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Together, We Stand

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At the age of seven winters, Victor Nikiforov discovered he had a gift while playing with his stuffed dog in the living room of their timber cottage on the edge of the village. Victor had played for hours inside due to the rain and found himself missing his friends, the other village children that would play tag and chase games with him. He simply stared at the toy for what seemed like hours and made a wish.

 

“I miss my friends... I wish I had a friend that I could play with even when it's raining.”

 

With the flicker of the candles in his room and the odd glow of light around Victor's beloved toy, the toy shifted and began to move. Astonished and open-mouthed, Victor watches as his toy now moves and gives him a playful bark. He cautiously offers his hand to the cute creature, receiving a very wet lick from a very real tongue. His toy had become flesh and blood from his wish.

 

“Y-You're alive, Makkachin!” Victor exclaims with glee and is then floored again when he receives a response back telepathically.

 

“Of course I am, Vitya! You wished and I arrived!” Makkachin also barks, as if to accentuate that point.

 

Excited, Victor picks up Makkachin and rushes to find his mother. He finds her in her knitting room, busy creating a sweater for the upcoming cold weather expected. She gazes up as he runs in.

 

“Oh Vitya, what's the matter?” She asks.

 

“Mama, look!” Victor holds up the puppy in his hands, smiling joyfully. “He's alive! I made a wish and it came true!”

 

His mother's eyes go wide with horror and she drops her stitch work. She stands and approaches carefully. Victor feels his stomach sink to see his mother's demeanor change so much, tense as he feels that maybe he shouldn't have told his mother.

 

Her words are careful as she gets on a knee in front of him and inspects the puppy in his hands; Victor doesn't dare move, “Vitya... You made a wish and this happened?”

 

“Y-yes, Mama.” He responds softly, scared he's in trouble somehow. “The candles went weird and Makkachin transformed in front of my eyes.”

 

Her eyes widen a bit and then soften as she stands, almost disappointed as she responds, “Victor, Mama is going to go to the village and get the nice man from the apothecary to talk to you. He'll know what to do. Whatever you do, don't leave this house while I'm gone.”

 

Victor simply nods and watches as his mother gets on a coat and rushes out of the house. He's left watching her leave with his new friend whining in his arms.

 

 

At the age of nine winters, Victor has been studying how to control his power under Yakov. Yakov is a secret wizard that runs the village apothecary. People have suspected he's a wizard but never have pushed the issue over the fact that he's single-handedly saved Peterov Village from plagues and deadly diseases with his herbal potions. Victor remembers he was dying from a nasty plague when he was five winters old and luckily recovered thanks to the kind man's nasty tasting potion.

 

Right now, Victor is having rocks thrown at him by his teacher in the middle of the Clover Mountain forest and the goal is to develop a fast enough reaction time to block the rocks from hitting him with an energy shield. Doing this also helps him control exactly how much energy he puts into the spell.

 

However, he is repeatedly unsuccessful as the rocks proceed to nail him over and over. Victor is too slow every time. Unfortunately, he's hit in the face and is knocked to the ground into the dead leaves. Victor whimpers in pain and Makkachin runs over to lick off the tears and the bruise developing on his cheek.

 

Yakov sighs and lectures, “Come on, get up. You can do it if you keep trying.”

 

Victor spits out bitterly, “This is pointless!” He sits up and hugs Makkachin, “I'm never gonna be able to do it fast enough to be useful! There's no point to learning this self-defense stuff, why can't we go back to the apothecary and keep learning about potions? At least potions are useful magic!”

 

Yakov grits his teeth and forces Victor his feet with magic, causing the boy and his dog familiar to yelp.

 

Yakov lectures further, “That's not enough if you can't protect yourself from attackers! What will you do if the village finds out you're a wizard and decides to put you to death? What if the Night Riders find you after sunset and kidnap you? If you can't defend yourself, my teaching you healing magic will be pointless as well! Before you can help others, you must be able to help yourself! Let's not forget the danger of the Black Dragon as well. That damned beast could come back at anytime to make havoc on our village once again...”

 

Gritting his teeth and regaining his balance, Victor stares at the shadowy soil below him with enough knowledge to understand that Yakov is right. Being a magician is a crime worthy of death, the reasoning being that the ruler of the land is a Dark Witch who sends out her Night Riders to steal children who venture out after the sun sets and kill adults who don't get indoors fast enough.

 

Over the past couple of seasons, Victor has learned the truth from Yakov of how cruel a world they live in. Decades ago, a Dark Witch killed the royal family that once controlled their kingdom and cast darkness over the land. The people started being killed off for defiance and forced to hide at night in their homes from the headless suits of armor on horseback known as the Night Riders. Children were taken and no one knows exactly what happens to them. Some guess they're eaten by the witch, or turned into more Night Riders for her to use at her beck and call, but no one knows for sure. Regardless, the people now consider all magicians to be evil and believe they must be eradicated. Magicians must keep their craft a secret and blend in among the civilians.

 

The Black Dragon is considered the Dark Witch's creation. Every few years to a decade, the creature the size of a cottage comes and destroys structures, kills livestock and attacks citizens. The beast has never arrived during Victor's lifetime, yet, but is taught to be feared from the stories his mother and teachers re-tell of it's destruction.

 

The point is, Victor understands Yakov is right about him needing to learn defense magic. Without it, he could die very young- a fate common of a magician in these dark times. Although, he can't seem to master any of the defense spells like he can the potions and charms taught to him at the apothecary. Yakov sighs and walks over to pat him on the shoulder.

 

“I know you're young, and you never asked to be born with these powers, but I believe you can grow into a powerful wizard that can keep your fellow man safe as well as yourself. That's why I'm always going to be hard on you.” Yakov attempts to comfort him, unsure how to.

 

Luckily, Victor smiles and offers, “Well, I won't give up. If it means I can help you care for people, I'll keep trying.”

 

With a snort, Yakov ruffles Victor's long hair and walks back over to the pile of rocks he was throwing before. Victor pouts and fixes his hair into a ponytail with a new determination.

 

“Bring it, old man- OW!” Victor shouts and it quickly hit in the shoulder by a decent sized rock.

 

Later that afternoon, Victor nervously has to explain to his mother why he's covered in bruises and dirt. He has never seen such rage and concern in his mother ever as she storms her way to the apothecary with him in tow and lectures Yakov to be gentler with her son.

 

 

At the age of twelve winters, after he helps Yakov and Lillia deliver a baby, Victor discovers what he wants to be when he grows up

 

It's early spring in the very late afternoon when a heavily pregnant woman with blond hair wanders into the apothecary with a look of pain on her face. Victor is working the front counter and greets her, “Welcome, how can I help you?”

 

She shakily says, “Young man, could you please get Lillia? Tell her that Miss Plisetsky is here and it's an emergency.”

 

With some confusion and then sudden realization, he stumbles through his words, “O-One minute!”

Victor rushes into the back room to the store room where Lillia is organizing herbs. She gives him a puzzled expression.

“Lillia... Miss Plisetsky is here and she seems to be in labor.” Victor is mildly panicking because he's never been in this situation before.

Lillia sighs and replies, “First of all, calm yourself and get Yakov. I'll tend to her. Get a pain reliever ready. Deep breaths, you're going to be fine.”

With a nod, Victor goes to the kitchen, which doubles as the lab where Yakov makes his potions and medicines. Before Yakov can question why he's there, Victor quickly recounts what he said to Lillia. The look of panic in Yakov's gaze is one Victor is sure he'll never forget. Yakov rushes out to the front room and there's a brief argument between the couple that Victor can't quite hear but it seems they're guiding Miss Plisetsky to the spare bedroom and getting her comfortable.

Remembering what he's supposed to do when Makkachin arrives back at his side, Victor goes into thelab and starts brewing up a pain-relieving potion as Lillia asked. It's too late for Victor to walk home, the sun setting, so he might as well spend the night and help his teachers attend to the woman in labor. Three hours go by as Victor puts all his focus and magic into the task of making the potion; Makkachin often helps him by grabbing him the herb jars off the counter that he needs.

Just as the mixture finishes brewing and is starting to cool, Lillia's timing is impeccable as she calls out to him, “Nikiforov, get that mixture in here in immediately!”

“Just a minute!” Victor calls back, bottling the potion and speed-walking to the location of Lillia's voice.

Upon entering the room, Victor can see it's controlled chaos; Lillia is doing her best to keep a panting and crying Miss Plisetsky calm, and it seems Yakov has fainted, splayed on the floor. When Victor glimpses at where Lillia is positioned, he quickly looks away because now he can see why Yakov fainted. He feels mentally scarred, and now has a reason to never have a woman bear his children.

Lillia yanks the bottle from his hand and guides him to sit by Miss Plisetsky and hold her hand, “Oh, just sit here! My gods, you men are useless. I always have to do this myself...”

That makes Miss Plisetsky half-way chuckle but is soon crying again and squeezing Victor's hand. Victor stays quiet and offers to wipe sweat from her brow after picking up a rag from the nightstand; Miss Plisetsky allows him to do so as she's watching Lillia carefully pour the potion into a cup easier to sip from. On the other side of the bed, Makkachin tries to be comforting by letting the woman pet their head.

Miss Plisetsky sips the awful tasting concoction from the small cup, making a disgusted face as she swallows it with faith that it will help with the pain. It doesn't take long for her to relax, and Lillia smiles. Victor feels some satisfaction in seeing his medicine actually work before his eyes.

More hours pass and Miss Plisetsky is ready to push. Comically, Yakov is still passed out. Lillia offers to Victor to leave for another room if he so desires. He isn't sure why but he stays to help, still holding the woman's hand as Lillia instructs her to push.

Within minutes, there's the sound of a baby crying and Miss Plisetsky exhausted as she can relax fully. In a haze, Victor vaguely remembers he helped Lillia get towels and water but he kind of let his mind go blank until she lightly smacks him upside his head.

“Go to bed. I'll handle everything from here.” Lillia exclaims.

Victor does exactly that, falling asleep on the couch of the upstairs living area and letting his mind rest.

In the morning, Lillia has fixed everyone a light breakfast of fresh rolls of bread. Surprisingly, Miss Plisetsky joins them at the table for breakfast. She has her baby, a boy, in one arm as she uses the other to feed herself bread.

Victor stuffs his face with bread once he's seated at the table. He notices Miss Plisetsky's gaze on him but doesn't react until she speaks to him.

“Thank you for the pain relieving potion. If it weren't for you, I don't think I would have been able to bring my little Yuri here into this world so easily.” She thanks him.

Victor is a bit surprised but shyly replies, “No problem, ma'am.”

Lillia agrees with Miss Plisetsky, “You did well, Victor. My husband has taught you well.”

Yakov sighs with his agreement, “If Victor wasn't there, things could have gone a lot worse... Victor, today we're going to do our final lessons on protection charms.”

Victor looks scandalized. Wasn't Miss Plisetsky non-magical, unlike them? If so, they’d just exposed themselves!

Miss Plisetsky adds, “Protection charms? I remember taking lessons about those, but could never master it as a child.”

Oh, so she's a witch. Victor breathes a sigh of relief. Yakov makes a 'tsk' sound and continues, “Vitya has them almost mastered, he just needs to make one that actually does what it's meant to do.”

Victor rolls his eyes with the comeback, “Not all my practice charms were failures.”

“Out of the five you made, only two actually worked. Even then, they were too sensitive to threats. One of them discharged prematurely because a shadow startled me in the night.” Lillia comments, a bit bitterly.

Victor crosses his arms and defends himself weakly, “I tried, okay? I just need practice...”

Miss Plisetsky offers, “You could practice by making me one for my journey back home to Kapita.” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a scarlet, knitted bracelet before she continues, “My father made this for me, perhaps you could use it for practice?”

Lillia and Yakov watch Victor, waiting for his response to the question. Considering how dangerous the trek from Kapita to here in Peterov Village can be, Victor finds himself thinking it's worth a try. It's better to make a charm that can only be used once than risk a twelve-hour journey through the Dark Witch's Forest without any protection. Victor nods and holds out his hand to take the bracelet from her.

Victor closes his eyes once the bracelet is in his hand and focuses on the object, remembering what he did last time for the successful charms- except with a less sensitive energy. The key to spells is visualization and the casters' intent. Last time, his intent was too chaotic. It triggered at the slightest sign of fear. This time, he visualizes a blue aura inside the bracelet that is ever vigilant and wise. An aura that can discern between friend and foe, with no failure.

Most importantly, he has a mental phrase that accompanies the spell. As long as the charm has a wearer, it will protect without discrimination.

When Victor opens his eyes, he feels abnormally drained and opens his hand, anxious to see the results. His face drops when he sees that the once scarlet bracelet is now azure. Lillia shakes her head in disappointment, and Yakov sighs, unsurprised. Victor hands the bracelet back, disappointed in the unexpected outcome.

Miss Plisetsky examines the bracelet and says, “I actually like the blue color better. Thank you, young man.”

Victor blinks in surprise and watches her slip the bracelet onto her dainty wrist. She manages to balance her child back into a comfortable position in her arms. She gives Victor a smile and stands before continuing, “I should leave now. Thank you for everything. Is there anyway I can repay you?”

Lillia answers, “Your father is a merchant. Would it be possible for you to get us some orders of wolf's bane and yarrow? The herbs have yet to start growing on Clover Mountain, and we risk an outbreak of plague now Spring has arrived.”

Yakov agrees, “Indeed. There is extra danger at this time of year, especially for the children.”

Miss Plisetsky nods with her reply, “I will. I'm sure my father will be more than willing.”

Almost as quickly as she arrived, she leaves with her baby and the protection charm. Yakov and Victor stand at the front door and watch her make her way on foot. She heads towards the crossroads leading into the Witch's Forest. In the distance, barren trees and a deathly aura awaits her.

Several moments pass before Victor makes a declaration. “Yakov, I want to take over the apothecary when you retire.”

With a shocked glance, Yakov sputters, “W-what!? What made you decide that?”

Victor smiles gently, “I want to dedicate my life to helping others. I know I have a long ways to go, but I think that's my calling in life as a wizard.”

Yakov's gaze softens as he considers it, and then he comments, “That's a noble cause, and if that's the case, I believe in you- oof!”

Yakov didn't expect to be hugged so tightly by his student- or to be tackled by Makkachin in the excitement.

 

 

At the age of fifteen winters, Victor has a dangerous encounter with the Night Riders and his life starts to take a turn for the worse.

Victor is playing with his hair at the counter of the apothecary as he chats with a couple of girls his age who had stopped by for skin cream. It's almost sunset and he's trying to hurry them out the door so he close up shop and can go home.

“I hope the cream helps you with your skin tone- although, it’s not like you don't already look lovely.” Victor calls after them and they giggle and call back their thanks before leaving.

Once they're out the door, Victor relaxes and gives Makkachin some head pats. He mutters, “My gods, why did they take so long to leave? Why stick around and chat?”

“How dense can you get, Vitya? Of course those girls stayed longer. Any girl your age would want to talk to such a handsome young man.” Lillia comments from across the room from where she's stocking dried ginger root onto the shelves.

Confused by the compliment, Victor counters, “Handsome? I don't see how.”

Rolling her eyes and turning to face him, Lillia adds, “Oh, look at yourself. Icy blue eyes, gorgeous, long platinum hair and flawless skin. You're the man these girls are looking for as husband material. Damn, I see that even some of the boys are starting to covet you. You'll be sixteen winters shortly after the winter solstice; you'll be considered a man in this village.”

Victor has a small blush appear on his cheeks after being made aware some new information. He knows that this winter he'll be considered a man but he certainly doesn't feel like he is. As for being looked at as a suitor for marriage by others his age, he certainly isn't interested in the idea of being married so soon as his friends may be. How can he think of marriage or even a lover when he is so focused on perfecting his craft?

Regardless, Victor groans and complains, “I still don't see what's so attractive about me. Looks mean nothing when you spend your time making creams for sores or potions for incontinence.”

Lillia shrugs and makes the point, “You'd be surprised what people will overlook in a person just because they look attractive.” She looks out the window and adds hurriedly, “Get home. The sun is almost down.”

Victor obeys, shouting his goodbyes to Yakov and making the trek home. As he's walking down the trails leading to his mother's cottage, he notices the sun seems to be setting faster than he recalls. As it gets darker, the crunch of leaves under his feet seems to grow louder. He knows he should not be outside after dark, and the growing shadows give him an odd feeling in his gut.

 

The trees seem larger and more ominous than he remembers due to the shadows. Fear starts to set in as it gets so dark that he can barely see more than two feet in front of him. At this point, Makkachin is leading the way as Victor holds tightly to the fur on their back, and he doesn't dare use magic for light when he's only a half-mile from his home.

For the first time in years, he receives a quick response of comfort telepathically from his familiar, “It's okay, Vitya. We're fine.”

This is bad. He's never been outside at night before, and if Makkachin wasn't with him he would be panicking. Every little sound bristles his nerves. Crickets and even his own footsteps are making him anxious.

Makkachin stops suddenly, Victor bumping into them. His stomach tightens as Makkachin starts to growl. He shushes them, and they slowly go forward. It seems they're out of the forest and are among a number of cottages, very close to home. What makes Victor stop in his tracks from approaching further is a wet, chopping sound... and then he can see from the glow of house lanterns the cause of it.

Even in the low light, the outline of the towering, headless suit of armor on top of a completely black steed is unmistakable. There's three of them surrounding a body lying on the ground. One of them has a halberd and is making rhythmic chops into the corpse on the ground. Victor freezes in place as he sees the body’s long, platinum hair.

As if sensing that Victor is about to make an idiotic decision, Makkachin bites into this clothes and pulls Victor away from the scene towards home only yards from them. The sound of Victor yelping as he's forced to run with Makkachin is what alerts the Night Riders from their toying with the body. Horses cry out as their riders force them into a gallop after them. Victor gets inside his home with Makkachin and slams the door shut, locking it firmly and collapsing to the floor. Makkachin whines and licks his face as he shakes. He’s still full of fear and denial of what he just saw.

Victor doesn't remember getting to his bedroom or falling asleep. Neither does he remember how many times once morning came that he searched the cottage for any sign of his mother.

 

However, he does clearly remember the screams of his neighbors upon finding the body the Night Riders left on the road in the middle of the night.

 

 

Two moons have passed since the death of Victor's mother. Despite all the condolences from the village and support from Yakov and Lillia, Victor feels.... hollow.

Could he blame the Night Riders for what happened? No, because they're simply the Dark Witch's pawns. Could he blame the Dark Witch? No, she didn't directly order for his mother to be killed. Her Night Riders were only doing whatever job she assigned to them and, as usual, getting rid of anything in their way. Of all the conclusions he could come to, he could only blame himself for what happened.

The only reason he could figure for her leaving the house after dark is the fact that Victor wasn't home before sunset. His sweet mother would do anything to make sure he was safe, and it cost had her her life.

Many would swear revenge on the Dark Witch and vow to end her life, but Victor is no hero, nor a fool. It's not possible at his age and by himself to tackle a task so large. There is no spell strong enough to end the reign of a magician who has controlled the nation for decades, if not a century, as far as he knows. If there was, he's sure many magicians before him would have tried to eliminate her and restore the people's' faith in magicians.

A hard slap on his back from Yakov breaks him out of his depressing thoughts. Yakov motions for him to hurry up stocking the shelves and Victor simply complies. The best way to heal from loss is to let go, isn't it?

 

 

At the age of seventeen winters, Victor's gift is exposed while protecting the village.

Victor finds himself to be right about healing from loss. The more he forces himself to accept that his mother is gone, the more he feels as if his life is going back to normal. He does his best to recover, and focuses on his studies as a wizard.

Right now, Victor is following Yakov through the deep snow alongside a trail on Clover Mountain to the barren meadow in search of hibernating mushroom sprites. Mushroom sprites normally are very alert and aggressive during Spring and Summer, but during Autumn and Winter they fall into a deep sleep. Mushrooms and truffles sprout from where they sleep in their underground nests. Many of the mushrooms are poisonous, but when used correctly, can be made into important fever-reducers and powerful immune-support potions.

This task is challenging unless you have something to locate the nests under the snow. Luckily, Makkachin has learned over the years the smell of these creatures, since the familiar also keeps guard to make sure Victor and Yakov don't get attacked by the sprites during the Spring and Summer while herb-collecting.

Occasionally, Makkachin will stop and dig through the snow to reveal clusters of mushrooms sprouting above the soil. Yakov collects the red mushrooms into his basket, and Victor takes the blue and green ones, since they have different effects based on color. This goes on until they reach the barren meadow near the summit of the mountain.

The view from the meadow is vast and breathtaking. From the cliff-edge at the far end of the meadow, the clear boundary between the Dark Witch's Forest and Peterov Village can be seen in contrast to viewing it at the village level. The difference from the black-barked trees and the normal brown ones is impossible to miss. Mountains stand high and mightier than the one they currently are on. If Victor searches long enough, in the distance he can see the vague outline of a castle fortress...

“Vitya, quit dallying to look at the view and help me!” Yakov complains, and Victor mutters apologies as he gets back to picking mushrooms from where Makkachin has dug holes.

They’ve been working in silence for a while when a sudden, growling roar in the distance makes all of them stop in their tracks.

“... What was that?” Victor cautiously asks.

In a tone of dread, Yakov responds, “I've heard that before, and it's not good. Stay back, Vitya.” Yakov approaches the cliff-edge to investigate the sound and his face goes pale. “Vitya, follow me. We need to get to the apothecary and set up defenses.”

Instead of listening to Yakov, Victor joins him on the cliff-edge to see what's going on...

An enormous, black, reptilian creature on all-fours is near the edge of the village. Oddly enough, there seems to be men on horseback blocking the creature's path to the village and the creature is more agitated the longer the horsemen block it's path. How could the village guardsmen have already intercepted the monster? Unless, those aren't the village guardsmen.

Yakov scolds, “Vitya, I told you to stay back! Let's go!”

Victor glances over to Yakov and states fiercely, “I need to get a closer look.”

As Victor is running across the meadow, abandoning the basket of picked mushrooms, Yakov shouts after him, “You idiot! That's dangerous, get back here!”

Victor barrels through the snow back down the mountain, Makkachin close on his heels. Going down the mountain is faster, and more dangerous, than going up. He almost slips several times before he gets to the bottom, slowing down when the trees get denser and the sounds of hooves pounding through the snow gets louder.

Victor is barely hidden by the trees as he watches the chaotic scene unfold.

The creature must be the Black Dragon. Now that he's closer, Victor can truly see how massive it is. The legends aren't lying; the monster is the size of the cottages in the village, dwarfing some of the leafless maple trees. From what he can see, the monster can't fly despite having wings. The webbing is ripped from what seem to be sword slashes.

Just as he thought, the horsemen are not of the village. Five Night Riders wielding halberds are keeping the dragon at bay... but not for long.

The dragon loses its patience as a blade clashes against its leg. With the fast swipe of a tail, three Night Riders are demolished and explode into clouds of black dust that slowly fade away into the snow. The two remaining Night Riders stand no chance, rushing in at a last attack. The dragon grabs one Night Rider in it's jaws and slams it violently into the other, destroying both.

Victor has many questions- and they will have to stay unanswered as the dragon's gaze fixates on his current position. Taking a few steps back, Victor raises his hands to ready a shield from any attacks as Makkachin growls beside him.

It all happens too fast. Victor can't react fast enough to the breath attack that's thrown at him. He winces from expectation of being engulfed in flames... only they never come. He opens his eyes to find a familiar pale blue magical shield surrounding him and Yakov out of breath with his arms out.

The dragon takes a minute to recharge, enough time for Yakov to jump forward and grab both Victor and Makkachin before teleporting to a safe distance. Makkachin stumbles from dizziness and Victor almost loses his balance when they land, far away from the dragon's sight. All three of them can see the dragon briefly search for the any more obstacles and then slowly tread its way towards the village, as it must have been doing before.

“Yakov... You saved my life- OW!” Victor yelps when his shoulder is forcibly hit by his mentor.

Yakov scolds, “If you had listened to me the first time, I wouldn't have had to save you! Vitya, you idiot!” Yakov runs a hand over his balding head before his voice softens, “You scared me half to death. If you'd have listened, I would have been able to save some power to take us back to warn the village... There's no way I'll be able to transfer us that far.”

It's true. Yakov's magic is powerful but that shield must have drained a majority of his energy.

“I'm sorry…” Victor whispers. “What now? The dragon is going to attack the village! Is there no way to stop it? Also, why were there Night Riders out in the middle of the day? I thought they only could come out at night,” Victor questions, the realization of how terribly he screwed up now setting in.

“Keep calm. I don't know why there were Night Riders here during the day but right now we have a more pressing issue. That dragon is back, and it looks determined to kill.” Yakov grumbles in thought, continuing. “Last time, I had another wizard help me scare it off.”

