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Blood and Bone and Heart of Stone

Chapter Text

Certainly, certainly, you have heard it all before:

Ahh, my dear beloved, 

A lovely and noble flower of evil.

Truly, you are the most beautiful of all.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Who is the. . . 

Those who are guided by the dark mirror,

As long as your heart desires, 

Take the hand that appears in the mirror-

So let us not linger any longer in this dim, misty place of introductions and get to the point. Suffice to say, the hand was taken, and a fellow opened their eyes in a coffin, to a coffin lid and a fire and a cat that seemed to be broiling itself alive.

~ ~ ~

For me. For them. For you. 

We are all running out of time. 

No matter what, never let go of my hand. . .

You -yes you, for now I shove thine consciousness into that of the confined, coffined fellow- lift a hand to your head. The world is spinning. Words echo at the edge of your mind, and you still seem to be hearing things.

Auditory hallucinations. . . that's a first.

Then blue flames flood your vision, lighting up the dark space, and cat with fiery ears bursts in.

"Okay okay, gotta get-"

The voice belongs to it, you realize, but whatever it's been saying dies when it sees you. 

You stare at the cat. The cat stares back.

Just as you think it might be a visual hallucination (another first), it speaks again. Shouts, really

"Wh-wha-! Why are you up!? A-and what's with your eyes?!"

You ignore the cat and look beyond it. Sparse green fairy lights, tall floor-to-ceiling windows, a giant mirror floating above a fountain in the center. Caskets fill the air and rows of pews fill the path to the door. Was this some sort of church?

"Ugh, whatever!" The cat says. "I am the Great Grim! Now hurry and gimme those clothes! Otherwise, I'll-"

"Clothes?" you ask. "Are you referring to these robes?"

The cat snarls. "Yeah you dumb human, now- Huh?"

Faster than he could blink, you've disrobed the robes, folded the garment, and kneeled to place the neat square on the ground before him.

"They are far too big for you," you say, still kneeling. "But they are not mine to begin with. In any case, could you direct me to the authority here?"

The cat shakes off its stupor.  "Find him yourself!"

Rude.

The cat busies itself with wearing the robes. They are heavy, embroidered things, and you're surprised that the material doesn't burn up from the flames in its ears. Were they fireproof, perhaps? If so, combined with the floating mirror and coffins, this place might be some mages' guild then. . .how unfortunate.

You'd have to find her soon.

You cannot tell if she is within one of the coffins. They are all alike- night-dark wood with gold embossed upon it, a polished mirror near the head and an ornate keyhole some spans below that. You cannot tell if some more dangerous being lies within them either, so you decide against opening them. You exit the building and venture out into the cool night air. A chill travels down your spine, but not because of the cold.

The architecture is strange. The stars are wrong. The signs you see are in an unfamiliar tongue. Where were you? And where was-

You feel the sting of a whip and whirl about, ready to attack. Your knives at least, weren't missing.

"I see you've felt my lash of love!"

The figure that steps into view looks rather like a mage. With his bird-skull mask, feathered attire, wing-like cape, he seems proud of his avian theme. Was that his talent? Summoning birds? He seems friendly though. Must not recognize you any more than you recognize him, the moonlight too faint for him to notice your eyes. . . How fortunate.

"Are you one of the new students?" he asks.

"I believe so, yes." The knives slip back into your sleeves. Might as well as play along for now. Perhaps you'll get something out of it.

He crosses his arms, feathers rustling. "You shouldn't do things like that. Leaving the Gate on your own! And where are your robes?"

"Gate?"

"My goodness. It's unprecedented for a new student to leave the Gate on their own. . .ugh, how impatient can you be? The entrance ceremony is already well under way. Let us head to the Mirror Chamber." 

He struts past you, back towards the place with coffins. He seems to expect you to follow him, so you do.

"Pardon me sir, but- Gate?"

He waves a hand dismissively. "It's the room you woke up in with all of the doors. All students who wish to attend this academy must pass through one of those doors to arrive here.

His stride suddenly slows, so you do as well. "Normally, students wake up only after the door is opened with a special key but. . ."

"So the coffins are doors. . ." Your eyes trail down to his cane. The end of it resembles a key. If you take it from him, would you be able to control the coffin you awoke from? Could you make it take you to your mistress?

"Oh my!" the magician says, quickening his pace. "Now isn't the time to be long winded. The entrance ceremony will soon come to a close. Let's get a move on-"

You push fear into your voice. "Just a second, sir, where exactly am I?" 

He turns back to stare at you. "What's this? Are you still dazed?" 

You try to look as sheepish as possible, averting your gaze and awkwardly fiddling your fingers in silence.

He sighs. "It appears the teleportation magic has left you disoriented... well, it is fine. It happens often enough. I shall give you an explanation as we make our way there. For I am gracious."

He clears his throat and goes on a very informative spiel. It seems Night Raven College is an international magic academy. It also seems you are in some new world. Twisted Wonderland- you've never heard of it before. The dread dripping into your stomach hardens into resolve. You need to get back, and soon.

This magician- Headmaster Dire Crowley- shows no signs of noticing your approach as he goes on about summonings and ebony carriages.

It is dark tonight. So dark most people must be inside. So dark Crowley didn't notice your eyes. So dark you can knock the magician out and drag him to some darker corner until he tells you what you need to know. Before you can make your move, however, you catch scent of smoke.

And then you hear a scream. Numerous screams.

Crowley's head snaps to the Mirror Chamber in surprise, and you run towards it.

Chapter Text

You run because you know how calamitous fire can be. You run because you don't know who may be locked in the coffins. You run because you remember a voice-

You can't just help me. You have to help other people too okay? Promise? Promise!

You burst through the doors and are greeted by panicking students and blue fire. Familiar blue fire. You see the cat still swallowed up by too-large robes, grinning proud and wicked at its infernal display.

Crowley arrives seconds after you, horrified as students slip past you two to leave the burning chamber. "At this rate the school will be a sea of fire! Somebody catch that raccoon!"

The cat doesn't look like a raccoon. Were cats called raccoons in this world? Well, no matter.

You approach the cat raccoon as the students bicker. How incompetent they all are, even as the world burns around them. When a turban-wearing student trailing fire from his backside bumps into you, you hold him still, swipe out the embers, then continue on your way as he thanks you. You catch a different student, one with short blond hair, looking at you intently as you move. You wonder if he sees the way the nearby flames curl towards you and disappear.

"Are you all even listening!?" Crowley wails, still at the entrance. He should fix things himself, you think, but if giving the raccoon your robes allowed him to enter, you suppose you are to blame for this situation as well.

A man with green eyes speaks up, echoing your thoughts exactly. "If it's just catching some stupid raccoon, can't you do it yourself, Teach?"

The raccoon snarls. "How many times do I have to tell you, I'm not a raccoon!" 

The raccoon cat creature, finally notices you. "Oi, dumb human! You're not getting these clothes back! They belong to the Great Grim, and I will become the greatest magician ever!"

"You cannot even control your flames," you reply, staring it down. "Neither can you control your temper, it seems."

"Hey!" It bristles. "What do you know?! Now get out of the way or I'll roast ya!"

"Do it then," you say. "Roast me."

All eyes are on you. The creature looks surprised as well. Then it looks angry, as you expected it would. "Ugh, I'll show you-!"

It takes takes a deep breath, raises its hackles, then-

You shove your hand

right

into

its

mouth.

~ ~ ~

For all the resistance the Great Grim expected when he decided to enter Night Raven College, he did not not expect that. He did not expect the creepy-eyed human to shove their hand into his throat as he prepared his strongest fire attack yet.

