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“Smile Now, Dear. It’s Sunrise.”

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War was the world you were born into.  Instead of air, you had breathed in suffocating smoke.  Your eyes burned, always feeling too dry and sore no matter how much you blinked.  You haven’t seen a blue sky for quite some time.

But, perhaps, tomorrow will be different, since today...you will defeat the Devil.  The Seven in your head are much more quiet today, focused along with you to send spell after spell at charging imps, dead horsemen, and other various, vengeful spirits of warriors that came charging down the mountain towards you.  Your bare feet slid across soot and snow, feeling magic buzz around you as you grit your teeth, numb fingers moving to send a ball of blue fire at a cackling imp.

{Hey, Matchstick.} A voice rasps in your head.

“Yes, Bonfire?” You respond back dryly, ducking behind a formation of rocks when multiple arrows come flying at you.  You swipe at your face to keep sweat from dripping into your eyes, but you grimace when you only feel grime getting smudged onto your forehead and left temple.

{Hey, I thought we agreed that you would add a ‘Lord’ to that nickname if you were gonna use it, Matchstick.  Anyways, you’re wasting energy on these smallfry.} Lord ‘Bonfire’ grumbled before his voice turned almost gleeful.  You can just imagine him tapping his smokey, gray fingers together as he shows his sharp teeth off with a grin, fiery, blue hair swaying on his head. {Let’s just burn them with one quick blow.}

{Using a large scale attack would also be a waste of time and energy.} A different voice drawled immediately.  You briefly pop your head up, shoulder aching as you throw an ice spell at a swarm of imps.  You watch the little demons get frozen in an instant before ducking back down when another wave of arrows went flying towards you. {Instead of dealing with these mongrels, we should slip through them and head straight for the Head.}

“What path do you suggest I take, Lord Scar?” You murmur, wincing when your thigh began to throb with pain again.

Glancing down, you saw red staining the fabric of your pants once more.  Apparently, your healing spell hadn’t been enough and the wound had reopened while you were running.  With a quick chant under your breath, the pain lessened to a dull throb once more; you would have to properly heal the wound later.  You sense disapproval from a different inhabitant in your head and smile briefly at the concern before refocusing on the next few words.

{That recent spell of yours was effective in making the enemy focus their attacks on your left, leaving your right side--not exactly open, but easier to travel through with less interruptions.} Lord Scar explained smoothly.

Taking a short peek over the rock formation you were hiding behind, you could see that Lord Scar’s words were true; with the ice blocking off the right side, the enemy was converging more at the left.  You narrow your gaze slightly, moving the back of your hand over your forehead again to keep the sweat from dripping into your eyes as you ducked back down again.

“Alrighty then…”

Magic tingling at your fingertips, ice forms in your left hand and blue flames appear in your right.  You clap your hands together sharply, magic clashing with each other.  A large cloud of steam quickly spreads through the area, concealing you as you quickly leap over the rock formation and dash to the right side, past the frozen imps.

You sprint forward, heart pounding loudly in your ears as you make sure not to trip on any stray rocks.  It takes a few minutes, but you burst out of the steam cloud and find yourself much further up the mountain now.  But a grin, that feels more like a grimace, spreads across your face when you see what’s in front of you.

“Ah.  He summoned more horsemen and warlocks this time.” You mutter before diving forward and rolling when one of the skeleton-knights throws a spear at you.

{We have no time for this, Diamond.} A different voice hissed sharply in your head.  The nickname from the usually stern sorcerer somewhat softened his words.  You then sensed a thin blanket of hypnotism, only used to further dull the pain you were feeling all over your body; your actions were still your own. {Stick to the cat’s plan.}

The spear stabs the ground behind you just as you slap your right hand down on a clear patch of dirt and rock.  It all turns to sand, springing up and crashing like a wave onto the knights, horses, and dark wizards in front of you.  You dart past when you see an opening, feet slipping slightly on the snow but still moving forward.

Your breath comes out as white wisps, lungs feeling like there were ice shards in them.  As you make your way further up the mountain, dodging arrows, spears, and sword swings, you find yourself getting more and more exhausted.  You’re limiting the amount of spells you are casting, and avoiding your enemies as best as you can, but you feel yourself slowing down, eyes drooping a little--

{VESSEL!}

Jolting your gaze open and upwards, you saw a massive, molten ball hurtling towards you from the sky.

Oh.  Fudge.

Stumbling slightly, you screech to a halt, toes sinking into the snow as you snap a hand out to the side.  A silver trident appears in your grasp and you slam the end down onto the ground.  The snow nearby quickly turns to water, and you then spin the trident around.  The water gathers and quickly shoots forward to meet the giant, flaming ball heading towards you.  The gush of water, as strong as a waterfall, manages to change the trajectory of the massive boulder and it lands somewhere behind you, rolling down the hill with a jarring thud, probably crushing a few of the enemies you passed by.

{Careful, little guppy.} A different voice hummed as your vision began to fuzz slightly.  The cool, phantom, thick fingers of Mistress Ursula brush over your temple briefly before fading, soothing against the burning fever you were currently feeling as you focused. {That is quite a powerful spell you are casting.}

You exhale sharply then, releasing the spell to watch the water disperse and rain down as you then continue to make your way up the mountain.  You weren’t that far from your goal, it seems, if He was already throwing large, molten boulders down the mountain.  With a flick of your wrist, the trident disperses into bubbles, your breath coming out harsher as the air becomes thinner, your path steeper now.

{How many times have we told you to pay attention to your surroundings!?} The same, shrill voice that had called out to you earlier scolds sharply.  Oh, Queen Grimhilde sounds like she wants to tear her hair out.  You smile wearily as you continue your run up the mountain, grunting when you had to jump up to grab onto a ledge sticking out above you.

{Oh, don’t be so harsh to our little hedgehog!} Another voice titters.  You can sense the Queen of Hearts’ fingers, phantom-like, brush over your head soothingly, mindful of the injuries there. {They are quite exhausted right now.}

{Then they should take the rejuvenating serum!} Queen Grimhilde argues back.  You can imagine her perfectly manicured nails tapping along a flat surface irritably.

“I thought we were saving those for when we finally clash with Him.” You protest with a wheeze as you pull yourself up onto the ledge, quickly eyeing where you had to jump to next.

Ugh, you feel like throwing up right now.  You haven't eaten anything in days though, so at least nothing will come out...probably.  You rub at your eyes with a groan, other hand moving down to your bare feet.  You had abandoned your shoes a long while ago when you saw that they had no grip on the mountain, but feeling your feet now…

You grimace.  The pain may be dulled at the moment, but you can feel how shredded they feel.  When you pull your hand away from the arch of your left foot, you see red staining your fingertips.  Another thing that you will have to patch up later.

{Take at least one dose of the potion, Dragon-Child.} A smooth voice murmured calmly.  You jolt when something nips at your ear, gently tugging it to keep you awake.  When you turn your head slightly to look, you see a crow perched there on your right shoulder.  It was apparent that Diablo, the crow, was back from scouting ahead. {We are almost there, but you are running out of the necessary energy to reach the end.}

Sighing heavily you fumble for the chest pocket on your coat, pulling out a flask with iridescent liquid inside.  With a pop of the tiny cork, you quickly down the potion, ignoring the bitter aftertaste before tucking the empty tube back into your coat pocket.

Immediately, your senses become more alert and a rush of energy pulses through you.  You cough harshly, gaze snapping open from their sleepy state as you quickly scan the almost vertical climb in front of you.  Diablo clicks softly and preens the hair around your ear, causing a smile to quirk the corners of your lips upwards.