Victor asks, “Who is the other wizard?”

Yakov's reply mostly dodges the question, “Well... Let's say he was a student of mine but he got himself banished from the village.” That's when Yakov brightens his tone, “I have an idea but it's risky.”

“To get rid of the dragon?” Victor disregards Yakov ignoring the previous question, now intrigued.

With a nod, Yakov says, “Yes, but you and Makkachin will need to follow my instructions

exactly...”

 

 

Yakov is able to teleport them halfway to the village before they have to jog to catch up to the dragon. It doesn't take long for them to find it. The dragon is distracted by ripping apart a sheep it caught from a local pasture while the rest of the herd is running for their lives.

Victor and Yakov hide behind the cover of the bare trees and assess the situation. The pasture is perfect for their plan but also poses a time limit. The village sentry towers can see the dragon from here and could send a group of soldiers at any time. If that happens, it could be disastrous for the soldiers and for themselves by exposing their magical abilities.

The plan is to use a fear spell on Makkachin, causing Makkachin to appear to the dragon as whatever it fears most. Supposedly, this worked before in the past when the other wizard had cast it on himself and faced the dragon. The only difference is that Yakov and Victor are both too cautious to dare walking in front of a fire-breathing monster and Yakov's only other idea is to use Makkachin.

“I know we have to do this but I don't want Makkachin to get hurt.” Victor complains, giving his companion a hug.

Yakov tries to comfort him, “Makkachin has more survival instincts than we do. They'll be fine.”

Just as Victor is going to complain further, Makkachin interrupts with a bark and a telepathic message, “Don't worry about me. I can face it just fine. A giant lizard doesn't scare me.”

“What if it attacks you out of fear? You could die.” Victor laments, distressed.

Makkachin licks his face before replying, “I am alive because you gave me life. I live as long as you do. That lizard can destroy my body but it can't destroy me. All you'd have to do is create me a new body; it's not hard.”

It's not as comforting as Victor hopes for but he trusts Makkachin. With one last squeeze, he lets go of Makkachin so they can all go through with the plan. Yakov instructs Victor on how to cast the spell and they cast it together successfully.

Once the spell is cast, Makkachin bounds through the snow towards the beast. It looks up from the sheep carcass. Upon seeing Makkachin, the dragon tenses and starts backing away. Makkachin now approaches slower, giving a low growl and herding the beast towards the mountains.

“It's working.” Yakov states with a relieved smile.

“Is there anything else we can do? It's not running away fast enough.” Victor worries aloud.

Yakov hums in thought before answering, “Not really. We could use the spell on ourselves too, but we need to conserve our magic.”

Makkachin seems to have the situation handled as the creature speeds up its retreat. Finally, the creature leaves, rushing towards to mountains from which it came. Victor runs to his beloved familiar and gives them a tight hug before releasing the fear spell. Blue sparks appear as the spell is waved away.

Victor is preparing to praise Makkachin more, when he notices movement towards the field edge that is neither of Yakov or the dragon. He turns to see who is there and is met with a gaze of shock. Worse, it's a gaze of shock from a village guardsman- Victor’s childhood friend, Georgi Popovich.  

Chapter Text

“Georgi...” Victor speaks lowly and carefully, not wanting to frighten him, “I-It's not what you think.”

 

“Like hell it is! Stay back!” Georgi shouts, drawing a flare gun from his guardsman sachet. His face is washed with barely masked fear.

 

Yakov reveals himself from the trees, realizing the gravity of their situation as he pleads, “Georgi, please calm down... Let us explain. You don't want to make rash decisions.”

 

“Explain what? That you've been lying to the village this whole time? We've had our suspicions but no proof. I've now seen the truth! I just saw everything!” Georgi yells as he points the flare gun to the sky.

 

Victor is ready to jump forward and stop him from firing, but Yakov stops Victor with a firm grasp and continues saying, “Georgi, have we ever been a threat to the village the entire time you've known us? I've lived in this village for decades and have never harmed anyone. I helped protect this village before you were born from the Dark Witch as well as healed every person I could who has ever entered my apothecary,” Yakov pauses to give a desperate look to Victor before turning back, “and what about Victor? He's been your friend since you were children. We both treated your mother when she had plague. She would have died without us.”

 

Georgi's arm trembles in the air as he listens, obviously conflicted despite his answer, “I-I don't care! You may have been able to fool the village this long, but you can't anymore. You magicians are a threat without even trying. You're all freaks. Magic isn't natural.”

 

Victor notices Yakov's fists tense in anger, yet his voice is low and pleading, “Please... I know you've been told to think differently all your life but please. We're not all evil.”

 

It seems to fall on deaf ears as there's the pull of a trigger and bright orange flies into the sky. Immediately in the distance, the sounds of galloping horses and shouts of guardsmen ring out over the snow-covered hills. Georgi drops the flare gun to draw his sword.

 

“I won't let you escape!” Georgi cries as he charges towards them.

 

Before Victor can rise his hand up to cast a shield or Makkachin can jump forward to protect their master, Yakov grabs them both and mutters in a spell dialect, “ Teleport: Apothecary.

 

The world seems to twist and warp around them, disorienting and terrifying. Victor can't find the time to scream as he suddenly slams on the floor of the apothecary. Makkachin yelps when they hit the floor. Yakov brushes off his jacket and shudders a bit after casting the spell. That teleportation spell is very different than the one Yakov used before.

 

“Ugh, I hate verbal teleport spells... feels like I'm being turned inside-out every time,” Yakov mutters as he gazes at Victor lowly groaning in pain from hitting the floor so intensely.

 

At the sound of them arriving, Lillia marches into the room and demands to know, “What's all this racket?” She looks over them and continues with concern, “What happened? Where are the mushroom baskets?”

 

“Lillia, Victor and I have been exposed. Young Georgi saw us and lit up a flare...” Yakov's speaks grimly and informs her, “He and I need to leave the village, fast.”

 

She stares back in shock. As Victor starts to sit up, Lillia and Yakov argue in a magical dialect. That dialect must have been Draconian, if he remembers correctly, since Lillia is a descendant of a silver dragon and Yakov has learned the language of years of his wife teaching him.

 

Victor makes sure Makkachin isn't hurt and stands. Makkachin licks Victor’s hand for reassurance. Both of them flinch as Lillia's tone grows exponentially louder. Her voice cracks as she says a word Victor knows in Draconian. The word is 'leave'. She has tears in her eyes now. Yakov looks as though his heart is breaking seeing her cry but gives her a simple nod.

 

Yakov turns to Victor and commands, “Get your things packed. We don't have much time before the sun sets, and we have a long journey to Kapita.”

 

Victor isn't sure what to say. He wants to protest. He wants to scream at Yakov that they can't just live the village he's known his whole life. He wants to plead that they can persuade the village they aren't a threat. He wants to beg not to leave in some non-existent hope that he can coexist with the village and still live his dream of taking over the apothecary as the village doctor.

 

However, no matter how much he wants to, he simply can't. Not in a world where magicians of any type are killed for merely existing.

 

Rather, Victor nods and starts packing before the guardsmen get back to the village.

 

 

From the open window, Victor can hear the low pounding of hooves on dirt roads in the distance as the guardsmen enter the west side of the village. There's still time to escape since the horses have a difficult time travelling the gravel and icy brickstone roads of the east side of the village. If Victor and Yakov time it just right, they can quickly bypass the guards and escape through the main road north of the village and be on their way to Kapita. There's no way they'll get to Kapita before the sunsets, but they have no choice. If they encounter Night Riders or whatever that lurks in the night, so be it.

 

What lurks in he the night is not what they have to fear the most, the incoming blizzard blowing in during the night is a far greater danger. High winds and snow will most definitely hinder their ability to follow the roads, to keep warm and make keeping a light source alive without magic almost impossible, especially since Yakov used most of his magic teleporting them away and using the shield against the dragon. Victor himself is running low on his own magical stamina, having never been good at conserving his power.

 

Victor has a bag packed with his belongings: a couple sets of clothes and his spellbook/diary. He makes his way to his bedroom mirror and takes the last step before he's ready to escape. He adjusts his hooded winter cloak and jacket and uses the last memento left of his mother, an azure hair ribbon to pull his long hair into a bun. (A ponytail is too recognizable to the village people who know him and not simple to hide under a hood.) With his hair up and bag packed, he's ready.

 

Lillia waits for him at the bottom of the stairs, her gaze at its softest in all the years he's known her. She says, “I need to talk to you. I may never get another chance if I don't do so now.”

 

Victor nods and stops in front of her, asking, “What is it?”

 

Lillia isn't looking at him now, her eyes focused on the door to the kitchen where the rustling of metal can be heard, but she speaks, “I never thought it would come to this. I thought moving here to Peterov Village would be the end and we could just live peacefully,” Her voice quivers a bit, “but I guess that's not how it's meant to be.”

 

“... How will you manage? Without us?” Victor asks, cautious.

 

“I'll manage somehow. They have no reason to to kill me, only suspicions.” She toys with the ring on her finger, removing it. Victor watches, confused as she seems to charge the ring with energy.

 

When she's done, the ring transforms into a hand lantern and then back into a ring. She seems satisfied as she explains, “Here. This ring will turn into a lantern when you need it. It should last two nights at most, more than enough to get to Kapita... What I want to tell you is that, Yakov has kept many secrets from you. About your father's disappearance, about the magical world outside this village. I have as well and I am sorry.”

 

“Why is this relevant now?” Victor's confusion grows as he asks, “You've told me all I needed to know, right?”

 

“We've kept too many secrets, and now your ignorance could be the death of you.” Firm in her declaration, she continues, “From this day forward, Victor Nikiforov, you are not just a simple man. You are a wizard, and you will face a wizard's fate. Ignorance means death. From this day forward, trust nothing and no one without seeking the truth. This is relevant because we only told you what was needed for living in the village, not the entire world like we should have.” She pauses for a moment before finishing, “Once you arrive in Kapita, make sure Yakov teaches you about magical history... especially the Dark Witch. You'll understand when the time comes.”

 

Victor doesn't question her, despite the vagueness of her commands. He only nods in acknowledgement. Makkachin whines slightly, reminding them that their time is short. Victor pats their head gently, trying to be comforting despite his own unease.

 

As if on cue, Yakov appears from the kitchen with his own small bag of belongings. Lillia approaches him, close and her gaze longing. She offers her hand and Yakov takes it. Lillia's words are Draconian, but Victor can tell it's words of affection and goodbye.

 

Victor isn't sure if his eyes are playing tricks on him but he swears that he saw what looks like a ribbon tied around their wrists as their hands hold while speaking. When Yakov lets go, Lillia simply walks into the back storage room... Not bothering to say anything else to the two. The two are left there at the stairs, ready to leave for the most part.

 

Silence passes between them, both understanding that they must leave but are not quite ready mentally. Yakov fills the silence, “Vitya, before we leave, I need to promise you something.”

 

“What is it?” Victor askes.

 

“Not just any promise, a magical contract. A 'Stand Together' contract.” Yakov's expression is dead serious and Victor is speechless. A 'Stand Together' contract is one of the most powerful magical contracts in the magician's world; to break such a contract is to bring fatal consequences upon oneself. They're often unbreakable if one of the magicians is powerful in their will.

 

“W-why? Why do one now when we're already rushed to escape?” Victor stutters over his words a bit at just how unexpected this is, “How will one benefit us right now?”

 

A half-smile appears on Yakov's face as he replies, “You ask the right questions, at least.” Yakov paces to the window, checking outside the curtains and continues, “As I heard Lillia tell you, I have withheld too many secrets you should have known. I plan to make things right when we arrive in Kapita... However, I want to ensure all goes according to plan and plan for the worst. I need you to trust me, so I am making a promise I will never break to ensure your safety.”

 

Victor tilts his head a bit and asks, “When have I not trusted you? You've always been there for me. Whatever this promise is, I'll agree to it.”

 

Yakov snorts and shakes his head. His statement to that is, “That kind of trust... I can't decide if it's a virtue or certain death for you, Vitya,” He turns to face Victor once more and offers a hand, “You know how these work. We exchange our promises and then the contract seals itself. Once the contract is complete, we're going to run as fast as we can until we get into the alleyways.”

 

With a nod, Victor takes Yakov's hand and squeezes. A slight glow from their hands arises when the intent of a contract is recognized.

 

Yakov goes first with his promise, “I, Yakov Feltsman, Arcane wizard of Peterov Village, swear that I will never leave the side of Victor Nikiforov. No matter the circumstance, I shall remain of help to this wizard or so my soul be damned.” His hand glows brighter and looks at Victor expectantly.

 

Victor doesn't question the wording of the promise, trusting Yakov's judgement. In magical contracts, duel bounties and curses, wording is the most important part of the spell. This case is no different.

 

With his own cautious wording, Victor finalizes the contract, “I, Victor Nikiforov, Apprentice Wizard of Peterov Village, swear to acknowledge this contract as long as it exists. Together, we stand.”

 

“Together, we stand.” As Yakov says that phrases, both their hands glow and a symbol appears on their wrists. The symbol resembles a circle with an knotted snaking along the edges of the circles, disappearing as the contract is bound.

 

They say no more. They simply let go of each other and cautiously leave out the door, Makkachin following. Victor is worried someone will recognize Makkachin but then feels relieved when Makkachin is using their own small reserve of magic to cloak themselves from being seen. There's no one in view, so all three run towards the alleyways and sneak their way towards the north of the village.

 

 

It lightly snows as they reach to northern alleyways. The temperature drops, making Victor shiver when the breeze picks up and covers his cloak in a layer of snowflakes. He leans against a stone wall in one of the alleyways because he can feel the heat of a fireplace on the other side while Yakov scouts out the next streets. Makkachin leans against him as well, both freezing.

 

Yakov returns and confirms, “The roads appear clear, we must hurry.”

 

Without hesitation, Victor follows Yakov through the alleyways onto the main road. Closed shops and village homes made of various stone types are mixed together along the rides of the snow-covered dirt roach. With each fast step, a soft crunch of can be heard. If Victor is to be honest with himself, the emptiness of the village now is the most unnerving part of their escape. It's as if the liveliness of the village died the moment their true identities were revealed.

 

With each step closer to the northern road, they begin to realize that people are watching them. The villagers glance through their curtains, making it obvious the news of Victor and Yakov’s magical status has spread quickly. When Victor focuses, he can sense the unease from the people or, even worse, he hears the occasional stray thoughts from them.

 

Filthy wizards. Freaks. Unnatural. Leave. Die. Victor shivers, not from the cold, but from what he hears mentally. Many of these people depended on him when they were ill or dying and now they want nothing more but for him to be dead and gone.

 

When they're in sight of the road leading out of town, Yakov suddenly stops and grabs Victor's wrist before announcing, “It's a trap. They have us surrounded.” Yakov’s eyes are wide with horror of his discovery.

 

“W-what do you mean?” Victor asks.

 

“They're on the rooftops, Vitya. Guardsmen. That must be the reason why everyone is indoors. It's a trap, I can sense them even with how weak I am right now.” Yakov is tense as he explains, now frantically watching the rooftops. Victor follows his gaze and catches a glimpse of leather armor and a bow crouch out of sight.

 

It all happens so suddenly. Yakov pulls Victor ahead of him to dodge an oncoming arrow, there are shouts and commands from the rooftops as the guardsmen notice that Yakov has foresaw their plan, and arrows fly sporadically toward them. One arrow grazes Victor's cloak and another causes Makkachin to jump and yelp at almost hitting them.

 

The three sprint towards the main road, Yakov ordering, “Run in at varying angles! Make yourself hard to hit!”

 

Everything is deafening. The screams of the guardsmen to load weapons, the increasing intensity of the wind and snow, the crunch of their boots with every sprint and the sound of his own heart racing. Victor isn't running as fast as he could be, afraid to leave Yakov behind.

 

“Dammit, run faster Victor! Don't worry about me and look forward!” Yakov scolds as he runs, panting and struggling to keep up.

 

Victor is about to argue but trips, falling face first into the snow. Makkachin rushes to help him up as now guards are throwing spears.

 

As if in a flash, a spear is dead-aimed at Victor. There's no time to react other than for Victor to close his eyes and expect impact. There's the heavy sound of flesh being pierced... but the pain never arrives. Victor opens his eyes and is greeted with a much more horrible sight. Yakov is standing stiff in front of Victor, spear pierced through his chest from impact from his back. Yakov wobbles and drops to his knees, still blocking the onslaught of arrows and spears.

 

“Y-Yakov-” Victor stumbles over saying before being interrupted.

 

“Vitya... Run and do not look back, you damn idiot.” Yakov's voice is hoarse as he struggles to speak and breathe.

 

Victor shakily starts, “Yakov, I can't leave you-”

 

“Go!” That is the last thing Yakov is able to say before he collapses completely in the snow. Some guardsmen leave the rooftops to investigate who they hit. Victor is frozen in place until Makkachin drags him to his feet. His eyes don't leave Yakov's still form for what seems to be an eternity as he's forced to run once more with Makkachin. That eternity brakes when arrows start to fly once more and guardsmen chase after him, trampling the lifeless form in the snow.

 

It's pure chaos behind him. Victor no longer pays attention to what's behind him in fear of what else he'll see. All that matters is what's ahead of him. Makkachin leading the way, reaching the main road and the trees shaking from the almost howling wind as the two enter the forest. Victor slowly realizes the longer they run down the road that guards stop following. Whether they've given up due to the setting sun or the increased intensity of the storm is unknown.

 

They both stop running when they reach the first splitting of paths, one path heading to the West and other heading to the East. Victor pants as he tries to remember which way is to Kapita. He's exhausted and the freezing air is hard on his lungs. Makkachin leans into Victor's side, whining a bit. He pats their head, comforting them as he decides which direction to take. He's unable to remember which way leads to Kapita, resulting in him deciding that they should go East since all he knows is Kapita is at the base of some mountains and he knows there's mountains to the east from what he could see.

 

However, heading east leads straight through the Dark Witch's Forest. In this forest, creatures hungry for flesh and Night Riders must certainly lurk among the black-barked trees. It's a deadly gamble, but they have no choice.

 

With hesitation, Victor puts on the ring Lillia gave to him to summon the lantern and heads East with Makkachin.

 




Every step through the snow is a struggle. Victor's cloak is barely any protection from forceful winds that threaten to blow him over if he doesn't focus on balancing. It's impossible to see farther than two arm-lengths, even with the lantern. If anything were following Victor, he would have no clue due to such conditions.

 

There is no moonlight; there are no stars. There is only the storm and the lantern’s light reflecting off frozen tree bark that has kept him from wandering off the road for hours. Victor cannot even think about how cold he is, he's never felt this way in his life. Makkachin struggles to stay beside him, their fur caked in snow and ice making them shiver.

 

“Stay in there, we'll be alright.” Victor isn't sure if this vocal reassurance is for Makkachin or himself.

 

The past hour or so has been all up and down hill. Victor's legs are throbbing while the rest of him feels numb, and his fingers ache from early frostbite. He grits his teeth every time he adjusts his fingers to make sure the lantern doesn't fall out of his grasp.

 

By the time Victor reaches the summit of a hill, his legs and vision are failing him. He swears he can see shadows of something disappear among the trees every time he turns to face it. His heart races a bit each time. He must be losing his mind to the cold, as he feels the need to rest. His vision will blur slightly if he allows it, and the idea of sleeping grows more pleasant as time passes.

 

Allowing himself to lose focus is the worst mistake he's made so far. With a wrong step, Victor feels his feet slide out from under him with a strong gale of wind. He cries out as he unexpectedly dives off the roadside, falling down a sheer cliff-edge he's been avoiding most of the climb.

 

Crack . Victor’s ribcage collides into a ledge.

 

Snap . Victor's leg smashes against another ledge before he lands heavily at the bottom.

 

His vision is blurry when he wakes from the forceful impact of his fall, head pounding in pain. The lantern is barely out of arm's reach when Victor is able to gain enough consciousness to look for it. When Victor leans forward to grab the lantern, he gasps from the pain in his side and stops the movement immediately. There's no doubt he's broken multiple ribs and a leg. He's not screaming in agony only because he's in shock and hypothermic already.

 

Viktor can hear Makkachin's barks and whines barely over the wind from the cliff-edge above. When Victor doesn't respond to the barks, he can hear Makkachin's telepathy attempts. However, his magic is already mostly drained from the events of the day so his familiar's messages sound like static and faint.

 

“Victor...okay? I'm...help you!” That's all Victor can get from the message.

 

The lantern’s light starts to fade as the presence of his hand has left its handle. As the light fades, the sound of footsteps grows closer to him. Whatever it is, it's driving Makkachin to bark more frantically and growl. Victor fears his familiar will try to jump off the cliff to try and protect him from the unknown threat. At the same time, he could care less as his body grows weaker and eyes grow tired.

 

As the threat approaches, Victor closes his eyes. Having lost his mentor, injured himself and is freezing to death, he simply gives up. It's best to just let death have him if the odds so desire his life so much.

 

The last things Victor hears before all goes black are the growls of two creatures in a struggle (one being Makkachin as somehow his familiar must have gotten down the cliff to try to help him) and the gallop of horses through the snow...

 

 

In Peterov Village, Lillia sips tea shakily with unexpected guests.

 

Miss Plisetsky arrived an hour after Victor escaped from the village, after the sun has already set. Lillia could not refuse company right now after hearing her husband has been killed and the young man she had considered her grandson is banished, if not, already dead. Right now, any company to distract her from the tragedy of the day is a blessing.

 

Or so she thought. She's not expecting Miss Plisetsky's son of five springs, Yuri, to ask suddenly, “Where's the old man and Vitya?”

 

Miss Plisetsky is tired when she says, “They're not here, Yuratchka.”

 

“When are they coming back?” Yuri is upset, climbing into his mother's lap to make his point clearer with closeness, “Vitya promised me he'd show me how he does that flower spell!”

 

Lillia's grip on her teacup tightens and her body tense.

 

“Yuri, they're not-” Miss Plisetsky stops herself before she finishes that sentence. They're not coming back but from the trembling hands and damp eyes of Lillia across from here the table are clear in their message.

 

Luckily, Yuri is not dense despite his age and notices Lillia's reactions when his mother cannot continue. He hugs his mother so he can get closer to quietly ask, “...The humans made them leave, that's why they're not coming back?”

 

His mother sighs and whispers so Lillia cannot hear, “Yes... they chase away what they don't understand, my dear.”

 

Yuri buries his face his his mother's shoulder before asking, “That's why we can't use magic around them?”

 

“...Yes.” Miss Plisetsky reluctantly answers before continuing, “Don't worry about it too much, Yuratchka. You should sleep. We have a long day of travel tomorrow.” With a few grumbles, Yuri gets comfortable in her arms and gradually falls asleep as she strokes his hair.

 

Lillia wipes her eyes. By the time he's asleep, she is calmer and speaks quietly, “I...I still can't believe they're gone. I want to believe at least Vitya is still alive.”

 

With a soft snort, Miss Plisetsky retorts, “Be reasonable, he's been cast out during one of the worst blizzards of this winter with no knowledge on how to survive outside the village. He's dead, Lillia... and it's the damn humans fault.”

 

Lillia growls lowly, her pupils turn slightly slitted as her true nature shows through, “I'd appreciate you not to speak ill of all humans. I may have hated them just as you do but I'm reformed from my past self the day I fell in love with Yakov.” It's obvious she's avoiding the topic of death, intentionally focusing on other topics.

 

“You're saying he tamed you? A mighty Draconian an Arcane wizard's pet?” Miss Plisetsky prods, knowing the offensive insinuation to Lillia's proud heritage.

 

“Not a pet, you insufferable pixie. I am not and never will be anyone's pet. How can you dare insult me so when I've become widowed?” She practically spits the words, her eyes watering again at being forced to mention her situation.

 

Miss Plisetsky is taken aback and she apologizes, “Okay, calm yourself. I'm sorry to suggest such a thing,” Her tone softens when she continues, “I mourn Yakov and Victor's loss as well. As a Fae woman, it pains me I can never return my gratitude fully for helping bring my precious Yuri into this world.”

 

The two sit in silence for a while, simply listening to the howling winds outside until Lillia can bear to speak her idea.

 

“...Perhaps you can repay that gratitude to me, as I assisted as well. Yuri is already starting to present his own magical gift, isn't he? I could teach him to use his powers while you are away on your trade routes. You can repay me by letting him help around the apothecary.” Lillia offers.

 

Miss Plisetsky's eyes narrow in suspicion, asking, “What are you playing at? That sounds like an offer the Dark Witch Izetta would make. I would know as I've done business with her in the past. If this is a ruse to get my son as your servant, I'm not buying it.”