He tries to stop it. Hellfire, he tries. But he can't stop his flames, can't swallow them after they form, so they pour from his mouth in beautiful horrible great embers of blue that greedily devour the human's arm. 

It smells like cooked meat. It smells like burnt meat. It smells like ash and metal and-

And Grim feels sick.

~ ~ ~

The flames stop halfway up your elbow, though by all witness accounts later on, the attack should have set your whole person ablaze. What remains of the limb is a dark, unrecognizable mess that is soon hidden by the torn fabric of the ceremonial robe you deftly wrap over it as if it were some minor cut. 

The Mirror Chamber is silent, you realize. Whatever students remain stare at you in surprise and disgust and fascination. The creature looks up at you with shock and guilt(?) in its eyes. 

"Neither your flames, nor your temper," you say simply, and the creature seems to shrink into itself.

You get up from the ground and hear murmurs.

"What was that-?"

"Crazy-"

"A stunt-?"

"Gonna throw up-"

Crowley loudly clears his throat. The student body snaps to attention. He puts on a smile, false and bright as glass jewels.

"Well that was certainly a display, wasn't it? Now that you've got your familiar under control-"

"I have no familiar," you say.

Crowley stiffens. "Eh? It's not yours? Then why did you-"

"It freed me from my coffin, and I gave it my robes," you reply. "It seems it took that as a sign to burn the place down." You bring your bandaged arm across your chest and bow slightly. "I apologize for the trouble."

Even with your head bowed, you can feel his golden irises stare into you. He is close, so close his cane is within your grasp-

But the students still remain, far too many to make a move. Whether or not they'd heed his cries to stop you, you don't know, but better safe than sorry.

"At any rate," he says, "Let's get it out of the school."

He picks it up by the scruff of its neck. You wonder if the creature made that bow by itself. Did it belong to someone? Had you injured someone's wayward pet?

When it catches you looking at it, it averts its gaze. 

Crowley looks at it like vulture would. "We won't turn you into a stew. For I am gracious. Someone help, please?"

"Allow me." The boy that steps up has red hair and and slate-grey eyes. He points a crystal-tipped wand(?) at the creature. 

"Off with Your Head!"

The creature seizes up as a peculiar heart-shaped collar appears around its neck. It flails, spirited once more. "Nygah! The heck is this!?"

The boy holds the pen like a scepter. "Laws of the Queen of Hearts: Number 23 'One shall never bring a cat into a festival.' You being a cat means you've broken the rule. I shall have you leave at once."

"I'm not a cat!" protests the creature which you have honestly given up trying to determine the species of. "I'll burn this collar right up and... E-eh? I can't use my fire!"

The boy smirks. "Hmph! You won't be using any magic until I remove the collar. Just like an ordinary cat."

"Wh-what!? I'm not some pet!" Not a pet then.

"Don't worry, I'd never keep a pet as destructive as you."

The creature flinches at that. The red-haired boy makes a gesture and another student takes it from Crowley's hands.

"W-wait, no! Let me go! I'm gonna become the greatest magician! I'm going to-!"

You watch it leave and hear a wistful sigh.

"Wow, as wonderful as ever," a white-haired student with glasses mutters. "Any and all magic gets sealed by your Unique Magic, Riddle. I want it. . . No. I wouldn't ever want that cast on me."

A magic-cancelling spell? You turn to the red-haired boy. Better wait for that one to leave then, it would be troublesome if such a spell were to land on you. . .

"Ah, are you alright, freshman?"

You blink. The white-haired student smiles at you gently slyly through his spectacles. 

"You must be in a lot of pain. . .what a poor, unfortunate soul. Not to worry, I can escort you to the nurse's office."

You hear a scoffing noise and pinpoint the sound to a strange rectangular object floating nearby. The runes upon with flash and pulse in time to its voice. "Don't bother, Azul," it says. "I'll send Ortho over in his Precision Gear."

Before the white-haired student (Azul?) can respond, Crowley slams his cane against the ground.

"Alright, everyone!" Crowley says loudly. "We had a bit of trouble along the way but this brings the entrance ceremony to a close. Dormitory Heads, please show the new students back to the dormitories. Do make sure to catch all the ones who fled earlier. . .hmm? Now that I think about it, I don't see the leader for Diasomnia, Mister Draconia, around at all. . ."

"That's no different from usual, is it?" says the green-eyed student.

The boy whose fire you extinguished furrows his brows. "What? Did nobody tell him about the ceremony? 

"If you're going to complain you should have done it yourself," retorts a blond, this one with hair that ends in purple tips.

"Hmmm. But I don't really know anything about that guy-"

"Students," Crowley stresses, and you almost pity him.

A short boy with black and pink hair sighs. "I was correct, I thought he might come, but it seems the invitation 'never arrived' again."

"My deepest apologies," says Azul. "I promise, we didn't intend to exclude him."

"His aura makes him hard to approach," the red-haired student says.

The short boy waves a hand. "It's fine. Members of the Diasomnia Dormitory can come with me. . . .I hope this doesn't upset him. . ."

The short boy leaves and the others trail after him. Once the Mirror Chamber is emptied, Crowley collapses into a nearby pew. He holds his head in his hands for a minute, then springs back up.

"Ah, it seems I've forgotten to get you assigned to your dormitory. Now, if you would step in front of the Dark Mirror."

He goes up to the fountain, to the giant mirror suspended in the air above it. You notice now, that all the once-floating coffins now line the back walls.

It seems she isn't here then.

Crowley gestures to the magical artifact. "State thy-"

You seize the moment to punch him in the throat.

 

Chapter Text

Crowley staggers backwards, clutching his neck.

"Wha- why- that was completely uncalled for! I understand that you must be upset, but-"

"You understand nothing," the student says, and Crowley realizes that his cane is gone.

He narrows his eyes. "Young man, return that at once!"

"Return me to my world," the student says simply.

"Your world? What in the Great Seven are you talking about?" 

The student clenches his cane tighter, and it seems to bend. "I mean what I said. Return me to my world."

The headmaster takes a deep breath. Patience. The student is hurt and confused. He's scared, defensive. Crowley raises his hands placatingly. "Now now, let's all calm down. "

The student thing's eyes bore into him, and only now does he realize how unusual and unsettling they are- pitch black voids with luminous discs of gold.  Cold and inhuman, just as its voice is when it speaks.

"You say I am in Twisted Wonderland. Such a place doesn't exist in my world. I am certain you have never heard of Tellusaire either."

"I have not," he admits. "I have a general grasp of where all the students came from, but I've never even heard that name before."

"Nonetheless," it continues. "You've managed to steal me away from it. So, my demand is simple- return me to my world, and I will return your precious cane."

Crowley manages a grins. "You should have explained yourself clearly at the beginning! That is a simple request- the Dark Mirror will send you directly back from whence you came. Simply enter the Gate, and picture your home clearly in your mind."

It looks at him warily, but complies. "I will drop your cane the moment I feel a pull."

"Very well," Crowley says. His cane will be scuffed from the fall, but that is better than it being snapped in half by this monster.

"Oh Dark Mirror!" he declares. "Guide this one back to the place they belong!"

. . . it doesn't so much as whisper. He thinks he can hear his cane splintering already. 

"Once more. Oh Dark mirror! Guide this-!

"It is nowhere."

". . .Eh?"

"The place they belong is nowhere in this world," the Dark Mirror booms. "It does not exist."

"Try again," the monster says.

Crowley glances between it and the mirror. "Oh Dark-"

"It does not exist."

"Try again."

"Young man-"

"TRY AGAIN!" 

"You heard the Dark Mirror!" Crowley cried. "Your home doesn't exist! What do you want me to do?"

