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The Caged Bird
This world is cruel, and everything in it that is beautiful dies.

The stairs went on endlessly, hours passed, but nothing changed. Draven, Val, and I marched onward slowly. No one said anything, there was nothing left to be said. Draven's shadow moved us forward, step after step, turn after turn, no end would ever come. It almost felt like a dream, I half expected to turn around and find we were still only a few feet from the bottom. That it was all just an illusion. If only it was all just an illusion.

"Alright folks" Draven piped up, "Let's rest here for a stretch. Draven needs a little beauty sleep. He turned to look at me directly, "You should really get some rest too Amian, it's been a long day."

I said nothing, too tired to argue. Before I knew it I was slouched down against the wall, loosing myself in painful memories and emotion. I was so tired. Feeling it all hurt so much. I just needed to sleep, then it would all go away. Yes, sleep.

My dreams were the same as they always were. Demonic hands grasping at me, the world consuming itself in darkness. But this time, Tobias wasn't there. There was no one to save me, no light to pierce the eternal darkness. Only death, only hopelessness. I passed from one dream to the next, silently accepting them all. They were all the same anyway. Darkness. Suffering. Chaos.

Suddenly, I found myself flying, soaring above trees, mountains, and valleys. A beautiful, lush expanse that filled me with a life I thought I had lost for good. My hands grasped something familiar, something I knew. I was soaring on the back of my lost friend.
It felt so good it made me shake, I felt worse than in the dreams of darkness, the feeling of failing my closest friend. I buried my face in Tobias feathers, feeling his warmth again. It felt so real, but I knew it wasn't. Tears streamed down my face. I let you die friend, I couldn't do anything to help you.

Tobias let out a cry in response to my thoughts. It's majestic sound echoing across the sky and through the canyon and valleys below us. It echoed outward endless, filling everything around us. My pain drained from my body, and I felt some small courage began to take hold again.

You can't blame yourself anymore for what's happened. Tobias' voice echoed in my mind. For Naima, for me, for being trapped in this world, you can't let any of it hold you back anymore.

"How?" I asked out loud, "How is it not my fault?

You can't blame yourself. Move forward. I'm still with you

I awoke with a start, the feeling of Tobias' feathers replaced with cold stone. I stood, Val and Draven were already waiting. It was a weird sensation, but I felt a little more strength than I had before. I couldn't explain why, but I didn't feel sadness for him anymore. Our situation remained dire, hope still flickering like a dying candle, but I felt that Tobias would be by my side once more. He would never leave me, no matter the hell I had to pass though. I continued upward, through the darkness towards a light I could not yet see, but knew was coming.
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You smell like burning...
"Tibbers, is that him?"

"...."

"That's him right?"

"...."

"We can kill him right?"

"...."

"This talking is boring..."

"...."

"Oh, you want to play?"

"...."

"This will be fun!"

"...."

"heh heh, ha ha, HA HA HA, TIBBERS!!!!"
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The Difficult Path (Part II)
The Giant Metal sentinels moved inward, pushing my companions into a corner. High above them I leaned down over Tobias, one eye closed, arrow ready. I aimed for its wrist, hoping to sever the mechanism propelling the blades. My arrow flew true, striking its mark directly. It bounced off harmlessly, and one of copies was shredded by the advancing blade. Frustrated, I reached back for another arrow, and then realized I was shaking again.

"You know why she died, don't you?" Draven's voice echoed in my mind. Naima's face did too. It was always there, haunting my every thought.
I notched another arrow and fired. It bounced off harmlessly.

"You and I were too weak. And foolish. Despite all the dangers we've encountered we let them go down alone to their death." I refused to accept it, there had to be something I could do. I notched three arrows, the statues continued to advance.

"We will now carry on for the rest of our lives- however long they be, knowing that if we had been stronger, smarter, better, they might not have died." Why couldn't I do anything? How strong do I have to be? Each arrow harmlessly ricocheted off the stone arm.

"Naima's in trouble." Tobias' voice echoed through my mind, memories that refused to die. The sentinel was quickly approaching Draven, he had left himself wide open after swinging his giant demonic hammer. I'm strong enough now, I have to be! I notched another arrow missing the target completely. The sentinel's spinning blade torn into Draven's face and he went down.

Naima's in trouble." The words echoed in my mind again. I was staring down into the well again, Skyla twitching on the floor beside us. Val's eyes filled with a horror I never thought she could experience. It was happening again. Naima, I'm sorry, I can't save anyone. This world is doomed.