 

Lillia is offended as she responds, “I would never! You're one to talk when you have illegal cargo in your cart as we speak... but I don't blame your suspicion. I'm not asking for a magical contract. I genuinely want to teach him magic and need the help around here when he's old enough.”

 

Considering it for a few minutes, Miss Plisetsky relaxes and supposes, “I guess that will be reasonable, but not until he's eight springs. He's still too young and has yet to become fluent in Fae. My father intends to teach him about our heritage as well.”

 

There's a nod from Lillia, “Alright, I can agree to that.”

 

Miss Plitsetsky smiles weakly and states, “From today, we start over. I hate to say this but I have a feeling that the world is changing for the worse... Lady Izetta's presence is suffocating in winter, especially as of the past years.”

 

“Are you sure it's the Dark Witch and not her servant?” Lillia questions with mild disgust.

 

Miss Plisetsky stares in confusion before asking, “What do you mean? Isn't the Lady still in power of this land?”

 

As the mention of such topic is forbidden, the lanterns indoors flicker and the house shakes gentle from the howling wind. A shiver runs down their spines, knowing that dark magic is at work. Lillia stands and quietly takes her teacup to the kitchen. When she returns, she sits back in her seat with a solemn expression.

 

“... You've noticed the winters of the past few years have become colder. The sun sets faster in the summer than it once had,” Lillia leans her head in her hand, propped up by her elbow to gaze out the window. “If I'm correct,” she continues, “you've met her child servants. Specifically, you've at least met Katsuki. A bitter young man, isn't he?”

 

“Yes... It was looking into the eyes of Death itself when I met him.” Miss Plisetsky holds her son closer, as if the memory were happening again, “You think... he overpowered Izetta? He may have been serving her for over a century but she used magic to keep him a child that entire time, just as her other servants. How could he overpower her?”

 

Lillia's gaze does not move from the window. “That boy is no fool. He's been trying to overthrow her from the day he became her slave... whether he knows it himself of not. Believe it or not, he begged my husband to help him.”

 

“... For what reason?”

 

“Isn't it obvious?” Lillia chuckles darkly and stands as if she's done with this conversation. Her eyes linger on her wrist long enough to be noticeable. “Freedom. I wish my husband had never said yes to that little bastard. If you'll excuse me, I'm heading to bed.”

 

Knowing not to push further, Miss Plisetsky nods and lets Lillia leave. No matter how many questions she may have about these theories, she knows even Lillia is not certain in them. However, Miss Plisetsky has never known Lillia's theories to prove wrong either. Miss Plisetsky is left at the table in silence except for the howling winds and Yuri's breathing to recall that day she made a visit to Dark Witch Izetta's castle, to remember dead eyes of a young wizard who has earned Lillia's distaste.

 

 

Victor's eyes are heavy and in intense pain. He’s slowly opening them and unsure where he is. The room he's in has one window filtering in sunlight, gray stone walls and cluttered with books. Books overflow into neat stacks from bookcases that seem to be oak and other furniture suggest this room is both a bedroom and a study.

 

The bed he's in is warm, at least. Victor moves a hand to feel the sheets and is met with Makkachin's head instead, who happily starts to lick his hand. He can feel relief from his familiar, who must have worried for him. Victor cannot say the same for himself as he's partly disappointed he didn't die. The moment he found himself at the bottom of that cliff, he was ready for death and now it seems he must suffer a bit longer. How sadistic of fate, huh?

 

There's a meow of complaint when Victor moves his uninjured leg. He directs his attention to the sound to find two cats on the bed with him (Which surprises him that Makkachin hasn't reacted to them, interesting). One is a long-haired white cat who is clearly displeased by the misplaced leg and a chocolate brown one who is fast asleep at Victor’s feet. The white cat jumps down from the bed and leaves the room out the half-open wooden door. Victor decides he doesn't mind having the other cat sleeping on the bed and just stops moving, since it's painful to move anyway.

 

When Victor lays his head back on the pillow, he notices his hair is down. Someone must have taken his hair down from it's bun, presumably his rescuer. He has an intrusive thought that the rescuer has probably thrown away his keepsake of his mother and that upsets him more than his already tragic situation. He closes his eyes, trying to not cry. If only he could just go back to sleep and not think.

 

Several minutes later, Victor opens his eyes again because he hears footsteps from the hallway. He can see them peeking into the room from doorway so he closes his eyes quickly and pretends to sleep until he hears them walk in. When he opens his eyes again, he can see them clearly. A small boy, perhaps seven or eight seasons of age, with messy brown hair with an odd red streak and a crooked canine tooth. His attire is even stranger. He's dressed in light armor and has a sword his side in a sheath. Is he a swordsman's apprentice?

 

The boy freezes when he knows he's been caught in Victor's sight. With some awkward silence, the boy eventually speaks, “... You're awake. Did I wake you?”

 

“I've been awake.” Victor's voice is weak and hoarse, it hurts to talk.

 

The boy nods and pulls up a chair from the desk to sit next to the bed. He asks, “May I sit with you for a bit?”

 

Victor gives a grunt, not really answering the question but apparently he interprets it as yes and sits down. The boy introduces himself excitedly, “I'm Minami Kenjiro. I'm second-in-command of my squad,” His tone changes as he continues and his face gets serious, “I was the one who first found you... I-I thought you were dead and your familiar was protecting you from the Forest Folk...”

 

Wait, he can tell Makkachin is a familiar? Victor is tenses a bit, remembering the guardsmen intent on killing him for his identity and this non-magician knows he's a wizard. Makkachin whines and tries to calm Victor with licks.

 

Minami seems to catch on quickly and tries to reassure him, “It's fine! You're not the only magician here. Our Master is a wizard, so you're fine!”

 

“Minami, you've said too much.” A male voice comes from the doorway.

 

He almost jumps out of his chair, startled as her replies, “C-Chris! I didn't expect you...”

 

The man that is in the doorway cannot be much younger than Victor, mostly likely only a couple years younger. He has brown hair but it's obvious he uses hair spells to try to alter it to blond, resulting in a two-tone look. He has on round glasses covering green eyes and has on dark blue robes that remind him of Yakov's old ritual robes. In his arms, the white cat from before rests.

 

“My little princess here told me our guest is awake,” The man, Chris, walks over to the brown cat and gently tries to wake him, “Get up, Masumi. Our guest is awake, you lazy bones.”

 

The brown cat slowly wakes and then stands. When he jumps off the bed, the cat transforms into a man with medium length brown hair and cat-like ears. Victor isn't surprised about the transformation but more of how casually the use of magic is around a non-magician.

 

Masumi stretches and his ears twitch, replying, “Mhmmm, sorry. I'm tired.”

 

Chris lightly shakes his head and turns back to Victor, inquiring, “How are you feeling?”

 

“... Terrible.”

 

“Well, no shit. You must have a death wish if you go wandering in a blizzard in the middle of the night.” Chris banters before he ushers Minami out of the chair so he can take it instead. Minami doesn't complain, instead moving to stand with Masumi. Chris sets the white cat next to Makkachin. Chris asks, “May I examine your injuries?”

 

“... Fine.” Victor agrees, not really caring and watching as the wizard focuses energy into his hand and uses a spell common to Victor. He's using an Inner Sight spell, specifically of the skeletal variety for examining bones.

 

Chris tsks lightly before informing, “You've been out a week but it seems my healing spells aren't working as I thought... You might be here recovering until spring.”

 

Minami is the first to respond, as Victor doesn't because he isn't surprised from his own medical knowledge, shocked, “Really!? Master Yuuri isn't gonna be happy we have to keep someone in the castle that long.”

 

Chris rolls his eyes and give a stern tone, “Didn't I tell you you've said too much? Leave, Minami.”

 

Minami wants to argue but huffs and storms out of the room, shouting down the hallways that slowly fades out as he gets farther away, “Hey! Leo, Guang-Hong, Otabek, the guest is awake!”

 

There's a sigh from Masumi as he laments, “That kid had no tact.”

 

“None whatsoever,” Chris agrees before continuing, “As I said, you're going to be here until spring... So, I might as well care for you until you're well enough to make it to the next city.”

 

Victor weakly asks, “... Why did you save me? Why didn't you leave me to die?”

 

Chris and Masumi look at each other in a silent conversation. They nod and  confess to Victor, “We all thought you were dead until Lord Yuuri pointed out you weren't. Castle guards here are ordered to bring in corpses found on the property... to be turned into Night Riders.”

 

The pieces start to click together for Victor upon hearing that. A guard that looks eight seasons in age, the casual use of magic and that damning confession. Victor almost wants to laugh at how bad his luck is if he's somehow managed to land himself in the Dark Witch's castle.

 

However, they keep referring to their Lord or Master as a wizard named Yuuri, so he is slightly confused.

 

All Victor can manage to say, despite the new questions he has, is, “I see...”

 

Chris sounds irritated yet melancholic as he says, “Look, we don't know why you were out in a blizzard at night and we have no reason to question your motives. If you'd like to tell us the story, that's fine. It's your choice what happens to you after you recover. Unlike the rest of us here, you probably have a brighter future. For now, rest. We'll discuss more later.”

 

Victor watches Chris leave after one more glance over of his injuries. Masumi stays awhile longer, turning back into his original form as a cat, but does not speak. Victor is grateful for their departure as he absorbs the situation he's in. He's alive, he has been saved by the servants of the Dark Witch and the Dark Witch seems to be suspiciously absent from the castle from the reactions of Chris and Minami.

 

Absently, Victor resigns himself to staring at the ceiling and ignoring the physical pain. However, he pretends Masumi isn't in the room when the emotional pain is too much to bear and sobs freely.

 

 

During the night, footsteps and loud whispers wake Victor from the hallway. It seems the footsteps stopped outside the cracked door, and voices are arguing. He recognizes one of the voices, Chris, and the other he does not but is mildly cheerful when in range to be heard.

 

The cheerful voice asks, “Chris, are you sure it's a good idea for Lord Yuuri to see the guest again now that he knows the truth?”

 

Chris sighs, “It's not like we were able to keep our guest's identity a secret forever. It's obvious from his appearance he's a Nikiforov.”

 

Victor tenses when he hears that. How do they know his last name when he hasn't even introduced his first name. Even more pressing, this 'Lord Yuuri' wants to see him?

 

As if to answer Victor's question, an accented and uncharacteristically authoritative voice retorts, “Of course I want to see the guest again. How am I supposed to ignore the information Minami has given me?” There are startled gasps from the two at this new person, “Minami's defeated squad reported two wizards were banished from Peterov Village after having a confrontation with Yuuko. One of the said wizards was Yakov Feltsman and it's obvious the other is Mylrin Nikiforov's son.” His tone grows darker and there's the sound of someone being slammed against a wall, “How am I supposed to ignore that the son of my sworn enemy is in my castle?”

 

There's a choking sound from Chris and the once cheerful voice is now begging, “Y-Yuuri, stop. Please, don't do this. Chris is not entirely at fault. Please don't kill him!”

 

There's silence except for the choking sound until there's a loud thud and Chris gasping for air. Yuuri, presumably, agrees harshly, “Hm, you're correct, Phichit. It was both him and Minami that brought him here, blatantly knowing he is a child of my enemy and then deciding to care for him as if he's your pet project. I want to see and speak to him before I decide to kill him.”

 

There's a low growl from Makkachin, who is listening with Victor, and Victor strokes their head in comfort.

 

“Yuuri, please not now. He's sleeping-” Phichit begs but is interrupted.

 

“Silence. There's no chance he's sleeping after the racket we're causing,” Yuuri states as he cracks open the door more but is stopped again, causing him to order, “Get your hand off me, Christophe.”

 

Chris argues, “I won't stop you from speaking to him but I'm not going to let you kill him. He's innocent in all this. Haven't you taken enough innocent lives, like Mylrin's wife? Don't take another because of your petty fighting with Mylrin.”

 

The Mylrin's wife part doesn't get past Victor. If this Mylrin is his father, they must be speaking about Victor's mother?

 

There's silence again, lasting a couple minutes before Yuuri speaks, “Fine. I want to speak with him alone. I ask for you and Phichit to return to your sleeping chambers.”

 

The footsteps of Chris and Phichit leaving are clear, and Victor is aware of a couple things. Standing just outside the door is the person responsible for his mother's death and these people know who Victor's father is. That question is something Victor has wondered for a long time and that Yakov and his mother refused to answer.

 

The door opens fully. With the wave of a hand, the candles come to life and Victor is face to face with 'Lord Yuuri'. He wasn't sure what he was expecting but it certainly wasn’t someone who appears to be thirteen or fourteen seasons old, messy black hair, regal form-fitted robes matching his hair and narrow brown eyes (he must be from the island nations and is squinting his eyes as if he needs glasses) that would be vibrant if his expression wasn't one of disgust and irritation.

 

Victor is frozen in Yuuri's gaze, not sure if he should speak or not.

 

“As I thought, you're awake,” Yuuri's gait is oddly graceful as he makes his way to the chair beside the bed and sits. His arms are crossed as he says, “Do you mind if I have a chat with you?”

 

Victor has to grip Makkachin's paw to make sure they don't do anything aggressive. Then, replies, “Sure, from what I heard in the hallway, we have a lot to talk about.”

Chapter Text

The tension in the room is palpable. Yuuri is sitting across from Victor with an expression of pure disgust, Makkachin is softly growling as a warning and Victor is gently holding his familiar back as he stares back at Yuuri. The two have been sizing each other up, in a way. Victor does not question the amount of power Yuuri has, especially when it already rolls off him in waves just from his stare.

 

Yuuri is the first to speak, “From what I've heard, you were banished from Peterov Village after an encounter with the Black Dragon and the guardsmen. You're Mylrin Nikiforov's son, my enemy. I have no reason to keep you alive other than to know what happened to Yakov Feltsmen. Now tell me, what exactly happened.”

 

Victor can clearly remember what happened but stalls, not wanting to, “If I'm correct, the dragon's name is Yuuko-”

 

“That's irrelevant. Tell me what happened.” Yuuri interrupts him, adamant and his expression shows more irritation at the mention of the name.

 

Makkachin growls louder in warning and there's a telepathic message, one Victor realizes Yuuri can hear from the slight surprise he shows, “Leave Vitya alone. Don't force him to relive this. You have no idea what he's been through.”

 

Yuuri stares for a few seconds, then starts to chuckle as he addresses Makkachin, “Oh, really? I don't know anything about a mentor dying? Silence yourself unless you have something intelligent to say.”

 

Victor grits his teeth in pain trying to keep Makkachin from lunging at the other wizard; he can feel his familiar's rage and Yuuri's dismissal only makes the emotion stronger. There's silence again and Victor cannot look Yuuri in the eye but he catches the movement of Yuuri's legs crossing and his arms crossing along with the waves of irritation turning into anger in his aura.

 

“Tell me what happened or I'll-” Yuuri threatens but is interrupted.

 

“Kill me? That's not much of a threat when you would be giving me what I desire right now.” Victor is honest with his blunt confession and that doesn't get past Yuuri.

 

Yuuri is still for a moment before uncrossing his legs and arms to lean forward slightly, asking, “You desire death?”

 

That's what breaks Victor's resolve to forget, turning his head as he gives Yuuri what he wants to know, “We were harvesting mushrooms for medicines, Yakov and I. There was a loud roar and I went to investigate with my familiar... The Night Riders that were fighting the dragon were killed, so Yakov and I used a fear spell on my familiar to scare the dragon off,” Tears start to develop but do not fall (Yuuri cannot see his face, simply just listening now), “That's when Georgi found us. I-I thought he was my friend and he betrayed me. He betrayed us. The guardsmen ambushed us when w-we tried to escape...”

 

When Victor turns back to Yuuri, he knows he's crying by the shock in Yuuri's expression and the whines from Makkachin. However, Victor doesn't care as his voice cracks and he cannot control his anguish as he almost screams, “It should have been me! I don't deserve to be the one alive,” His hands ball into fists, “Worst of all... he broke his promise. He said he wouldn't leave my side and the old bastard let himself be killed!” Victor faces Yuuri again, disheveled and sobs, “P-Please... I've told you what happened. Just, kill me; you want me dead a-anyway. I-I'm no use to you and you'd be doing me a favor.”

 

Moments pass of nothing but Victor's remaining sobs and Makkachin's whines. Even in during his sobbing, Victor's expectations of the assumed dark wizard are momentarily broken. Yuuri's expression morphs from shock to, surprisingly, pity and empathy. This young man who hates him is understanding him or is his own self-hatred clouding his judgement?

 

As if to confirm the latter, Yuuri's face returns stone-like with disdain before saying, “I see,” Yuuri stands from his chair before continuing in a harsh tone, “You feel guilt being the only one alive. As if no one else understands what it's like, you want to die? … Well, if that's what you really want then you'll have to do it yourself.”

 

“What do you mean by myself?” Victor cannot keep the spiteful question back. What else could Yuuri do to make his life worse? He admitted to killing his mother and now Victor has no home to go back to. How could keeping him alive provide any benefit? Unless... it's not about benefit why Yuuri won't kill him.

 

Yuuri answers in the most unexpected way, “I've changed my mind about killing you. I... understand what it's like to lose everything. However, if I killed you than I would be denying you a chance to start over,” Yuuri walks to the door and stops to say, “You're not much different than many of the servants that live in this castle. I can't believe I'm saying this but I want you to think about if you really want to die,” There's a one last glance over his shoulder to Victor with a final statement, “Because if the answer is no, I will give you assistance to whatever path you choose next. For now, my servants will be care for you so don't do anything idiotic.”

 

Like a storm passing through, Yuuri is gone but his words have left Victor tossed about mentally. Yuuri bullied him into re-telling memories that reassures his lack of will to live and then orders him to live until he recovers under the pretense of his own empathy. Victor isn't sure whether to be angry, confused, drained or all three. Out of the three, feeling drained is certainly the strongest.

 

Even as Victor is painfully resettling back into bed and Makkachin cuddles close, he doesn't forget the look of empathy he saw on Yuuri's face. In that moment, Victor felt he saw something genuine than the persona of a cruel, heartless wizard.

 

 

Two days have passed since Lord Yuuri's visit and it has mostly been a blur for Victor.

 

Victor finds himself laying halfway on his side so he can stare at the small window across the room and uses Makkachin for support. Watching snow fall outside is better than dwelling on his own internal conflict that is heavier and more painful than his broken bones.

 

Vaguely, Victor can remember a couple names and faces of new people who came to visit him but he refuses to speak to in his current state. Always after Minami or Christophe check-up on him and his injuries, a slightly annoying guest makes an appearance.

 

The castle chef, JJ, tries for several minutes to get him to eat soup (three times a day, for both days) until a girl named Isabella tells him it's not worth it once the food gets cold. JJ and Isabella are around nine seasons in appearance with black hair. JJ is loud and slightly arrogant; his ear ring that radiates a small amount of magic jingles when he laughs. Isabella is not human; she's a fairy that takes human form from what he observes of her using magic to clean the room of dust while JJ insists on trying to feed Victor.

 

When JJ and Isabella leave, usually the castle guards will take a peek at him through the door while on patrol. So far, Victor knows Guang-Hong patrols in the morning, Leo in the afternoon, Otabek in the evening and Phichit during the night. Phichit will enter the room if he appears awake and talk his ear off, as he learned a night ago, so he pretends to sleep when Phichit is on patrol even if the images of memories he wants to suppress come to the surface.

 

Sleep overtakes Victor eventually and he's back in Peterov Village. He's running, they're surrounded and he has no choice but to leave Yakov behind. He wants to scream and cry. Everything is shaking -

 

Victor gasps as he wakes and the shaking stops. The window is bright from the morning sun. He looks around and finds what was shaking him. Minami is frozen with a concerned expression and an outstretched hand towards him that must have been trying to wake him.

 

“You... were thrashing in your sleep.” Minami informs.

 

There's a lot of pain in his abdomen, confirming Minami's statement that he must have been moving in his sleep. Victor grunts and notices a tray of food. Bread and soup, just as JJ had brought the other times.

 

Minami asks, “Will you please eat today? JJ says you refuse to eat when he tries so I decided I'd try.”

 

“I'm not hungry-” Victor tries to avoid but Minami doesn't give up.

 

“It's been two days and I have no problem with force feeding you if you won't eat on your own,” Minami's tone is stubborn and he continues, “Just because you're suffering mentally doesn't mean you can let yourself go physically. I don't know how cruel Master Yuuri was to you but I'm not gonna let you starve to death.”

 

Minami gently points the spoon towards Victor's mouth, “Open up. Don't make me get Chris.”

 

Eyeing the spoon for a moment, Victor gives up and opens up. Minami's motions seem practiced as he doesn't spill a drop of soup in the process. It's a bit embarrassing having someone who's half your age in appearance caring for you.

 

Several spoonfuls are fed to him before Minami speaks again, “I still have dreams about it... about my village. Even after eight decades, I still have nightmares,” A sad smile appears as he assures, “Whatever you were dreaming about, I can relate. It's hard having everything taken from you but sometimes it gets easier over time.”

 

Their eyes meet when Minami finishes with the soup and starts breaking up the bread into pieces. Victor is interested to know more but is afraid to ask. Minami must sense his intention and continues, “Izetta destroyed my village because we rebelled. We refused to bow to her rule, so she punished us. My mother was a scientist and one of the first to be killed for knowing things that would have advanced life as we know it. Mother hid me in a closet... I watched it all happened. I would have escaped if Izetta hadn't ordered Phichit and Master Yuuri to search the house. Of course, they found me!” Towards the end, Victor can tell he's faking cheeriness to lighten the mood of such an unfortunate story.

 

“I'm... so sorry.” That's all Victor can say before he's forced to eat bread bites.

 

“Don't be. It happened a long time ago,” Minami ends up eating a few pieces of bread before he sympathizes, “We've both lost a mom, yeah? We've both lost everything. I know it's not ideal to be here but you're not alone here. All of us here know what it's like when life decides to crumble. So, can you please work with us? Unlike us, you can leave this castle when you get better.”

 

As much as Victor doesn't want to admit it, Minami is right. The past two days have been nothing but self-deprecation over something he couldn't really control. Even if he feels terrible, he's not alone. Minami knows how he feels, so he should at least give the servants a chance to help him.

 

“I'll try. I'll eat when I'm brought food.” Victor agrees.

 

Minami gives a sigh of relief, “Good, anything else you need?”

 

Victor thinks about it and asks, “Can you have Phichit not try to talk to my at night? I feel bad that I don't remember anything he's said.”

 

Minami nods and confirms, “Will do, I'll see if Master Yuuri will give him something to do so he doesn't bother you.” That's not exactly what he meant but close enough. Not long after, Minami has cleaned up the dishes for the soup and leaves.

 

Victor stares at the small window once again while petting Makkachin. An important piece of information stands out from Minami's story. Other than being decades older than his appearance, Minami said that all of the servants understand loss. That story gave him an insight into the life the servants here and gave him comfort/rationality when he needs it the most.

 

Lillia told him to seek the truth regarding the Dark Witch. Perhaps if Victor listens to the servants instead of shutting down, he'll find the answers he's looking for.

 

 

Eastern Kapita is quiet at such late hours of the night. Checking his pocket watch, Nikolai Plisetsky confirms he's early for his meeting at 1 AM.

 

Nikolai can hear the hooves of Night Riders in the distance but he has lived so long that he no longer feels fear of their presence. The Night Riders are nothing compared to who he's meeting tonight. His current focus is saving his magic in order to deal with the two dangerous magicians that have agreed to speak with him.

 

The only places that are still open despite the threat of the creatures of the night are pubs and brothels. Non-magicians don't often appear in these establishments at night so magicians are careful in case one does. It's common etiquette to wear a mask or hood after dark to protect one's identity. Nikolai is no different as he puts up his hood so his face is hidden before entering the local pub.

 

As he expects, the pub is quiet except for a few nocturnal Fae, an Orc and one of the magicians he is expecting. The magician is an Arcane witch. She is wearing a feathered mask and her auburn hair is tied back. When he sits next to her, she eyes him suspiciously.

 

“Tabitha?” Nikolai asks quietly.

 

She nods before informing, “Mylrin isn't here yet but I tell you something before he arrives.”

 

“About?”

 

“Izetta,” Tabitha takes a sip of her ale before continuing, “I have proof she still exists. She's not exactly alive but she's still around.”

 

Nikolai narrows his eyes before questioning, “How can she still be in power if she's dead?”

 

She leans closer to whisper, “She's using one of her servants as a vessel. She's dead but her spirit lives on in one of them,” She pulls out a small satchel and empties it, revealing a stone with dried blood, “See this? It's from a spell circle for a masking spell. I checked it and it's not her blood. However, her magic lingers on it and I was attacked by Night Riders when I disturbed the spell circle. She is using someone else's body so that's why it seems like she's still alive.”