He's suddenly lifted by his tie. He can't breathe. Oh Seven he can't breathe-

"Return me to my world," the monster hisses.

"I-I can't-" he chokes.

He's harshly thrown into the pews. He blinks the stars out of his eyes and finds the monster raging against the mirror.

"Take me home!

"It does not exist."

"I was taken! Your people took me! So put me back!"

"It does not exist."

It raises his cane. Crowley's eyes widen in horror, realizing what's about to ensue. Oh no. Oh heavens no, the Beautiful Queen herself gave that mirror!

"Put. Me. Back."

The Dark Mirror's face stares down dispassionately. "I cannot."

It screams. The monster screams as it knocks his cane backwards, ready to strike the mirror. Crowley rushes out from the pews, whip brandished, hoping to take the monster down before it can shatter a priceless treasure, then-

Then it crumples.

The cane slips from its hands. The monster falls to its knees, still screaming. Crowley stops in his tracks.

The monster student fallen thing raises a hand to its their neck. Nails fit to be claws plunge into their its throat and something too thick and black to be blood oozes out. It spills over their fingers, over their clothes, dribbling onto the ashy floor.

The screaming gurgles to a halt. Their head dips down, like the bud of a dying flower.

Crowley. . .stands there. Confused. Unsure of what he's just witnessed. Did it just die?

. . .was it alive?

At a length however, the figure on the floor withdraws their hand. They look at the inky grime coating their fingertips. They look at it for a long time, then they hide the blackened fingers in a fist. 

"Oh Dark Mirror," they say. Despite the damage to their throat, their is voice is soft and serene, eerily so. The viscous substance still trails down their neck. "Is my lady alive?"

The Mirror is silent, then-

"I cannot say."

Black blooms from where their nails are buried in their palm. ". . .is she dead?"

". . .I cannot say."

". . .I see."

~ ~ ~

She is not dead. You are not certain she is dead at least.

You feel the taint on your hands. You've acted brashly. Irrationally. Unkindly

She'd be so disappointed in you. 

Crowley stands nearby. You wipe your hands clean on the edge of your shirt, then take up his cane as you rise. You're certain you still smudged it. You offer it up in both hands and a bowed head. 

"I apologize for my outburst," you say, the understatement of the century. You must look terrible, a broken thing soiled in ash and blood. "I will do what I must to atone for it."

". . .you've been quite troublesome."

You keep your head down. "I am aware."

You hear him sigh as he takes his cane back. "What is your name, young one?"

"Yuu."

"Yuu-?"

"Only Yuu." 

"Mister Yuu then. Lift your head. When you apologize, you make eye contact with the other party, yes?"

"I apologize," you repeat, meeting his gaze. "Where I am from, such action is considered impolite."

"I think tossing the headmaster of a respected institution like a ragdoll is far more impolite an action."

". . .I apologize." 

Crowley pinches the bridge of his nose through his mask. You should make him tea, you think. Some migraine-mitigating tea. Ah, but does temida root even exist here?

"Things have become. . .complicated," he says. "But for now, let us assign you to a dormitory. Step in front of the Dark Mirror and state your name. Preferably without attacking me first."

He has a dry smile, as if trying to lighten the mood. You merely obey.

Yuu is your common name. You do not know what this world is like, if names still hold power the way they do in your world, but you dare not divulge your true one. 

But it is a name, true enough. Hopefully it will suffice. If not, you will deal with the outcome.

~ ~ ~

"I am Yuu."

The headmaster would have found amusement in such wordplay if he wasn't so done with everything. Ah well, he'd leave this otherworldly individual to be their dorm leader's problem until tomorrow.

"Yuu. . . The shape of thy soul is. . . Pomefi-"

Sorry not sorry, Mister Schoenheit. 

"Ah, no," the Mirror falters. "The shape of thy soul is. . .I. . .I do not know."

. . .what.

Crowley's voice comes exasperated and tinged with desperation. "But you said Pomefiore, did you not?"

". . .I was mistaken. What I saw was not Yuu's soul, but the curses that bind it. I cannot divine the shape or color of their soul itself."

Crowley stares at the Dark Mirror, then at Yuu. "You- Yuu- you're cursed?"

"Yes."

"With what?"

They take a moment to answer. "There are. . .multiple curses. You will need to specify. Also I. . . do not think I have a soul."

Crowley stares and stares and he thinks he might have an aneurysm. "What are you, exactly?"

"A flesh golem," they reply, and Crowley never wants to hear again. 

"A-a what?" he sputters, because flesh golem, what horrific thing is that? Golems are made of stone, not flesh. Where would the material for such an abomination even come from?  "And the curses? What are they?"

"They are enchantments to keep me functioning. I am cursed to be capable of human suffering, to be harmed more than any other, to live on despite the severity of injuries, to always be capable of experiencing pain anew. . ."

This is it, Crowley thinks. He's lost it. He's gone mad, stark raving mad. He's talking to a flesh golem from another world. It's probably some corpse reanimated through dark magic. It nearly shattered the Dark Mirror. It's still rattling off curses ranging from downright cruel and sadistic to mildly inconvenient as if it were some shopping list.

Crowley raises his hand. The golem stops. "This. . .this is unbelievable. . .but the unbelievable has been on parade today. . ."

He looks at what is apparently a flesh golem. It doesn't look particularly horrific. No scars, no scent of rotting flesh. Perhaps paler than normal. . . the eyes are really the only strange part of them.

He sighs for the thousandth time tonight. "This is the first time such a thing happened since I became headmaster. . . it's the first time any headmaster has experienced this, I'm sure. . . what to do. . .ah, what did you have on you when you came here? Do you have any identification, like a license for a magic car, name on a shoe. . . you appear to be empty handed."

It They blink at him. "What is a 'car'?"

 

Chapter Text

"This is concerning, I can't just let some. . . I can't just let you stay at this school. However, I can't just toss you out on the street with nothing to your name or any form of communication either. . ."

"Yes, I suppose being known as the headmaster who summoned a soulless flesh  husk and let it loose upon Twisted Wonderland wouldn't be very good, would it?"

Crowley gives you a look. You return it. He clearly doesn't want you here and you share the sentiment, but right now, not much can be done about it. 

"I can earn my keep," you say. "I am capable of performing hard labor and housework. I can be a test subject for hazardous spells if necessary-"

"What? Test subject? No. No, why would you- why would you even offer such a thing?"

"This is a magicians' academy yes?" You stretch out the arm that the creature had burnt but an hour earlier. You unravel the makeshift bandage, revealing a smooth limb with undamaged flesh.

"Surely, you must have students curious about certain spells, whether there are unintended side effects when cast on organic matter and such. I am cursed to live on despite the severity of injuries and to always be capable of experiencing pain anew. As you can see, I've recovered from the earlier attack. Even my neck is healed, so-"

"No."

"-rest assured, I will be fine-"

"No, Yuu," Crowley straightens up, an odd expression on his face. "You will not- we will not be experimenting on you."

You lower your arm. You don't understand why he's so worked up about it. He must be a sort of magician to run a magical academy, so surely, what you said wasn't that out of place.  

". . .you said you can perform menial labor?"

"Yes, sir."

He extends a gloved hand. "Then these shall be our terms: I will search for a way to return you to your world, and do so when possible. In return, you work as a custodian and handyman, doing odd jobs around the school. Have we a deal?"

You search his features for a lie, but find none. You take his hand in your own, careful of the sharp golden claws.

"We have a deal," you say.