The second stone giant fell to the ground, Val had managed to deal the final blow to it. But Draven? I flew downward on Tobias, hoping I could still bring him back. Tobias landed and I jumped down, sprinting to where Draven lay. You can't die on me Draven, you promised we wouldn't be weak anymore.

I approached him and was filled with relief. Draven stood, it seemed to take some effort, but he stood strong. "Amian." He smiled, "You ran over here like I was dead or something. You really think some stupid rock could kill Draven?"

I laughed, "Of course I didn't. I was just concerned that you let Val get away with taking the final blow."

"Heh." As he turned, the nasty gash on his face became more apparent. "Can't take all the glory now can I? Although I do make it look pretty good."

I laughed again, and we both stood for a moment in silence. "I want to you teach me all you know. I need to get stronger. I'm not letting anyone else die again."

My shaking had stopped. My decision was made. I couldn't rely on Tobias to do everything for me. I couldn't let anyone else die. I never wanted to be feel worthless ever again. I would stand for Raphael. I would fight the darkness until it sunk back into the disgusting hole it crawled out of. I would live, no matter what it took, and the world I loved would live as well.

Draven smiled again, a glint in his eyes. "Well then, welcome to the school of Draven."

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The Difficult Path (Part I)
"Tobias, I want you to stay here." It was a selfish request, but I had to make it.

He stared at me for a moment with his usual fierce gaze. I already knew what he was feeling, but he stayed silent for a moment anyway, giving me time to make sure it was what I wanted.

"I will stay," was all he said. Short and sweet as always. His fluffed his feathers as he turned to his roost.

I was tired too, I figured I might as well get some sleep before we left in the morning. Wherever it was we were going. Everyone else seemed worried. A strange man appearing out of nowhere, wanting to take us to another world? I felt concerned that I wasn't worried either.

The walk to my room felt longer than usual. I passed Draven and Val arguing about something, Draven grinning from ear to ear like he usually did. Skyla was buried at her desk in paperwork, one of her sheele resting on her shoulder, the other floating lightly above them. I heard Adolphus's steady hammer from the forge. He told us he wasn't coming with us, and somehow it felt like a goodbye. I had a strange feeling that I might never see him again.

Naima's door was closed, she was probably already fast asleep. She'd become awfully stubborn lately, it was concerning. I couldn't let her get into trouble. She had always been a bit more rash, but never this much. Perhaps the weight of the whole situation was getting to her. I was sure she had always felt somewhat inadequate, not having someone like Tobias from Raphael. It was no use telling her that it wasn't true, she would never listen. If only I could make her understand I felt just as inadequate.

My bed felt especially welcome, and I wrapped myself in blankets hoping to doze off quickly. Please, let me sleep well this one night, I thought. Just one night.

"You're going to die without me." Tobias asserted out of nowhere. It made me jump, the suddenness of the remark.
I pulled myself up to a sitting position, gripping the sheets tightly in my hands. "Am I really that worthless with out you?" It filled me with frustration, and I pushed the frustration back at Tobias. Not because he was wrong, but because I knew it was true.


Demon's circled the sky, Naima lay lifeless on the ground. Draven and I stood back to back, teeth grit, waiting for the monsters to rip us apart. "Well, Amian" Draven smirked, "I'll take five and you take the other two, sound like a plan?" I notched a few arrows, pointed my bow skyward at the nearest demon. We were going to die, Tobias was right. My body started shaking. Why did we come here? Why did I leave Tobias behind? Why am I so useless! The demons dove inward as a single unit, howling and screeching. Their claws stretched towards us, reaching for their prey. Rafael, I cried, I'm sorry, I wasn't what you needed me to be.

The sky above us tore open, and suddenly the demons were thrust outward, as if some giant hand had swept them aside. Tobias' cry echoed through the air as I watched him burst through the torn sky. He streaked through the sky, majestic wings spread above us like a blanket of security. "I told you that you'd die with out me." It was so good to hear his voice again.


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A dignified death
As his breath frosted over, the madman knew that his portent of perdition had come to pass. And he met it as any madman would. Floating upwards and away from the icy woman with apparent ease and calm, he warbled his naked hips, flopping and thrusting obscenely in her direction. Summoning his will, he prepared to immolate the witch with his touched mental prowess.

However, his doom foretold, a perversion crept into his mind, and did disrupt his matrix, turning his heat to chill. And so extreme was his cold that he did freeze his own blood, and cause significant shrinkage in his nude nethers.

R.I.P. Bob the Mad, Skyla the cautious, and Naima, friend to the natural world.
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