 

It makes sense, so Nikolai asks, “Do you know which servant it is?”

 

Tabitha shakes her head, disappointedly adding, “If I did, I'd inform the Arcana and the Paladins myself. Scratch that, you said the Paladins can't be trusted, right?”

 

“The Arcana is tainted,” Nikolai states, “As an ex-Paladin, I suggest you keep this information to yourself because Izetta has brainwashed members of the Arcana into serving her. If they find out you have such information and it is true, they will try to kill you.”

 

“Note taken. So... Why do you need to speak to Mylrin? That walking garbage pile can't possibly have any useful information for you.” Tabitha jests with her question before taking a large gulp of her ale.

 

“... My daughter just confessed to me that Mylrin is the father of my grandson.”

 

Tabitha chokes on her drink and coughs up a bit back into the glass be she stage-whispers, “What!? I thought that Fae and High Elves hated each other? I know he's the last purebreed of his kind but he can't be that desperate. No offense.”

 

“None taken,” Nikolai sighs loudly in irritation before finishing, “I'm just as shocked my daughter would lower her standards to sleeping with one of the enemy but I guess alcohol does strange things to the mind.”

 

“I mean, does Mylrin know he fathered a child with your daughter?”

 

Nikolai snorts, confirming, “Oh, he does. I finally know why my daughter insists on taking so many trips to Peterov Village now. My daughter was making sure Mylrin doesn't try to be involved in little Yuri's life,” As if he read her mind, he explains further, “Mylrin is banished from Peterov Village for getting caught using magic years ago. That bastard fled from trouble and left his wife and previous child to fend for themselves. If he was a real man, he would have stayed and faced death instead of complaining all these years later that he never got to be a father to his son.”

 

Tabitha is in awe, “Wow, he's more of a shit pile than I thought. Considering that he's an abuser as well, I can see why your daughter is doing her best to keep Yuri away from him. There's no way he'd be a fit parent. So, that's why you're here to talk to him?”

 

“Yes. Hopefully, if I offer him enough gold, he'll get the hell away from my family.” Nikolai reasons.

 

The door of the pub opens and a tall, masked man with familiar silver hair appears.

 

Tabitha notices and asks Nikolai, “Am I needed? Or can you handle him yourself?”

 

“You're dismissed, thank you for your information. Stay safe.”

 

Tabitha chugs the rest of her drink before leaving with a wave. She doesn't bother speaking to Mylrin on the way out the door. Nikolai doesn't move from his seat as Mylrin saunters over and takes Tabitha's seat.

 

“Did I miss much?” Mylrin asks, a smirk appearing below his mask.

 

“No, you didn't,” Nikolai pulls out a satchel of his own that jingles when it hits the counter, continuing, “You're just in time for my preposition...”

 

 

“Certainly it's the best borscht you've ever tried, yeah?” JJ asks, as he knows the answer to the question.

 

“This is bland compared to my mother's borscht.” Victor deadpans, even though he's eaten the whole bowl out of hunger.

 

JJ deflates under the criticism and mutters, “Asshole... I worked hard trying to make it like your village does.”

 

It's been two week since Minami's pep-talk and Victor's mood has drastically improved now he makes an effort to work with the servants, even with JJ and his efforts to replicate foods of his home village.

 

“Use more salt next time.” Victor suggests.

 

JJ grumbles as he cleans up dishes, “Fine...”

 

Victor doesn't miss the stumble and JJ having to hold his head a bit to regain his balance as he leaves. Isabella helps JJ afterward to make sure he doesn't drop the dishes. Due to his training with Yakov, Victor has been taught to be observant with people when it comes to strange or concerning behavior. He noticed a few days ago but doesn't comment because he cannot use his magic to the extent needed to detect any illness; However, he has his suspicions of what is plaguing JJ and it's not good.

 

Victor has tried using magic but everytime he tries he gets nothing more than a spark before he's exhausted. His own magic must be working hard to reduce the amount of pain he's been in the past weeks so he has none to use for himself. It's unfortunate to say the least.

 

The amount of boredom Victor feels from not being able to leave this room is starting to drive him crazy. If he hadn't been returned his bag of belongings by Minami, he wouldn't have his spellbook to write down notes on what he's learned about everyone he's met in the castle so far and new information he's learned from talking to them. So far, his entries look as so:

 

I'm in the Dark Witch's castle and apparently her name is Izetta from what the servants have said. Izetta is not here for some reason and I assume the wizard-in-charge, “Lord Yuuri” is one of her servants. I don't seem to be in any danger yet despite Yuuri claiming he's enemies with my father. Whatever magic that was used to keep the servants young is apparently wearing off because several have made comments about finally getting taller or older.

 

Minami Kenjiro: Found me in the snow, looks like he's 8-9 seasons in age, is actually over 80 seasons, is very hyper but kind, we've both lost a mother and he refers to Yuuri as “Master” for some reason. Is a castle guardsmen, does grounds patrol. Human, nationality must be from the Land of the Rising Sun.

 

Christophe: Helped get me to the castle. Close to my age in appearance but not sure how how old he actually is. Human wizard. Has two familiars, one of them is named Masumi and can take human form. Is reluctant to share his full name. My main caregiver since Minami has patrol duties. Is a hand servant to Yuuri?

 

Phichit Chulanont: Castle guardsmen for night patrols and sleeps in the mornings, human, is about 10 seasons in appearance (heard Minami make a joke that he was getting old since he turned 100 his last birthday), close to Yuuri and likes to gossip about other servants. Friendly but really chatty. Must be from an Eastern nation, never have seen a skin color as rich as his before.

 

Guang-Hong: Castle guardsmen, morning patrol, is a bit shy but close to Leo. Must be from the Eastern nations but is not from the islands. Human.

 

Leo: Castle guardsmen, afternoon patrol, claims he's from across the ocean when I asked. Never heard of any nation from across the ocean. Human.

 

Otabek: Castle guardsmen, evening patrol, doesn't talk much, is half-High Elf (Phichit gave me this information and has pointed ears), won't talk to me but does seem to have in interest in me as he will check on me during patrols.

 

Jean-Jacques: Called “JJ”, Castle chef, very loud and arrogant but means well. I suspect he's not actually human and hiding his true form using a magic earring. Has a health condition I cannot identify yet. Diabetes or heart condition?

 

Isabella: Companion of JJ. They seem to be close friends. Fae, fairy magician. Gardener, seems all food in the castle goes through her first. Perhaps JJ’s earring is a gift from her?

 

Victor added his thoughts to JJ's notes before reviewing the next profiles. The next ones give him a bit of dread since he has to face some information he doesn't want to accept.

 

'Lord' Yuuri: In charge of castle, powerful human(?) wizard/magician ( I can feel his power without even trying), appears to be 13 or 14 seasons, dislikes me because of my father, must be from the Land of the Rising Sun, squints like he needs glasses.

 

Mylrin Nikiforov: My father, is described similar to me, is the bane of Yuuri's existence, High Elf, Izetta's lover(?) according to Phichit, was banished at one point so that must have been when he met my mother not long after,

 

There's a sigh from Victor as he re-reads his own hand writing. His father is a High Elf, a race thought to be killed in genocide decades ago by the Fae during a war. Well, it is possible that maybe a few elves could have survived but Victor is still in denial due to the fact that he was raised as a human and he has no elven traits such as pointed ears or- actually, his semi-high cheek bones and silver hair. Silver hair that tends to grow long is an elven trait and his face reflects it.

 

He's not ashamed but is a bit angry Yakov nor his mother didn't tell him anything about his father being part High Elf. It would have explained where his magical blood came from at least.

 

There's a knock at the door, so Victor closes his spellbook before saying, “Come in.”

 

Christophe comes in with both familiars and greets, “Good afternoon. How are you feeling?”

 

“Bored.”

 

“That's not what I meant but okay,” Christophe says as he's using a spell to check his bones. He hums a bit and informs, “Looking good, you're healing up enough I might be able to finally get you in the bath.”

 

“Thank the gods, I need one.” Victor is relieved and agrees to needing a bath. His skin feels filthy.

 

Christophe asks, “You don't mind if I take you there with a wheelchair?”

 

Victor shrugs and answers, “I can't walk, might as well.”

 

“I'll be right back. I think Seung-gil has fixed the old one but I'm not sure.” Christophe promises.

 

There's another piece of information that Victor has learned. He writes it down as Christophe leaves:

 

Seung-gil: craftsmen(?)

 

Neither of the familiars have left, getting comfortable on the bed. Victor has had minimal conversation with the white cat familiar, Sofia, but Masumi is more sociable once he's out of his cat form. Neither of them really care about sharing castle gossip or about the other servants so Victor just lets them share the same space as him without any obligations other than their occasions commands from Christophe. Even when they are given commands, it seems Masumi is the one who does the most work.

 

The way Masumi and Christophe look at each other when they get the chance is not subtle. It's enough that Victor feels as if he's intruding (not to mention the taboo of considering a romance between and magician and their familiar is awkward).

 

Christophe returns with the fixed wheelchair, positioning it so it's close to the bedside. They've done this before for bathroom trips but it's less painful now to move and to semi-hop on one leg with Christophe's help into the chair. By the end of the process, both are panting at the effort it takes to get into the chair and Victor groans slightly from the strain on his muscles.

 

“Ready?” Christophe asks.

 

“Yes, more than ready.” Victor agrees.

 

As Victor is being pushed through unfamiliar parts of the castle, he notices the eyes on him and servants trying to be inconspicuous. He takes note that they seem to be on an upper level of the castle since he seems nothing but sky and treetops through the windows. The stone walls occasionally have faded oil paintings spotted along the corridors and stain glass every other window- No, on second glance he can see the strain glass moves and warps with the window into new scenery and characters. Right now, the glass is depicting a scene of what looks to be Minami valiantly fighting off some monstrous creatures with Christophe and Makkachin helping Victor in the snow.

 

Christophe snorts, “The glass likes to raid people's memories for inspiration. Some servants hate these windows for that reason but Lord Yuuri insists they stay...” Victor doesn't miss the disdain in Christophe's tone, suggesting he hates the windows himself.

 

They pass through multiple hallways until they reach a heavy wooden door that seems to have suffered years of water damage. Inside, the bathing area is stone-tiled and reminds Victor of the stories of royals and their wealthy luxuries. Victor feels no embarrassment being helped stripped out of his dirty clothes and helped to sit under the warm spray of water Christophe provides from the faucet.

 

Just as Victor is about to relax, Christophe asks, “Mind if I join you? It's a bit awkward to be in the bathing area in my clothes.”

 

“Go ahead.” Victor responds, taking the faucet device awhile Christophe moves to remove his clothes and glasses that have become almost fogged over from the steam. Not long, Christophe has rejoined him with a soap bar and gently washes Victor's back after a quick asking of permission.

 

Victor can't help but close his eyes and relax. Absent-mindedly, Victor plays with his hair that is moved over his shoulder. This is the most relaxed he's been in a long time but it's short-lived. Once Christophe is done with his back, he taps Victor's shoulder and gives him the soap bar.

 

“You wash the rest of yourself, I'll rinse.” Christophe bargains, earning a noncommittal grunt from Victor as he lathers himself in suds. Christophe only helps again when his hair needs washed just because Victor has a lot of hair and it hurts to raise his arms to reach his head.

 

When they're both done washing, Christophe helps Victor into the large tub that can fit about four people. Both relax into the warm water and soak. It's quiet and peaceful, for awhile at least.

 

“... Hey, Victor. Minami told you what happened to him, right? How he ended up here?” Christophe is a bit too serious as he asks.

 

Victor gives him an almost blank gaze as he answers, “He has. Why do you ask?”

 

There's a sigh from Christophe as he says, “That boy shares too much. It's best you know the least as possible... so it will be easier when you have to leave,” The depressed expression on Christophe's face puts an odd weight on Victor's heart as he continues bitterly, “It's not like we're your friends. You don't need to hear all out sob stories if you're just going to leave anyway.”

 

“... Can I be your friend?”

 

Christophe sits up, confused by Victor's question, “What?”

 

Victor repeats himself, “Can I be your friend? You don't have to share any sob stories with me. I just enjoy your company, even if it's temporary.”

 

Christophe is dumbfounded at first, then smirks and instructs, “Call me Chris. Only friends get to call me that casually.”

 

There's a smile shared between them as Victor says, “Okay, Chris. I'll try the best friend I can be for the next couple weeks.”

 

Chris jokes, “Masumi is already my best friend and better half, so good luck with that.”

 

There's a half-hearted splash fight between the two before they're interrupted by the door opening. They both freeze when they see who's entered. It's Yuuri with a new change of clothes in his arms.

 

“L-Lord Yuuri, we weren't expecting you.” Chris stutters a bit.

 

“Are you both almost done? I would like be to alone while bathing.” Yuuri's tone is sharp, trying to intimidate when he doesn't need to.

 

“Um, almost. I'll get Victor out and you'll have it to yourself.” Chris assures, already getting out and getting towels.

 

Victor and Yuuri meet eyes for the first time in weeks. Yuuri is dressed in some kind of ruffled lounging clothes, seeming to have similar ruffled attire to change into, and his gaze is still unnaturally piercing. Victor can't help but think he must try his hardest to maintain such a fierce gaze... and that he must be half-blind from how hard he squints his eyes.

 

Their gaze doesn't break even as Chris is helping Victor out of the tub, drying has he goes back into the wheelchair.

 

“We'll be going,” Chris wishes, “Enjoy your bath, my lord.”

 

Yuuri gives a grunt of acknowledgement and they leave the bathing area. Chris and Victor are half dressed in the hallway from being in such a hurry.

 

“Sorry about that.” Chris apologizes.

 

Victor shakes his head and counters, “Don't be, you weren't expecting him to show up.”

 

Chris sighs as he finishes dressing themselves, asking, “Anything else you feel like doing...friend?”

 

Thinking about it, Victor answers confidently, “Reading? You have a library, don't you?”

 

 

A voice calls to Yuuri when he's alone, as if he's never alone to begin with.

 

Interesting. I still can't believe you let Mylrin's spawn into the castle. I expected you to kill him.”

 

“Shut it, Izetta,” Yuuri commands as he soaks himself in the faucet spray, “Not now... Let me rest...”

 

 

A new habit of Victor's is to go to the castle library now that Chris has taken him there several times. As Victor heals, he's soon able to get around with crutches and the watchful guidance of his new friend.

 

The library is unfathomably large. One could easily get lost among the bookshelves in rows reaching to the ceiling. Stain windows give enough light during the day to read without stress on the eyes but this evening Victor gets to see the levitating candles in action while he reads a book he'd never thought existed. A book whose author is labeled 'Yakov Feltsman' on the topic of 'The Biology of Fae, Draconians, Orcs and Other Humanoids'.

 

Victor has only read the notebooks that Yakov has provided him for lessons on potions but never something as in-depth as the books he's found by his former mentor. He feels cheated, as if he could have learned a lot more if these books were made available to him sooner but he must accept it's better now than never (Chris had informed him that many magician texts were banned when Izetta started influencing the Arcana government, which blew Victor's mind since Yakov said he used to be a Paladin Medic of the Arcana before settling in Peterov Village).

 

Chris yawns a bit before excusing himself, “I'll be right back. I'm going to get us something to eat.”

 

“We can eat in the library? Won't Lord Yuuri be pissed?” Victor teases over his book.

 

“Lord Yuuri eats pork cutlet bowls while reading science fiction novels here. He won't give a single fuck if we eat in the library.” Victor isn't really used to vulgar language from Chris but is slowly getting used to it as it seems to be Chris' way of trying to be friendly (As in, it's obvious Chris has never really had a 'friend' before and is trying his hardest to be one by using casual language as well).

 

When Victor gives a sound of acknowledgement, Chris leaves to get them food. Victor turns his interest back to the book he's reading and taking down notes in his spell book so he doesn't forget. So he can learn what Yakov never got to teach him.

 

As he's reading, Victor can hear music softly playing. It's barely noticeable at first but the tune becomes recognizable as the player becomes louder. Someone is playing a piano and they're playing a song Victor knows is a lullaby his mother used to play for him on her ocarina.

 

Victor cannot help himself; he needs to see who's playing the song. He sets his book down and gets the crutches, carefully navigating himself in the direction of the sound in smooth strides of the crutches. Just by following the sound, he's able to get through the library without getting lost. He's at the end of the bookcases and can see the piano.

 

At the piano is Otabek, crying.

 

Chapter Text

Otabek is quietly in tears as he plays the piano. Before Victor can even announce his presence, Otabek notices and startles. A hand is on Otabek's chest and his other is wiping his eyes.

 

“S-Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.” Victor apologizes.

 

Otabek shakes his head and assures, “You're fine... I wasn't expecting anyone to be in the library at this time.”

“You didn't notice Christophe and I talking?”

 

Otabek shakes his head so Victor says, “I see...”

 

There's no verbal cue but Victor is motioned to come over and sit down at the piano. Victor slowly makes his way over and sits down. Otabek resumes playing the song, the calming piano a reminder of nights lulled to sleep by his mother.

 

When the song ends, Otabek asks, “Have you ever heard this song before? It's a vital song in Elven culture.”

 

“I have, my mother used to play it for me.” Victor explains.

 

“My original master used to sing to me; we sang to each other,” Otabek has a smile as he reminisces but gives Victor more questions. Otabek notices and confirms, “Yes, I had a master before Izetta. I was born into servitude.”

 

“That's sad... who was your old master?” Victor is curious since this is the most he's heard Otabek speak.

 

Otabek is playing a soft improvisation since he finishes the first song, answering, “Prince Yuran. He let me call him Yura and was a little older than me. He was the Prince of the High Elves... he would have became the next king if he wasn't murdered and our people weren't obliterated by Izetta and-” He stops himself and he 'tsks' with irritation, “Nevermind, I'll get in trouble with Yuuri if I tell you too much. I don't want to spend any time in the dungeons.”

 

Victor has an idea what he means by that and says, “You don't need to talk about the deaths or who caused them. I just wanted to know about your master... I guess you don't like Yuuri?

 

The response from Otabek is cautious, “... Yes, I hate him. He and Izetta ruined my life but there's not much I can do.”

 

“Why do you bother serving him? Is it possible for you to leave-” Victor is interrupted by a snort from Otabek.

 

Otabek is chuckling but is obviously annoyed, “You ask too many questions. Do you really think any of us can leave this castle? Even if we could, none of us know how to live a life outside this castle,” Almost dramatically, Otabek rests his head on the piano keys with a sad expression, “We're stuck as Yuuri's servants, whether we like it or not. Izetta left him in charge, long story short.”

 

“I see... do you still miss Prince Yuran? I mean, as much as you first did?”

 

Otabek nods, “Every day but I believe I'll see him again. I believe in reincarnation. My master will return to me.”

 

Victor is fascinated with what he learns but decides he's asked enough questions. He does have a request, “... Could you play that song again for me?”

 

“The lullaby?” Otabek asks.

 

Victor nods and Otabek accepts the request by simply playing the song until Chris returns with a cart of food. Victor waves a bit and Chris joins them in listening to the song. This time, Otabek doesn't cry now he has an audience.

 

 

Dinner is ham steak with cheesy mashed potatoes. Victor didn't get many opportunities to have ham because it's expensive in Peterov Village but to have it now is simply divine. He can't help but close his eyes and savor the taste. He can't deny that JJ has done well this time; this is rich and juicy.

 

“Chris, tell JJ this is really good when you take dishes back. Potatoes need more salt but the meat is perfect.” Victor instructs.

 

“Will do.” Chris confirms.

 

“Do you mind if I stay in the library longer? I want to read.”

 

Chris allows him, “Go ahead. I'll be back to help you to bed in a couple hours.”

 

Victor has the anatomy book out again and it taking notes again in his spell book (after making notes about Otabek and adding Prince Yuran to his notes as a 'learn more about High Elves and their society' note). The library is quiet because Otabek has left while they are eating dinner. Chris cleans up dishes and leaves him be.

 

Right now, Victor is looking at High Elf anatomy out of curiosity. It's not much different than a human except for more advanced eye function and larger skeletal system. He's so distracted that he doesn't notice the lounge chair being occupied across from him until he puts the book down to grab the next in his pile.

 

His eyes lock with the new guest, Yuuri, who has a battered-looking dark blue book in his hand and a bowl of a breaded meat dish balanced in his lap.

 

“Oh... hello Lord Yuuri.” Victor politely greets, not wanting to antagonize the unpredictable wizard in black lounge clothes.

 

Yuuri mutters before taking a bite of food, “Good evening,” When he swallows, he says, “I see that Christophe is letting you have less supervision.”

 

“Is that bad? I can't go very far anyway so am I even a threat?” Victor hopes his reading time doesn't get Chris in trouble.

 

“Not really, just making an observation... I'm going to read for awhile, don't mind me.” Yuuri declares and pulls his book back close to his face. Victor sighs a bit at how much Yuuri has to strain his eyes to read. The book is barely inches from his face and Victor can't take it anymore.

 

“You need glasses.” Victor states.

 

Yuuri looks over his book, mostly hiding his face but his tone is irritable, “And?”

 

“You shouldn't have to have a book merely inches from your face to read it and I bet you can't see my face clearly when we speak.” Victor is blunt, wanting him to see his point. As if to answer his suspicions, Yuuri looks away and puts his book down.

 

“... What can you do about it? My last pair of glasses broke sixty years ago. I can get by without glasses.” Yuuri admits unexpectedly. He looks vulnerable as if remembering something unpleasant or feeling helpless about the situation.

 

Victor offers, “Before I go, I want to check your eyes. I am close to a doctor, so there has to be something I can do. About getting you glasses, maybe one of your servants is skilled with metal work and can craft a pair for you with measurements of your face. I can craft the lenses with magic, what do you say?”

 

Yuuri seems overwhelmed while considering it so Victor says, “You know what, just think about it. I still have some time before I get better. I can't use magic yet so you have time to consider it.”

 

“No, it's not that. Just...why? I literally threatened to kill you when you arrived. Why would you help me?” Yuuri asks, exasperated.

 

“Why wouldn't I? You did spare my life and you're offering me a place to recover. Shouldn't I repay your kindness?” Victor is honest and Yuuri is kind despite his persona. He's deserving of such a gift.

 

There's a shift of expressions as Yuuri considers it. There's shock, disbelief and then an accepting, grateful smile that Victor has never seen from Yuuri but seems the most real emotion from him than the cruel persona of a dark lord.

 

It's fleeting as the serious expression returns on Yuuri with a blunt, “Fine, I'll think about your offer.”

 

Victor leaves him be to eat and read afterward, just watching him for awhile. Yuuri looks like any teenager, awkward and half-grown. He's also a little pudgy but it's not very noticeable unless you look for it specifically. He has a soft smile while he reads. Remembering a bit of information from Chris, Victor knows Yuuri likes science fiction novels.

 

What could he be reading about? The possibility of worlds existing among the stars? Or maybe, technology that would give humans abilities close to magicians? Victor won't know now because he doesn't want to disturb the smile he suspects is a rarity on Yuuri's face. Simply, Victor returns to his own reading material just so he doesn't disturb the moment until Chris returns an hour or two later to escort him to bed.

 

The surprise on Chris' face isn't missed when he sees the two sharing the same space. However, he is quiet as he guides Victor to stand on his crutches and return to the sleeping chambers.

 

As they're leaving through the bookcase aisles, Victor hears a soft farewell from Yuuri, “Good night, you two.”

 

 

Tabitha is running through the forest at night, a terrible decision if her life wasn't possible at stake by her pursuer. Black soil is damp under her feet from the rain, her auburn hair is plastered to her skin and she's narrowly avoiding trees as she runs. She knows her pursuer has much better eyesight for lowlight and much better hearing.

 

A log trips her and sends her tumbling down a hillside through the mud. She cries out when she rolls into a tree and her back cracks from the impact. She can't help but pant and lay there in pain as her pursuer catches up, his dark figure feet from her.

 

“You can't run forever,” Mylrin taunts, “Plisetsky isn't very tight-lipped after several mugs of ale. You really think you can get away with valuable information? If Izetta is dead, I need to know.”

 

He crouches next to her and grabs her by the hair to make her look him in the eyes. She grits her teeth in pain as he says, “You're real name isn't Tabitha. You did a good job at using a masking spell but it doesn't get past my Elven eyes, Milla Babicheva.” Her masking spell wears off and her red hair, blue eyes, and younger face reveal in place.

 

Milla gives him a glare before spitting, “Fuck off, Mylrin. Izetta is dead, that's all you needed to know, right?”

