Act 1 - Maleficis

A band of adventurers find themselves thrown together when they all stumble upon the same odd, furry, little man asking for help. His story is that his village was destroyed, and he escaped during the fray. He needs a group of people to come back with him and help unravel the mystery of why this happened, and who is to blame.

Alexander, Magdala, Tully, Demitre and Eldrouc travel with Billy Whistlethorpe to his village, which has been completely decimated. After much searching, and a litlle stumbling, they discover a fey village in the forest. The fey are just as plagued as the Kenns were, they are just able to hide their home. The king of the fairies enlists the help of our heroes in defeating the trio of malicious hags who have come down from the mountains in the north.

The adventurers discover one hag controls imps, another controls snakes, and the third controls spiders. These were the myriad of foes which stood between the party and their final adversaries. The party was able to defeat the coven, and with the victory came the spoils. Not the least of which was a small, seemingly inconspicuous object--a wishing ring.

Act 2 - Of Steam and Sorcery

A wish made by Tully sends the party hurtling through space onto an entirely different planet. This planet is far more technologically advanced, with all sorts of whirring gears and clockwork creatures.

The Seekers are after Tully, as he is part of a long lived experiment being done on children in this world. He just so happened to catch hold of a wish ring which brought him, along with other party members, here.

Eventually the party defeats the Alchemist Wizard Melchior, the Vigilant--who was just not quite vigilant enough. This vuctory did not come without cost--the death of Eldrouc Stormbane, and the desolation of Coppertown, the oldest and most populated city on Katin.

As the wizard;s tower crumbled all around them, Cosmo, Alexander, Tully (and Jeffery) dashed through a portal back to their home planet.

But where exactly are they?

Act 3: Andulhaven

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A Conflict of Morality: The Aftermath
A Conflict of Morality: The Aftermath
For: Andulhaven

POV: Alexander

Hands shaking, heart racing, feet unsteady and legs wobbling as he backed away, Alexander stared at her from afar and cast Touch Me Not, the only protection he was able to give himself.

He hated how she made him a coward. How he was even afraid to meet her mismatched gaze, or stand near enough to hear her speak. How he’d fled behind his companions and put them in danger over himself.

She’d already killed Demitre and Ehrindel. She intended to kill them all now, and if Alexander wasn’t careful, he would watch her kill the rest of his friends, too.

Cosmo, who he didn’t always get along with, had still been there for him during the last few torturous days. Tully, who he’d gotten to know better over the course of their journey, had been there since the beginning, and had formed a special kind of bond with Alexander. And Magdala

Magdala

He glanced in her direction, and was surprised to find her already staring back at him. For only a moment she held his gaze, before turning around to face the demoness in the sky. The old animal caretaker made a few movements with her hands.

Before Alexander could begin to interpret what she was doing, a pillar of fire descended upon the Queen of Demons from the sky, striking her before she had the chance to move again.

Dresden’s scream sent a chill down Alexander’s spine and at the same time gave him a twisted sense of satisfaction. He’d begun to suspect it already, but this confirmed his suspicions. She wasn’t in full power here. And better yet, she was already weakened. They had a chance.

Good, he thought. Let’s make her suffer.

He took his first step back toward his captor, regaining a bit of his confidence as soon as his foot hit the ground. Picking up his pace, he strode toward her, a determined gleam in his eyes.

Before Dresden had the chance to recover from the fire that was still smoking on the hems of her clothing, Alexander saw her seize up and suddenly grasp at her throat. She sank from her position in the sky, coming to hover just above the ground. Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came out. Instead, Alexander spotted a thin line of red trickling from one corner of her lips. With a cough, her feet touched the ground, and the rocky floor of the rift was spattered with flecks of red.

Alexander passed Tully, who was concentrating so hard his small body was shaking. Seeing what the boy had done to Dresden, Alexander was simultaneously worried for Tully and grateful to have him on his side.

He pushed his feet to go faster. He could see her better now, he could see the panicked look on her face as she clawed at her throat and struggled to get air past the blood in her lungs. Just before he reached her, a blur of movement passed him on his right. Dresden staggered toward him, bleeding now from a slice in her side, too. Nephith reared her rapier for another blow.

Catching Dresden’s upper arm with his right hand, Alexander dragged her toward him and away from Nephith. He stared down at the demon woman’s face, feeling powerful and confident now that he was taller than her. Gripping her arm tightly, he cooled his hand against her hot skin, watching as the ice struggled to crystalize before melting away.

Her crimson-and-purple eyes glittered with pain, and her expression pleaded with Alexander to save her. She reached out to touch his face with her free hand. He did not move, fixing her with an icy stare. As she made contact with his skin, her hand jerked away, stung by the protective spell on Alexander. A moment later, a burst of blood spewed from her mouth, spattering Alexander’s coat.

Dresden’s body convulsed and she staggered, just in time for Nephith to strike her again with the rapier, this time hitting her just below her ribs.

The Queen of Demons sank to her knees. Alexander held on tighter to her arm and knelt down next to her, never breaking eye-contact with her.