The crow then flew away with a beat of his onyx wings, cawing softly.  Your gaze immediately followed the crow, watching as it cawed back at you from time to time.  Ah, so that’s the path that was safe to take, huh?  With a deep inhale, you then began springing from rock to rock, hand reaching out to grab ledges when there were no footholds.

You hear a rumble above, lifting your head in time to catch a large, bat-like wing stretching out of the smoke and stormy, gray clouds before it was folded in again, hidden once more.  A chill goes through you briefly at what you had seen, but a pulse of warmth and reassurance flows through the bond you have with the Seven.

“What should we do when this war is finally over?” You then ask aloud with a smile on your face. “I’m thinking of getting a house, or a cottage.”

{With a rose garden?} The Queen of Hearts inquired as your fingers grip onto a stone edge.

“Of course.” You reply with a laugh as you pull yourself higher up the mountain with a grunt. “They would look very beautiful, and I’ll make sure they are red ones so we don’t have to paint them.”

{Somewhere filled with plenty of sunlight,} Scar adds softly, some annoyance leaking into his next few words. {And I’d rather not be woken from unnecessary sounds.} 

{Perhaps by the ocean.} Mistress Ursula hummed. {I’m sure you would find the crash of the waves rather soothing.}

{But nowhere too bright though, okay, Matchstick?} Lord Hades groans. {I don’t wanna wake up every freakin’ morning with the sunlight in my face.  I’m sure Ms. Horns would agree with me.}

“I’ll make sure to get thick drapes.” You reply with a lopsided smile when you hear Mistress Maleficent offer a hum of agreement.

{I agree with the lion that you need a place that is quiet.} Queen Grimhilde then says sternly. {Don’t think that you’ve escaped your lessons yet, Vessel.}

{What the hell are they goin’ to use good table etiquette for, Hildey?} Lord Hades asks incredulously as you carefully scale a good portion of the mountain in front of you.  Almost there. {Matchstick has a right to do what they want after all this crap.}

{I meant that we can focus more on their potion lessons.} The Evil Queen sniffed, and you imagine her looking down her nose at the Lord of the Underworld, eyes challenging and cool. {The Vessel still has a long way to go to get at my level of potion making.  It will be helpful for them.} Queen Grimhilde then tacked on swiftly. {But good table etiquette is something that the Vessel should know!  I don’t wish to have them embarrass themselves in front of others.  I will not have them eating like a heathen if they can help it.}

If they can help it.  You wince a little, remembering the times where you had been so hungry, that you must’ve looked like a slobbering animal when you came across your first bit of food in weeks.  But then you feel gentle, ghostly fingers touch your right cheek, painted nails barely brushing your skin, and you relax.  Queen Grimhilde had told you countless times before that eating like a pig because you were starving was nothing for you to feel guilty about.  The only thing she had scolded you about was for feeling guilty.

{Far from those Kingdom rodents…} Lord Jafar then says sharply, and a phantom twinge of pain goes through your wrists and ankles, shivering when you recall a bad memory.  You flex your fingers, grimacing when your grip on a rock made a small gash appear on your right palm.  Breathing out through your nose sharply, you leap up to a different ledge of rock. {We want you to live a life free from them.}

The Kingdom you serve in this war…they were……’good’ in a way.  The Kingdom of Fantasia was fighting this war to keep Him from taking over the world after all, protecting innocents and so forth.  But the Seven in your head wanted to smite and ruin them for...for what the Kingdom has done to you--chains, pain, fear--but you just want to forget all of that.  The past will always come back to you in your nightmares, but you always try your best to ignore it while you are awake.  And so you shake off the memories and continue to climb.

{A place far from the city light.} Mistress Maleficent then offers softly. {A place where you can see the stars, because I know how much you adore them, Dragon-Child.}

Something that wasn’t smoke, dust, or dirt, makes your eyes burn and you inhale sharply.  But you quickly gather yourself and give a watery smile when you finally reach the top of the mountain, bare feet sinking into the snow.

“...That would be nice.” You reply softly as you reach into your coat pocket again for a different potion, watching the bright, violet liquid inside for a moment before you pop the cork off and down it.

Diablo lands on your shoulder, cawing loudly as a rush of magic surges through you, exhaustion completely forgotten for now as you raise your gaze upwards, tucking the empty vial back into your coat.  Narrowed, glowing, yellow eyes gaze down at you behind the clouds and smoke.  You quickly brace yourself before large, leathery wings beat harshly above you, revealing the one that had started this war.

“Hello!” You greet, as the leader reveals Himself, wings arching up.

Chernabog glares down at you, his horns glint slightly from the raging, orange-red fire circling him.  His wings flare outwards, looking like twin mountains behind him, his slitted, yellow eyes reminding you of crescent moons.  A single swing of Chernabog’s hand could wipe out a small army, but you felt no fear at the moment.  You stand tall, inhaling and exhaling slowly, magic buzzing around you as you focus.

I THOUGHT I HAD THROWN YOU DOWN THE MOUNTAIN YEARS AGO, SWORD OF FANTASIA…” Chernabog rumbles, sounding like thunder as he gazes down at you, the corners of his mouth curling upwards slightly with amusement, showing off his fangs.  You dislike that title; you never wanted it.

“I’m surprisingly hard to kill!” You reply, your voice echoing around you in the mountains.  You roll one shoulder, your body remembering your first encounter with Chernabog--shattered bones and multiple lacerations. “And I had my dear friends with me.”

YOUR EFFORTS ARE WORTHLESS, CHILD.” Chernabog huffs as he brings a massive hand down towards you, tearing through the air. “YOUR KINGDOM WILL FALL…

...The Kingdom of Fantasia was not your kingdom, and they never will be.  But you will protect the innocents with all that you have--that was all you thought of the people of Fantasia.  Your curse-contract with the Kingdom would force you to serve them all until Chernabog was finally defeated.  Now...today it was time to see if you could finally take your freedom.

“We’ll see,” You murmur in response as magic abruptly surges around you; Diablo caws earnestly on your shoulder, beady, black eyes starting to flicker with a green light.  The Seven whisper or shout their own agreement before you leap forward.

~~

...After what seems like hours, and hours of clashing with each other, a spell that combined the magic of the Seven is what it took to finally defeat Chernabog.  Chanting the spell had taken a while, leaving your throat dry and sore as you kept breathing in the smoky and cold air around you.

But you had managed in the end.

The spell had pierced the Devil through the heart, his inky-black blood spilling everywhere, creating waterfalls of darkness cascading down the mountain, and the clouds above began to part.  You watch as sunlight breaks through, and you see your very first sunrise in years ever since you’ve gone deep into enemy territory.

But your tired eyes slowly turn from the beautiful sight and back to the being dying beside you.  You are catching your breath as you sit beside Chernabog’s slowly disintegrating body, the ashes drifting away in a passing breeze as black blood continues to trail down the mountain.  To be honest, all that was left was the Devil’s head, and you could only gaze back at the yellow eyes watching you.

{...You should not pity Him.} Lord Jafar muttered quietly in your head.

“I wonder...if things could have...b-been different.” You reply, speaking both to Lord Jafar and Chernabog.  Those crescent moon eyes merely became more slitted as they gazed at you.  Your next few words were directed at the Devil. “I...had actually wanted...to know more about you, but with you aiming to take over the land and, eventually, the world, we couldn’t have decent conversation with each other.  I wonder if...I would have u-understood you.”