He smiles, looking quite relieved to be done with the matter, and heads for the double doors with his cape flowing behind him. "There is much to discuss, but for now, follow me. There is an unused building on campus. It was once used as a dormitory in the past so if you clean it up, you should at least be able to-"

"Ah good evening  Headmaster! Big Brother sent me to help-"

Crowley slams the door. He opens it again.

"Big Brother sent me to-"

He closes it once more and lets out his deepest sigh yet. 

You angle your head to have a better look at the individual on other side as the headmaster opens the door a third time. You catch sight of flaming hair and a heart-flame as well- an ifrit? Blue flames are exceedingly rare in their kind. Was he royalty then? His eyes are covered by a white visor, and he is wearing a stiff metallic robe of silvery metal as well. . .a priest? An ifrit-priest? He seems to float, and that odd rectangle did say it was sending someone to heal. . .

"I thank you and Idia for your concern, but-"

"Ah, there you are!"

The ifrit brushes past Crowley to smile up at you. He's a small, cheerful thing. . .the fact makes your chest ache, somehow.

"Good evening! I'm Ortho Shroud! Please show me your injury."

You blink at him, at the brightness of his flames and attire. "There is no need, I am-"

He moves closer and you instinctively take a step back. He tilts his head for a moment, confused by your wariness, then-

"Oh- don't worry! I know what I'm doing! My body has cutting-edge medical tools and my data of the necessary procedures is all up-to-date.  So just- huh?"

You've thrust your arm before him. It's as unblemished as it was when you showed Crowley.

"But- the video feed Big Brother showed me- there were third-degree burns and exposed bone!"

". . .I got better," you say.

The ifrit frowns. "Bioscanning subject-"

Crowley pulls you away. "Thank you again, Ortho- you and your brother's initiative to help is commendable- but I will take it from here."

"Bioscan interrupted- ah, but Headmaster-!"

"Ortho Shroud," Crowley says sternly, "Please return to Ignihyde Dorm."

". . .understood," the little ifrit relents, looking rather despondent as he settles down.

. . .your chest aches again.

Crowley is moving along now with you in tow. The ifrit is left behind, standing alone in the doorway of the Mirror Chamber.

"Excuse me, sir," you say, and you break away from Crowley before he can protest. You return to where the ifrit stands, then quickly bow. "I apologize for wasting your time, but thank you for coming. You seem very bright."

He is silent for a moment, then he grins. "That's because of Big Brother! He-"

"Yuu," Crowley calls tiredly from where you've left him.

You bow again, then hurry back to Crowley's side. You see his irritation despite the mask as you two move along at a brisker pace. 

You don't see how Ortho stays rooted where he is for a good while, smiling about how nice you seemed and what a nice friend you'd make for his big brother.

~ ~ ~

"For the time being, I shall allow you to stay here in Ramshackle Dormitory."

With the way Crowley the Headmaster (for now he is your superior, it is best you regard him as such) gestures at the building, one would assume that it were some noble's palace. Instead, you see a rundown structure that looks like it hasn't been touched by a mop in decades. 

The door isn't even locked. When it swings open, you have to shield your eyes from the cloud of dust that rises. The sight that greets you is. . .certainly something.

". . . how charming," you say, because you were raised polite.

"My graciousness is limitless!" he preens. 

You can't tell if he's joking or not, and choose to wander deeper into the dorm.

Dust blankets the place like snow, so much so that you leave a trail of footprints in your wake. It really is a large place, full of more dust cobwebs and broken furniture. The walls are damp and peeling.  The pictures frames are broken and the pictures within them ruined. When you look past all that though. . .there really is a sort of charm to it. It's buried under a hundred layers of grime and neglect, but it is there.

"I'm going back to do more research," the Headmaster calls as he leaves. "Make yourself at home, and don't go wandering around the school."

You hear the door close behind him. 

You look around once more at all the filth and ruin. Was this your first task then? Repairing Ramshackle? 

. . . well, you've dealt with worse. 

Chapter Text

You were examining the upper levels of the building when it began to rain. The roof had holes, and you could hear the unwelcome sound of water dripping onto floors. You wonder how weak the floorboards must be after years of water damage, then pin the thought for later. First things first- minimize the rainwater currently spreading inside. The kitchen should have some empty vessels-

"Fgyaa! It keeps coming! My adorable ear fire is gonna go out at this rate!"

You stop at the foot of the stairwell and peer out behind the corner. The flaming creature from the ceremony is here. You immediately move out of view as you hear it grumble about blind mirrors and stupid collars.

The door's lock must be broken. . .how troublesome. The creature will be an obstacle in your efforts to restore Ramshackle. Should you throw it out, it might wreak havoc upon other buildings and may even injure students. The Headmaster could take that as a violation of your end of the deal and cease his efforts to return you home. 

Your nails dig into your palm. Unacceptable. You have to deal with the creature, and do so quickly. . .

. . .there is a fireplace in the foyer, isn't there? 

~ ~ ~

The night is going terribly.

Grim shakes himself to get the rain off, but his fur's still damp. Ugh, he should be a student by now, lounging in a nice cozy dorm room with a belly full of tuna! Instead he's here, shivering in a nasty, abandoned building. It's not fair! It's that dumb human's fault! Sticking their hand in his mouth and getting burned and making him look bad. . .

Because of them, he got collared like a criminal and thrown out like garbage. Him, the Great Grim! He'll find that student. He'll find 'em and he'll- he'll-!

"Neither your flames, nor your temper," they said. Their eyes- horrible, dead eyes- were cold, uncaring as they stared down at him. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air, and their arm had been turned into an ugly shade of red and black-

Grim shakes his head. No, no! It was their fault for getting so close! If they'd just let him hit them normally-

"GYAAAAAH!"

Something strikes Grim hard and sends him flying. Before he can orient himself, he collides against a wall. The dust clinging to it collapses, blinding him.

Grim hacks as he swipes at his eyes. "H- who dares- oomph!"

Something slams against him, but this time it's. . .soft? A pillow? Why would anyone attack with a pillow?! Just as his vision clears, he sees something large hurtling towards him.

He screams and presses himself flat against the wall, the cushion over his head. He's gonna die, he's gonna die! He braces himself for the impact-

The world around him shakes, sending more dust raining down. Along with with actual rain, because apparently he's under a leak. Great.

Once Grim notices that he is, in fact, not dead, he dares to open his eyes. He is somewhere small, and square, and dark. When he looks up, he can make out a blurry rectangle of light.

"Wh-what the. . .?" His voice is trembling more than he likes. "Where-?"

"You are in the fireplace," comes a voice. 

No, Grim realizes, stomach churning. It isn't just a voice- it's their voice!

"Y-you!" Grim growls, angry and afraid. "You punted me into the fireplace?!"

"Yes," they say, irritatingly calm. "Then I sealed it with a sofa. I advise against igniting it- the fireplace I mean. It's damp from the rain. The smoke will be suffocating, and you'll only tire yourself."

Grim pushes against the furniture blocking his exit with everything he has, but it doesn't even budge. 

"Let me out, let me out!"

"I'm afraid I can't do that. You're far too unpredictable to be set free."

Grim's heart pounds. No. No no no no no, this can't be happening- "So what? You're just gonna keep me here?!"

". . .not permanently. Only until I can contact the Headmaster for further instructions."

"And then what?"

"And then I will execute his orders, whatever they may be."

At those ominous words, Grim looks up. He's in a fireplace, so that's a chimney, right? If he can climb out-

"I also advise against climbing the chimney. Years of neglect have likely covered it with dust. There might be enough ash and debris there to extinguishes your ear flames."

"It's raining!" Grim retorts, looking for a decent clawhold in the stone. His paw comes away caked in grime. "They're gonna be snuffed out anyway!"