Here she was, the one who had tortured and defiled him, the one who had murdered two of his friends and countless others, the one who had destroyed so many homes, families, lives. Here she was, weak, fearful, nearly defeated. He was so close to her, so close to those shining, terrified eyes that were still begging him to end her suffering.

I will. I’ll end it. I’ll kill you.

With his left hand, he reached into a pocket on the inside of his coat, closing his fingers around the object he was looking for. In a smooth motion, he removed it from his pocket and pressed the muzzle of the pistol he’d bought in Kayton under Dresden’s chin. Still shaking and spitting blood, the Demon Queen’s eyes widened, as if she finally realized just how close to death she was. She clearly hadn’t expected to be brought down so quickly, or at all. Vulnerability grayed her expression, and suddenly she looked like a terrified child, shaken by the thought of death.

Alexander hesitated.

He almost felt as though he should say something to her, and yet he hadn’t said a word. Did she deserve to hear his voice one more time before she died? What would be her last thought? Did he want her to die thinking of him?

Dresden’s hand trembled toward him again, reaching out for his arm. Did she deserve to die quickly? Should he prolong her suffering? Should he kill her at all?

If we keep her alive, we could force her to fix things.

A tiny sound came from her mouth, the closest thing to a word she’d managed since Tully started toying with her blood. Alexander tightened his grip on her arm and leaned in closer. For some reason, a stab of pain struck his chest when he noticed there were tears in her eyes.

Was she regretful? Was she hoping to beg for her life? Was she scared? He shook her slightly, wondering if she’d actually say something.

A sputter of blood heaved its way out of her mouth, dribbling down her chin and onto the top of Alexander’s pistol. In a strained, gurgling voice, she finally managed to get a sentence out.

“If… you kill… me… You’ll… kill… your son…

Alexander pulled the trigger.
~*~

The rest of the battle went by in a blur. Alexander stood stunned as a spiralling portal opened up beneath Dresden’s dead body, only awoken from his stupor after Tully manipulated the blood in his body to drag him back toward the group.

He watched with glazed eyes as a larger demon rose from the portal and scooped up Dresden’s body. It wasn’t until later that he registered the demon had referred to himself as Dresden’s husband.

Alexander hardly remembered anything about their escape from the rift as it began to close around them. They had to crawl down a narrow tunnel, and ride in a stone cylinder to the top of the rift. He remembered rolling in the cylinder down the hill toward Andulhaven, and crashing into the lake.

His thoughts were elsewhere as the rest of the group celebrated with the people of Andulhaven, cheering about the closing of the rift. He stayed in the shadows, watching the party from afar with vacant eyes. He couldn’t stop replaying the battle in his mind. He couldn’t stop seeing Dresden’s eyes.

“Do you want to dance with me?”

Startled by the sudden voice, Alexander stuttered backward, biting back a gasp. A tiny human girl was staring up at him with wide eyes, smiling shyly at him.

Swallowing, he looked away. “I don’t feel like dancing,” he said. Why? Dresden is dead. I should be happy.

Unfazed, the girl shrugged and said, “Then I’ll dance around you!” And with that, she began hopping and spinning in circles around him, giggling as she did so.

I could have had a son.

The thought assaulted him as he watched the girl dance around him.

A half-demon son that I didn’t want.

Alexander clenched his teeth. Why didn’t that fact make his stomach hurt any less? Dresden wouldn’t have wanted him to raise it, anyway. She’d tried to kill him! She had a demon husband! The fact that the child would have had Alexander’s DNA would have made no difference. He would have been raised as a demon, probably would have ended up just as horrible as his mother. So why did he feel so guilty?

“Hey,” he said to the girl, reaching out to grab her by the shoulder so he didn’t run her over as he walked away. “I need to go now.”

“So soon?” Disappointment was clear in her expression. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Are you feeling any better?”

Worse, actually. “A little bit,” he shrugged.

“Good!” She grinned at him, and then took hold of one of his hands, patting it lightly. “Have a good night!”

Alexander watched as she scampered away to join the party. He glanced down at the blood on his hands.

She’s dead. She’s dead. She’d better stay that way. Still, as Alexander left the party behind and headed back toward the mansion, he watched the shadows carefully, paranoid that she was still watching him.

He wondered if he would get any sleep that night.
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A Song for Bygone Days
A Song for Bygone Days
For Andulhaven
POV: Alexander

It had been too long. It had been hours since the battle with the mimic, and Alexander was exhausted. It had been almost two days since he’d slept, but there was absolutely no way he was sleeping now. Not down here. Even with Cosmo’s illusionary moving platform and shields, and Nephith’s watchfulness, he couldn’t feel safe.

Every tiny noise startled his ears, every subtle shadow caught his eye. He knew his lack of sleep was making him paranoid, but he couldn’t help it. With every centimeter they traveled downward, they were another centimeter closer to where she could be waiting for him. And there was still no sign of Ehrindel save for the scrap of his clothes they’d found.

He just wished the others would listen to him and turn back already. Maybe Ehrindel was dead and they were only headed towards a similar fate. Was it worth it to risk all of their lives just to save someone who was potentially already dead?

Maybe the others know Ehrindel better than I do. I haven’t spent much time with him. But how do we know that he wasn’t on the demon’s side all along?