Chernabog only stares at you, gaze calculating as his chin begins to disintegrate now.  A silence falls upon the both of you, and your eyes start to droop shut with exhaustion.  The war should be over now, huh?  Diablo, one of your familiars, has now gone to rest; if he were to be summoned again, you would have to wait a while as the crow recovers his energy.  You jolt when your head nods forward heavily.  Yikes, you want to sleep for a decade and take a bath...but you have a few things left to do…

{You don’t have to return to the Kingdom for anything.} Lord Hades then scoffed in your head. {We broke the contract-curse they had on you by defeating this lug, so we’re free to go to our little retirement home!  C’mon, Matchstick, let’s just make our way out of this place and--}

SOON…” You blink your eyes open, everything slightly hazy as you try to focus on Chernabog again.  The Devil’s mouth was still intact to speak to you, and you shiver as his cold, scentless breath rushes past you as he speaks. “...YOU...WILL FEEL MY  H A T E......AND SUFFER...AS I...HAVE SUFFERED…

Before you could decipher Chernabog’s words, a sharp, cold pain goes up your right arm, and you quickly retract it from where it was propping you up slightly from on the snow.  When you take a look at the gash on your right palm, you could’ve sworn you saw something black wiggle its way into the wound, but spots were appearing in your vision again and you were so, so very tire--

Something sinks deep into your left shoulder blade, and you jerk forward slightly, hissing at the new pain that abruptly blossoms there.  An arrow?

{Cub!} Lord Scar calls out sharply.

You spin around in time to grab another arrow in the air, stopping it from stabbing you in the back.  But perhaps you spun around too quickly, collapsing onto your side when your vision darkens around the edges.  Ugh, the repercussions of the potions you had taken and your wounds were all starting to affect you now.  But through your hazy vision, you see the approaching minions of Chernabog.

{Ugh, shoulda’ known that some of these pieces of crap would stick around.  You forget sometimes that a few of these little bastards are actually loyal!} Lord Hades rages in your head. {Let’s burn them all!}

Blue flames appear at your fingers but they extinguish as soon as they had appeared.  You cough harshly as your arms buckle and you collapse, face-down on the snowy ground, grip slackening on the arrow you had caught.  It’s very cold, and you’re really tired right now.  Couldn’t you just...sleep?

{Stay awake.  You cannot rest here.} Lord Jafar orders sternly.

You really do want to stay awake, but everything feels heavy at the moment.  Looks like not even a bit of hypnotism will be able to keep you awake at this point.  The goal of defeating Chernabog had been what was driving you the most, and now that the Devil is gone, all that determination seems to have vanished.  You don’t have the will or energy to continue much today.  You’ve also used up all of the rejuvenating potions too during your fight with Chernabog.  The shrieking and outrage from the minions is getting louder, a few of the Seven are urging you to get up, but you don’t think that you can move anymore...

{Mirror, Mirror on the wall...} Queen Grimhilde then murmurs harshly.

“Q-Queen...Grimhi--?”

{Hush, Vessel!  Save your strength.} The Evil Queen snaps as you feel a slight tug, magic tingling over your body as your eyebrows furrow slightly. {I am going to get us out of here.}

You don’t have a chance to respond as your sight begins to fade completely.  At this point, all you can hope for is a dreamless sleep or a painless death.  Before your consciousness leaves you, you thought you felt something--or someone--take your hand, squeezing it softly.

It felt like they didn’t want to let you go. 

~~

…You hear...something.  You peel your eyes open, only able to crack them open slightly--but it didn’t seem to matter, since all you saw was darkness.  You want to try calling out to the Seven, but everything seems so muddled and far away.  You find yourself sinking back into nothingness after hearing the soft neigh of a horse once more.

~~

{--on, Matchstick, kiddo.  Please don’t be dead.  Don’t let the flame die out…!}

{If the little guppy were dead, then we all wouldn’t be here talking to each other right now.}

You blearily open your eyes at the sound of Lord Hades and Mistress Ursula speaking in your head.  It hurts, but you’re glad to hear their voices.  What about everyone else though?  Were they still here with you?

You don’t want to be alone again.

“E..veryone…?” You call out softly to the darkness in front of you.  You know that your eyes are open, but it was pitch black.  Where were you?  A prison cell?

{We’re all here, little hedgehog.} The Queen of Hearts coos softly. {You haven’t lost us.}

You exhale weakly with relief, wincing when your ribs protest sharply--in fact, your entire body protests at any movement you make.  You shut your eyes for a moment, not that it really makes a difference with how dark it was, but you try to recount what had happened.  You...defeated Chernabog with the help of the Seven.  The underlings came to avenge their master, but Queen Grimhilde had pulled you out of that situation…

...Where were you right now?

“Q..ueen...G-Grimhilde…?” You rasp out before coughing.  Crap, your throat feels so dry at the moment.

{I know what you want to ask me, Vessel.} The Evil Queen replies, and you’re shocked with how...unsure she sounds. {...But I have no indication of where we are right now.}

{What?  How the hell do you not know where we are right now!?} Lord Hades groaned.

{I had a perfect image of where we would be transferred to, but something had…...interfered.} Queen Grimhilde murmured, voice now dark and calculating.

Her words put you on alert slightly, and you move your right hand forward t--...you pause when something bumps your bruised knuckles.  Shifting slightly, you move your left hand up to place the palm flat on the...surface in front of you.  Now that you feel it, you suddenly notice how...cramped your surroundings are, like you were inside...a box.  You don’t like how trapped you feel, air starting to enter and leave your lungs at a faster pace.  Why were you--!?

{Easy there, Matchstick.} Lord Hades murmured softly, the raspy voice somewhat soothing as a warmth settled over you.  You abruptly take a deep breath...and let it out slowly, repeating the process so your heart doesn’t jump out of your chest. {...There we go.  Now that you’re calmer, let’s bust you out of this little thing, ‘kay?}

“Right…” You croak out softly, blinking away the wetness in your eyes as blue sparks appear at your fingertips.  Huh, you had felt like passing out a while ago--How long have you been unconscious?--but now you felt a bit more alert.  Adrenaline and some ‘sleep’ does wonders for the body, you guess.

With a blast of fire, the lid of the box goes flying forward, crashing into a nearby pillar.  The lid instantly turns into splinters upon impact with the stone surface.  You’re about to take a step forward, startled when you find nothing except air beneath your foot, so you quickly grip the edge of the box, heart leaping into your throat as you keep yourself from falling; it honestly wasn’t a long drop below you, but with your body in the shape that it is, suddenly falling without being prepared would have ended badly for you…….wait.

Blinking through the haze in your eyes, you turn your head stiffly to study the shape of the box...or rather, the coffin you had been in.  A slight chill goes through you as you study the coffin, uncomfortable and so freaking confused.

“...Have I died?” You mutter under your breath incredulously.

{Since your body is still completely wrecked, I don’t think so.} Lord Hades scoffs while you then glance at the dimly lit room you were in.

There was a single, large door in the room.  Ceiling to floor windows made up most of the walls of the room, slightly covered by rose-red curtains.  There were stone pillars with candle-lit lanterns on them, splashing a soft, orange glow over everything in the area.  You raise an eyebrow at the sight of other coffins floating around before lifting your gaze slightly.  A chandelier hangs in the center of the room, crystals glinting in the bare lighting of the room.  You don’t see or sense any other inhabitants in the area, but you would keep your guard up.

{Plus, since you’re such a goody-two-shoes, I’m pretty sure you would’ve ended up in a much more...heavenly place, Matchstick.} Lord Hades says with amusement. 

A lopsided smile appears on your lips at this before you lower your gaze, judging the distance before jumping out of the coffin you were in.  A hiss escapes between your teeth when your shredded feet hit the cold, stone ground.  While the coolness is a relief, the injuries still sting sharply.  You land with a crouch, carefully straightening up and you blink your eyes harshly, raising a hand to rub…

...What the heck are you wearing?