"Use the cushion," they suggest. "It's big enough to cover your head."

Grim grumbles but lifts it over himself. He can't believe this. Trapped in a fireplace by a cruel human with nothing but a dusty cushion for protection. . .he paces the small space, grimacing. 

C'mon, c'mon, think! You're a genius destined to become a great magician! This jerk ain't gonna do you in! Huh, why does he hear footsteps-

"Wait! Where are you going?!"

Their voice is a little fainter now. "I will be setting vessels under the leaks to prevent further water damage to the building."

"I'll help!" Grim eagerly shouts. "If you let me out, I'll help!"

There's silence. That must mean they're considering it-

"Thank you for the offer, but I do not require your assistance."

Grim hears their footsteps fade away, and his heart sinks.

~ ~ ~

The rain's stopped. Still, you continue to place bowls and cups on the ground. They'll mark the leaks for later on.

Your mind drifts to the creature as you return to the kitchen to collect more earthenware and porcelain. Grim, wasn't it? What a proud beast. Prouder than it has any right to be. Still, though it lacks control, it is rather intelligent for a monster. So few are capable of speech now, and those that remain are already bound to magicians.

Would the Headmaster allow you to keep it, you wonder. Grim is determined. Anything short of killing the creature will be an invitation for it to return, and it would be a waste to lose such a rare beast for mere spells. If granted entrance on particular conditions, at least then it should be bound by hospitality. . .

Ah, you're getting distracted. And ahead of yourself. The Headmaster is wary of you, and Grim even more so after you've caged him. Besides, your stay here is temporary. Even if you  do manage to tame him, you doubt Grim will consent to following you back to your world. 

What a shame. Grim is a fluffy creature, and she so loves fluffy thing- 

What was that sound?

You bolt upstairs. Another monster? If it entered through one of the highers floor, it likely has wings. You stop by a room to exchange the receptacles in your arms for a sheet from the bed. The fabric is dusty and moth-eaten, but it's better than nothing.

When you reach the fourth floor, you find the bowls and cups have been moved. You find them moving even, floating or sliding across the ground, though that stops shortly after you arrive. You stare at the emptiness. You feel like something stares back.

"Hello?" you call out. "Is anyone there?"

No voice answers, but the furniture shifts a little. The floor creaks. Something seems to shimmer as it passes through one of the water streams from a leak, and you toss the bedsheet over it like a net. 

It flails through the fabric, and the cloths hovers a little too long in the air before settling down.

Oh. Oh, this place is haunted. Well this is troublesome.

"I apologize," you say, hoping you're looking in the right direction. Eye contact, and all that. "But I can't see you. Or hear you, for that matter. Since you seem able to interact with physical objects, I humbly ask that you write. I'd like us to communicate properly."

Everything stills and settles. You're considering continuing on as before and simply ignoring the poltergeists when an arrow is etched into the dust on the wall. Another one appears, then another, and another. A whole trail of them leading off into the dark. 

You glance behind you, at the less-dim-but-still-dark stairway leading back downstairs. The leaks weren't going to fix themselves, and there was still so much to do. . .but it is only right to respect a house's inhabitants, so you turn back to the arrow trail and follow it. 

Chapter Text

The arrows take you to a stairway that leads up to the loft. The place spans the entire fifth floor, and it is full of ancient furniture and antiques.

Things shift a little, dust motes slowing in their descent, perhaps as the ghosts pass by. You can almost make out figures in the faint moonlight. . .but they remain vague and undefined, and when you try to focus your eyes, you lose sight of them completely.

Something is dragged out from the piles and dropped on the floor. You bend down to examine it.

A rectangular board, wooden, with moons and stars etched into the corners. Runes have been stamped out in an arc across its center, and groups of them are placed symmetrically at the sides. Another thing is dropped- a teardrop-shaped piece with an eyehole in the center. . .a planchette? Was this a spirit board?

Old things rustle like triumphant laughter as the planchette moves rapidly over the board. 

H-E-L-L-O, it goes.

You stare at the board, at its strange symbols. 

". . .I'm afraid I've yet to learn this land's writing system."

There's nothing, then the planchette hovering above the ground and is flung out a broken window. The board is lifted up and thrown at you. 

You catch it just in time to feel something- two somethings?- breeze past you, back downstairs. You're left alone in the attic.

You feel a tug on the board. 

Alright, maybe not so alone.

You let it go and it's placed back on the ground. An old nail floats over. After a moment of pause, it taps out N-A-I-L.

The first symbol it tapped is the same as the one beginning the word at the upper right. You think back to spirit boards. From what you know, those groupings at the corners must be YES and NO

"Nail?" you ask. "Is that what you're trying to say?"

It moves to what you assume is YES

"You're teaching me?"

YES.

". . .thank you," you say. You settle down on the ground. Reading is an essential skill, so you can spare some time to understand the basics.

"The spoken language seems similar enough here, so I suppose the alphabet is as good a place to start as any. Could you please show me what letter is aka?. . .no? Oh, the letters must be named differently. The 'ah' sound then, if you please. . ."

~ ~ ~

Crowley doesn't know if golems eat, but he knows that his knowledge of the matter is rudimentary at best and that it certainly doesn't include flesh golems. So, he stops by cafeteria to ask for some heated leftovers before heading on his merry way to Ramshackle with a thermos bag.

Discounting the matter of how the golem threatened him, they seemed rather polite. Even humble enough to apologize where others too proud to admit wrongdoing would have offered compensation alone. Hopefully, they haven't left the building-

"Hmm?"

Crowley looks to the ground where something has just landed after bouncing off of his tophat. He turns it over with his cane, then picks it up by the claws of his glove. . .what was a planchette doing here? There are no students walking around or flying overhead. The nearest building is Ram. . .shackle. . .

Crowley hurries to the dormitory. The door is wide open.

"Yuu?" 

Silence answers him.

"Yuu!" he calls. "Where are you?"

As he enters the foyer, he sees two spectral blobs hovering about the fireplace.

. . .he had forgotten about the ghost problem. Had the golem run out in fear? It seems unlikely, but he doesn't know them well enough to be certain.

"My dear ghosts!" he says. "Have you seen anyone around here recently?"

"We have actually," replies the larger of the two. "They're upstairs."

"In the attic," says the other near-skeletal ghost.

"I see," Crowley says. He's about to head up when he notices how the ghosts seem fixated on the hearth. Now that he looks at it. . .was the sofa always blocking the fireplace like that? 

"What is going on over there?"

The larger ghost laughs. "Your fellow caught something!

Crowley approaches the fireplace and the ghosts back off. He nudges the couch to let him better peer inside-

Something leaps at him through the gap. Crowley nearly screams in surprise as he drops the bag in favor of his whip to bind the something up. The ghosts break out in hysterics.

"Crap!" the thing squirms. "Argh, not again!"

Crowley's eyes narrow in recognition. "You! You're the monster that ran amok during the entrance ceremony! You were thrown out of the school, what are you doing here?!"

"Hey! Let me go, you birdbrain! I'm sick of you and your henchman capturing me!"

"Henchman? Yuu?"

"Hey, who said I was your croney?!"

Crowley tightens the whip when the monster tries to spit embers at him. "Not you you, I'm referring to Yuu!"

"Still not making sense!"

Crowley makes sure the monster's mouth is bound as he keeps it at arm's length like a bindle. 

He turns to the ghosts. "Yuu. Gold eyes, dark hair. They're upstairs?"

They nod, wiping tears from their eyes. Crowley trudges onward and upward. 