Alexander’s eyes fluttered closed as he became lost in thought. The sound of a rock tumbling, loosened by the moving platform, jolted him back into full consciousness.

I can’t sleep. I can’t. Not here.

He busied himself with watching Cosmo, who was trying to get his dragon to smell the piece of Ehrindel’s clothing. The small creature was not cooperating, which caused a mixture of fear and haughty satisfaction to rise within Alexander. If Cosmo couldn’t train the dragon to listen to him, it could lead to a disaster that might affect the entire group. But then...at least Alexander would have been right in thinking they should have killed it before it hatched, and he wouldn’t have to feel so bad for trying.

Cosmo gave up and put his dragon away, presumably to bed. He then turned to Alexander, who looked away, not wanting to start a conversation. When he stole a glance at Cosmo again, he noticed the bard had turned his back on him. Relaxing, Alexander began to
think of ways to keep himself awake.

Listen to a song for bygone days…

It took Alexander a few moments of panicking to realize that the voice was coming from Cosmo. He was...singing?

A wave of drowsiness fell over him, and he nearly passed out right then and there.

Cosmo’s singing isn’t helping. He tried to shake himself awake.

Hear the treasured tales shared by friends. Hopefulness will brighten future days. Lest the memories of old times fade.

He gritted his teeth. The song was making him sleepy. Frustration sparked in his cloudy mind as he opened his mouth to ask the bard to stop.

And the coming snow will softly fall, softly as the snow of bygone days.

He couldn’t even get the words out before he’d closed his eyes, slumping forward as his body finally gave in. He realized that Cosmo was trying to put him to sleep, but no matter how much he fought it, he was slowly losing control of his body. His heart pounded for a moment as he tried to move his unresponsive limbs, and then he lost consciousness.
________________________________________________________

“Come back to visit me, my little raven?”

Alexander jolted awake into a world of swirling blues and blacks. He couldn’t move.

“What took you so long? I’ve been waiting…”

There she was, towering over him, her face contorted with a twisted grin that sported sharp fangs. Her horns twisted like tree branches towards the back of her head. He opened his mouth to cry out, but he was entirely frozen, as mute as he was immobile.

Four dark figures fluttered towards her. Two landed, one on each of her shoulders. Even though they looked entirely different, Alexander recognized them as Mi and Fa, transformed into the shape of ravens. They started at him with beady red eyes as Do and Re hovered closer to him, carrying something in between their claws. It didn’t take him long to realize that the object in their talons was the hand mirror he had purchased at the auction about a week
ago.

He struggled to move, but he could only watch as the mirror was lowered in front of his face. He couldn’t even close his eyes.

“Oh, Alexander. Look what you’ve become.”

He was met with the face of a boy who was screaming for help, mouth opened wide as he cried out. Dark feathers fell from his hair as he thrashed about, obscuring the view of his black skin and crimson eyes. Alexander stared at the image of himself, further numbed with repulsion for the boy who barely looked enough like him to be recognizable. If this mirror was supposed to send people to Hell, it must have failed because he was already there.

Alexander!”

He poured every ounce of strength into breaking out of whatever was holding him still, but it wasn’t working.

Alexander!

Anything to get away from this voice…

Alexander, dear—”

Gasping in a breath that allowed his chest to expand, he fell to his hands and knees on something soft. Grass.

“—you must listen to me, really…”

Magdala?

Alexander didn’t dare look up to see if it was really her, for fear of being deceived.

“How long were you intending to stay awake? You really must get some sleep dear, this isn’t healthy for you…”

He heard rustling, as if she were walking through the grass towards him.

“If you don’t sleep, you’ll only get weaker, Alexander. You must be strong if you want to be able to fight this.”

A woman knelt down in front of him. With hesitation, he met her warm gaze. It was Magdala.

“You must be strong so you can protect your friends, too. Being so tired might make you reckless, dear.”

Magdala?” Now that he could speak again, Alexander’s voice rang with a child-like quiver. “I… I…”

She embraced him, and though he flinched at first, he soon relaxed into the hug, and then shuddered under the weight of his tiredness and bottled-up emotions. Magdala rubbed his back while he wept, finally feeling like he could safely release the trauma that had built up inside of him over the past few days.

“You must stay safe, dear,” Magdala whispered. “I will meet you soon. But I need you to be careful until I arrive. Stay well rested, can you promise me that?”

He couldn’t, but he nodded his head anyway, thankful for the encouragement.

After he’d calmed down, he felt a wave of exhaustion crash over him. Darkness crept at the edge of his vision. He didn’t fight it.

“Get some rest, dear. I will protect you tonight.”

Alexander sank into the warm grass, and it covered him like a blanket. Falling into a deep, dreamless sleep, he did not wake through the rest of the night.

END




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Mercy for the Mage
For Maleficis
POV: Alexander

Supper that night was unusually quiet. Not even Tully said a word as they sipped and chewed at the rabbit stew Magdala had prepared for them. Perhaps it was because they were so tired from the hard fighting they’d done earlier that evening. Eradicating a web-full of giant spiders was hard work, after all. A shiver ran involuntarily down Alexander’s spine. He had a feeling the reason for their silence was more than that.