Making a sound of confusion, you look at the long, black, skin-tight sleeves adorning your arms, the cloth covering the backs of your hands with the help of a black ring wrapped around each middle finger.  Looking down at yourself, you saw that there was an extra layer of clothing: obsidian, silk robes with royal purple and threads of gold lining the insides and outsides.  You feel uncomfortable that your clothes had been changed while you had been unconscious.

{Well, don’t you look nice--despite your, well, mashed potato face at the moment.} Lord Hades wolf-whistled, as you check the clothes wearily in response, feeling around your shoulders to find a hood resting on them.  Queen Grimhilde seems to send approval through the bond as well as you continue to study the rather extravagant clothing.

“While the clothes are...n-nice and comfortable, Lord Bonfire, I am not comfortable with the fact that my clothes have been changed without me knowing.” You quickly tug the hood up and over your head, relieved that it lessened the amount of light that could reach your sight.  While the room was dimly lit, any light seemed to make your current headache worse; the hood was a life-saver--...oh no.

You pat the robes down uselessly, and you squeezed your eyes shut when you found that you could feel none of the, admittedly, small amount of belongings you had carried with you in the pockets of the long, thick coat you usually wore.  All you had now were the clothes you were currently wearing and your seven companions.  Ah, and let’s not forget the wounds you still need to take care of.

And speaking of wounds, the arrow in your shoulder...it feels like it’s gone, but the injury remains.  You grimace at the feeling of sticky warmth soaking your left shoulder blade.  If you had a mirror, you wonder if there’s a good portion of the back of the robes stained red with your blood; at least the black cloth will camouflage the blood a little.  Everything really feels like shit at the moment, and you seriously need to take care of that before you pass out again.

But first...you need to establish where the hell you were at the moment.  You would be a sitting duck without knowing your surroundings.  Were you in enemy territory?  Were you back at the Kingdom?  Were you in an entirely different--

You tense when you hear something heading towards the only door in the room.  You glance over your shoulder at the door before darting your gaze around.  You had to hide.  Quickly.  Limping hurriedly to one of the windows, you hide behind the curtains, trying to slow down and calm your breathing to be barely noticeable.

{Dragon-Child, the floor…} Mistress Maleficent abruptly warns.

Blinking, you peek past the curtains and cringe at the sight of red half-footprints and little drops of blood leading towards where you were.  With a quick snap of your fingers, you drew water from the air and it went down to wash away the blood staining the floor.  Once the water lifts up from the now wet, but blood-free stone ground, it has turned red with blood.  You move the dirty water towards you, evaporating it all with a burst of blue flames from your hand.  Just as the lingering steam disperses, the doors to the circular room are slammed open.  You duck behind the curtains again, stumbling.  You end up sitting down heavily with a wince, biting back a noise of pain.

“Crap, crap, crap!  People will be here soon…!” A voice hisses sharply. “Gotta get a uniform on quick!”

You’re surprised to hear no footsteps.  Carefully shifting to glance past the curtains, you see a…cat?  A floating cat.  He--you think it’s a he judging by the tone of his voice--was most likely using magic to keep himself in the air.  You quickly put up a simple spell that would hide your scent and your magic signature.

{Haha, look Kitty-Cat, it’s your cousin!} Lord Hades comments.

{I will rip your tongue out of your mouth.} Lord Scar growls in response.

You ignore them for now, studying the floating, gray cat scratching at a lock on one of the coffins, briefly distracted by the feline’s swaying, pronged tail.  And were those flames coming out of the cat’s ears?  You’ve never seen a magical creature like this one before.  You watch as the cat grow increasingly frustrated, now yanking at the lid of a coffin that wasn't yours.

And what was he after?  He mentioned...a uniform.  Could it be what you were wearing right now?  Why would the feline need clothes?  Your focus then moves over to the door that is open now.  You should probably leave and try and map out where you currently were.  But you had to take care of a certain issue first.

Now that you were sitting down, you could try and wrap up your feet so they wouldn’t leave red footprints everywhere.  Advanced healing spells would probably knock you the hell out with how you currently were, so a pathetic patch-up was all you could do at the moment.  That way, you wouldn’t leave tracks behind when you left and explored the area.

Under your breath, you chant a silencing spell--one that was strong enough to hide nothing louder than a heavy book hitting the ground.  Silently apologizing to Queen Grimhilde--and perhaps whoever had made these robes--you begin ripping the lower edges of the robes.  You hear the Evil Queen’s scandalized gasp while you then use the cloth to wrap it around your bleeding feet, biting your lower lip harshly at the twinges of pain.

Checking your feet, the blood hasn’t soaked through your makeshift bandages yet, but you would have to hurry before they do.  Glancing around the curtains again, you cringe when you see that the cat has floated over to where your open coffin is, sniffing around it with a scrunch in his nose.  Oh, you haven’t cast a spell over the entire room to get rid of your scent--only yourself currently.  And your little clean-up had been only done with water after all.

{You are in no state to engage with any kind of enemy at the moment.  Leave this room for now and find a place with healing supplies.} Queen Grimhilde murmurs sternly while you study the rather plump cat with curiosity.  You sense no malice from the feline.  What if he was friendly?

{I always adore your curiosity, but it’s best not to risk anything now, little guppy.} Mistress Ursula hums, and so you exhale softly before shifting behind the curtains, trying to swiftly, yet quietly make your way to the door while ducking behind the other drapes from time to time, tugging your hood down further.

When you’re right at the open entrance, you abruptly note the silence in the room.  You could no longer hear the cat’s grumbling and frantic scrambling.  Smiling nervously, you glance over your shoulder, and wide, shocked, blue eyes meet your gaze.  Oh.  You've been spotted.  With a small wave, you then dart out of the room, ignoring the stinging in your feet.

Hey--!” The cat-monster’s growl is cut off as you slam the doors behind you.

You give yourself a small head start by melting and cooling the metal of the door handles together with blue fire and ice magic before pushing away.  You stumble forward a little as you began to run, listening to the cat slam into the door harshly.  You hope he didn’t hit his head.

Sorry, that was sloppy of me.” You wheeze under your breath as you quickly make your way down a stone hallway, barely having the time to observe your surroundings; you wanted to put distance between yourself and the cat first before you could go investigate anything.

{Don’t apologize, little hedgehog!} The Queen of Hearts replies as you turn a corner, grimacing when you hear wood splintering behind you.  Oh boy, it looks like the cat-monster had broken through the door; you idly wonder if the feline can use fire since his ears were lit.

A ball of blue flames, that wasn’t yours, whizzing past your head was your answer.

Fu’naaah!” The cat cries out behind you as you run down the hallway.  You release the silencing spell since it was useless at this point, but you kept the scent-canceling one incase you manage to juke the feline and find a place to hide. “Stop right there and give that uniform to me, the Great Lord Grim, before I roast you!”

The Great Lord Grim?  Was that his name?  What a mouthful.  And was this cat the one who had captured you and stuffed you inside that coffin?  No, if anything, it seems that this cat is an intruder in this place.  As you dodge another ball of fire, you flit your gaze to the right to see multiple doors lining the walls.  When you glance to the left, the hallway opened up to some sort of courtyard, apple trees and bushes lining the area with a stone fountain at the center.  It was also dark at the moment, so you wondered if it was night time or early morning. 