It's been a while since he's been in Ramshackle, but the footprints in the dust help guide him along. He almost steps on cups and bowls several times, which he'd be more upset by if he didn't realize that they were only there because of the leaks. And the lights are off everywhere! The dormitory is in a much greater state of disrepair than he thought. . .

By the time he reaches the attic, he's coated in a layer of dust and his hat now bears some fine decorations of genuine spider silk. Maybe a few spiders as well, but he's not going to think about that. He catches Yuu's voice through the door. 

"Your spelling system is ridiculous."

"Tell me about it-"

Crowley pushes the door open.

The scene he comes upon is strangely idyllic. There the golem sits, cross-legged on the ground. Across them is another ghost, much larger than the two downstairs, with a rusty nail in his hand. Moonlight streams through the window, illuminating the two figures and the spirit board between them as silvery specks of dust fill the air.

Yuu blinks, then springs up. "Good evening, Headmaster. I apologize- I didn't realize you were here-"

"What were you doing in the attic to begin with?"

"Teaching them to read," the ghost answers in their stead. 

"With a spirit board?"

The ghost shrugs. "They can't hear me. Or see me. Or the others!"

"What?"

"Headmaster," the golem interrupts. "May I ask why you've taken Grim from the fireplace?"

"Grim?"

"The fire monster."

Right. That. He blinks when he sees it. It seems his trek through Ramshackle has turned the beast into a dust bunny. Its blue eyes narrow and it writhes, managing to free its mouth.

"That's the Great Grim to you!" it snaps, spitting dust with the words. 

"Do you have plans for it?" Yuu asks.

"Who you callin' an it?!"

"Do you have plans for him?" Yuu corrects.

Crowley frees the self-proclaimed greatest magician in the world just long enough for it to realize its freedom before he binds it again, more securely this time. "You sound as though you have your own plans."

The golem's eyes settle on the monster and it actually stills. "I would like to keep him around, sir. He's gotten in twice. If you let him go, he'll just break in again. Of course, you could simply kill him-"

"Mhhm! Mhmmm!" the monster goes, shaking its head as much as it can.

Crowley stifles a chuckle. He didn't think Yuu had it in them to joke.

"Oh?" he says, amused as he plays along. "Kill him ? And however would we deal with the body?"

"You suggested stew earlier," they reply, making Crowley chuckle and the the creature squirm, "but I think it would be more prudent to do the usual procedure for such a creature."

"The usual, you say?"

"Yes. Slit his neck, drain his blood. He can breathe fire, so he must have a flame node. That is valuable, so best to lop the head off at the shoulders as to not accidentally rupture it. Cut him open from neck to tail. Remove the loose muscles, then the intestines. . . "

Crowley's amusement fades at they go on in far-too-graphic detail. The monster's already fainted, limp in its bindings. He lets out a nervous laugh. "My my, Yuu, what an imagination! But that's quite enough- it's not as though you truly plan to eat him-"

"I don't eat," they reply, frowning. "And as I've said, harvesting his organs would be of far better use."

"Better use?"

The golem looks at him as though he asked a question about basic arithmetic "He's a magical creature, so that means magic is diffused throughout his entire body. Every fiber of his being is more valuable as raw material than as mere meat."

The headmaster suddenly wishes that he had thrown the raccoon out before coming up here. "Yuu. . .the monster speaks. It's sapient."

"Which makes his brain all the more valuable, yes?"

Crowley stares.

The golem stares back, completely unperturbed by what it just said.

Crowley feels light-headed. He laughs again. It's painfully forced and uncomfortable. "You. . .you truly are from another world, aren't you?"

"Was that unclear?"

"Not at all!" he says cheerfully. "In any case, we don't. . .we don't do that here, Yuu. Sometimes monster parts are used for potions, yes, but they're always from mindless beasts, and always ethically sourced nowadays."

". . .I see," they say. "In any case, as I've said, I'd rather keep him alive."

"What for?" Crowley asks before instantly regretting what terrible torture methods they were likely to divulge next.

". . .he's fluffy."

Crowley is not prepared for the tonal whiplash that sentence brings. Or for the fact that they seem to smile for the first time since he's seen them. It's a small smile, but it's there nonetheless.

"He's. . .fluffy?" he echoes.

"Yes," they say. "He's also smart enough to speak. Sapient, as you said. Such intelligent creatures are rare in my world. It would be a waste to kill him. Besides, he may prove useful yet for all the vermin certainly running about."

"You want to make a mouser of him?"

"Not necessarily. I just think he'll make interesting company. And having Grim around Ramshackle is better than letting him repeatedly break in and wander with no supervision, yes?"

" . . yes?"

"You agree sir? Then, may I?"

Crowley doesn't know if he nods. He doesn't know what he's consenting to. Whatever the case, the golem's untangled the monster from the whip. They lift it- him? Grim?- they've taken Grim into their arms with much more care than he expects from the same being that had thrown him so easily earlier. They look at the monster softly, as if they hadn't casually talked about eviscerating it just moments ago. . .

Then they turn their eyes back to him, expression blank once more.

"May I ask why you came here, Headmaster?"

Crowley blinks. Shakes his head. Snaps out of it. He dramatically places a hand against his chest. "I so graciously brought you dinner, but as you don't eat, it seems it will all to go waste!"

"Not at all," they say. "I'll feed it to Grim. Shall we head downstairs, then?"

 

Chapter Text

They're halfway to the ground floor when Yuu speaks up.

"Excuse me, sir, but we didn't leave anyone upstairs, did we?"

"Come again?"

"The specter," they say. "They were teaching me the alphabet in the attic. I'm afraid I forgot all about them."

"The ghost left during our conversation," Crowley replies. "Speaking of which. . . the ghost said you couldn't see him?"

"No. I'm afraid I couldn't hear him either. It was same with the other spirits, assuming there were other spirits. . .will that be an issue? My inability to perceive specters?"

Crowley hums. "Night Raven College is partially staffed by ghosts. . .but so long as I inform them of this beforehand, there shouldn't be too many conflicts."

"I see."

Back on the first floor, Crowley picks up the fallen thermal bag from the hearth as the golem sets Grim upon the upright couch in the room. He may just be seeing things the dark, but the way they look at the beast is. . . oddly childlike.

Their head turns to him as he approaches. He hands them the bag, and they take it in both hands.

"I'll be back in the morning," he tells them. "Be sure to keep an eye on Grim."

"I will. Good night, sir."

Just before Crowley leaves, he stops by the light switch near the door. He's rather sure he asked that Ramshackle's power be turned on-

No sooner does he flick the switch than he hears a commotion in the foyer.

"Yuu?" He rushes over. "What-?"

They're glancing wildly around themself, eyes wide, hands raised, and knives -where did those knives come from?- glinting in their fingers. 

They look at him, alarmed, accusatory even, but their voice is steady when they speak. "Headmaster, what is-!" 

"It's just the lights, Yuu," he says, bewildered.

They still look frantic.

"It's just the lights," he says again. "It was dark, so I turned them on."

"An enchantment?" 

"No, it's. . .it's electricity."

"Elec. . .tricity?"

Crowley frowns. "Lightning. You're familiar with lightning?"

They nod hesitantly, lowering their blades.

"It uses lightning."

They raise their eyes to the ceiling. They stare at fixtures unblinkingly, brows furrowed. Long past when most people's eyes would start tearing up from the pain, their gaze shifts and settles on the unconcious monster on the couch. Grim turns over, but doesn't awaken.

Crowley's fingers drum the grip of his cane. "You don't have electric lights in your world?"

"No it's. . .fire, mostly. Torches and candles. Magical chandeliers and fairy lights, for those who can afford it. We don't have-" they gesture overhead.