 

Mylrin chuckles, causing his bow and quiver of arrows to jostle a little before stating, “I know it's more than that, pumpkin. You know information that if it was released to the Paladins you'd be killed and Izetta's castle would become a mission for the Paladins to find. If any trace of Izetta is still alive, the Arcana will certainly want to know.”

 

Milla refuses to answer, still glaring. She cries out when Mylrin pulls her up and kicks her but she immediately struggles by punching back. To stop her, he sharply casts a spell, “Immobilize!

 

She is unable to move on her own once the spell is cast, she is a puppet for Mylrin. She can only grit her teeth and mutter curses at him.

 

Mylrin asks firmly, “Is any trace of Izetta still alive to threaten my chances at ruling?”

 

Milla doesn't answer, instead redirecting, “So it's not Izetta's servants causing the destruction to the mountain villages-” She is stopped by Mylrin's constriction on her limbs using the spell and she is in agony.

 

“Answer. Is she somehow alive to get in my way? I would prefer my ex-lover not interfere with my chances of world domination.” Mylrin's face is humorless, cruel, “If you don't tell me, I have no problem with killing that beauty you married not too long ago. Sara, was it?”

 

“You're bluffing, you don't even know where she is.” Milla is nervous that her wife has been mentioned but stands firm.

 

“She's in Hepstin with her brother. Don't underestimate me. Now, tell me or I can guarantee she'll be dead in an hour by my familiar's hands.” His grip tightens on her hair and her resolve weakens as she realizes she has no choice.

 

“...You promise to spare her if I tell you?”

 

“You have my word.” Mylrin confirms.

 

Milla sighs and confesses, “She lives inside one of her servants. Her body is gone but she still here. I don't know which servant but it has to be one that was close to her.”

 

Mylrin drops her in shock and practically growls, “It's Katsuki. That's the only servant she would dare share a body with.”

 

There's no time for Milla to recover as Mylrin forces her to stand with his magic. She strains her voice, “What are you doing? I told you what you wanted to know! Let me go!”

 

“Oh no, you're coming with me. You're going with me to tell the Paladins themselves that their precious leader is dead.” Mylrin is grinning, sending a chill down Milla's spine.

 

“W-why are you smiling?”

 

Mylrin declares as he makes her follow him with no control of her body, “Two birds, one stone. The Arcana will hear of Izetta's death and immediately order Katsuki to be put to death in place for her crimes. I'll have revenge for the genocide of my people and no one will stand in my way for taking over this country.”

 

The words from Mylrin's mouth bring one thought to Milla, “You're... insane. Izetta desired world domination and you're just going to continue what she started? You, you're disgusting,” She's practically spitting, “Why? Why kill more? Haven't all the nations suffered enough?”

 

Mylrin silences her and makes her mind go numb slowly so she can't resist his commands but the last thing she hears from is his deadpan reply, “I still have yet to make this world as Izetta and I desired. If she must reject me and hurt me, she can die and I will do it myself. The world reborn...”

 

 

Spring has arrived. The snow has melted and flowers and herbs are springing up from the ground at the castle. The days are longer and the servants are more energetic with their work. Victor is celebrating the first day he's able to reliably walk without crutches with freshly baked cookies in the dining room of the castle.

 

The dining room is decorated with stain glass windows, a polished oak table that can seat over forty people and marble flooring. If Victor thought the library seemed regal than the dining room blew him away in comparison when shown it the first time.

 

Today is the day that Victor must make a choice, does he leave or does he stay? Many of the servants besides Chris and Minami have avoided him out of their own denial that he might leave and that gives Victor more guilt than it should.

 

“Victor, before you leave, is there anything you wanna do? Master Yuuri wants us to make sure you're fully decided.” Minami asks, masking his own sadness.

 

Victor rubs his chin with one hand while the other pets Makkachin. He responds, “I have a couple things I need to do before I decide... A promise to myself and a promise to Yuuri.”

 

Chris cuts in, “Should I bring Lord Yuuri or help with the other task first?”

 

“Other task first, I would like to speak to JJ alone.” Victor demands as he takes another bite of cookie and both Minami and Chris rush to find JJ.

 

 

“You wanted to talk to me?” JJ is cautious since he is rushed so suddenly from his station. They're both in the break area for the kitchens since it has a door that can be locked and give them privacy.

 

“Yes, I want to talk to you about your fainting-”

 

“I'm fine.” JJ interrupts and with fake politeness says, “You don't need to worry me, I'm in perfect health-”

 

Victor interrupts and deadpans, “Fainting and having to be revived with magic by your best friend is not healthy. I want you to be honest with me. I know you're really sick and I'm guessing you're worried if anyone knows how ill you are that they'll label you a cripple and not let you work in the kitchens. Izetta's magic was keeping the illness from killing you but it's getting worse now that Yuuri is in control and can't manage the illness for you, right?”

 

It's only a theory of Victor's but he realizes he's glad they're alone... because JJ's eyes start to well up with tears and he begs, “Please don't tell anyone how sick I am. I-I don't know what's wrong with me but I'm still useful. I know I'm of an inferior race but I can keep serving-”

 

Victor stops him and tries to comfort, not experienced with crying people, “I won't! Please don't cry. I'm going to help you. I need to examine you because I promised myself I would help you before I leave.”

 

JJ sniffles, “Why?”

 

“You fed me for over two months and all be damned if I don't repay you back by saving your life.” Victor is determined, “That earring... it conceals your real form. I need you in your real form to help you the best I can. I know you're not human.”

 

JJ has wiped all his tears away and is reluctant to remove the earring, “Do I have to? I'm hideous without my human form.”

 

“Yes,” Victor insists, “Whatever you look like, I can tolerate.”

 

There's a pause before JJ moves his hands and removes the earring. His form changes first with his skin color, turning a soft green, his features sharpen a bit and when he sighs Victor can see JJ's two large canines on the bottom jaw. He's an Orc. That explains why he wanted to insist he's healthy. Culturally, Orcs kill off the weaker members of their society if they're sick so it makes sense why JJ panicked.

 

“I look terrible.” JJ says, slightly trying to hide his face.

 

“You... don't look much different.” Victor admits. He still looks like his human form except with some extra features. Yakov always taught him to be considerate of all magical races, so he's not intimidated by JJ's race as most would be.

 

“Huh?” JJ is surprised.

 

“Seriously, you look fine. Why do you hide your true form?” Victor asks, genuinely curious.

 

“... Not everyone in the castle is as tolerant as you. I make everyone uncomfortable in this form.” JJ complains.

 

“Everyone?”

 

“Yes, everyone. Especially Otabek. That Elf bastard is no different than the rest of his kind.” JJ's tone is spiteful and frustrated, “I... hate myself in this form. Isabella accepts me but she hates to see me suffer. I wish I was actually human and that earring is as close as I get to it.”

 

“I see,” Victor feels horrible for him. It doesn't feel good to hate the body you're in, even if Victor has never actually experienced it. If anything, he wants him to at least feel healthy for now and asks, “Will you close your eyes? I'll see what's wrong.”

 

JJ closes his eyes and Victor's familiar blue spark of magic mold to his intent. He can feel all of JJ's systems as his own and feels the fatigue that JJ must feel every day. Victor takes JJ's hand and tests his theory of JJ's condition; his heart is fine but he senses something off with his blood. Malnutrition? Not exactly. Victor sighs when he finds the source because it confirms his second theory. His body isn't regulating its own blood sugar so it's the cause of his fainting and fatigue. Luckily, it's a manageable illness so Victor is also relieved his heart is fine.

 

When Victor takes his hand away, he's back in his own body's functions and feels like a weight has been taken off. JJ comes to and seems mildly disoriented from the experience.

 

Victor informs, “You have diabetes. You have had it for a long time too and I'm surprised you've survived this long without treatment. Isabella must be a good magician to keep you alive this long.”

 

“I-Is it curable?” JJ asks, “I've never heard of this illness, what is it?”

 

Victor explains what it does to JJ's body and finishes with, “It's treatable but cannot be cured yet with magic. With a good diet, exercise and a medicinal supplement, you'll be fine.”

 

“You're sure?”

 

“Positive. The supplement is very easy to make. I'll teach you.”

 

JJ seems relieved, “Alright, teach me. I'm tired of being sick.”

 

 

JJ caught on very quick on how to make the supplement and showed Isabella as well (He also reattached his earring to turn human again.) Victor feels accomplished as JJ took his first dose of the new medicine and didn't have any immediate adverse effects. He almost tells JJ to keep him informed on how the new med is going in a week or two but realizes he might be leaving so he can't.

 

Instead of dwelling on that, Victor refocuses on his second task. Get Yuuri some glasses. He leaves JJ and Isabella to celebrate finally getting answers to his illness to find Yuuri.

 

Yuuri is usually in his room in the afternoons, according to Phichit. The question is: where is Yuuri's room? Not like he wants to intrude on Yuuri but he needs to speak to him to get the measurements for the glasses before he goes searching for Seung-gil to craft them. Luckily, Leo is passing through for his patrols and Victor stops him.

 

“Leo, could I ask for you to escort me to Yuuri?”

 

Leo thinks about it, as if it's not a good idea, but agrees, “Yeah, just make sure you follow my orders when we get near his living quarters... he's very private about his wing of the castle.”

 

Victor nods, understanding that most of the servants have orders to keep Victor from exploring the castle as well so this isn't much different. Leo leads him up a staircase to the fourth floor of the castle (Victor has only seen most of the second floor that has the library, bathing area and his room and the dining room on the first floor) and through several hallways... He feels physically cold, as if the temperature has dropped the deeper they go into the castle. If he's cold, Leo must be freezing since he's shivering. No, that's fear.

 

The hallway that Leo stops Victor at is in shambles. The wallpaper covering the stone walls look like it's been torn by claws, the stained glass looks like it's been broken through and badly fixed, the carpet is torn and a painting at the end of the hallway looks like it's been stabbed multiple times with a blade. Victor has a chill go down his spine when he examines the painting because it depicts a poseing man that looks very similar to him...

 

Leo goes down the hallway to the third door down out of four. He knocks and Victor cannot make out what they're saying... but it doesn't seem to go well as Yuuri's door opens and Leo is chased out of the hallway by a barking familiar that looks similar to his own. Leo has to jump to avoid the small brown dog from biting his ankles. The familiar backs off once Leo is out of the hallway and returns to Yuuri's room.

 

Leo pants, “He said... he'd meet you in the garden in ten minutes. He needs to get dressed.” The guardsman is at his wit's end and Victor pats his back.

 

“Alright. Thank you. Leo.” Victor thanks him.

 

“No problem, better me than the other guards to deal with a cranky Lord Yuuri!” Leo oddly cheers up by joking and guides Victor to the garden. Victor simply follows but can't shake the cold feeling of the hallway until they're down the stairs. Victor can't help but wonder what happened in that hallway to cause so much damage.

 

 

The garden is almost in bloom. Buds are forming on most of the plants and rose bushes lining the entirety of the castle. Rows of seedlings fill the dirt plots that will provide fresh food in several weeks. The garden is in a large circular courtyard that faces southwest towards the forest. There is a trail leading to a small shack at the bottom of a small hill where Seung-gil keeps to himself from the other servants.

 

Victor kinda plays with the clothes he's been given since they're flowy and white. He can't disagree with how comfortable they are. It feels like he could just blow away in a strong wind. What he doesn't expect is for Yuuri to arrive in the garden in similar wear.

 

The two look at each other for a minute and Yuuri shrugs as he comments, “I guess we're matching today.”

 

“Ready to get measured for your new glasses? That's why I wanted to talk to you.” Victor informs.

 

Yuuri blinks and his face softens in surprise, “You remembered.”

 

“Of course,” Victor assures, “I said I would get you glasses. I know I need to decide if I leave today but I can't decide until I know I have repaid your kindness.”

 

“... Okay, do what you must. I trust you.” Yuuri says.

 

Victor smiles and says, “Then stay right there and let me measure your face...”

 

Yuuri closes his eyes as Victor summons a mental measuring tape that remembers the measurements taken of his brow, eyes, and length to his ear. Victor has an idea of what would look nice on Yuuri's face but whether Seung-gil can craft it quickly is another question.

 

“I'm done, open your eyes.”

 

Yuuri does so and looks at him expectantly to do what he needs to do. Victor points towards Seung-gil's shack and Yuuri heads that direction with him. Both of them help each other not fall down the hill on the way to the shack. A curtain opens in the shack and Victor catches a glimpse of the mysterious servant who isn't very sociable. The curtain closes again when they are at the door and Yuuri knocks.

 

A deadpan voice asks behind the door, “What do ya want?”

 

Yuuri responds, “The guest would like your help crafting a gift for me.”

 

“Why should I help?”

 

Yuuri sighs and offers, “I'll have JJ bring you twice your usual rations as reward.”

 

There's silence and then the door opens. Seung-gil is about nine seasons in appearance with impressive eyebrows. The servant motions them both to come in. Yuuri goes into without a second thought and Victor slowly trails behind.

 

The shack is cozy, reminds Victor of Peterov Village except for the fur hides used for blankets on the couch by the fireplace/metal-working station. It's a workspace and a home. Seung-gil offers tea and both decline.

 

Soon, Seung-gil gets comfortable and asks Victor, “So, a gift. What do you want me to make?”

 

Victor materializes the measuring tape into something Seung-gil can use and says, “Glasses. Yuuri is blind as a bat and I want to see if you can make something by tonight.”

 

Yuuri glares at Victor for a minute but his attention is back on Seung-gil when he replies, “I can make frames in four hours. They'll take an hour to properly set, so make that five hours.” He takes the measuring tape from Victor and seems to understand the notes as he immediately gets to work by getting the metal to mold.

 

Yuuri is surprised, “That fast?”

 

“Terrific.” Victor praises.

 

Seung-gil sneers and orders, “Get out. Let me work.” Victor and Yuuri leave the shack; the door practically hits them on the way out.

 

Before Victor can ask, Yuuri says, “Seung-gil is Seung-gil. I can't order him to do anything so I let him live by himself out in this shack. He seems happy enough out here so I try not to bother him.”

 

Victor nods to that before asking, “When the glasses are finished, where will I be able to find you?”

 

“The library. I plan to read until late.”

 

“Alright, I'll see you then.” The two part ways but return to the castle.

 

 

Victor has the frames in his hands. Seung-gil was grateful to get the frames out of his care but seemed proud of the final product. Some rounded rectangle frames made of blue metal. They'll look nice on Yuuri.

 

The last step is for Victor to quickly test Yuuri's vision before he summons lenses to adjust to Yuuri's eyes.

 

He's in front of Yuuri in the usual lounge area, candles already out because the sun has set. Yuuri looks nervous as they reunite.

 

Victor asks, “Are you ready?”

 

 

Yuuri snaps, “Just do it already.”

Chapter Text

Victor asks, “Are you ready?”

 

Yuuri snaps, “Just do it already.”

 

There's a pause and a judgy glance from Victor at Yuuri's sassiness. Victor would have sassed back if it weren't for the excited gaze of Yuuri.

 

“Then follow my orders,” Victor demands, having done this only two times before, “Follow my finger with your eyes, tell me to stop when my finger is no longer a fuzzy blur.”

 

Yuuri is obedient, following his finger with his eyes. Yuuri's eyes seem healthy but his finger is merely inches from Yuuri's face before being asked, “Stop.”

 

As Victor thought, Yuuri's eyesight is terrible. He refocuses his magic into summoning the lenses into the frames. The frames glow in his hands and the lenses slowly form as his intent is clear. Make Yuuri's sight clear. Give him correct sight. The frames stop glowing as the frames set and magic radiates off the set of glasses. Victor and Yuuri meet eyes again and the glasses and exchanged between them.

 

Yuuri is cautious as he examines the glasses before he finally raises them up and sets them gently on his face.

 

Victor feels his breath taken away because he never realized what big eyes Yuuri has when he's not squinting. His heart oddly skips a beat in a way he's never experienced but decides it's nothing. What really floors him is Yuuri's innocently surprised expression and confession.

 

“You look nothing like Mylrin. I'm sorry I ever compared you to him.” Yuuri confesses and apologizes, the guilt on his softened face melts Victor's heart.

 

“I don't? I thought you wanted to kill me because I resembled him?”

 

“That was before I could clearly see your face. You have a... soft face. Not one hardened by cruelty,” Yuuri almost looks zoned out while continuing, “You both have the same hairstyle and color but... everything else is different.”

 

Victor is relieved. He's been compared to a man he's never met, yet has no desire to ever want to be compared to him if he's caused anyone in this castle harm. That includes Yuuri. The two just stare at each other because they can finally see each other clearly without misunderstanding.

 

Yuuri lightly gasps as he remembers, “Before you leave, I have something for you. I confiscated it from Minami a week ago,” Victor gasps as Yuuri reveals an azure ribbon from his pocket, “I know it's important to you, so I made sure it's returned to you.”

 

Taking it from Yuuri's hands, Victor almost cries from joy and thanks, “Thank you. You have no idea how happy I am to have it back,” He wipes his eyes to stop any tears, “Really, I've been looking for this.”

 

Yuuri smiles a bit but points out, “It's getting late. You will need an escort to Kapita, right?”

 

Victor is retying the ribbon into his hair when he admits, “I don't want to leave.”

 

“... Huh? Why?” Yuuri looks shocked.

 

“Well... I have nowhere else to go,” Victor rambles his reasons, “I have no family in Kapita. So, I wouldn't be able to get a headstart there. Also, I'm an apothecary by trade. I can act as a castle doctor since one of your servants has a chronic illness that needs to be monitored and with any other ailments as they arrive.”

 

When Yuuri is quiet with a blank face, Victor squirms a bit and begs, “Please let me stay. I've made friends here and have nothing to return to outside this castle. I'll do whatever it takes so I can stay.”

 

There's silence between them for moments. Victor stays still as Yuuri takes a step closer and answers, “You're in luck. I don't want you to leave.”

 

“Really?”

 

Yuuri nods and adds, “Yeah, I don't want to lose a new friend. Please stay,” He holds out his hand, “Shake on it.”

 

Victor doesn't hesitate and shakes his hand, the brightest smile yet on his face. It doesn't take long for news to spread that Victor is staying because Phichit leaves his hiding place and is announcing the news throughout the castle.

 

 

Three years later...

 

 

Outside the castle, the magical world has changed from the forced and untruthful announcement of Izetta's death.

 

For those who know the truth of the Arcana's corruption, the news of Mylrin's acceptance into the council sparks outrage and seeds of discontent that is quieted by force of the Paladins. Hundreds of magicians die before the magical world is forced into silence against Mylrin's new role as a leader of the council.

 

No one can rebel when Katsuki Yuuri is labeled the public enemy of the Arcana. Instead, those who know the location of Izetta's castle stay quiet. They would rather Katsuki be left in peace than appease the ego of a soon-to-be dictator.

 

Milla feels shame from Mylrin controlling her to his will, into being forced to lie so Mylrin would seem like a changed man. Mylrin is now a false hero in the eyes of the Arcana and is too blind to see the truth. When Milla is asked to do informant jobs in Kapita, she is forced to refuse due to Mylrin's presence being too repulsive for her.

 

Even worse, the Plisetsky family can do nothing as Mylrin demands to see his son, Yuri. At eight seasons in age, Yuri Plisetsky understands from his mother and his own magical sense that Mylrin is not to be trusted, even if Mylrin is his father. Just as Yuri begins to realize his own mother is a slave trader and what she does is wrong. For Yuri, his solace is his grandfather teaching him magic and playing with his non-magician friend from the slums, Demetri. Even Mylrin's weekly visits cannot bring Yuri down as long as he has his family.

 

Lillia has brought the apothecary to its original standings although the townspeople have some distrust of her. When she hears Mylrin is in rule and trying to get Yuuri killed, she can only shake her head and mutter to herself about how they're both idiots... she knows all too well Mylrin means well but is too delusional to succeed and that Yuuri needs to stop playing a victim if he wants to escape Izetta's control. She can't believe her husband tried to help both of these boys.

 

A quiet resistance builds against the Arcana known as the 'Crows'. Crows have always been a symbol of power and change in the magical world. A perfect mascot for a group of magicians in bird-like masks that ride out during the night and destroy Paladin camps. A single force slowly growing stronger in a world forced silent against tyranny.

 

Last but not least, the castle of the 'late' Izetta is peaceful and hidden away from this world. Even the news of Victor surviving does not reach the ears of the outside world because of Yuuri's strict instructions to his servants (The Paladins are still asked by Mylrin to search for him and Victor is none the wiser of anything). Even when Miss Plisetsky arrives to trade her wares to them, Victor is blissfully unaware and distracted when such events happen as Yuuri cannot explain why he worries that Victor will leave if an outsider knows.

 

Victor has expanded his magical ability tenfold from when he arrived at the castle. Shields are easy and life-threatening illnesses are solvable with barely any thought. He has his own wing of the castle on the third floor for a hospital wing. Luckily, the worst injuries have been small cuts and a couple cases of colds (or servants just visit him because they want to). His friendships have grown strong with Yuuri and Chris as well as the rest of the servants.

 

He's gained a new family in the three years he's spent in this castle. While reading Yuuri's favorite books, gossiping with Phichit or relaxing with Chris in the baths, pain killersVictor has never felt so accepted in his life.

 

Yuuri and Victor are both unaware of the shifting of the seeds of their friendship to blossom into something deeper.

 

 

“Ow! That stings!” Minami cries out.

 

“That's what happens when you rough-house nears the fireplace.” Victor lectures while rubbing a healing salve on Minami's arm for a second-degree burn. Phichit is close by with a wrapped arm since he participated in the rough-housing as well.

 

Victor gets bandages and gently wraps the burn, instructing, “Come back to me in the morning, both of you. I'll re-bandage and clean the wound,” He stops when he remembers, “Wait, let me get painkillers so you can sleep tonight.”

 

When Victor leaves the room to his potions lab, Minami and Phichit immediately start gossiping.

 

Minami is first, lamenting, “He's too hot. No wonder Yuuri can't keep his eyes off him. My chances with Yuuri are dead with Victor in this castle.”

 

Phichit chuckles, “You look twelve, of course, Yuuri is not going to be interested when he already looks like a man.”

 

Minami rebuttals, “But I've known him longer! I can grow into a man that would love him even with Izetta possessing him.” He pouts deeply, knowing his complaint means nothing.

 

“Yuuri will love who he's gonna love... I'm just worried because he doesn't understand he's in love and remember what he said after Mylrin and Izetta split?” Phichit adds.

 

“... He said he'd never want to fall in love.” Minami remembers Yuuri's angry tears when he said that all too well.

 

“Yeah, so what if Victor confesses first and scares Yuuri? My gods, that will be a disaster.” Phichit regrets even thinking about it, “Victor must be oblivious as well because have you seen how they look at each other when they think they're alone? This past winter and spring have been nothing but romantic looks. It's killing me!”

 

Minami agrees, “They're bonding so close! As much as I want Yuuri, Victor would be better for him in the long run... I'll just mend this broken heart of mine with JJ's pastries.”

 

“Sounds like a good idea.” Phichit agrees.

 

Both of them hush their gossiping when Victor returns to them with satchels of pain medicine. Victor hands a satchel to each of them and dismisses them, “I'll see you tomorrow, please don't wrestle in the castle unless you want to be put on the 'Wall of Shame'.”

 

Both roll their eyes and Minami makes a snide comment, “Fine. Whatever, Mom”

 

Victor gives them both a judgemental look and they scurry off, almost running into JJ. The reason why JJ is in the infirmary is obvious, as his medication usually gets low around this time of the week. Victor motions him to come in and have a seat as Victor goes into the potions lab again and raids through his herb collection to get to work on the medicine needed.

 

However, he's out of the main ingredient for the potion, scarletta mushrooms. Meaning, he's going to have to make a trip out into the forest with Makkachin to find them.

 

“Sorry JJ, I need to get some mushrooms before I can craft your med. Can you wait a few hours?” Victor asks.

 

“Yeah, I can wait since I just took some of it an hour ago.” JJ confirms.

 

Victor gets a bag and calls to Makkachin, “Makka! Let's go.” Makkachin appears from the hallway and barks excitedly to follow him to the castle gardens and up the trails going up the mountain where the mushrooms grow.

 

Leo is just leaving his shift so Otabek can guard for the evening so Victor knows he needs to be quick since sunset is only two hours from now.

 

In the past three years, Victor is comfortable with this quiet life as a castle doctor. Whether it's treating JJ's diabetes, small cuts and bruises, or injuries from stupid decisions (earning servants places on Victor's Wall of Shame depending on the severity), he's happy. He will admit that some of Yuuri's rules of not leaving the castle on certain days and not being able to go higher in the castle than the fourth floor are annoying but they must be for a good reason so Victor never questions them or breaks them. As long as he gets to chat with Chris about theories of magic, listen to Otabek play the piano while he reads books recommended to him by Yuuri and make sure everyone is healthy, this castle is home more than Peterov Village ever was.