Setting his spoon in his bowl, he grazed his fingers over the swollen skin on his cheek, still tender from where Dimitre had punched him. It was a small price to pay for the terrifying amount of damage he’d done to both Dimitre and Magdala during the battle. Closing his eyes, he tried to stop himself from reliving the moment, and failed.

Even after all the pain he’d gone through after leaving the remnants of Gaea’s Champions behind, he’d done it again. He’d betrayed his friends. What now? Would he leave this group, too? He couldn’t possibly ask for forgiveness. I don’t deserve forgiveness, was his bitter thought. I ought to go somewhere far away, by myself, where I have no chance of hurting anyone else. Then he clenched his teeth. Shut up! Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s not like it’s surprising that it ended up this way.

Alexander?”

Snapped out of his thoughts, he met Magdala’s wrinkled gaze. She was sitting across from him, a tiny smile on her face. She was the only one still sitting around the fire. Alexander had been too lost in his own thoughts to even notice the others leave.

“Dear… I believe there’s something we need to talk about.”

A grim frown gripped Alexander’s thin lips. He nodded. “Yes, I was just—”

“Come sit over here, dear.” Magdala patted the log next to her. With weary reluctance, Alexander obeyed.

Without making eye contact, the dark-haired boy sat down, and started again. “I was just thinking about that. I thought it would be best if I left our group and traveled on my own. I won’t cause you any more trouble. It’ll… be better that way, for all of us.”

Magdala did not respond for quite some time. When Alexander gained the courage to look at her face, he was met with a shocked expression. A shaky hand grasped his shoulder as she finally spoke.

“My dear, what has gotten into you? We aren’t going to send you away! What makes you think we’d do something like that?”

He shrugged and looked away again, not wanting to tell her exactly why he thought that.

“No, Alexander. We’re not going to send you away.”

For some reason, those words caused his stomach to lurch.

“I believe some sort of punishment is in order, but I certainly don’t think the solution is to ask you to leave.”

Alexander’s fingers instinctively returned to the bruise on his cheek. “Dimitre already punched me.”

A gentle chuckle fluttered from Magdala’s throat. “I don’t think that was quite appropriate. I had something a little less violent in mind.”

“And...that is?”

“You are going to come with me to gather some firewood.”

He blinked, curious. “Right now? But everyone else is in bed, and the fire doesn’t need much wood for the night.”

Magdala stood, offering her wrinkled hand to Alexander. “We’ll save it for tomorrow morning, dear. Now, come along.”

Still confused, Alexander took her hand and stood up, following the old woman away from the warm fire and towards the dark treeline. Instead of stopping there and searching for wood that was easy to reach, like they usually did, she led him towards a wide animal trail, and ventured deeper into the thick brush. Alexander followed more and more hesitantly as he realized Magdala hadn’t picked up a single piece of wood yet, and admittedly he was growing a little suspicious.

Is she going to kill me out here in the forest and tell the others I left on my own?

They came to a small clearing that was shimmering with moonlight. In the center a dead tree lay, many years fallen.

“Here we are, dear. Plenty of wood to be gathered from that tree.”

Alexander relaxed a little, and then cursed himself mentally for distrusting the hunter. Of course Magdala wouldn’t have any ill intentions. He approached the dead tree and began searching around for firewood.

“Why don’t you talk to me about what happened earlier today, Alexander? Why did you attack Dimitre and I?”

The question came so suddenly and with such bluntness that Alexander turned back towards Magdala, eyebrows raised. “I…” the words failed to come out of his mouth. He hung his head, busying himself with searching for the firewood. He didn’t answer her.

Alexander.” Magdala’s tone hardened. “I would like you to answer me, dear.”

His throat tightened and he swallowed back his emotions, turning away from her so she couldn’t see his face. Why was she questioning him like this? “I d— I didn’t mean to… to attack you…” Nervous stutters chopped up his statement.

“Who did you mean to attack?”

He fidgeted, uncomfortable. “The sp… spider on Dimitre…”

“Which you attacked, knowing what the consequences would be. Why?”
A frown appeared on the dark-haired boy’s face as he tried to deny the shame that burned his face. He didn’t dare try to speak again. He needed time to regain his composure.

“There were other options, Alexander. Ones that didn’t involve using your most powerful spell on your friends. You didn’t do that on purpose, did you?”

He responded with an adamant head-shake, still unconfident in his ability to speak.

“Of course you didn’t. So then, why did you make such a rash decision?”

Alexander picked away at the bark of the log he was carrying, wanting so badly to be able to entrust her with the truth. Feet crunched in the twigs on the ground as she approached him and put a hand on his back. It then occurred to him that Magdala probably already knew the answer, and was just waiting for him to admit it himself. Gripping the log tightly, he finally gave in.

“I was afraid,” he whispered, “Afraid...of the spider. I wasn’t thinking. I made a stupid decision. I’m sorry...” Trembling only partially from the cold, Alexander remained turned away from Magdala. A stupid decision… another stupid decision… That was all it boiled down to. He couldn’t even say it was an accident.

Closing his stinging eyes, he waited for Magdala to chastise him, or to leave him out here in the darkness.