"Well, you do now," Crowley says, swallowing his concern with a smile. "See this switch? This is how you operate it. Close, open. Off, and on again! Just turn it off if you don't plan to use it. It's not dangerous as long as the bulbs don't blacken or flicker. If they do, just close the lights and inform the-" they can't see ghosts "-inform me, alright?"

". . .alright."

They still look a little lost, but at least they're calm now.

"Will you be fine?" he asks.

"I. . .think so, yes."

"Then I'll take my leave."

They follow him to the door. "Thank you, sir. I apologize for keeping you so late."

"Think nothing of it," Crowley says, smiling still as he exits. "Am I not gracious?"

. . .the smile dies when Ramshackle's door closes behind him. Crowley heads back to his office with furrowed brows beneath his mask.

They didn't know what a car was. They didn't even know what electricity was. What else do they not know? He thinks about how easily they offered to be used as a guinea pig, how indifferently they spoke of disemboweling a thinking creature. . .

Just what kind of world had Yuu come from?

~ ~ ~

The bag the headmaster handed you feels warm and quilted. It must be valuable. You turn it around in the light (electric light, lightning in bottles, tamed and brilliant), wondering how to open it. Certainly, the Headmaster didn't intend for you to pierce it open. . .? 

Your fingers catch a metal tag. You pull it along the metal trail along the top of the box and find a lid separating from the body. The bag is warmer inside than it is outside, and it is lined with foil. You wonder for a moment, if it is charmed, then realize its thick walls must be keeping the heat in the way quilts and coats do. Interesting.

As you examine the containers of food that seem to be made of clear resin (what extravagance),  the creature beside you stirs. He must be hungry. You wait for him to awake on his own. 

Grim's nose twitches. His eyes slide open, drowsy and unfocused. ". . .hngng. . .food. . .?"

"The Headmaster brought dinner," you say.

He hums as he rises, stretching as he turns to you-

His eyes snap wide open and he quite literally jumps off the couch. He lands on the floor and makes for the door-

Only for you to lift him by the back of his neck.

"Calm down."

"Calm down?! You want me to calm down while you skin me and take my guts and-!"

"I said that I prefer you alive." 

Your words do little to console him. He wails and flails and scratches your arm. You're perfectly fine waiting for him to tire himself out like that when he remembers he can breathe fire and starts to do so. It doesn't spread too far, most of the embers dissipating in the air or upon your skin, but you find yourself thankful that everything's a little damp from the rain.

"Do stop, you might burn the place down like this."

"Shut up!" he shouts. "Don't try to give me orders!"

"Please do calm down. I don't plan on harming you."

He struggle continues as you walk back to the couch, squirming Grim in hand. He's a determined thing. Perhaps a show of faith?

You release him atop the sofa. He bounces upon it, blinking at his sudden freedom. You sit on the other end of the couch, the food bag between you two.

"You can't leave the building," you say. "The Headmaster allowed you to stay because I asked for it. If you leave and he catches you causing trouble, punishment will be upon both of us. I do not know if I can help you again, should such an event transpire."

He looks at you, still wary. . . then his stomach growls. His ear fire flashes up a little.

You gesture at the open bag. "The Headmaster brought food. He intended it for me, so I doubt it's poisoned. Have as much as you like."

Grim's gaze flickers between you and the bag, then he snatches up a container with a leg of poultry and retreats to the furthest corner of the couch. He struggles with it, squirming, body even turning upside-down as he tries to pry it open.

He stiffens as you reach over. You merely remove the lid and retract your arm. He blinks at you before devouring the drumstick, muttering something about tuna.

"What is tuna?" you ask.

He stops gnawing his fare to give you a dirty look. 

"Tuna's tuna," he says incredulously. "It's the best fish in the world! How dumb are ya?"

"I apologize," you say, looking him in the eyes. "I am unfamiliar with. . .many things here, in this world. If possible, I will bring you tuna in the future."

Grim turns back to his food. "You better," he grumbles. 

When he grabs a container of some type of mash, you open it for him. The same goes for everything else. He eats and eats. You watch him, doing for him what he cannot without opposable thumbs. 

He's rather dusty, you think. He didn't seem to like water. Would he consent to being brushed instead?

By the time Grim's finished everything, he's no longer scrunched up in the corner of the sofa but sitting in the middle of the seat cushion.

"So," he says. "What's the deal with you?"

"Pardon?"

He rises up, paws on his hips. "You give me your clothes, you ruin my grand entrance, you kick me into a fireplace, you tell that birdbrain that you'll gut me-"

"I was speaking hypothetically."

"-you won't let me leave, and now you're feeding me! So, Yuu, what's your play?"

"My. . .'play'?"

"Yeah! You better not be messing with me- I'll have you know the Great Grim is gonna be the world's greatest magician, ya hear?"

You find that to be a rather morbid wish, then you remember how the Headmaster stated that monster entrails weren't commonly used here. Perhaps he wouldn't need to slaughter hundreds of his kin to attain such a title then. . .oh, he's still waiting for an answer. 

"I simply thought your death would be a waste-"

"Hah! Even the dumb human recognizes my talent!"he preens.

"-since you are a talking monster, and creatures that can speak are rare."

Grim huffs, forked tail lashing angrily behind him. "Well if you're gonna make me some pet, forget about it!"

"I do not mean to tame you," you say. "I simply need to keep an eye on you so you don't cause trouble. You seem hellbent on trespassing no matter what is done to you. If you stay with me at least, you'll be allowed to remain on the campus. "

". . .think you can get your boss to make me a student?" he asks hopefully. 

"If by boss, you mean Headmaster Crowley, I'm afraid you misunderstand our relationship. He and I are merely under an agreement where I am a temporary custodian and handyman until he sends me back to my world."

He tilts his head. "Your world?"

"Yes. Tellusaire. Have you heard of it?"

"Nope! Well, if you're just a janitor. . . " Grim sighs, flopping backwards onto the couch. "You can't really help me be a great magician, can ya?" 

"If you are that intent on it. . .I'm certain I passed by a large library on the way here. I can ask the Headmaster for permission to use its resources for research. You can use it to educate yourself in the meantime, since you'll have to stay near me. If that is insufficient, I can ask around for students willing to tutor you."

He perks up considerably. "You'd do that? Really?" 

. . .his face is rather adorable when there's no smugness or malice to it. She'd like him very much.

"If it keeps you out of trouble, yes."

He grins. "Just wait and see! When I become the greatest magician ever, I'll make sure to reward you, henchman!"

"Henchman?" 

Grim doesn't seem to hear you, too excited as he waves his paws around, describing how awesome he's gonna become in the future and how grateful you'll be to have helped him out. He's gonna learn a lot of awesome spells, see? Spells that go BANG! and BOOM! and other cool stuff! He's gonna go down in history!

You pick up the trash and containers from dinner, watching him out of the corner of your eye. 

He truly is fluffy thing. Alas, his thick fur has made him quite dusty. You really must ask if you can groom him later. . .

Chapter Text

"Hey. . . have. . .help. . . school?"

Grim groans and turns over, paws over his face. "Unnnn. . . mmnya. . . Five more minutes. . ."

"Laze about too long and you'll never wake up!"

"Just like us! Eee heehee!"

The laughter jolts Grim awake.

"Ffgya!? It's you ghosts again! Hey Yuu, wake- huh?"

He is alone on the bed, not sign of Yuu anywhere. Useless henchman. Well, no matter, the Great Grim can handle this on his own!

Before he can attack though, the larger ghost floats through the ceiling. "Better get downstairs!

"Your hardworking friend's down there already!" adds the other as he fades away.

Grim shakes an angry paw at them. "I'll get rid of you eventually!"