 

Speaking of Yuuri, Victor stops at the edge of the castle garden when he sees Yuuri lounging in shorts and a peasant shirt in the grass. He's asleep in the sun, sunbathing. As much as he should wake him, Victor can't help but stop and watch him sleep for a couple minutes. Yuuri's glasses are crooked on his face and his face is the softest when he sleeps.

 

Victor knows Yuuri would never tell him about his past but knows Yuuri has suffered a lot to end up in this castle. Letting him sleep is the best gift he can give him right now.

 

Or, until Yuuri wakes as he's walking towards the forest path and stops him, “Huh? Where are you going?”

 

Victor informs, “Mountain side, I'm out of scarletta mushrooms,” Just as it looks like Yuuri is going to order him to stay, Victor cuts in with, “It's for JJ's medicine. We need it.”

 

Yuuri crosses his arms, something he does when he knows he has no right to argue against Victor. The last time he crossed his arms was when Victor told him he needed to take his medicine for his cold or he was going to be more miserable during the winter before last.

 

Yuuri looks conflicted as he argues, “Isn't sunset close? I refuse to let one of my servants-” Yuuri stops himself but Victor doesn't miss it. Victor looks away, knowing Yuuri has considered him one of the servants for awhile but he's never admitted it until now. The tension is there as Yuuri changes his mind and says, “Go, you're free to do what you want. I'm sorry for holding you up.”

 

“Thank you...” Victor says before both part ways. Victor is following the trail towards the mountain side before Yuuri bolts through the garden inside, almost running into Otabek.

 

 

Yuuri runs past several concerned servants but none of them question it when Yuuri has run up staircases to the fifth floor. They know exactly what's wrong if he's on the fifth floor.

 

Going into the mountains is a fast way to die. Good riddance.” Izetta comments.

 

“Shut up, Izetta. H-He's going to be fine. My friend is smart enough to take care of himself.” Yuuri assures himself as he's fumbling with the door to the fifth-floor bathing area.

 

Victor isn't trained in combat. The forest folk will eat him if they find him. Sunset is close and they'll happily enjoy a meal.” Izetta taunts further, knowing the more panicked Yuuri is the more control she has over him.

 

Yuuri gets the door open and seats himself so his feet soak in the bath, trying to regulate his breathing and not cry, “I said be quiet! Victor is going to be fine... You can't control me. I know he's going to be o-okay.”

 

His hands cover his ears and he closes his eyes as Izetta's voice gets louder, “Don't you realize I'll always be here with you? You took me into your body, you might as well give it to me. I don't deserve this! You have no right to keep me caged-”

 

“Yuuri, I'm here.” Chihoko's gentle voice silences Izetta and Yuuri opens his watering eyes. Chihoko is a deity in the form of a water Fae. She has deep brown eyes and long, shimmering pastel blue hair. The water hides her fish tail and her hair hides his currently retracted gills. Yuuri whimpers as she swims forward and cups his face with her hands once she's sitting on the edge of the bath.

 

“What's going on? What has you panicked?” Chihoko asks, wanting to help.

 

“V-Victor has gone into the forest. I know he'll be f-fine but Izetta is taunting me that he's going to die. I... I know I should calm down but it's-” Yuuri stops himself because of a sob that comes to the surface. Chihoko pulls him in for a hug, comforting.

 

Katsuki Yuuri knows every time he lets his emotions get the best of him that it gives Izetta a chance to gain control of his body. When he's emotionally weak, she attacks his soul like pulling meat hooks through his soul's metaphorical skin. It's agonizing and ties him closer to her with every panic attack or burst of anger. He has no one to blame but himself.

 

He ended up in this situation by trying to win his and the entire servant wings' freedom in a chess match against Izetta, tired of feeling like a victim to her. Even though Yuuri won and Izetta wagered her own life on the match, she was enraged and tried to possess Yuuri before her spirit could be forced to the afterlife.

 

However, in that power struggle, Yuuri's soul and will are stronger so he must bear the weight of her possession and fear the day she regains enough power to destroy every last bit of his humanity and use his body as her own. He knows he only has a few years before Izetta renders his soul too weak to function against her but he needs to hold out as long as he can.

 

At least, he's felt that way since Victor agreed to stay at the castle. Yuuri can't explain the hope that Victor gives him but he's determined to live if it means he can stay longer by his side.

 

Chihoko instructs, “Breathe... You have castle guards that know the forest well. If the sun starts to set, send them out to find him. They can help him if he's in trouble, okay?”

 

Yuuri nods and sniffles, “O-Okay.”

 

“... You really care about him, don't you?”

 

Yuuri responds, “Of course I do. He's... my best friend.” It doesn't feel right to say as if it's a lie while it's not.

 

Chihoko sighs at Yuuri's denial but asks, “Should I renew your seal?”

 

“Please do.” Yuuri confirms as he unbuttons his shirt and allows Chihoko to examine his bloodling seal.

 

Yuuri's immense power comes from Chihoko's blood. As a bloodling, Yuuri only has Chihoko left of his blood parents. His other parents, Toshiya and Hiroko, were both average magicians and couldn't summon enough energy to create a bloodling (Hiroko had gone barren after her first child, Mari and were devastated they could have any more children) so they begged their onsen's resident goddess, Chihoko, and she helped create Yuuri out of thanks for them caring for her home.

 

Chihoko cuts her finger and retraces the seal. It takes almost fifteen minutes to complete the seal. When done, it glows slightly and disappears into Yuuri's skin. He shivers from the power surge given from the exchange.

 

“Do you need me to stay longer?” Chihoko asks.

 

“Yes, I have a feeling I may need your help later. Is that alright?”

 

Chihoko nods, “No problem. Go check on your friend,” As he leaves, she comments to herself, “Oh Yuuri, without Izetta's magic you've grown into such a handsome young man...”

 

 

 

After a long hike uphill and some stumbling, Victor has located scarletta mushrooms. Makkachin is keeping a mushroom sprite at bay so he can harvest some of the mushrooms without taking them all. He collects about fourteen of them before surveying his surroundings in order to return the castle.

 

He knows he's a half-hour's hike from the castle, close to the trading route trails to the west of the castle. The forest is peaceful despite its dark, desolate atmosphere. However, Victor knows once the sunsets that vicious creatures roam freely from their mountain caves and dens. From the position of the sun, he only has a half-hour to return to the castle before nightfall.

 

Victor motions Makkachin to start to follow him home when he hears hooves coming down the trail just over the hill. From where he is, he can sneak to the hilltop and see what is causing the sound, so he does. Night Rider hooves aren't as light as the ones he hears now.

 

Shocked, Victor has no idea how to respond to what he sees. Coming up the trail is a couple men on white horses and silver armor, wearing seals that Victor has seen only a couple times but remembers well. Paladins, the justice force of the Arcana. However, Victor does not trust the Arcana after Yuuri has explained their connection to Izetta and that they are corrupted by her power.

 

Just as Victor tries to sneak off, he's spotted by one. Victor curses as he's forced to run with Makkachin following after. He's not sure if he should run straight towards the castle in case their antagonistic to Yuuri but keeps going. Hooves thunder towards and over the hill after him.

 

They're too close and Victor is forced to put a shield in the way to slow them down. It's successful for a second but not enough for Victor to escape their sight.

 

There's a rock formation ahead that Victor passed before; if he's lucky, he can teleport to the castle with the formation has to cover for any attacks. He runs for it but is forced to stop when one of the Paladins ambushes him from the front and he's boxed in. One of the Paladins is tanned with a long ponytail and black markings lining his neck and arms. He must be a Night Elf.

 

Victor is grabbed by the other Paladin and says, “You're coming with us.”

 

“N-No! Let go of me!” Victor screams and struggles, not sure what the Paladins want from him.

 

Or at least he doesn't have to when the Paladin trying to apprehend him goes limp and falls from his horse, an arrow sticking out of his back. The ponytailed Paladin backs away as Phichit and Otabek reveal themselves from the trees with four Night Riders accompanying them. Victor is relieved yet shaken as he stumbles to them.

 

Otabek doesn't even stop as he reloads his bow and fires at the other Paladin, playing a game of chicken as the Paladin tries to find a way to attack. Phichit helps Victor stay on his feet and yells, “Come on!”

 

“But Otabek-”

 

Phichit interrupts, “He can handle them by himself...” He grits his teeth as if he's concerned about something else, “Yuuri has ordered I get you to the castle safe. If Otabek doesn't return, it won't matter.”

 

Victor wants to argue and demand Otabek be helped but the sun is setting and the Paladins mustn't find the castle. He is forced on top of a Night Rider by Phichit and the Night Rider takes off towards the castle. Victor can only helplessly watch as Otabek fights alone and more Paladins begin to appear. This feels all too familiar. Images of a spear through a mentor's back come back to mind and Victor is in tears as he prays for Otabek's safety.

 

 

“Paladins spotted?”

 

Minami nods and informs Yuuri, “Yes, my Night Riders have spotted them and I came here immediately. Phichit and Otabek are still searching for Victor. When they return, what do we do?”

 

Yuuri has a dark expression come over his face as he instructs, “Fight them off as much as you can. When Victor is returned to this castle, we must teleport the castle elsewhere. Anyone who is not in this castle will have to be left behind.”

“M-Master,” Minami is frantic, “You're willing to abandon guards?”

 

Yuuri sighs and confirms, “If it keeps the majority safe then we must. When everyone is here, call all magicians to my throne room. That's an order.”

 

“... Yes, Master Yuuri.” Minami leaves to make sure everyone makes it into the castle.

 

Yuuri clenches his fists and angrily mutters, “So this is the game you're playing at, Mylrin. Well played but I'm better at this cat and mouse drivel than you are.”

 

 

The sun has almost set when they arrive at the castle. Victor is numb, trying not to think about Otabek fighting on his own as they dismount and guided back into the castle. Victor isn't too aware of his surroundings as they're guided inside.

 

At least until there is a pair of arms around him, squeezing him tight. It's Yuuri, face buried in his chest. Victor slowly hugs back and asks, “Yuuri?”

 

“Don't scare me like that... You have the mushrooms?”

 

Victor pulls away and presents them and Yuuri comments, “Good. Go to the throne room. Minami has already informed me about the Paladins.”

 

“What about Otabek?” Victor asks, desperate.

 

“... We have to leave him behind. Please, don't argue with me on this,” Yuuri is a bit shaky, “ We need to evacuate. I... I'll tell you what's going on once we move the castle.”

 

Victor doesn't know what to do as Yuuri finishes with, “I'm scared. I know why the Paladins are here and it's not good.”

 

“... Do what you must, what can I do to help?” Victor asks, forcing himself to just trust that Yuuri will tell him the truth in good time.

 

The last guardsmen besides Otabek have arrived and the castle closes it's doors, Yuuri orders, “To the throne room, I'm going to need every magician in this castle to get us out of here.”

 

Victor is in a panicky daze as the memories of the winter three years ago come back. As far as he knows, Otabek is dead and they have to flee. Everything is falling apart and he's partially in kept from losing his mind by Phichit and Yuuri quietly guiding him to the throne room. Inside the throne room, every magician possible is gathered, even Chihoko.

 

“Who are-” Victor is stopped.

 

“Chihoko. I live on the fifth floor, that's why we've never met.” Chihoko greets and is obviously using magic to allow herself to walk. They shake hands and Victor has no time to let himself become distracted again as Yuuri has Chris, Isabella, Chihoko and then himself form a circle. All four of them look to Yuuri, Phichit observes from the doorway.

 

Yuuri announces, “I called you all here to help move the castle. I have a location in mind but I need you all to trust me and lend me your power to do this.”

 

“We are holding a castle meeting about this when we get there, right?” Isabella asks.

 

“Yes, I promise. I know this is so fast but this is an emergency evacuation. The Paladins must not find us... I've kept things from you all while doing business with Miss Pli- with the traders that deliver our supplies and it's time you know.” Yuuri assures with some insecurity, “I'm sorry. Just, trust me.”

 

Chris sighs and nods. Chihoko nods without questions and Isabella stays quiet.

 

Victor says, “Let's get this over with.”

 

All five take their hands and close their eyes by Yuuri's example. There's a surge of power from all of them before Yuuri casts, “Teleport: Halgilen Mountain Meadow

 

With a shake of the castle, everyone has to grab onto something as the castle warps to a new destination.

 

 

Meanwhile, Yuri Plisetsky is listening in to a conversation between his mother and Mylrin. Today, Yuri was supposed to go visit Mylrin but ran home upon first seeing Mylrin. Of course, that started an argument between the two over whether Yuri will be allowed to visit Mylrin. So far, his mother is winning since Mylrin is weak to women yelling at him.

 

Yuri has developed a new power he is afraid of. He sees... auras around people. They're different colors and sometimes physical. Normally, it's not scary for Yuri but when he saw Mylrin for the first time since the power arrived he had to run. The dark red aura around Mylrin and black tendrils that crawl across his skin signal Mylrin's true nature... and the tendrils look painful as they try to bury into his skin. Yuri wishes he was braver to face his father's evil but he ran home instead of like a coward.

 

Yuri is in his room, listening in.

 

“Why did he run from me? All I did was try to hug him and he ran from me. Are you trying to turn him against me?” Mylrin accuses.

 

“I haven't. He must know what a horrible person you are from his own judgment. If he doesn't want to see you, I won't make him.” Miss Plisetsky says.

 

Mylrin begs, “Marigold, he is my flesh and blood... I never intended to bring him into this world but I'm accepting responsibility. I don't want a repeat of what happened with Victor and you know that... I'll do whatever it takes to get him to like me.”

 

Yuri doesn't want to hear any more. He doesn't want anything to do with his parents, if he's to be honest. Both are awful people. His own mother, Marigold, has been known to sell slaves to gain them extra coins. Yuri can see the greedy green chains wrapping around his mother's blue aura when he sees her and knows holding another person as an item for sale is disgusting.

 

His grandfather is already asleep so he can't bother him for comfort. Instead, Yuri goes back to his bed and curls up. He uses his blanket to block out the arguing voices in the night, begging for sleep to take him.

 

 

Yuri got his wish of sleep. However, he's awoken by a nightmare early in the morning before the sun has risen.

 

In the nightmare, he's running from something in a pitch black forest. He has better night vision than most but even the pitch black trees and cloudy sky make his path hard to see. There's a pain in his side and right arm. He's bleeding, badly. Whatever he was fighting must have used a sword. He's crying as if he feels he's been abandoned and he's running from said abandonment.

 

Yuri knows this isn't real but it feels as if it is. As if this person he's feeling in his dream actually exists. So when he's woken from his sleep, he feels the need to go to his bedroom window and check as if that person will appear from the trees. The treeline is motionless. Yuri breathes and calms himself from the nightmare.

 

This one is almost as bad as the nightmare where he's a prince and he dies because a woman named Yuuko literally rips his heart out of his chest because a teenager that shares his name is too scared to do it himself. It's an odd dream he suspects he has because of a story Mylrin told him about the fall of the High Elven people. The part about the prince's heart getting ripped out is how Yuri imagines it happened when Mylrin said the prince died a 'gruesome death'.

 

Yuri is going back to bed but stops when his odd power acts up. He can feel an aura that is familiar but he doesn't know how. Just like the dream, he can feel this person is injured and distressed. Checking his window again, Yuri searches for any sign of movement. No movement but the feeling doesn't go away. He knows this is a stupid idea but he sneaks out of his room and gets the lantern, not bothering to get matches when his own magic words fine.

 

Managing to get outside without waking his mother or grandfather, Yuri cautiously approaches the treeline. Nothing moves, there's a distance sound but he can't quite hear it.

 

“Hello?” Yuri speaks a bit loudly, “I sense you. Come out, I won't hurt you.”

 

Minutes of silence make Yuri start to feel like he's going crazy until the crunch of leaves gets louder to the treeline. Yuri backs away slightly until a figure appears. The figure is another child only a few seasons older in appearance, a black undercut haircut and eyes that would be intense if he didn't look like he's been sobbing. His right arm is bleeding, barely held together with the boy's hand. He's just like in Yuri's dream.

 

The other boy speaks before he collapses, the look on his in pure surprise, “M-My prince...”

 

 

Yuri panics as the boy lays on the ground, his breathing ragged. Yuri does the only thing he can think of; he tries to help the boy sit up and screams, “Mama! Grandpa!” Repeating it until his mother and grandfather rush to him and the boy to get them inside.  

Chapter Text

It's eight in the morning by the time the boy wakes up. Yuri and his mother have been caring for the injured young man since the early morning hours and he's finally awake on their couch. He's wrapped in a wool blanket and bandaged but still looks as upset as he did when he emerged from the trees. Before Yuri can even ask him what's wrong, his mother moves him to his room so the two can talk.

 

Of course, Yuri presses his ear to his bedroom door to overhear the conversation.

 

“Otabek, what happened?” Marigold asks, “Why are you all the way in Kapita?”

 

There's a sniffle from the boy, Otabek, and a shaky reply, “Paladins attacked. I killed the ones that refused to retreat. When I tried to find the castle, it was gone,” There's a louder sniffle, “T-They left me behind. I know an evacuation is protocol but... that castle is my home. They were my family and they abandoned me.”

 

Yuri feels his heart sink hearing sobs through the door; he hates it when people cry.

 

“Oh dear,” Marigold tries to comfort, “You hate Katsuki anyway, so isn't it nice to finally be free?”

 

“... What do you mean by 'free'? I was born to serve a master and now I don't have one. It's hell. Even if I hated him, he still was my master,” Otabek complains, “What am I supposed to do? I have nowhere to go and I don't know how to live without a master.”

 

Yuri knows what's going to happen and balls his hands into his fists as his mother says, “... If you need a master, I can fill that place. Right now, you need to rest-”

 

Yuri bursts out his door and down the hallway, arguing “Mom, you can't do that. You can't just take another person as your servant.”

 

Otabek and his mother stare at Yuri in surprise at the interruption and Yuri gets between the two, “I won't let you make him your servant. You have enough of them already in that cart.”

 

Taking a moment to process, Marigold tries to reason with her son, “Yuratchka, Otabek is an acquaintance of mine. I can care for him-”

 

Yuri stops her by doing something he never thought he could do. He glares at her in the eyes and imagines she's unable to speak, only able to listen to his commands as he orders, “Don't. He's not an object. Leave.”

 

When her eyes go blank and she actually leaves without a second thought, Yuri can feel a shiver of fear going through him. He's only seen that spell done once before by Mylrin and he didn't expect it to work. Even more, he feels disgusting for controlling his mother and scared he is able to do it without any resistance. His mother is a powerful witch and she should have been able to stop him.

 

What clears his mind is Otabek's cautious voice, “Yura- Yuri.”

 

Yuri turns to Otabek and can now observe him closely. He doesn't look much older than himself but his eyes suggest he's older and wiser than his appearance suggests. His bandage looks like it needs to be rewrapped because of how much blood has already soaked through and he looks exhausted. If the story he heard through the door is true, he must be in misery.

 

“... You know my mother?”

 

Otabek nods.

 

“How?”

 

“She delivers supplies to the castle I lived in.” Otabek keeps answering, so Yuri keeps asking.

 

“Why did you call me 'my prince' when you saw me?”

 

“You-,” Otabek seems nervous, “You... resemble and have the aura of a previous master I had. My original master.”

 

Yuri sighs irritatedly, “You were a slave but you aren't now. I don't like you talking about masters.”

 

Otabek gives him a side glance before saying, “... I was born to serve-”

 

“Then serve yourself,” Yuri crosses his arms before asking, “This Katsuki that mom talked about... is he your original master or the castle one and why do you hate him?”

 

“Katsuki Yuuri is the master of the castle I served... he's responsible for the death of my original master.” Otabek looks down at his blanket, “I hate him.”

 

Yuri seems to mull over everything he's learned and decides Otabek is a good person but he's been manipulated in ways that make Yuri want to protect him just like he protects Demetri from the wild dogs that try to steal his lunch when they're playing. He seats himself on the end of the couch, much to Otabek's surprise.

 

“This Katsuki shares the same name as me, so how about you call me by a nickname while you stay here?” Yuri suggests.

 

“I can stay here?” Otabek is confused.

 

“Of course, I won't let Mom and Grandpa kick you out. I want to be your friend.” Yuri is genuine. A young man that he's seen in his dreams arrives out of the forest and has escaped slavery; he wants to keep him around if he needs a new start.

 

Otabek softens and looks like he might cry again as he asks, “May I call you Yura?”

 

Yuri holds out his hand, “Of course.”

 

With the shake of hands, Yuri and Otabek become each others' friend.

 

...

 

The castle has settled down after two days and everyone has regained themselves from the teleportation of the castle. The mountain meadow they have teleported to is almost miles of rolling hills leading to acres upon acres of forests with no sign of civilization besides an abandoned castle peeking out from the trees on the mountainside. The abandoned castle is similar in structure to the one they currently live in but looks decayed from years of abandonment.

 

Today is the day of the castle meeting and every servant is gathered. Many of the servants are furious with Otabek being left behind and it shows in their faces. Everyone except for Yuuri, Phichit and Chihoko are seated around the large banquet table in the dining room. The stain glass windows depict scenes of the servant's memories of Otabek since he's on the mind of most there.

 

While waiting for Yuuri to arrive, a discussion is already in place.

 

“My shack is gone,” Seung-gil complains, “I have to stay in this damn dingy castle with you all! I hate this!”

 

Minami counters, “How do you think I feel? You and I have to share a bed until a new shack is built.”

 

Guang-Hong points out what makes everyone mostly murmur in agreement, “What about Otabek? He is a servant just like the rest of us. Lord Yuuri could just leave anyone of us behind if the situation needed it and wouldn't care,” he sniffles and finishes with, “After Yuuri convinced Izetta to save Leo and I from slavery, I thought I could always trust him but how can I now?”

 

Leo holds Guang-Hong as he cries, trying to comfort. The sentiment rings throughout the group; JJ and Isabella get closer, Minami stares at the floor in thought with a conflicted expression, Chris and Masumi look at each other in understanding of the situation and Victor feels betrayal as well.

 

For Victor, he's noticed the servants have been avoiding him as if blaming him along with Yuuri for everything that's happened. He was the last one in the castle and Yuuri had made it more obvious than intended that his concern was mainly for Victor. It hurts to have the others shun him for something against his control... or perhaps he's assuming? Maybe it has nothing to do with him and simply just everyone is suffering from grief.

 

Regardless, everyone in the room stares intensely as Yuuri arrives with Phichit and Chihoko by his sides. Victor knows exactly why they're by Yuuri's side. Yuuri assumes servants will get violent with him if he's alone and it's a measure of security. Two sides have developed in the castle and the one opposing Yuuri's decisions is larger than those not.

 

Yuuri seats himself at the head of the table and Victor feels an odd twitch when Chihoko pulls her chair close to Yuuri and rests her head on his shoulder with a protective, possessive gaze. Phichit watches over with caution.

 

Yuuri addresses everyone, “I know you all have questions and you're very angry with me. I betrayed your trust and lied to you about the current standings with the Paladins,” His expression is almost pitiful and he wispily adds, “I will tell you the truth and answer the obvious questions right now. Let me explain all the way through before asking anything, ok?”

 

With some murmuring, everyone eventually nods and Yuuri starts,

 

“Today, I am here to tell you the truth and that is that Mylrin Nikiforov is currently the High Mage of the Arcana,” There are some gasps before he continues, “During the spring that Victor came to us, Mylrin Nikiforov spread the news of Izetta's death to the Arcana after capturing and using mind control on an informant for a resistance group. As you can tell, Mylrin has been promoted to High Mage. I suspect he used mind control for that position as well. For three years, I've strengthened the guard spells on this castle so we wouldn't be found but it seems Mylrin was able to relocate us if he's tracking the trade routes and our own spies.”

 

Yuuri directs his gaze at Victor as he admits, “Marigold Plisetsky has kept me informed the past three years since I started increasing trade with her and lifted sanctions on her being able to travel through this territory to Hepstin and Clovesdale on the coastline,” Victor feels his heart drop at the confession.Yuuri knows that the Plisetskys are close to him and he purposely kept Victor from them. Yuuri keeps going even though Victor wants to interrupt, “I never let Marigold see Victor because I'm scared he'll leave and it's possible that Mylrin knows that Victor is here and wants to take him back... just as it breaks me that we had to leave behind Otabek. It was a damned situation to begin with but I can't let Mylrin have Victor... You may now ask questions.”