As her hand rubbed soothing circles on his back, Magdala’s voice filled the air: “I am proud of you, Alexander. And I would like you to know that you are absolutely forgiven, my dear.”

POV: Magdala

Those words were all it took to completely shatter the rickety dam that held Alexander’s emotions at bay. His shoulders quivered as he fought so desperately to keep from crying, but suddenly he was a sputtering mess, wracked with sobs that shook his entire body. Gasping whimpers gushed forth from his mouth, just as plentiful as the tears that spilled out of his eyes. Dropping the log in his arms, he covered his face with his hands, still trying to hide the mess.

“Oh, my dear,” Magdala said, not expecting such a reaction from the boy. Suddenly it was not a young adult standing in front of her but a small child, and one who was clearly hurting from something she could not yet see. She moved to sit on the trunk of the fallen tree, turning Alexander around so he was facing her.

Alexander, you must tell me what is troubling you. Where has all of this bottled up grief come from? It’s not healthy to keep it inside, dear.”

A broken reply came from him, obscured by his hands and his sobs.

Sympathy flooded Magdala and she pulled him closer, coaxing his hands away from his face. “Say it again, dear.”

A mess of matted black hair and tear-soaked eyes answered her. “H-how ca-an you forgi-ive m-me?”

It was then that Magdala recognized a deep suffering rooted within the boy, something he’d likely kept trapped inside of him for far too long. She could see herself in his agony, and at that moment the old animal-tamer decided she was going to do whatever she could to help him. “Alexander, dear, everyone deserves forgiveness. Even you. Especially you.”

Tortured cobalt eyes blurry with tears latched onto her. “N-no. Not m-me.”

She shook her head and offered a sympathetic smile. “What in the world could you have done that would make you so unforgivable?”

Unfortunately, that question did more harm than good. Alexander’s body convulsed with renewed sobs, terrible, hiccupping sobs that shook his slim frame and made him look even more like a child. Magdala’s heart melted, and she began to smooth Alexander’s hair down. He leaned towards her and she guided him closer, allowing him to bury his face in her shoulder.

They sat like that for a while, with Magdala rubbing his back and murmuring encouraging words. When Alexander had regained his breath he pulled away from Magdala, rubbing at his eyes and nose. Avoiding eye-contact with the woman, he asked, “Can we go back to the camp now?”

“I hope you’re not planning on leaving, dear.”

He gave a slow shake of his head and sniffled, still refusing to look at her.

“Alright, then. We can carry the logs you found back.” She pointed to the logs he’d dropped. “But we must continue this conversation when we get back.”

With a repressed shiver, Alexander shrunk deeper into his coat. “Okay,” he muttered.

They carried the logs back in silence and sat them by the fire. Alexander relished its warmth, but as he sat down on a log next to Magdala, he pulled the hood of his coat over his head, his stubbornness not allowing her to see his face in the light.

She was intent to change that. A hand on his cheek gently guided his eyes in her direction. “Please, Alexander. You must tell me what is troubling you. I want to be able to help you.”

His eyes darted in every direction except for towards her, settling at last on the fire next to them. He was silent for a while longer, his expression wavering between agony and proud indifference. When he managed to speak, it was in a dry, crackling whisper. “Okay. I’ll tell you.”

POV: Alexander


He couldn’t look at her. How could he, when she’d just smashed his pride in two? This woman had stripped him of every single piece of vanity he’d ever clung onto in under an hour, exposed the emotions he’d spent years covering up without a second thought. She’d seen him vulnerable, and worse, she’d seen him cry. Yet, despite how battered he felt, how much he wanted to run away and never look at her again, he felt inexplicably compelled to stay here and tell her his story. The story that had never been told in full, and the story that he certainly didn’t want to relive, but here he was, taking his emotional destruction to the next level for a woman who he’d met only a month ago. With a weary hesitation he began to tell his story, starting at the very beginning.

He told her everything. He told her how his parents were arrested for homicide and had been locked up since he was a child, the rough middle school years he braved with his younger brother, Avory, the inadequate parenting of their aunt and uncle, his first year of high school during which Avory, unable to bear middle school on his own, committed suicide. With anger he told Magdala about how he’d tried to kill himself shortly afterward, and how by some grace he had failed. Then he explained the two years he spent living on the streets of a new city, and told her about the small gang he’d led and the boys he’d helped survive on the streets, and how he’d been arrested for stealing food for them. Finally he told her about the last year and a half of his life, his discovery of his ability to use magic, his recruitment by the goddess Gaea to be one of her ‘Champions...’ and how quickly the ten supposed champions had dwindled down to half that number. How he’d watched five of his friends die, all for this deity's sake. How he’d betrayed his remaining friends to fight against Gaea, and how he’d lost.

“They left me there, on the chamber floor. None of them took a second glance at me, not even...Mirai.” Alexander’s voice had panned out into a monotonous mumble; he was forcing himself to say the words without thinking too much about them. “They couldn’t bear the sight of me. I knew I’d made a mistake, but… I could only feel angry at them. So I left. I never looked back.”

“And you never got the forgiveness you deserve,” Magdala added. She hadn’t said a word while Alexander was speaking, but had kept a hand on his shoulder the entire time. Now she drew him into another hug, which elicited a shaky sigh from the dark-haired boy.