Another ball of flames distracted pulled you from your thoughts, and you then wondered about how you would lose the cat-monster chasing you.  He just wanted your uniform, right?  Maybe you could--

{No.  If this is all you have for clothes, you cannot give it up--even if you want to use it to throw off our pursuer.} Queen Grimhilde says sternly.

{Yeah, do you wanna run around naked?} Lord Hades interjects, more amusement curling around your head in his next few words. {I didn’t know you were into that sort of thing~!}

“I’m not!” You reply instantly, flushing slightly with embarrassment at Lord Hades’ words.

“What was that, human!?  You’re not gonna stop!?” The cat--Grim--shouts behind you, seemingly becoming more enraged at your words.  When you glance over your shoulder, you see his eyes glow even brighter as he continues to fly after you. “Then you’re gonna get it now!”

Grim takes in a deep breath, and you see smoke wisping out of the corners of his mouth.  You grimace briefly, before an idea comes to you when you see a turn coming up in the hallway.  Just as Grim spits out a wave of blue flames from his mouth, you turn the corner and immediately reach for the first set of large doors there on the side, throwing them open.

With a flick of your wrist, a mirage of yourself continues to run down the new hallway; it wouldn’t last long, but it should be enough to make Grim lose sight of the real you.  You then enter the room and quickly shut the doors behind you, doing your best to not make too much sound so Grim wouldn’t end up turning his attention away from your running mirage.

“Get back here, you little--...!” You hear Grim’s voice pass the doors before growing softer, distant.

Had the illusion worked...?  You hope so, since your legs suddenly decide to give up on you and you fall on your butt with a grunt, breathing harshly as you shut your eyes for a moment, sweat rolling down the side of your face.

The cool wood behind you feels nice as you catch your breath, wincing when your ribs and pretty much your entire body screams at you again.  Looks like all of that adrenaline is starting to wear off.  You shift slightly and open your eyes to look down at your feet again, grimacing when you see a drop of red staining the ground; it was apparent that the blood has soaked through your bandages--

“Good evening.” A low voice murmurs from the side.

You startle, back ramrod straight as you whip your head to the side, black edging at your sight from the quick movements; God, your head hurts right now.  This room is thankfully dark as well for your headache, but it seems that the dimness would work against you now, since all you could see of the newcomer were glowing, green eyes.  Why hadn’t the Seven said anything?

{We had been trying to warn you, dear Dragon-Child.} Mistress Maleficent says softly, and you blink with mild surprise before sending a silent apology through the bonds. {You are quite out of it at the moment.}

“G-Good evening…?” You rasp out with uncertainty.  So it was night time?  Good to know.  You then dart your gaze around the area, finding stacks of books, shelves filled with books, and tables partially covered with books.  Some of the books were just floating in the air, crystal-like lanterns barely lighting the place.  Were you in a library?  Or was this place this stranger’s study room?  You bring the hood down further on your head again, head ducking down slightly but still carefully keeping an eye on the newcomer. “Sorry to...intrude.”

“This is a library, free for all students to use.  You aren’t intruding at all.” The stranger replies.  Ah, so it was a library...but did this person say ‘students’?  Were you at a school?  What a strange place to end up in...

And...was this person the one who had messed up Queen Grimhilde’s transportation spell?  Your gaze wearily stares back into those green eyes, but all you see is curiosity and caution as the stranger seems to study you.  There is no familiarity in the green gaze, so perhaps this person wasn’t involved with your teleporting mishap.  The person then looks a little annoyed when he studies your robes; was he mad that you ruined them?  You then tuck your feet in abruptly when the newcomer’s gaze darts further downwards, calculating.

“...You are hurt.” The person--a young man by the sound of his voice--states as he continues to gaze at you.

{Yeah, no shit, dumbass.} Lord Hades remarks snarkily while you fumble for a response.

“I, uh, had a little accident.” Was all you could say.  You then press a hand to the cool, wooden door behind you and attempt to stand up with shaking legs. “And I was intending to take care of it.  B-But I, er, got lost on my way and--”

Your knees are about to buckle when a sharp pain shoots through your feet again--but the stranger abruptly moves forward from the shadows and grasps your forearm tightly to keep you from bashing your knees on the ground; you can’t even flinch back like usual.  Blinking your eyes rapidly, you then raise your gaze, having the chance to take in the stranger’s features properly with better lighting.

The owner of the green eyes has very pale skin, silky, raven locks framing his face and going down to rest at his shoulders and slightly past them.  And it looked like he was wearing a...uniform of sorts.  It looked like a three-piece suit: a white dress-shirt beneath a green vest that matched his eyes, a striped tie, a black jacket, and black slacks.  And the suit lapels, including the edges of the green vest, seemed to be lined with golden thread.

Queen Grimhilde seems to appreciate the simple, yet sharp, design of the uniform.  And wow, he was tall, standing a good foot--and maybe more--taller than you.  You crane your head upwards to look at his face properly and--......were those horns?

Long, black, curved horns to be exact; they strongly reminded you of a certain someone.  He had pointed ears as well.  You blink slowly and stretch your senses out slightly, a tang of powerful magic brushing against yours briefly.  You quickly pull back your magic before he could notice anything.

He was a draconic fae?  Like Mistress Maleficent?  Questions are filling your head, but they go silent when the fae inclines his head at you, studying you once more--and you abruptly realize that your hood has fallen back when you had almost kissed the floor.  You bet you made quite the sight, swaying on your feet with your face painted purple and blue.

You can’t exactly stand on your own at the moment, and he seems to understand as his other hand abruptly moves to your shoulders.  You tense sharply, almost prepared to kick the other--but he pauses when he apparently feels something.  You wince, watching as his gloved hand moves back up in front of his face, inspecting the slick redness staining the black leather.  His pretty features twist, eyebrows pinching together and black-painted lips pressing into a tight line as he then lowers his hand.

“...A…’little accident’, Child of Man?” The fae parrots dryly, his gaze goes back to studying you as he adjusts his grip slightly on your forearm.

Your mind blanks out on what to say, opening and closing your mouth.  You were so freakin’ tired at this point.  You’re also getting kind of antsy with the prolonged contact--not that you had anything against the stranger right now; he did save you from falling.

{Let’s just punch him in the face and run.} Lord Hades offers.

{Why do all of your plans always sound like they would make the situation worse.} Lord Jafar comments with a deadpan tone.

“I--” You was all you manage to say before you found yourself being lifted.

You jerk an arm up to retaliate, but that ends up putting strain on one of your wounds.  You gasp sharply--but that was a mistake as well when you end up coughing harshly, jostling your injured ribs.  You curl into yourself slightly, lungs rattling in your chest as you squeeze your eyes shut.

“Apologies for my sudden movements.  Did I hurt you?”

“...N..No…?”

When you crack your eyes open, forcing yourself to bite back a cry of pain, you’re startled to find yourself being...carried.  The stranger was careful to not put too much pressure on your bleeding back as his other arm went underneath your legs.  You kinda wanna squirm out of his arms, but the relief from standing on your own feet made you relax more.  And so you stiffly remain in his arms for now, still on the alert.  You do tense up slightly when a thought occurs to you.

“W-Wait, your unif--” You weakly protest, abruptly remembering the blood soaking your back--

“Is that what you care about now, little human?” The fae asks, glancing down at you with an incredulous look in his eyes.  He raises a raven eyebrow at you before walking up to the doors you had gone through, carefully carrying you in his arms.

Magic, that wasn’t yours, hums through the air and opens the library doors with a gust of wind.  The draconic fae carefully slips through, the doors squeaking shut behind him as he looks down...the slightly charred hallway.  You wonder where Grim was now since the mirage must have dispelled by now.  You hope he didn’t burn too many things; this was a school after all.