 

Victor slowly stands and says, “You lied to me because you were afraid I'd leave? Why would I leave the place that's become my home?” He becomes angrier the more he speaks, his voice rising, “If you wanted to protect us, you could have told us from the beginning-”

 

“No, because if I said something about Mylrin, you would have been forced out of this castle by others... right, Minami?” Yuuri interjects and eyes are on Minami, who looks down again and tries to make himself smaller, “Keeping this castle safe top priority. The guardsmen would have evicted Victor because he's technically a safety risk, right?”

 

“Y-Yes, Master Yuuri. If you had told us early on, Victor would not be here.” Minami's information makes Victor freeze in disbelief. This is how cruel life really is in this castle. Victor really has been shielded the past three years and he had no idea.

 

“... Any more questions?” Yuuri rests his head in his hand as he waits.

 

It's Chris that speaks up and Victor is not prepared for the harsh tone that follows, “Lord Yuuri, abandoning Otabek is the most irresponsible thing you've ever done so far and,” Chris is shaking, “How dare you bring me back to Halgilen? You bring me back where I can see that hellhole of a castle every day and relive what my parents put me through? I ran away for a reason!”

 

Yuuri seems to soften a bit with realization, “Chris, I forgot- I'm... sorry. I didn't think about how it would make you feel in the heat of the moment.” Yuuri seems to shrink a bit himself under the pressure. The other servants seem to as well because Chris is never this furious or yells.

 

Chris takes an enraged step forward but is stopped by Masumi, who gives Chris a shake of the head. Victor wants to ask further but doesn't have to as Chris continues, “Sorry isn't going to cut it... Yuuri, you and Izetta saved me from an arranged marriage. As much as becoming Izetta's servant was a mistake, I trusted you to never let me remember this place and now I can't ignore it,” Chris turns so he doesn't have to look at Yuuri, “I can't even look at you right now because I'm disappointed. I'm returning to my chambers.”

 

Chris leaves with Masumi and it's quiet until the next servant addresses Yuuri, Seung-gil demands, “You owe me a new shack, Katsuki.”

 

“... That can be done, Seung-gil. I promise.” Yuuri assures. The servants thin out with each question.

 

“Are we going to have the Night Riders search for Otabek?”

 

Yuuri nods, “At least to find out where he is, yes. Will we get him back to the castle? Unlikely.”

 

“How are we supposed to trust you from now on?” All eyes are on Yuuri for that answer.

 

In the most broken and tired tone, Yuuri replies, “I... I don't know.”

 

Everyone feels their hope drop at the answer and dismiss themselves back to their duties. Even Victor can't help but leave. He feels so betrayed and needs time to think because right now Yuuri is guilty of a lot of things and lying about it.

 

However, Victor does hear Yuuri start to cry when he thinks he's alone with Phichit and Chihoko. Something about that makes Victor even more conflicted than before but he doesn't stick around to listen in.

 

 

“What am I supposed to do, Phichit? Chihoko? I really fucked up this time.” Yuuri sobs, not sure what he should do now he's ruined his trust with everyone.

 

Chihoko sighs and reminds Yuuri, “You had no choice. Everyone may be angry with you now but they won't be in a week or two. Everyone here is strong and will adjust,” She strokes tears off his cheek, “Yuuko wouldn't want to see you cry like this. You need to be strong, too.”

 

Phichit chimes in, “It'll be okay, Yuuri. Even Victor will forgive you. He's a softie when it comes to you-”

 

“I killed his mother and made him a servant, Phichit,” Yuuri reminds in a deadpan despite his tears, “I'm lucky enough to gain his friendship... and I've ruined even that now.”

 

Chihoko and Phichit don't know what to say to comfort him, opting out for just staying by his side and letting him cry.

 

 

The inner city of Kapita is bustling with markets and trade. Mylrin can observe it all from his office of the Arcana headquarters, hidden with magic from non-magicians. The office walls and most of the building is lined in white marble. Paintings of the country's victories in battle over history line the walls of the office and Paladins patrol the hallways.

 

Mylrin is writing up plans for new encampments for the Paladins along the border of Halgilen and Rosvensia. The mountain border is hard to cross and it's best to be prepared to attack if the temporary decides to turn on them. Mylrin has control of the non-magical government as well so it won't be difficult to move a large amount of troops quickly if needed.

 

Tapping his pen impatiently, Mylrin also is expecting news on the raid of Izetta's castle. It took him over a year to figure out Marigold knew the new location of the castle and her motive for staying silent. Must be nice for her to be able to travel over the mountains to the coastline without having to worry about being attacked by Night Riders but even more so for himself because now he'll have new territory to claim once Katsuki is dead. He doesn't plan to punish Marigold for secrecy since she is his child's mother. It would be unfair to his son.

 

A knock on the door catches Mylrin's attention, “Come in.”

 

Celestino, the head guardsmen of the Paladins, appears and greets, “Good evening, my lord Mylrin.”

 

Mylrin props his head up with his hands before ordering, “Have a seat, tell me the news on the raid.”

 

“I have good and bad news,” Celestino says after he sits, nervous for Mylrin's response.

 

Mylrin raises an eyebrow, “Bad news first.”

 

“Six paladins are dead by the hands of their guardsmen, Otabek Atlin. He kept us at bay while the others were evacuated. The castle is gone, sir. I'm sorry.” Celestino braces for whatever reaction Mylrin gives.

 

Unsurprisingly, Mylrin sneers and throws the nearest object on his desk. A pen holder that breaks a vase it smashes into. Mylrin practically growls, “So, Katsuki got away. Any good news? How is there good news? The mission was a failure if Katsuki is alive.”

 

“We found your son, Victor...” Celestino's words seem to stop Mylrin from his rage and he's listening intently, “But, he is with Katsuki. Phichit Chulanont disappeared with him when Otabek fought off our soldiers.”

 

Mylrin quickly becomes enraged, “Why didn't you stop him!? You know getting my sons to me is one of my main goals-”

 

“I was the only one left of my squad. I retreated so I could inform you. Please understand. I doubt Katsuki will hurt your son so we have time. The rest of us Paladins will find that castle and ambush them before they have a chance to escape.” Celestino seems to have pacified Mylrin but Mylrin still looks distressed, as if this is the worst situation possible.

 

Mylrin runs a hand through his long hair and asks, “Celestino, do I need to remind you why I need my sons by my side? Have you forgotten the pain I live in every day without both of them by my side and the sins Katsuki has committed against me? Sure, I may have deserved some of his wrath but have you forgotten what he did to my sweet Magnolia? Poor Magnolia who was slaughtered in front of our son by Night Riders?”

 

“... No, sir. I have not forgotten,” With a sigh, Celestino offers, “But I will accept any reminder if it is your wish.”

 

Celestino knows exactly what to expect as Mylrin once again tells him the reasons why he wants his sons and his plans to rebuild the world from scratch.

 

Mylrin wants to kill everyone who does not subordinate to him and only keep those who serve him. In Mylrin's new world, his sons will be by his side as he rules and create a society of one single goal of peace... like how the High Elves were supposed to be before Izetta destroyed them. No matter how far they were from achieving that goal, Mylrin is convinced he knows how to bring it to fruition but his years of planning cannot begin until both Yuri and Victor are in his grasp. He loves his sons more than anything in the world, living mementos of the women he's loved.

 

Celestino listens but can't help but rub his wrist the longer he listens. As a leader of the Crows and spy for Katsuki Yuuri, Celestino is convinced that Mylrin is delusional every time he speaks. All he can do is quietly listen whenever Mylrin confides in him. Today is no different as Mylrin forgets business once again and retells about being exiled by his own mother when he was young and complaining about Katsuki.

 

 

The hostility between Mylrin Nikiforov and Katsuki Yuuri is complicated. While both have wronged each other in heinous way, both are victims of circumstance and simple misfortune. It's as if fate has decided these two neither deserve to be happy.

 

For Mylrin, it began when he turned fifteen seasons over one hundred and seventy seasons ago. He would have been considered a victim when his mother discovered he feel in love with a Fae girl despite his society's hatred for all Fae. Mylrin is an odd one. From a very young age, Mylrin has been too accepting for his own good. Other children and adult elves treated him as an oddity for not sneering at half-breeds or non-elves. His mother chose to ignore it, assuming he'd grow out of it.

 

However, when he fell in love with the Fae girl who would bring him magnolia flowers as presents and made him believe in soul mates, his mother went into a rage. Mylrin watched his mother kill the girl and he earned broken bones trying to save his love from his mother's wrath. He begged for his mother to stop but it didn't. His mother's last words to him before exiling him from her home were, “You're no son of mine if you lay in bed with Fae. Leave and never come back.”

 

From that day forward, Mylrin was left with a metaphorical hole in his heart. Wandering for days, he found a new home at a wizarding academy for magicians of all ages. Mylrin made no friends for the first year he stayed there, avoiding people to the point they were convinced he's 'just another stuck up high elf'. In reality, Mylrin was suffering that the woman who was supposed to love him unconditionally easily discarded him.

 

When Mylrin quietly became a scholar in mind manipulation, he graduated from the academy with no life to go to. He was ready to end it all until he met her.

 

While standing on the cliff near a rushing river, Mylrin didn't expect the soft voice to tell him 'no'. The voice is from his classmate; she has eyed him since he first joined the academy but only quietly watched and sometimes slipped books into his bag. With long, obsidian hair and violet eyes, his classmate Izetta gently guided him away from the cliff edge and asked if he wanted more from life. Naturally, he followed after her feeling as if she understood him.

 

In fact, it didn't take long for him to fall in love with her. When she admitted she wanted to rule the world with him, he gratefully agreed to use his powers for her, World domination was the goal and Niholego is the first country they aimed for together. However, it didn't sink in how serious Izetta was until the attack on Hasetsu.

 

At age twenty-four seasons, Mylrin and Izetta raid Hasetsu by the sea with her first prototypes of the Night Riders. The goal is to capture a water deity named Chihoko so they can use her power to destroy any enemies that get in their way while trying to influence the Arcana.

 

This is where Katsuki Yuuri begins his own tragic tale. For young Yuuri, he's grown up with a loving family and studied under a powerful witch named Minako in order to control the power given to him through Chihoko's blood seal. Both he and a Draconian girl named Yuuko will stay for days in Minako's mountain cottage studying magic. On that unfortunate day, the two returned to see Hasetsu burning to the ground. Neither are aware of the battle waging at the hot spring but rushing their anyway to ensure their families have escaped. However, what they arrive to can't be described any simply than pure horror.

 

Yuuri can see his poor mother's corpse in the front door way, as if she tried to escape but stopped suddenly. Yuuri is shaking as he wanders through the mostly burned down house, finding his father's corpse and then finding his sister last... as she's killed with the breath of a spell by Mylrin. Chihoko and Izetta are battling in the hot spring. Izetta is losing until Chihoko sees Yuuri and screams for him to run.

 

Yuuri is frozen and unable to do anything as Izetta takes one look at him and senses his blood seal containing Chihoko's power. He's captured, struggling to make Mylrin let him go but failing. It gets worse when Yuuko arrives and tries to help free him only to become captured herself. The only reason Yuuko and Yuuri are kept alive is that Chihoko willingly surrenders herself over in exchange for their lives to be kept. Both Yuuri and Yuuko are deemed useful by Izetta so the deal is beneficial to her ultimate goal... even despite Mylrin's reservations of taking more people than they need.

 

It's when they return to Rosvensia and build a castle to live in that Mylrin and Yuuri's struggle against each other begins. While Chihoko is kept prisoner in the dungeons, Yuuri and Yuuko are forced to clean the castle daily or face punishment. The punishments start out simple until one day Izetta snaps and hits Yuuri. It would have been nothing for Mylrin if Izetta had only hit him once and made him get back to work but Izetta goes soft. Izetta holds the reluctant Yuuri in her arms and tries to get him to forgive her and Mylrin gets insecure. Yuuri is keeping him from Izetta, in his mind. Izetta likes children, even if to use them, so Mylrin makes Yuuri the subject of his abuse. He refuses to lose Izetta because of the prisoners, tripping Yuuri while he works and making him perform humiliating tasks.

 

Soon, Mylrin's insecurity grows deeper as Izetta takes in more and more child servants. When Christophe arrives, Yuuri is made an example with being locked in a closet for two days. The pattern repeats with different cruel acts for each servant. As Phichit is brought into the castle after a raid in Thalenan's warrior tribes, Minami is brought from Niholego, JJ and Isabella are rescued from Rosvensia's northern mountains and Seung-gil from Thalenan's blacksmiths, Yuuri faces new forms of cruelty. No matter how much Yuuri begs for help, none of the servants are brave enough to help Yuuri. In the end, it's always Izetta that lets Mylrin off with a slap on the wrist at most and a scolding for hurting her favorite servant.

 

Yuuri eventually gets used to it. He's used to Mylrin's abuse and feeling worthless every day. If he didn't have Yuuko and Chihoko to promise him they'd one day escape, he would have jumped from the astronomy tower by the time JJ and Isabella arrived, after decades of torment. Yuuri isn't sure why but there are moments he spites Mylrin by staying close to Izetta. He learns if he stays close to her he can't be alone to constantly hit and mocked. It's not like the other servants even try to help him. Not even Christophe and Phichit, his friends, have the courage to help.

 

Over the decades, the Arcana is controlled by Izetta and Mylrin quietly helps. A fear for magicians grows among the public and wizarding schools are destroyed. Magical texts are banned and destroyed, many only kept alive by Izetta herself with her massive library. Rumors of Izetta stealing children spreads. A new age of darkness spreads and that's when Mylrin starts to question if this is the correct way to rule the world. He loves Izetta but doesn't agree with how she wants to rule.

 

That love dies when Izetta sets her eyes on Mylrin's home. In eastern Rosvensia, the society of high elves is lead by a royal family... and their heir, Prince Yuran, is a deity by birth. The blond prince is a threat to Izetta because he's the god of peace and is slowly changing the views of their society to be more accepting of other races. It starts with a visit to the castle and Mylrin cannot dare interrupt as Izettta tries to bargain with the king and queen. For the safety of the elven people, the king and queen must turn over their son to become part of their castle. Of course, the royalty refused.

 

Izetta shows her true colors to Mylrin in that moment as she snaps her fingers and guards necks snap. The royals try to run for their lives but Izetta ensnares them with her magic. Izetta orders Mylrin to lead her Night Riders to kill the entire city. Mylrin, of course, refused and was slapped by Izetta. She angrily held him by her hair and said she'd kill him if he didn't obey. In that moment, Mylrin realizes Izetta doesn't love him. She only cares about her own goals.

 

What enrages him the most is when Yuuri states, “Just listen to her Mylrin. She means it when she says she'll kill you.” Mylrin is a coward; he cannot stand up to her and follows orders, forced to watch Night Riders kill his people and find his now adult sister killed before he could say goodbye. (During this is when Mylrin first meets Yakov Feltsman. Yakov served as a doctor for the high elf community before Mylrin allowed him to escape during the genocide. That's when Yakov promises to repay him in the future for sparing him).

 

Yuuri is ordered with Yuuko to find Prince Yuran and kill him. Yuuri is the only one who can do it because Yuuri has deity blood running through his veins because of Chihoko. He knows he couldn't possibly do something like that as she gives him a dagger but he can only accept, “Yes ma'am...”

 

They find Prince Yuran with his servant, Otabek, together in a lounge room in the palace. The news of the genocide has reached Yuran's ears and he's prepared for battle with his servant protected behind him. Yuuri cannot fight him, knowing Izetta will kill Yuuri but doesn't care. He would rather die than kill someone for Izetta. Yuuko refuses to let Yuuri anger Izetta, so she bites into Yuuri's wrist to take some blood... as long as she has some of Chihoko's power, she can kill Prince Yuran.

 

Otabek begged for both of them to leave his master alone but is ignored by Yuuko. The fight ends in a victory for Yuuko when she rips out Prince Yuran's heart. Otabek even tries to attack Yuuko but is stopped by Yuuri. Otabek survives because Yuuri advocates for him to Izetta.

 

Yuuri is officially the enemy of Mylrin because he took credit for killing Prince Yuran and Otabek's enemy for doing nothing to stop Yuuko (especially when Prince Yuran had offered them freedom if they spared him and his servant but Yuuko made the choice for Yuuri). He's tired. When he realizes how much he's damned himself, Yuuri realizes he's tired of being a victim. Hundreds of thousands died because of Izetta and he's the object of Mylrin's blame still? What bullshit. Yuuri isolates himself from everyone afterward with his familiar, figuring out how he's going to free himself from decades of abuse.

 

Yuuri isn't sure why he does this but he blames Yuuko for not taking Prince Yuran's offer for freedom. He's blinded by anger towards Yuuko and about Mylrin's even more consistent abuse that he snaps. One day, Yuuri sets up for Mylrin and Yuuko to meet in the garden together through anonymous notes. Once they're heading for the garden, Yuuri lies to Izetta that Mylrin is romancing Yuuko and cheating on Izetta. When Izetta catches the two in the garden speaking, assuming the worse, Yuuri realizes what he's done. He can't do anything as Izetta permanently turns Yuuko into her dragon form, taking away her humanity. Mylrin is forced into the dungeons for a couple weeks at most and Yuuri hurt himself more than he did try to hurt Mylrin.

 

It's the beginning of the end. When Mylrin is released from the dungeons, he immediately seeks out to confront Yuuri. He's finally going to kill Yuuri. This is the last straw. Izetta does nothing but watch, curious what will happen. Mylrin finds Yuuri in his bedroom but Yuuri's face is deadpan as if expecting him. A fight breaks out between them and surprisingly Yuuri wins. Yuuri is much stronger than he expected since the young man had always been too afraid to fight back until now. Izetta watches with interest as the hallway to Yuuri's room is destroyed and Mylrin is smashed against a self-portrait of himself by Yuuri's magic.

 

Mylrin expects to die, fearing Yuuri for the first time in his life. However, Yuuri is soft. He can't kill Mylrin as he's almost crying. Instead, Yuuri thinks of the next worse thing he can do. He puts a curse on Mylrin and asks Izetta to banish him from the castle. Izetta is more than happy to, glad to get a 'weakling' out of her castle.

 

The worst part of this is that Yuuri feels satisfaction in seeing Mylrin cough up magnolia petals from his love curse as he's running from Night Riders into the forest. It's even worse than how Izetta is holding Yuuri fondly as she realizes just how powerful her servant is when he can overcome his fears.

 

While these two men have hated each other for years, that moment cemented the hate between them leading to murder and Mylrin's desire to cleanse the world.

 

Right now, Mylrin seethes in his office while retelling how Yuuri made him have to abandon his pregnant wife in Peterov Village by exposing he's a magician (and his wife's murder) to Celestino and Yuuri drowns the memory of his family's murder (along with betraying Yuuko) with his personal alcohol stash. Mylrin coughs up magnolia petals while talking about his wife Magnolia and Yuuri almost cries at his own mistakes the drunker he gets.

 

For both, they're convinced that fate doesn't want either to be happy when in reality they are both victims of Izetta's will in addition to making each others' lives living hell.

 

 

Victor is cuddling Makkachin before bed. It's been a long day and he's still a little irritated that Yuuri lied to him. Of course, he has his reasons but something just doesn't sit well with Victor. Maybe it's because Yuuri really has isolated himself from everyone that it's so easy for him to lie or that specifically, Yuuri lied to him out of everyone.

 

It hurts, not helping the odd feeling he's had for Yuuri the past few months. He's tried asking Chris for advice but Chris just gives him cryptic answers such as 'just trust yourself and you'll understand it. Certainly, Yuuri feels the same way'. That's not helpful in the slightest.

 

Victor is slowly falling asleep, comfortable as he cuddles Makkachin... until he feels an arm wrap around his waist. He's about to turn his head to see who the person is until a slurred, drunk voice demands, “Don't move. Let me stay like this for awhile.”

 

Normally, Yuuri's voice would have calmed him but there are several factors why Victor is very tense still. First, Victor can now smell the alcohol on Yuuri and he smells like he has drunken a lot. Second, Victor sleeps half-naked and is very aware that Yuuri is snuggling against his bare back. Third and finally, he feels Yuuri's face is damp as if he's been crying.

 

It takes him a moment to consider the situation and opts to ask, “... Are you okay?”

 

“No, let me hold you for awhile.” Yuuri holds tighter.

 

“Do you... want to tell me what's wrong?”

 

With a sniffle, Yuuri replies, “Yes... it's a long story since it's my entire life that's fucked.”

 

 

Victor is not used to the course language from Yuuri but turns to face him and says, “Tell me about it.”

Chapter Text

“Tell me about it,” Victor asks of Yuuri, letting go of Makkachin so he can roll over and face Yuuri. Yuuri doesn't look as drunk as he smells but his cheeks are damp from crying and he looks exhausted overall. Victor is now even more aware that he is not wearing a shirt while Yuuri is in his ruffled pajamas (Also, how did he get alcohol? Victor is sure JJ keeps it all locked up).

 

Yuuri's face buries into his chest. Victor is grateful that it's pretty dark so Yuuri cannot see him very well or his cheeks turning pink from the closeness. Makkachin gazes over Victor, listening in as Yuuri begins, “Well... try to keep questions to a minimum. I'm having a hard time thinking,” As he says that, he pauses and decides on where to start, “I lived in a village by the sea called Hasetsu. I lived with my parents, sister and Chihoko... Chihoko is the water deity of the village and protected my family's hot springs. I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for Chihoko so she's like another mother to me.”

 

That explains a lot to Victor and feels relief. No wonder she's protective of Yuuri and that Yuuri kept her a secret, being a goddess and all.

 

“My family had me studying under a witch named Minako-sensei with my best friend, Yuuko,” Yuuri is quiet for a few moments as if waiting for Victor to ask the expected.

 

“... Yuuko is the Black Dragon and she's your childhood friend?” Victor knows he's right but it still comes out as a question because he knows Yuuri just wants to make sure he's listening.

 

“Correct, she's a Draconian. Yuuko and I would spend days at Minako-sensei's learning combat magic. To be honest, I wish I took her lessons more seriously because when I returned home that day-” There are more tears and Victor gives his back a comforting rub so he can continue, “...They were all dead. Mom, Dad and Mari. I watched Mylrin kill Mari right in front of me. The bastard had no remorse. I couldn't move even with Yuuko trying to drag me. Chihoko screamed and the next thing I knew I was wrapped in Izetta's arms,” Yuuri breaks off for a bit, barely recovering, “She stopped Mylrin from killing me.”

 

Victor asks, “Do you remember everything that happened? Or... does it just cut out for you, the memory?”

 

“I remember most of it except after Chihoko screamed. My eyes were locked with Mylrin the entire time. Maybe I knew he wanted me dead but why?” Yuuri sighs, seeming to go on automatic, “Izetta saved us because it was the only way to get Chihoko to serve her. She said... I was a precious resource to her, whether she wanted me to hear that or not. Izetta wants Chihoko's power to use it against the Arcana. During the carriage ride to this castle, I never let go of Yuuko. Even when Izetta started insisting she'd be our new mother, I never let go of Yuuko... Mylrin never accepted us. He... just looked at us with pure hatred the entire time.”

 

“... Was he jealous of Izetta giving you her attention? They were lovers before he met my mother.” Victor states.

 

Yuuri nods and sniffles, “Y-Yeah and he never let me forget it. I-I'm not sure if I should say what he's done to me,” Yuuri starts to sob and the telltale signs of Yuuri's always looming anxiety get more intense as he says, “Y-You'll think I'm weak. I know I deserved it since I've hurt him and-”

“Yuuri, stop,” Victor pulls away from him and has him look him in the eyes, barely enough light for them to see each other, “I would never think less of you and you don't need to tell me but please don't say you deserve anything he's done. I don't know what he's done to you completely but I know that no one deserves to be hurt. Just... breathe. You're okay... I'll just hold you if you want. It's okay.” In the three years that Victor has known Yuuri, he still hasn't completely figured out how to be comforting to Yuuri's anxiety other than preparing medication for it. Right now, he can't do that so he's hoping Yuuri listens and breathes with him. Yuuri seems to be following along because he can feel Yuuri's shaky breaths against his chest.

 

Much to his surprise, Yuuri tells him, “It started when I refused to clean the stained glass and Izetta hit me,” Yuuri lets go of Victor in order to sit up and give himself some courage. Victor is listening, wanting to understand Yuuri more and what he went through, “I expected her to just make me get back to work after hitting me... but she hugged me. Told me she was sorry... and I believed her. That made Mylrin snap. When he saw her hugging me, he waited until she left. We were alone and he grabbed me... threw me against the wall. I still remember his exact words before he proceeded to kick me on the floor. 'You little parasite, she won't love you more than me. I'll make sure of it'.”