“I could have killed them. All of them. And… and then I made the same mistake with you and Dimitre—”

“That was an entirely different situation, dear,” Magdala cut in. “You had no intention of turning against us. And even in the first case, you thought you were doing what was right.”

“Just because I thought I was right doesn’t mean I deserve forgiveness!”

“No, dear.” Magdala hugged him tighter. “You deserve forgiveness because you know you did something wrong, and because you’re obviously very sorry about it. You’ve been beating yourself up over this, dear, I can see that now. You made a mistake. You can fix it, but first, you have to forgive.”

“Who do I have to forgive?” Alexander’s voice was thick as he once again held back his tears.

“You must forgive your friends for not forgiving you.” She paused and released him from the hug. Then, with the tenderness of a mother, she put her hand on Alexander’s cheek and turned his face towards hers. His eyes were squeezed closed, stinging with the promise of tears. “And more importantly, dear, you must forgive yourself.”

Trembling with the effort of keeping his emotions tucked neatly away, and furious that he could no longer control himself, Alexander sputtered out, “I don’t know how to forgive myself.”
“Look at me, Alexander.” When he didn’t, she added, “Please, dear.”

He took a deep breath in attempt to calm himself, and opened his eyes. Magdala was a blurry shape in front of him.

“In order to start healing, you’re going to have to want to, first. Tell me, Alexander, do you want to stop hurting over this? Do you want to forgive yourself?”

His face contorted as he nodded. Two tears tumbled down his cheeks, and suddenly Magdala’s image was a lot clearer.

“Good. Now stop beating yourself up over this, my dear. Stand up to it. You’ve made your mistakes, now own up to them! Then, you can start to heal.”

He couldn’t bear it anymore. Magdala’s words had sliced right through him, hitting him right where he was weakest. However, those were exactly the words he needed to hear. A single sob escaped his lips, followed by a steady stream of tears. The old woman wrapped her arm around his shoulders, comforting him once again. She waited until he calmed down to speak once more. “How old are you, dear?”

This question surprised him, and it seemed out of place. Still, he answered, “Nineteen.”

A smile spread across her face. “You are still a child!”

In a voice wobbling with tears that sounded pathetic even to him, he said, “No, I’m old enough to be an adult.”

“You’re still a teenager, my dear.”

“Barely,” he muttered, uncomfortable. He wiped at the tears on his cheeks.

Magdala’s tone changed. Now she spoke as though she were speaking to a small child, and she began ruffling Alexander’s hair. “The way it sounds, you never had people who you could call parents growing up, hmm? You poor thing. You never got to have a true childhood. Perhaps that’s why you act so much a child now!”

“I do not,” he protested, burning with embarrassment.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t be so troubled if you had someone to guide you through your childhood. You poor boy, you’ve had to figure everything out on your own!”

“Stop it.”

“How about this, dear? Until you are no longer a teenager, I will be your mother!”

“What?” Alexander stared at her in confusion and wiped at his face again. Despite his outwardly incredulous behavior, her words caused a warm feeling to well up in his chest.

“I can help you, dear. I can help you heal, I can comfort you when you need it, I can be someone you can confide in. I can be the proper mother you never got to have.”

To have a mother…
It was a strange concept to him. But… if he had to pick someone to be his mother, or at the very least someone he could look up to, he couldn’t think of anyone better than the woman who had just heard his life story.

“Well...what do you say, dear?”

“You really think this will help?”

“I know it will. And I think you do, too.”

The tiniest of smiles graced Alexander’s lips. “Okay,” he whispered. “You can be my mother. And… and help me.”

Once again, Magdala embraced the boy, letting out a delighted chuckle. “Oh, I’m so glad, dear.”

He rested his head against her, and suddenly it felt as though a huge weight had been lifted up off his shoulders. He could rely on her, confide in her… He wasn’t alone anymore. It was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

They sat together in comfortable silence for a few minutes. His mind clear, Alexander was reminded of happier times. Times when he felt something other than guilt. His heart was eased by such memories, and the possibility that he could eventually feel that happiness again.

Magdala’s gentle murmur faded into his thoughts. “Well then, it’s getting late, don’t you think? Why don’t you head to bed, dear?”
It wasn’t until she asked the question that he realized how exhausted he was. With a small nod of his head, he said, “Yeah. Okay.”

Magdala stood and then helped him up. “Alright. We’ll get you to bed, then.” Leading Alexander to his tent, she opened it for him and helped him inside. “Goodnight, dear.”

He didn’t answer at first. “You… you’re not gonna tell anyone about this, right?”

“If you don’t want me to, we can keep it just between us.”

“Please. Goodnight Mo— ...Magdala…” He caught himself, surprised at the word that almost came out of his mouth. He stole a glance at the woman, hoping she hadn’t heard it.

Apparently, the old woman hadn’t lost her hearing in her old age, for her eyes twinkled. “Goodnight, Alexander. I love you, dear.”

Stunned, the dark-haired mage only nodded. His heart skipped a beat. He hadn’t heard those words in a long time. As soon as Magdala closed his tent, and he was alone in darkness, he allowed a smile to form on his lips. For the third time that night, his eyes welled up with tears. But for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was crying tears of joy.