“...Were you involved in a fight?” He inquires, curious and slightly baffled as he then makes his way down the hall, footsteps a little hurried; he was careful not to jostle you too much. “On the entrance ceremony day, no less.”

“‘Entrance ceremony’?” You ask softly, trying to study your surroundings properly now that you weren’t running away from a flaming furball.

“Did you forget that it was today?” He says.  When you look up at him, he seems a bit amused.

“I didn’t quite get an invitation…” You reply tiredly, voice dying out a little when the stranger’s face turns in a calm, blank mask.  Did you say something wrong?  He looks slightly irritated now.

Oh?  Is that so?” Turning his gaze away from you to look in front of himself.  The air around you both seemed cold and tense now, and it looks like the stranger has closed himself off to you.  An uncomfortable silence settles on you both as he turns into a different hallway, footsteps echoing throughout it.  Inhaling slowly and exhaling shakily, you decide to break the tense silence.

“...I never intended to end up in this place.” You then explain tentatively, wondering what had made the stranger become so cold to you abruptly. “I don’t want to say that I’ve been kidnapped since I’m not restrained or talking to any kidnappers now.  I think there was a mistake...with a spell that I was using to teleport myself somewhere…”

“‘Mistake’?” The stranger has turned his gaze back down to look at you, and whatever cold front that he had put on seemed to melt away at your explanation.  His expression then turns thoughtful as he studies you for a long moment. “...You do not know where you are.”

He states his words rather than using them in a question.  You smile wearily at him in response, eyes squeezing shut when your ribs throb harshly again.  He hums softly at this new information before speaking again.

“You are at Night Raven College.” He then tells you as you breathe through the pain and open your eyes again.  You watch as he slows to a stop in front of a door.  With a tingle of magic in the air, the door opens in front of him without having himself needing to touch it. “A prestigious, all-boys academy, where many are sent to if they have the potential of being a great mage.”

Have you ever heard of a school like that?  Your eyebrows pinch together as you try to think about the multiple schools throughout the Kingdom of Fantasia, but then you blink when the scent of chemicals reaches you.  You scrunch your nose and look around the room, mildly surprised to see that it was an infirmary.  Huh, now that you think about it, you hadn’t even asked where the stranger was taking you.  Did you trust him that much?  Maybe it’s because he reminds you so much of Mistress Maleficent.

“Thank you for bringing me here...” You then say with a tentative gratitude as he then sets you down on a nearby cot.  You’re already starting to miss the warm contact; after being on a snowy mountain for a few weeks, you’re latching onto any heat like a leech.  But you sit there...and then you blink with realization as you watch him go over to a cabinet, rummaging through the contents. “Sorry, but what’s your name?  If you mentioned it earlier, then I’m sorry, because I’m kinda out of it at the moment…”

The stranger freezes, and you can't really see his expression since his back is turned to you at the moment.  Damn, have you said something wrong again?  But he turns around eventually, slowly, with a small kit and a few bottles balanced on top.  When you see his face, you can see the wide-eyed shock, intense curiosity, and doubt mixed together as he looks at you.

“You...you are not aware of who I am?” He asks carefully.

“...No?” You reply cautiously, wondering if you might have to resort to Lord Hades’ plan after all. “I’m not really...from around here…”

The fae scans your face closely, and whatever he had found made the corners of his lips quirk up, green eyes, a gaze that reminds you of Mistress Maleficent’s fire, glowing with what looked like great interest and more amusement.  A chuckle escapes his lips as you continue to watch him make his way back over to you warily.

“...Well, this has turned out to be quite the interesting night.” He hums mostly to himself as he sets the medical kit down next to you.

“I guess so.” You agree with a weak chuckle as you watch him pull a stool over. “So...what’s your name?”

“My name is--...” You’re concerned with the way he cuts himself off, words dying out on his tongue.  He stares down at the box of bandage-patches he had pulled out of the med-kit, looking thoughtful...before he turns to look at you, smirking with a mischievous glint in his eyes. “...Actually, I don’t think I will tell you just yet.”

“How mysterious.” You reply blandly, which made another chuckle escape the stranger’s lips.  You huff, watching as he offers you one of the bottles he had balanced on the med-kit earlier.  You see that there were tiny, white pills inside, a label on the glass stating that they were pain meds.  Oh, that would be very helpful. “Then I’m gonna have to end up calling you ‘Mr. Horns’ in the end.  ‘Stranger’ just sounds a little rude in my head.”

“‘Mr. Horns’?” This time, a laugh escapes Mr. Horns’ lips, amusement merely growing at the nickname rather than being offended or annoyed.  A glass of water floats towards you two across the room from a sink you hadn’t noticed earlier, a swirl of magic surrounding the cup to keep it in the air. “What a creative nickname...” As you take the glass of water from the air, you can sense his contemplative gaze still on you. “...I suppose I won’t get your name?”

You weigh the pros and cons at that.  Names are powerful in the world of magic, but it seemed that Mr. Horns merely wanted to keep his identity a mystery simply for his own amusement.  Would you be in danger if you gave him your name?  You shake out two pills, the transcribed dose on the little bottle, and swallow it down with a sip of water before setting the glass down on the small table next to the cot.  You decide you want to continue this little game, a small, rare, sly smile making its way onto your face.

“It’s only fair.” You reply airily, trying not to smile so wide.  You untie the purple sash around your stomach and start to shrug your way out of your robes, the top part pooling around your waist, leaving you in the black, gold-lined long-sleeve. “If you won’t give me your name, then I shouldn’t give you mine, right?”

“It is indeed fair, Child of Man.” He replies with mock-solemnity, a smile still present on his lips.  He seems much more relaxed compared to the moment you met him, and your smirk dies down to a tentative smile as he sets the box of bandage-patches down on the cot.

You then blearily glance down at yourself to prod at your ribs through the black long-sleeve, frowning faintly--and then you feel a hand brush over your shoulder blade.  You jerk a hand out and slap a gloved hand away, chest feeling tight as you tense up--fight or flight instincts suddenly back since you hadn’t been keeping your eyes on the other living being in the room.  But then...you realized that it was only Mr. Horns, his surprised, green eyes gazing back at you.

You immediately want to apologize, but your throat feels clogged and dry.  Mr. Horns’ smile dims a little, and his gaze studies you for a moment as he carefully retracts his hand.  But he must see something on your face for his smile gains some of its strength back as he continues to watch you carefully.

“...S-Sorry…” You finally manage to croak.

“It’s alright.” Mr. Horns replies softly, and there is something consoling in his voice, as if he were talking to a spooked animal. “I touched you without your permission earlier as well.  I should be the one apologizing.”

“No, no, no--!  Y-You've been trying to help me this entire t-time!” Your words tumbling out of your mouth.  There’s a panic settling in you, and you faintly hear the Seven in the back of your head. “I’m being u-ungrateful, and you don’t deserve th--!”

Calm down.” He then interrupts, voice still soft, a slight surge of magic accompanying his words.  Your mouth snaps shut and you stare back at him.  His eyebrows are furrowed together, seemingly deep in thought before he focuses back on you. “...You have done nothing wrong, little one.”

{He is right, Dragon-Child.} Mistress Maleficent murmurs, and you slowly untense.

“I shouldn’t have hit you…” You end up mumbling instead.

“I would be more concerned if you accepted the touch of a stranger so easily.” Mr. Horns merely replies, a small smile on his lips, trying to bring back some light-heartedness to the conversation between you. “And I am sorry for making you uncomfortable.”