He thinks he hears their mocking laughter in the not-so-distant distance. It grates on his nerves.

Grim plops back down on the bed and takes a moment to remember last night's events. 

After dinner, the human (were they human?) had insisted on getting him clean, and Grim sorely regretted telling them that he could, in fact, come into contact with water without dying. After hearing that, they had set to convincing him to bathe, and they were annoyingly persuasive.

It will feel like a massage, they said. 

You'll look so handsome and presentable when clean, they said. 

If you stay as you are, you may inhale too much dust and it may pile up in your lungs and cause irreversible damage, they said. 

The ghosts that had been more than happy to laugh at him in the fireplace were quite willing to bring over toiletries and brushes to see him struggle in a washbasin as Yuu scrubbed the dirt out.

Grim hated the water, hated how it clung to his skin, hated how Yuu held him down, presentation and lung damage be damned, he was not sitting still for this torture-!

But then they pulled the guilt card.

"Won't you please stay still?" they sighed. "You'll strain my arm."

"You're arm's fine!" he yowled, water splashing as he tried to jump out once more.

"That doesn't mean it didn't hurt."

He had clammed up after that, sullenly letting them have their way. At least they were careful to avoid his ears. . .

They left him clean and brushed on the bed of the cleanest room they could find after changing the sheets for less holey ones. Exhausted from the day and the bath, Grim fell snugly asleep.

Grim glances around himself. Last night's room may have been the neatest they could find, but it had still been coated in filth. This place is more bare, but the floor and walls are spotless. Did they move him in his sleep?

He leaves the bed and jumps to turn the polished doorknob. The same dusty hallway from last night greets him, though old paintings and furniture line the floors and lean against the walls. He heads down the stairs to find the furniture also shifted around. 

"Good morning, Great Grim."

"Morning?" 

Yuu's sitting in the rocking chair, looking rather like some old granny as they stitch and sew a round cushion. "The Headmaster already came by. He brought food and instructions. He also gave us permission to use the library, so we can head there later after today's tasks are accomplished."

"Uh, okay. . .?"

Grim pads over to the table, rushing once he realizes what's upon it. Beside a wooden board is a heaven-sent can of tuna. He almost dives for it when he sees Yuu pick it up, but they merely open the can before handing it to him.

"You've been busy," he notes.

"Yes," they say as he digs in. "The first floor has been cleaned. I will need to examine the furniture later and see what can be repaired. I've mended some sheets as well. There aren't many that can be salvaged, so I will have to find some way to repurpose them- ah, but the kitchen is clean. The icebox is working. We can start storing food-"

"You didn't sleep?" Grim asks. It's not concern. The Great Grim just doesn't want his first henchman to drop dead from exhaustion, is all.

"No," they reply. "There are too many things to do. Besides, I don't require it."

"You don't-?"

"I'm a golem. I'm sustained through other means. Are you done? Good, I am as well. I apologize in advance."

"Wait, h-hey!"

Grim finds himself tucked under an arm. One hand's holding the cushion as the other picks up the empty tuna can. They pass by the kitchen to toss the can in a bin then walk out the door.

They turn around and bow at the empty entrance. "Thank you again for your help earlier."

"The ghosts aren't there, y'know." 

"I can't see specters. I thought it best to be polite."

They lock the door behind them, place the cushion in a large wicker basket sitting on the porch, then set Grim upon the cushion in the basket. By the time Grim realizes what's happening, they're already moving.

"Hey!" he protests, though the basket and pillow are surprisingly comfortable, "I'm not your pet!"

They glance down at him. "Considering how late you slept last night, I thought you might be tired. Do you want to be let down?"

Grim gives them a look, but settles. ". . .nah, you're already carrying me anyway. I'll just let you have the honor, henchman!"

They make a breathy sound. Grim thinks it might have been a singular laugh, but they're silent and looking straight ahead now, so he can't tell.

"I'll make sure not to drop you, oh Great Grim."

~ ~ ~

You stop only once on the way to Main Street, and only to pick up supplies from a shed by the botanical garden. (The garden is a great glass dome glittering in the morning sun. You must ask if you may tend it later. Perhaps you'll find temida root there. Perhaps in its glass, you'll catch a glimpse of the figures trailing you too).

You set Grim's basket down as gently as possible by the shade of a statue, but he still startles awake. He peeps at you beneath the campus map the Headmaster gave this morning. You'll bring him a proper cover from the sun next time. There was a large hat in the attic, wasn't there?

"We here?" Grim asks.

"Yes. I will be cleaning the street from the main gate to the library. I will not ask you to help me, but I do ask that you behave yourself."

He leaps out of the basket though, ignoring you completely. "Ooh, amazing! So this is Main Street?"

As he excitedly prances about, you fold the map and tuck it into your pocket. You suppose if he's so taken with them, you can start with the sculptures. They're well cared for, marble gleaming bright under the sun, but there are rain tracks left from the shower last night. Best to wash them off before they accumulate into bigger stains.

"I didn't get a good look yesterday, but what's with these statues? All seven of them look pretty scary!"

To you, they look oddly proportioned and somewhat malformed. Perhaps they're stylized? As you examine their pedestals, the scrolls carved out of stone and the texts beneath them, a thought strikes you.

"Great Grim?"

"Yeah, henchman?"

"Can you read?"

He glances back at you, blinking. "Er, of course I can read! Who doesn't know how to read? Of course a great magician like me can read. . ." 

He looks away as he speaks. He grins too wide. His tail flicks nervously, the biggest tell of all.

"If you are so curious," you say, gesturing at the statues' engravings. "There appear to be inscriptions here."

"Why don't you read them out?" he suggests instead, because of course expecting the monster to know the written language is too much. It seems your hopes of literacy still hinge on Mister Ka-eh-sar. . .

"I can't," you tell him. "I'm still learning the alphabet."

"Consider it practice!" He walks towards the statue of a scepter-wielding woman with roses at her feet. He looks at the pedestal for a moment, nodding to himself. "I'll just tell ya if you're wrong. You can't be that bad, right?"

"If you insist. . ." You peer at the arc of words scrawled upon the stone scroll. . .

"T'heh ku-eh-ehn of-"

"The heck is that?!" 

You frown at Grim, (at the snickers you hear in the distance too, what terrible spies). 

"I told you I'm still learning. I don't understand this place's spelling. We don't have double letters in my world, or silent ones. At least, we haven't since the common writing system was overhauled a century a. . .go. . ."

"You sure your teacher ain't a scam?"

A slight breeze makes the greenery gently sway around you, but the wind's sharp against your skin. You resist the urge to pick Grim up and run. 

Grim's looking at you. He asked a question. You need to reply.

"Frankly, I think he said there were three separate letters with the 'kh' sound, so he may very well be playing a trick on me."

You pretend to scratch your neck, surreptitiously wiping away blood from an already-healing cut there as you speak, as you casually move to the statue furthest down the street. Did Grim see the wound? Did they see it? Was the Headmaster testing you? 

Keep talking, keep moving. Don't let them notice that you've noticed.

"In any case, oh Great Grim, what does it say?"

The shrubbery continues to rustle ever-so-slightly in the wind. You catch sight of red amidst the green. There.

Grim turns his nose up in the corner of your vision, still avoiding eye contact as he waves dismissive paw. "It's just a snobby-looking granny-"

"Hey, that's the Queen of Hearts you're-!"

thunk

A knife sinks into the wood, pinning a figure to the nearby tree. His eyes dart to the blade so close their flesh, then to you.

"Good day," you say. You make sure to lock gazes with the eavesdropper. "I apologize for ruining your jacket, but may I ask what you're doing here?"