END

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A Day in the Sun
“Wait for me guys!” Tully screamed, as he chased his friends

Tully and his friends, The River Raiders they liked to call themselves, were racing towards the river where their village gleans its daily water from. The adults said they could play in the river, but only if they went down stream. So off the children raced.

Finally caught up, Tully counted who was left to see if he was last... again. After muttering to himself and numbering off his fingers, a huge grin crossed his face.

“YES! I wasn’t last this time!” Tully nearly shouted as he jumped for joy.

However, Tully became even more excited when he realized he had beaten a boy named Pete–with which he would never admit his true respect for. As Pete puffed, attempting to bring air back into his aching lungs, Tully stuck his tongue out and shot a cheap remark,

“Hey Pete, you didn’t actually do too bad, for last place!”

The other boys, and even a few girls, began to snicker and sneer.

“Well at least I made it, unlike you last time!” Pete shot back

Tully, quite phased since technically Pete wasn’t wrong, decided to quickly change subjects and jump in the river while screaming,

“Last one in’s a pansy!”

This caused everyone to suddenly scramble in as one blob of giggling, clambering limbs. The children swam for what seemed like hours. Jumping off the bank to perform their best aerial maneuvers, having splash wars, and even seeing who could hold their breath the longest underwater. Soon the children got board and decided to go on an underwater treasure hunt. The one to come back in an hour with the best treasure wins. As they counted down from three in unison, Pete snuck his leg behind Tully’s ankle, and as soon as they all broke and ran their opposite directions, Tully tripped over Pete’s foot. Pete then took off, yelling behind him,

“I bet you won’t even find a broken bottle!”

Determined now, Tully knew he had to find something–if anything, an intact bottle. After searching for a while, Tully felt as though he was starting to get close to their hour time limit; and if he didn’t find something quick, he’ll be made fun of for days. Tully began diving down under the banks of the river attempting to see if anything got pushed under by the current. Behold, his hand knocked something hard. And Tully knew with all his experience, this would be the find of his life. It would be this one item that would insure his total rule of treasure hunt king. He propped up his feet and heaved with all his strength until the mud started to bubble and pop as the item lifted off the river bed. Tully could feel it was really hard and sort of heavy, and shaped like a pole. After wiping off all the mud, he could see that there was a leather belt loop on the side and a thin slit on the top. Tully’s eyes widen as he realized it looked exactly like a scabbard for a sword. He ran up to the bank and marveled at his find, imagining it being holstered to his side with a belt.

It was then that a glint something shiny caught his eye from across the river on one of the higher up banks. Tully squinted and saw four boys.

“This is the perfect time to show off my find, maybe I’ll even convince them I’ve already won.” Tully pondered, as he made his way to the other side

Upon reaching the bottom of the bank, Tully looked up once more, and to his shock, it was actually a sword that had caught his eyes. One of the boys actually found a sword and Tully couldn’t believe it. He raced up the hill and reached to the top where they were. Tully hadn’t realized however, who was up here, but now he saw it was Al and his goons picking on Pete. Al was always mean, but he seemed even more mean to Pete, and Pete never fought back. Mostly that was because everyone knew Al always got back at you, and he always tried to do worse to you then you did too him. Tullian slowly approached the scene, as he saw Al was trying his best to hold the sword up towards Pete’s face.

“Now I can really be in charge.” Al said boisterously as he strained to hold the sword “With this, no everyone will know who’s boss, right guys?” Al said as he looked back at his two companions, which began to quickly nod and encourage him. “But first, we need to make sure everyone knows their place, just like poor ol’ Pete.”

He looked over towards Pete who was on the ground against a tree, terrified for his life. Al hefted the sword over onto his shoulder, grasping it by two hands.

“Wait Al, what are you doing!?” Tully screamed from beside the tree.

“Oh, hey Tully!” Al respond, “I’m giving it good to Pete, so he knows who’s the real boss!” He said, even more excited about the idea than before

Al then hoisted the sword above his head and began to drop it towards Pete’s skull. With everything set in motion, Tullian knew there was no way Al could stop the blow, not even Al was strong enough for that.

“Maybe if I yank Pete out of the way?” He thought, but Tully knew he couldn’t muster that strength. “What’s even gotten into his mind!?” Tullian began to scream in his head. He was beginning to run out of options. The sword was hurtling towards Pete’s head. Tully didn’t want to lose Pete, he liked Pete–even if they made fun of each other. Tullian began to act solely out of instinct. He wasn’t thinking anymore, there wasn’t time to think. Tully slid on his knees past Pete and threw up his forearms above his head, and everyone’s eyes began to go wide. Al tried his best to pull the sword upward, but he couldn’t muster the strength. The sword made contact and everyone’s eyes were closed shut in fear of what might happen. Tully felt something hot drip over his forehead. He opened his eyes and realized it was his it was his own blood. The sword had dug itself off to the side in the dirt, glancing off the scabbard which Tully had forgotten he was holding; however, not without first breaking it into and slicing into a small portion of Tully’s arm. Tully looked at his arm, slowly going through a process of realization. First, that his plan had worked. Second, that he was alive. Third, he was bleeding. Tully let out a high-pitched scream and fainted on the ground.