“You aren’t making me uncomfortable.” You respond tiredly, watching him with a weak smile on your lips.  Words turning into a nervous mumble. “I’m just...I have a hard time...relaxing around other people...”

“Understandable.” Mr. Horns says softly as he scans your face for a moment before his expression becomes more serious, smile fading completely. “I also understand if you want me to leave--”

“Actually,” You interrupt, looking sheepish.  You gesture to your back with shaky fingers, a grimace on your face. “I’m gonna...need a little help with the injury on my back.  But you don’t have to--”

“I will only help as long as you are fine with it.” Mr. Horns replies calmly, watching your face carefully. “And if you are willing, I can use a few remedial spells to speed up the healing process.”

“...Thank you.” You respond with some relief.  When Mr. Horns’ fingertips gently brush over your shoulder this time, you don’t flinch.

~~

It was a bit awkward patching up your thigh and shoulder blade--since Lord Hades kept on making unnecessary comments from time to time when those specific wounds were being healed.  You’re glad that you’ve had enough practice to keep your expression calm while all you really wanted to blush as red as a tomato and sink into the ground with shame.

Also...Mr. Horns seemed to pause, from time to time, when he was tending to the wound on your back while you worked on your thigh.  You wonder what your back looks like to him, since you haven’t gotten a good look at it for months; was it covered completely with old wounds from different battles, the arrow-injury now added to the mess?  You wonder what he thinks about the scars, but Mr. Horns fortunately stays silent as he finishes patching up your shoulder blade before moving on to your feet.

And now, your body still aches a little when you move a certain way, but all of your injuries have been patched up and attended to properly, some covered in clean bandages and ointment, while other wounds have already been healed over with magic, leaving behind pale scars or nothing at all.  Honestly, your body hasn’t felt this pain-free in forever.  It kinda makes you wanna pass out with how sleepy you are now, but Mr. Horns is still here with you.

“Do you really have no footwear?” Mr. Horns asks with mild concern and amusement while you shake your head in a negatory fashion.  His expression then leans more towards concern when he eyes your properly bandaged feet. “...I would recommend staying off your feet at least a day more.”

“Well, I do need to speak to someone here about my teleportation accident first.” You reply from where you still sat on the edge of the cot, the ceremonial robes back on, along with the purple sash.  You rub at your eyes, fighting back a yawn as you look down at your fancy clothes again.  A thought came to you as you studied the black and purple silk, raising your gaze to look at Mr. Horns, who was putting away the med-kit in the cabinet, also floating the empty glass of water over to the sink with a wave of his hand.

“Mr. Horns…” You call out, and you hear him make a noise of amusement and acknowledgement, and so you continue. “...Why aren’t you at the entrance ceremony?”

“...I didn’t get invited.” He echoes your earlier words--though there seems to be a hint at more personal issues with the way he speaks.  A sardonic smile is on his lips when he looks back at you over his shoulder.

“Oh.” You look down at your hands, fiddling with the bandages covering your right palm.  You can tell that this was a sore subject for him, so you decide not to pry any further.  However...when he finally walks back towards you, you lift your gaze back up to look at him. “...Would you like to go to the ceremony together?”

{Ha, it sounds like you are asking him out on a date, little guppy.} Mistress Ursula purrs amusedly, and you want to bury your face into a pillow and scream.  Outwardly, you keep your expression calm and open, a tentative smile on your face.

He seems stunned for a moment, pausing at the foot of the cot as he stares at you.  He then blinks, coming back to himself as he stares at you with a raised eyebrow.  He seems to contemplate something for a long moment before he finds the words to respond.

“I’m sure the ceremony is almost done by now…”

“We would be fashionably late.” You offer, smile turning lopsided. “And, honestly, I just want to be there to talk with whoever is in charge of this school to discuss my little problem...”

“That’s right...you said that you ended up here by mistake.” Mr. Horn murmurs, and you watch as he turns his gaze away from you, lips pressed together, a gloved hand moving up to his chin. “Will you be leaving the school the moment the issue is resolved?”

It takes you a long moment until you realize that there was...disappointment in Mr. Horns’ gaze.  What was he disappointed for?

{Aw, it looks like he has taken a liking to you, hedgehog.} The Queen of Hearts giggles in your head, and you blink your eyes with idle surprise. {He’s disappointed that you are apparently leaving so soon.}

“I can visit?” You blurt, unsure, but wanting to brighten up Mr. Horns’ mood; he has been one of the kind people you’ve rarely come across after all. “Or, when I get my home in order, you can come over?”

“Are you...inviting me?” Mr. Horns asks as he drops his hand from his chin, looking at you with...wonder?

“I don’t exactly have my home established just yet, but when I do, I’ll send you an address and you can come over...i-if you want to, of course.” You tack on nervously as you then lower your gaze.  You’ve just met this person, but…...you wonder if it’s selfish and creepy of you to want to latch onto this kindness, clenching and unclenching your fingers into fists on your lap.

“...I would be honored, Child of Man.” Mr. Horns, and there is something in his voice that makes you raise your gaze up to look at him.  His gaze is still kind, that same wonder in his green eyes as he looks back at you, a smile on his lips.

Your smile returns at his words--just as the door to the infirmary is abruptly slammed open.

There you are!” A new voice enters the room, shoes clicking against the stone floor. “My goodness, running to who-knows-where while letting your familiar go on a rampage around the school!  I can’t believe the nerve of you!”

{Okay, I’ve only known this guy for ten seconds and I wanna fry him immediately.} Lord Hades growls, but you are too busy studying the newcomer, body tense and prepared to move as a flicker of magic buzzing at your fingertips.

This person is shorter than Mr. Horns, but he--judging by the tone of his voice--looks and sounds older.  His features were slightly obscured by a crow--or raven--mask that covered the upper half of his face, but you still see narrowed, golden eyes gazing at you sternly.  His face was framed by short, wavy, raven locks, and he had pointed ears like Mr. Horns.  A top hat with a cobalt ribbon rested on his head.

And his clothes were...much more extravagant.  The man was wearing a three-piece suit as well, but the color theme was cobalt, black, and hints of gold and purple.  However, his suit top was an overcoat instead, and it was simply draped over his shoulders, plumes of raven feathers decorating it.  Keys and mirrors hung at his right hip, and they jingle softly as he makes his way towards your cot, his gloved fingers glinting with golden talons as he dragged...a certain cat-monster behind him.

Grim was tangled in some sort of black rope, and it was apparent that the material could neutralize the cat-monster’s fire magic; you watch as the feline pauses in where he’s gnawing at the rope to look at you with wide eyes, muffled shouts reaching your ears.  He seems angry, wiggling around as much as he can as he glares at you.  Your gaze then goes back to the newcomer since he seems to be the bigger threat in your opinion.

“What are you even doing here?” The man continues to berate you sternly. “The entrance ceremony has already started and will probably end soo--......”

You blink, wondering why this man has suddenly gone silent, but you note that he is no longer looking at you, wide, golden eyes staring at Mr. Horns.  You’re surprised the man only noticed the draconic fae just now instead of the moment he entered the room.

Wh--...M-Mr. Dra--” The masked man starts to say, spluttering, but Mr. Horns cut him off.

“This new student was caught in a little accident, and so they ended up seeking medical attention but got lost in the end, Headmaster Crowley.” Mr. Horns explains as he moves to stand closer to where you’re still sitting on the cot.  Huh, so this newcomer was the Headmaster?  Mr. Horns continues to speak. “I took the liberty to help patch them up...and I would like to assist in escorting them to the ceremony.  Their feet are injured.”

