 9.5k words I feel like there’s a lot more to look forward to with this fic. You can check it out here at AO3!