“What the heck was that Al!?” Pete screamed, as he went to hold Tully’s arm.

“I swear, I wasn’t actually gonna do anything! It was a joke I swear!” Al frantically responded.

“Well hurry up and help me, we need to get him back home to our parents, his arm doesn’t look good.”

The boys hoisted Tully above their head and ran as fast as possible for home. Upon reaching Pete’s house, his mom called the village doctor, who easily fixed the cut on Tully’s arm. However, the parents didn’t let the boys off with any slack, even Tully, after he felt better, got a good lecture about playing with sharp knives. After handing in the sword to the head guard, Al apologized to everyone about being mean. He eventually befriended Tully and Pete, and the posse eventually became even more tight nit.

After one grueling day of adventuring, the boys went their way home and bid each other goodnight,

“Night Pete, night Tully!” Al yelled as his mother ushered him in their front door.

“Night Al!” The other two yelled back in unison

“I’ll see ya tomorrow Tully.” Pete said, as he turned his back to walk home.

“Not if I see you first!” Tully jeered as he ran home. After eating dinner and finally getting settled in, Tully’s mother tucked him after he said goodnight to his father. Tully looked at his mom as she walked towards the door, “Mom, I don’t ever wanna leave this place.”

“Don’t worry hun,” She replied in a soft voice, “We are going to stay here as one happy family.”

Tully turned over towards the candle that lay on his bedside table. Leaning forward, he gave it a quick puff, and the room began to grow dark. Tullian lay there and let forth a small smile as he fell into a deep slumber.
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A Conflict of Morality [Chapter 2-1]
Three nights later...

Every single inch of his body ached with a bone-deep cold. The first sensation his waking mind registered was a terrific chill that spread from the tips of his fingers to his toes, reverberating through his limbs and causing convulsive shivers to seize his muscles. The next discovery he made was a smooth surface pressed up against his skin. That, too, was cold. In his groggy state it was difficult for him to discern where his body ended and the surface began, but he was able to determine that he was laying on his side on top of some sort of table, or a hard floor. The final, and most jarring realization came just moments before his wandering consciousness realigned with his body.

He was completely naked.

His body spasmed as he gasped in a breath of air, as if he had just been submerged underwater. His senses came rushing back to him. A musty, earthy scent filled his nose, followed by a metallic tang. His mouth was dry and tasted only of sleep and stagnant saliva. The shuffling of moving bodies reached his ears, intertwined with a distant murmur, as if several hundred people were talking at once. His crusted eyes scraped open, and at last he was totally aware of his surroundings.

He was on the floor of a large, golden cage, suspended about three meters above the ground. It was hanging like a stalactite from the ceiling of a large cavern that was lit by torches and candles. Beneath him, demonic beings of all shapes and sizes mingled, some rushing from one place to the next, while others stood about and conversed in a language Alexander did not understand. He recognized a few of the creatures as sprites, the same kind Tully had bought at the auction. Wide stairs carved into the stone floor led to an elevated platform to his right. In the middle of the platform was a throne-like chair with a tall, ornate back the color of the night sky. A woman was seated there, gazing out over the crowd.

Alexander’s heart skipped a beat as he recognized the woman on the throne. Dressed in a black gown that draped over the edge of the throne, was Marissa. Horns protruded from her forehead and curled backwards, framing her hair like a crown. A smile appeared on her lips, and suddenly she looked right at Alexander. He shrunk back, hiding himself from her multicolored gaze.

“You’re finally awake, hmm?” Her voice traveled to his ears as if she were sitting right next to him. The dark-haired boy bit his tongue to keep his mental screams from coming out of his mouth. Curling up in a ball, he ignored the demoness.

I knew it! I knew she had no intentions of playing nice! But he had fallen right into her trap. I should have frozen her to death when I had the chance…

With that thought, he immediately cast Touch Me Not on himself. If that demon woman decided to come up here—

...What?!

Alexander squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating his hardest on the spell. But it wouldn’t go through. No matter how hard he tried, it refused to activate. It was as if the magical part of him was completely disconnected.

Without his magic and without his clothes, Alexander felt immeasurably vulnerable. Magdala’s letter was in my coat, he realized. And… And Sage and my sparrows are missing! He almost sat back up to see if they were anywhere in sight, but he forced himself to lay low, to avoid drawing any attention. What if they’re hurt? What if she—? Fighting the panic that was rising in his chest, he took deep breaths and tried to concentrate on another way out of this cage.

If I don’t have my magic I’ll have to rely on my physical strength. Which wasn’t much. He hated to admit it, but he was never very skilled at hand-to-hand combat, and with his reduced height, it would be even more difficult.

Alexander.” He flinched. Marissa’s voice was even louder now. A dimensional door opened up at the end of the cage opposite the shivering young man, and the demon woman stepped through it, a devilish sparkle in her violet-and-crimson eyes. Her gown cascaded over her slim figure, like a river of poisoned water. She took a step towards Alexander as he tried to put as much distance between them as possible. A tiny laugh bubbled up from her throat. “Oh, Alexander. You can’t run from me, sweetheart.”
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