A silence falls over you all, though Grim is still making muffled sounds of anger.  But you pay more attention to the newcomer’s reaction, Headmaster Crowley’s mouth gaping open with shock as he stares at Mr. Horns; was all of this unexpected behavior for the draconic fae?  The Headmaster does glance at your feet to confirm that they are in fact injured before looking back at Mr. Horns incredulously.

“I...I-I see.” The masked-man finally replies after clearing his throat, eyes blinking rapidly before they refocus on you.  Ah, the stern glare is back. “Still, that does not excuse you for having such a lack of control over your familiar!”

Damn, he doesn't care about your current state too much.  But you blink at his words, baffled for a moment as you brush over your bonds with the Seven.  You hadn’t let any of your familiars out by accident, right?  Diablo and the others were still resting at the moment from the final battle.  You would’ve sensed it if you had let any of them out.  But then you watch as Headmaster Crowley waves his hand in the air, bringing the tied up Grim to face level as he continues to look at you with his glowing, golden eyes.

What was he--...oh.  Oh.

“Sir, that is n--” You try to explain, but the masked-man shakes his head, pointing a taloned finger at you.

“We will discuss the consequences of your actions later.  For now, be grateful that I am so kind to let you stay at this school still.  Your familiar has left behind so much destruction!” Headmaster Crowley huffs before turning on his heel to start walking towards the door, Grim in tow.  He throws his next few words over his shoulder, footsteps brisk. “Now come along, you are already late to the ceremony.  Let's not be any later and keep everyone waiting!”

Mr. Horns and you watch the other go ahead for a long moment, and your lips press together in a grimace.

“Does that man always interrupt people?” You finally mutter under your breath, but Mr. Horns catches your words and a chuckle of amusement escapes him.

“Headmaster Dire Crowley is a sometimes...difficult man to deal with, but I’m sure you will be alright.” Mr. Horns then looks at you with sympathy. “...And I am going to guess that the feline is not your familiar.”

“You guess correctly.” You reply dryly, feeling a new, forming headache.  Dire Crowley.  So that was the full name of the Headmaster, huh?

Mr. Horns merely huffs a chuckle before he moves in front of you, back facing you while he bends his knees slightly.  You blink dumbly at him until he looks over his shoulder, amused. 

“Come on now.  Before the Headmaster gets even more unbearing.”

“O-Oh, I can walk on my ow--”

“I already told you that it would be best to stay off of your feet as much as possible while they heal.  This is the least I can do before you attend the ceremony.” Mr. Horns replies.

Hesitating slightly, you stare at the broad back before you, darting your gaze to the side to connect with the draconic fae’s green irises.  With a shaky sigh, your fingers tentatively reach out and brush over his shoulders.  Mr. Horns’ hands then come down to hook under the backs of your knees, lifting you up with ease onto his back.  You yelp slightly at the movement, flushing slightly.

{How cute.} Mistress Ursula coos while Lord Hades makes gagging sounds in the background.

“S-Sorry to be such a bother…” You mumble as you duck your head slightly into his back.

“It’s not a problem at all.” Mr. Horns replies as he begins to move.  You can’t see his face, but his next few words are a bit halting, as if he weren’t sure if he were overstepping things. “...You are quite light.”

“You flatter me.” Was your quick quip as you laugh nervously.  You have missed a few meals, so you might be a little underweight.  As Mr. Horns walks out of the infirmary, you peer over his shoulder to see Headmaster Crowley just a few meters ahead of you two--and then a thought occurs to you. “...Earlier, it sounded like you wouldn’t be joining us for the ceremony.”

Mr. Horns is silent for a moment, contemplative, before he finally responds.

“Although I am grateful for the kindness you have extended to me by inviting me to go with you to the entrance ceremony, I feel that my appearance would only disrupt things further.” The draconic fae sighs.  You’re about to argue, but Mr. Horns continues, glancing over his shoulder to send you a small smile. “I am not disappointed or mad about any of this.  In a way, I suppose it all works out for me since I wanted a quiet stroll tonight.  The entrance ceremony would be a bit of a hassle for me to go through.”

“I’m sorry to disturb your night.” You then murmur, guilt curling in your gut as you squeeze your eyes shut.

“You apologize too much for things that you have not done.” Mr. Horns replies, and you hear a smile in his voice as he turns his head to look ahead. “You, Child of Man, have in fact made my night more interesting and pleasant.  I hope we can repeat such nice conversations when you figure out your living situations and invite me.”

You’re surprised, mouth opening and closing uselessly for a moment.  He is too kind to you.

“...Th-Thank you, for all that you’ve done for me tonight.” You then manage to mumble. “I’ll make sure to send an invitation to you as soon as possible.”

“I will be looking forward to it.” Is Mr. Horns’ soft response.  The draconic fae then slows to a halt. “We are here.”

You blink and peek over Mr. Horns’ shoulder to see the doors to the room you had started in; apparently they were fixed while you were gone.  Not a single splitter of wood remained on the ground, everything cleaned up and fixed.  You wince, slightly guilty for leaving so much destruction behind you.  Mr. Horns then sets you down carefully on your feet, and you feel the cool ground through the bandages; it felt somewhat soothing in a way, like an ice-pack.

“While I know that it was never your intention to go to this school, perhaps going through the ceremony will calm the Headmaster down a bit and he will listen to you properly once it is all over.  He will only listen to himself most of the time until his own...more pressing needs and goals are first completed.” Mr. Horns says to you as he draws your hood up and over your head for you; damn, the Headmaster sounds like a pain in the ass to deal with.  Mr. Horns then smiles down at you, a glint in his green gaze. “...Though...to be quite honest with you, I’m curious of which dorm you will be sorted into.”

“‘Dorm’?” You inquire, but Mr. Horns never gets the chance to explain anything when the Headmaster calls out to you.

“Hurry now, new student!  The ceremony is past its ending time.” Headmaster Crowley says as he glances down at a golden pocket watch in his hand. “And, um, will you not be joining us, Mr. Dra--”

“No.” Mr. Horns cuts in cooly, and you watch as the Headmaster merely smiles nervously in response.  You idly wonder if you were about to learn part of Mr. Horns’ real name.  You’re pulled out of your thoughts when Mr. Horns smiles back down at you. “...Until next time, Child of Man.”

“Until next time, Mr. Horns.” You parrot back, and you see the way your nickname for him makes the corners of his mouth tug upwards further.

You watch as Mr. Horns then makes his way down the hallway, back the way you had all come from.  You didn’t get to watch him leave completely since a hand landed on your shoulder heavily.  You stiffen and restrain yourself from grabbing the hand and flipping the owner of it over your shoulder, but you realize in time that it was just the Headmaster.

“Let us go inside and get you sorted.” Headmaster Crowley urges, and you could only nod your head slightly in acknowledgement.

You weren’t even planning to stay at this school since you intended to find your way back to...well, not the battlefield--since the war was now over--but a place where you could finally relax without having to glance over your shoulder every single minute.  Though you do need to send a note to the Kingdom of Fantasia about the war being over; this school seems very high class, so you wonder if you’re already at the Capital.  You could ask someone if you could send a letter to the Royalty of Fantasia before going on your way to make your house with a rose garden, by an ocean, far from the remains of war, the Kingdom, and city lights.

You blink out of your thoughts when Headmaster Crowley nudges you closer to the doors, and you sigh softly as you move forward.  You just have to go through with the entrance ceremony, and hopefully Headmaster Crowley will be open to listen to you since such important, school matters will be out of the way.  Meeting people like Dire Crowley--those who end up in their own world while speaking over others--really exhaust you.  You take a deep breath and exhale again tiredly.

Now, it’s time to see what new chaos awaits you.