 

Victor is just in shock. He remembers seeing children in Peterov Village when he was young scared to go home because of their parents but never heard in detail of the abuse. All he can say is, “Yuuri, I'm so sorry-”

 

“That's not the worst of it,” Yuuri snorts and his tone is a little spiteful, the memory now making him angry. He stares into Victor's eyes in the dark and confesses Mylrin's wrath, “I bet you can't imagine what he did to me when Izetta started bringing the others into the castle. Izetta let him make me his punching bag because I wouldn't fight back. All I could do was take it and cry... because every time, I'd go to her for help. When Masumi attacked Mylrin for yelling at Christophe, Mylrin took out his anger on me. He locked me in a broom closet for two days... want to know how I know it was two days? I watched the sun filtering in from the door cracks,” His irritation remains but he looks away from Victor as if in shame, “Izetta let me out. 'Oh dear, Mylrin being mean to you? Let me get you something to eat and drink', she said to me. I let her care for me. I... I felt safe with her during that time. She healed my wounds after Mylrin beat me in front of Phichit and Minami. She cared for me so I could protect them. Even to protect JJ, Isabella, Seung-gil... After years of screaming for help and no reply, I started to resent them all b-but I protected them. I know today that I protected them.”

 

Victor isn't sure if he should reach to Yuuri, who is looking down as if he's been betrayed, and comfort him but decides to steer the conversation in another direction, “When did the beginning of the end start? When you started to rebel because... everyone treats you as their master and fears you at least slightly in this castle. What did you do, Yuuri?”

 

Yuuri sadly chuckles and lays back down, Victor follows suit as Yuuri continues, “I started to rebel after the genocide of the high elves. I couldn't kill Prince Yuran and decided I was ready for death... but Yuuko refused to give up on me,” Victor can tell Yuuri is skipping details by the way he's rushing through his speech but he doesn't press him on it or about the resentment in his tone, “Izetta didn't know Yuuko killed Prince Yuran but I took credit. Otabek still hates me because Yuran offered to save me from Izetta's servitude and I was too much of a coward to take his offer. It...was the last straw. I realized after Yuuko killed Yuran what a coward I am. I decided to isolate myself from everyone. I blamed Yuuko because I couldn't think straight,” What's more saddening than Yuuri's previous tears is the dead tone he uses when he says, “All I could think was that I needed to escape. From Mylrin, Izetta, everyone.”

 

There are no questions from Victor, knowing Yuuri is revealing his own sins and prepared for the worst of him, “I had Mylrin banished from this castle by exploiting Izetta's short temper and trust in me. I accused Mylrin of cheating with my own friend, Yuuko... of course, we know what happened to Yuuko. She had her humanity taken from her,” Yuuri grits his teeth and Victor is taken aback as Yuuri sits up again and is speaking in rage, “I thought Izetta would kill that miserable bastard for cheating but no, she locks him in the dungeons for a few weeks while my best friend receives the worst fate... My gods, I blamed my friend for my own problems and Mylrin barely received any punishment. You know what he did when she let him out? The bastard decided he wanted me dead!”

 

Yuuri's laughter surprises Victor, who is a bit unnerved but understanding of Yuuri's cruelty, “Oh Victor, nobody in this castle questions how powerful I am once I finally got the courage to stand up to him. When he came into my room that night, I was prepared for a fight,” Yuuri gets close to Victor and Victor holds his breath because of the closeness of Yuuri as he confesses, “I could have killed Mylrin that night but I didn't. I... couldn't bring myself to do it when I saw the fear in his eyes. I had him in the same position as me and I couldn't do it. Instead, I put a curse on him. No one should ever love a terrible piece of shit like him so I put a curse on him.”

 

“... A flower curse?” Victor remembers his mother saying his father had a curse on him but it never registered until now how important it was.

 

Yuuri backs away and nods, “Izetta banished him after I spared him with the curse. She said she didn't need a 'weakling' by her side anymore. When he ran out of the castle, coughing up flower petals, I honestly felt free for the first time in years. Telling Mylrin that no one will ever love him made me feel good in that period of time but... I'm still suffering, so was it all for naught?” Yuuri sighs and his frustration shines through, “The servants fear me because I started taking out my emptiness on them. For a short period of time, I was like Mylrin until Phichit snapped me out of it...Just, if it weren't for Phichit, everyone here would be a battered as I was because I became a bitter piece of shit. He seemed to be the only one to believe I'm a good person when I'm not.” Yuuri stops himself and Victor can tell he's getting emotionally exhausted. However, Victor wonders if he can get information out of the inebriated man that he otherwise couldn't.

 

Victor will admit; he's exhausted from Yuuri's tale. He wasn't sure what he expected but it wasn't the amount of tragedy he's been given and caused but there are some unanswered questions...

 

“Yuuri, can I ask you what happened to Mylrin after he was exiled? What happened to Izetta that put you in power?”

 

Yuuri is quiet for a long time before he answers, cautious, “I can't tell you what happened to Izetta. Isn't it obvious what happened to Mylrin? He settled in Peterov Village and fell in love with your mother...” Yuuri seems irritated about that, so Victor presses.

 

“You hated my mother because she made the curse you laid on him bearable. My mother uprooted your plans to make Mylrin suffer for the rest of his life.”

 

“... Yes,” Yuuri admits, “So, I visited Peterov Village with Izetta's permission and destroyed his life. I used myself as bait so Yuuko would attack the village multiple times as well. I killed your mother as the last straw of punishment... What surprises me the most is even though Yakov Feltsman had bonded and treated Mylrin as his own family, he still offered to help me. I couldn't accept his help,” Yuuri has a small melancholy smile, “But he gave me the last bit of courage to stand up to Izetta when I already could stand up to Mylrin.”

 

“How did Yakov say he would help you?”

 

“He said he would let me live with him if I could try to get along with Mylrin,” Yuuri sighs irritably, “You obviously know my stance on being anywhere near Mylrin, even if it means freedom from Izetta... besides, I needed a way to save everyone in his castle from her so I couldn't accept his offer... I'm sorry you suffered from my terrible choices. I hope you can forgive me.” Yuuri looks tired as if the alcohol has fully kicked in and he's borderline ready to sleep. Victor can tell he's not going to get all the answers he wants so he opts for what he feels he should do.

 

Much to Yuuri's surprise, Victor wraps his arms around Yuuri and holds him close.

 

“What are you-”

 

“Yuuri, you've suffered through more than I can imagine for centuries but-” Victor squeezes tighter and says, “Please don't keep secrets from me again. I know you aren't ready to tell me everything but I want to be in the know. I want to know what you're protecting everyone in this castle from so I can help. I care about you despite everything. You're a good person deep down and no one can convince me otherwise. So please, I'll remind you in the morning but stop keeping secrets from me. You can trust me, right?”

 

“... I'll try. Don't expect me to remember.” Yuuri says before a yawn takes over him and his face is buried against Victor once more. Before Yuuri settles further, he asks Victor, “Did Yakov have any nicknames for you?”

 

It confuses Victor but decides to answer, “Um, I guess. Why do you ask?”

 

“Aren't nicknames important these days? I hear non-magicians are appropriating Elven nicknaming now so I assume Yakov calls you by one... if you don't mind, I'd want to use that one with you.” Yuuri is skirting around the subject but Victor can't help but smile. He didn't know Yuuri was aware of the naming culture so he's happy to give Yuuri his.

 

“It's Vitya. Yakov and those who know me in Peterov Village called me that. You can call me that but... can I call you one myself?”

 

“... As long as it's not Yurik or Yura. Mylrin used to call me the first one to mock me and Yura makes me think of Otabek, Vitya.” Yuuri is firm with his boundary and Victor hums in thought. To be able to call Yuuri by a nickname is a huge step.

 

With not much thought, Victor decides, “Yusha. Is that okay?”

 

Yuuri smiles against him and confirms, “Better than Yurik, I like it.”

 

Neither is sure who started falling asleep first but neither said anymore after that. However, it's very likely Yuuri fell asleep first because Victor's mind lingers on what Yuuri wouldn't tell him and a realization of his own. What exactly happened to Izetta? While he may not know the answer yet to that, he understands a bit more of what Christophe's cryptic speech means after listening to Yuuri and by the closeness they share now.

 

Victor only realizes now how far he's fallen in love with Katsuki Yuuri as they share a bed and nod off to sleep together, both blissfully unaware of the two interlopers, Minami and Phichit, who were listening outside Victor's door most of the time.

 

 

Along the Rosenvenia-Halgilen border, there is a camp of two hundred non-magician soldiers and fifty Paladins who are leading them. Despite the rise in temperature the past several weeks, there is still deep snow this high in the mountains where the camp stands. The goal of the group is to clear a path into Halgilen without using the main roads in order to find Izetta's castle. Under Mylrin's orders, the Paladins are instructed to kill any of the servants on sight and retrieve Victor alive.

 

Howling winds have the troops huddled for warmth around barely burning fires. Until the morning, they can't make any progress into clearing a path. They've spent the last three months slowly inching their way over the treacherous peaks (previously, it was a plan in order to reclaim Halgilen but Mylrin easily influenced them into his command). If they were to have this camp attacked, it would set back their invasion of Halgilen until next the end of summer. Oddly enough, Halgilen summers make it's mountains more blizzard prone compared to Rosenvenia's brutal winters so the soldiers don't have much time as summer approaches.

 

Celestino checks his pocket watch often as he waits for his troops to arrive. He doesn't mean the Paladins; he's waiting for the Crows to appear. Careful planning in the past few weeks has prepared for this moment. As soon as Izetta's castle moved, Celestino made it the Crows main goal to protect it; Protect Izetta's castle to keep Victor out of Mylrin's hands.

 

In the monstrously tall conifers, the Crows wait for the perfect time to attack. With their masks on, the only way they can tell who each other are is by their formation. At the head of the pack, a pale bearded man by the name of Emil huddles close to his tan-skinned mate, Michele. Waiting in the trees towards the back is Marigold Plisetsky and at least fifty others.

 

Emil nudges his brooding partner and whispers close, “Mickey, are you alright?”

 

Michele shakes his head, “No, I don't trust the new addition joining us in this battle. Even if she's loyal, I'd prefer she stay home with her child.”

 

Emil eyes Marigold for a second but turns back to Michele to reassure, “She may have been a lover of Mylrin and an active slave trader but she's a powerful witch on our side... She knows what will happen if Victor gets into Mylrin's hands. Relax, Mickey.”

 

“... What if she dies? Any of us could but what will her family do if she dies? She's the single breadwinner.”

 

Emil thinks before saying, “... I wouldn't worry about it unless if it actually happens. We have to take any help we can get and the fact she would agree to our terms should be enough to ensure she is loyal. Please, we must not disappoint Celestino. Are we ready to attack?”

 

With a nod from Michele, Emil gives the signal and all the Crows literally transform into crows. They fly in the storm winds, following Emil and Michele. Marigold is still getting used to this form and is helped by others to stay in formation. The entire flock follows orders as Emil squawks and they drive toward the huddled soldiers.

 

The Paladins are entirely unprepared as the Crows appear and start destroying tents and equipment. With shouts, Paladins and soldiers alike attack the intruders. Sparks fly as blades meet and blood flows when met with flesh. Magicians on the Crows front protect their non-magicians with shield spells and Paladins aid their own with speed spells and enchanted blades.

 

Emil secretly seeks out Celestino and engages him in battle. While they battle, Celestino speaks first, “Success,” He blocks Emil's attack with ease, “This will bide time until late Autumn for Katsuki. You did well for your first mission.”

 

A smirk from Emil signals another attack and he claims, “If it weren't for Mickey, I'd never have made it this far. Thank him more than me... If Mylrin orders your death, I will do the best I can.”

 

Celestino nods sadly and commands, “Kill as many as you can, we want no witnesses of my betrayal so maybe Mylrin will spare me for this loss.”

 

“Understood.” Emil pretends to knock Celestino unconscious, who plays along, and leaves to help the rest. By the end of the battle, one hundred and ninety soldiers and thirty-six Paladins are dead. The ones remaining flee into the blizzard where more are sure to die. Ten Crows are dead, six wounded including Marigold. Celestino stops pretending when all enemy troops are out of sight.

 

The Crows tend to their dead and wounded. As Celestino wanders through the camp, it breaks his heart to see his fellow resistance mates to be dead. He sees Michele wrapping a deep wound on Marigold's arm and scolding her for not being more careful. He doesn't blame Michele since he knows he has a sister back home and projects his worry for her onto the other Crows here. Marigold doesn't seem to complain, looking as if she's absorbed in thought on something else. Emil is helping carry the dead and identify everyone so their badges may be returned to their families.

 

At one point, there's loud sobbing and screaming over one of the corpses because one man's partner has perished. No one stops him. Many simply turn away and give him time with his lover. They won this battle. Their death is justified because it buys time from a much worse fate, preventing more deaths in the future. At least, that's what they all tell themselves as they prepare for the many funeral pyres they will hold in the next few hours.

 

 

When Yuuri awakes, his head throbs from even the smallest rays of light. His memory is shaky from the night before drinking away his sorrows. He knows he didn't return to his own room and vaguely remembers yelling at Phichit for blocking his path (He'll have to apologize when he doesn't feel like his head is splitting open).

 

Yuuri tries to sit up but he's stopped by the arms around him and there's a muttered complaint of, “Don't goooo, stay...”

 

If he wasn't awake before, he is now. His eyes are open wide despite the pain because the half-naked person of his affections, Victor Nikiforov, is cuddling him while asleep and he has no recollection how he ended up in this little slice of nirvana in his hell hole of a life. Victor's hair is fanned out across himself like a blanket yet not offering much modesty that the actual blanket does. If Yuuri didn't know better, he'd think Victor is naked under the blanket. What sets his heart ablaze is how peaceful Victor looks and how he could just drown in this feeling.

 

As much as this is what Yuuri has always wanted, he knows he can't have Victor. The world is too chaotic for soft, domestic bliss. Mylrin's hold on the magical and non-magical world grows stronger and his troops get closer every day to finding them. Closer to taking Victor and destroying everything.

 

If there's one wish Yuuri could make, it would be for more time with Victor. More time with the man that has convinced him that maybe love isn't the power struggle that Mylrin and Izetta shared or forced like many of the marriages of his home village.

 

Yuuri wants to have this moment last as long as possible so he cuddles back against Victor's chest and closes his eyes. While his head may throb, he's comfortable listening to Victor's heartbeat. Every moment he gets to spend with Victor like this is one less moment without Izetta's torment and one more moment he can dream of having Victor as his lover, even for this short period of time.

 

As Yuuri pretends to sleep, Victor is starting to wake. He gazes over Yuuri and his heart beats a little faster at how comfortable Yuuri looks. Damn, he's going to need Christophe's advice since he's not sure how he's going to deal with these emotions now that's aware of them. He doesn't want to disturb the other but he needs to get up and get dressed.

 

It takes a few moments of deciding but eventually unwraps his arms from Yuuri and carefully gets out of bed to get dressed. He's unaware Yuuri is watching as he slips on a shirt and a new pair of pants. Makkachin is at the end of the bed, still deep asleep.

 

When Victor turns back to check on Yuuri, Yuuri is sitting up and watching him. Victor blinks and greets, “Morning... how are you feeling?”

 

“Could be better... sorry for intruding.” Yuuri apologizes.

 

Victor shakes his head and assures, “You're fine, Yusha-” He stops when he realizes Yuuri probably doesn't remember the nickname from the night before.

 

“... Yusha? Just what happened last night that you're calling me by a nickname?” Yuuri isn't against the nickname if anything he's trying not to blush because he finds it sweet of him to finally give him a nickname.

 

Victor sighs and decides to recap what happened, “Well... you came into my room last night, drunk, and kinda told me your life story... You asked me what Yakov called me as a nickname and I gave you one so we can be closer. Also... you promised to not lie to me anymore. I want you to keep me informed on what's going on. I want to help you any way I can so everyone in this castle can be safe.”

 

Yuuri now sighs because he realizes he's really dug himself into a hole... but it can't hurt to have Victor aware of his efforts to keep Mylrin from kidnapping him. Especially if he's already told him just how terrible Mylrin is. However, it means Victor also knows how terrible he is as well.

 

Conflicted, Yuuri asks (He's starting to remember what happened now that the haze of alcohol is gone. He didn't drink enough to completely black out), “Are you sure you want to know? I mean... you'd still help after what I've done to you as well?”

 

Victor sits back on the bed and nods; he's forgiven Yuuri and had years to do so. He just now knows more why Yuuri did things the way he did.

 

Yuuri rubs his temples and realizes he's not wearing his glasses. They must be in his room so he isn't too concerned but his headache isn't helping. Victor notices and offers, “I can help with your headache if you promise you'll tell me everything tonight over a book.”

 

There's a snort from Yuuri and he says, “Sure, I'd love that... it'll be easier that way since I need to read the mail that's piled up as well.”

 

“Mail?” Victor asks as he's already scouring his room for a healing crystal, “We actually get mail to this castle?”

 

“Of course we do,” Yuuri insists, “How do you think I contact my allies- Well, yes. I have allies outside this castle so I can spy on Mylrin. I have to get information from them somehow.”

 

Victor finds a crystal and eyes him with suspicion, “... You've hidden a lot from me.”

 

“Not just you but most of the castle as well,” Yuuri informs and closes his eyes as Victor approaches and presses the crystal against his temple. He lets out a long breath as relief floods him.

 

“I see. Should I escort you to your room or will you be fine on your own?”

 

Yuuri answers, “I'll be fine on my own. Thank you for offering,” He stands and straightens out his pajamas, feeling better with Victor's help. He stops at the door, “I'll see you tonight in the library at eight. We'll go through the mail together since I'm expecting news from an ally.”

 

Victor nods and watches Yuuri leave out his door. When he's gone, Victor crashes on his bed and groans into the pillow. He's still lamenting he's fallen in love with Yuuri, “Makkachin, what do I do?”

 

Makkachin yawns and comments through their connection, “Don't ask me, that's something to ask Chris or JJ. I don't know anything about love.”

 

Victor groans again, “Oh damn my heart...”

 

Outside Victor's room, Yuuri has ran into Phichit who comments, “Sleep well with Victor?”

 

Yuuri threatens, “If what I think is true, you better not dare share what you overheard last night. I will not hesitate to lock you in the dungeons.”

 

Phichit snorts, “Too late, Minami was with me and I already told Christophe.”

 

“... Damn you, Phichit.” That's all he says before Phichit is giggling and servants give Yuuri dubious looks as he heads back to his bedroom to change. Yuuri regrets drinking and swears he never will again, especially because he can already feel Izetta is going to be pestering because he confessed so much to Victor. Always there to tear him at his worst, that's Izetta's main goal it seems.

 

A large black bird passes one of the windows and Yuuri know exactly what has arrived. The mail.

 

 

Letter from Celestino:

 

Dear Lord Katsuki Yuuri,

 

Thank you for the recommendation of an ally. Marigold Plisetsky's knowledge of the trading routes helped us find the Paladins quite quickly. However, we worry she is vulnerable to Mylrin if he suspects her to be apart of us. More so since she has the ability to find your castle with spells. You're playing with fire to keep her as an ally but I will trust your judgment for now.

 

We have successfully reclaimed the border from Mylrin's Paladins last night. He's taken control of the non-magician military but we've pushed back his plans to invade Halgilen until this winter. I would recommend you inform Victor of his predicament in this situation or it could face backlash from the very man we're trying to protect.

 

Ten of my men and women are dead. Please don't let their lives be in vain.

 

- Celestino

 

 

Yuri is up earlier than usual today because of worry. Mylrin is planning to visit today and he's waiting for his mother to come home. He's used to his mother leaving for days at a time but this time he feels something is different. She left in the middle of the night in a black cloak after arguing with his grandfather, something about needing to prepare for the worst and if she's not back in so much time that she should be considered dead. It's been two days and today she must come home.

 

Otabek is sound asleep in his foldable cot set up in the corner of Yuri's room. Yuri is watching the road from his window and listening to Otabek's light snores to keep him grounded. The time that Otabek has spent in this house has been the best for Yuri since Otabek helps him with everything from chores to learning Elvish that Mylrin has insisted he learn. Even right now, his presence is calming when it's possible his mother is not coming home.

 

 

However, Yuri breathes out a sigh of relief even if the worry doesn't completely disappear as his mother appears on the road holding her injured arm. Quickly, Yuri shakes Otabek awake and quietly ushers him to follow to greet his mother.  

Chapter Text

Yuri is relieved that his mother is home. She is injured but alive. She walks through the door and Yuri hugs her; She is surprised at first but rests a hand on his head and strokes his hair, muttering soothing words. Otabek waits at the stairwell, not wanting to interrupt their moment.

 

“Mama, where were you? You're hurt!” Yuri exclaims, concerned even if his relationship with his mother hasn't been great. He's noticed the green, greedy aura around her has decreased over time but can tell a heavy weight must still be in her heart.

 

She kneels to be more on his level and assures, “I'm fine, Yurotchka... Bandits attacked me but I fought them off.”

 

“... Don't lie to me, Mama. You don't need to shield me from everything.” Yuri takes a step back, arms crossing.

 

She sighs and decides to greet Otabek, “Morning, dear.”

 

Otabek grunts in response and Yuri insists, “Tell me!”

 

She gets irritated but steadies herself as she notices her father coming down from the stairs with a concerned but relieved look. She asks Yuri, “Dear, please go outside with Otabek and play. Your grandpa and I need to talk. Also, don't worry about your father visiting today. I'll keep him distracted.”

 

“But Mama-”

 

“Now, Yuri. Don't make me repeat myself.” She almost growls and his grandma motions with his hand that they both should go.

 

Yuri pouts but obeys, grabbing Otabek's arm on the way. They both leave and Yuri is about to lead to where they usually play but Otabek stops him. Yuri is about to speak but Otabek quiets him with a finger and casts a spell on both of them. When Yuri senses the spell type, he knows Otabek has cast a cloaking spell on both of them. They both smirk at each other and hide under the windowsill to listen in. Marigold and her father don't even notice the window is slightly cracked and that the two are listening in.

 

Nikolai gets his daughter to show him her wound and mutters swears as he tries his hand at healing magic. Yuri hopes his mother is not in too much pain as she grits her teeth and the wound closes with Nikolai's help. Nikolai finally scolds, “I was worried sick. Where the hell did you go? I don't know what you're doing anymore but it certainly isn't bringing in an income!”

 

Marigold winces at his words and confesses, “... I've joined the Crows.”

 

There are gasps from all listening and Nikolai softens with disappointment, “... My sweet daughter, I know how much you despise Mylrin but to fight with the rebels? I expected better of you! You have a child to care for here at home!”

 

“Father, we can't let Mylrin have free reign anymore... Victor is alive and Mylrin is searching for him. Mylrin plans to destroy us all once he has Victor and Yurotchka,” Both Yuri and Nikolai are in shock but Otabek just quietly listens to information he already knew from spying on Yuuri's meetings with the Crows in the past and the new information, “Right now, the Crows are blocking the Paladins from getting into Halgilen because the castle is there. We're not sure what part of Halgilen but we know they're there. Victor is safe as long as he's with Katsuki and the servants... Even if Izetta is inside the poor young man.”

 

Yuri is almost pressed against the window trying to listen. Otabek helps steadies his balance so they don't get discovered. Nikolai processes the information and sighs in understanding, asking, “All I ask is you don't get killed. You can leave and never come back but just... don't die. You have a family that loves you,” Yuri almost tears up at that because his grandfather isn't wrong, even if they don't always get along, “I support you, Marigold. Even if your decisions aren't the greatest.”

 

Marigold tears up and hugs her father, the two staying like that for awhile. Yuri pulls back from the window and motions Otabek to follow. As Otabek follows Yuri towards the alleyways, Yuri says, “We'll catch up along the way. I have some questions for you since you seem to know more about this.”

 

He's not wrong so Otabek just nods and follows along, ready to answer any question his friend has for him.

 

 

“So you're telling me,” Yuri summarizes as he swings high off the ground with each push from Otabek. They talked while making their way to the old, decaying playground that Yuri enjoys because the swings are still functional, “Katsuki Yuuri is possessed by the spirit of the Dark Witch so she's not really dead yet but Victor, who happens to also be my half-brother, is still safe with him? I know who the Crows are and they fight evil or some shit like that but wouldn't he be safer with the Crows? Izetta could take over Katsuki at any time from how you make it sound and kill him.”

 

Otabek gives the swing another hard push before he explains, “Katsuki is in love with Victor. Every one of the servants can tell... When Katsuki is supported and loved, he can fight Izetta's hate and toxicity. The feeling seems mutual so I believe it's in everyone's best interest to keep them together. I may hate Katsuki but seeing him happy enough to bide our time against Izetta is optimal.”

 

Yuri hums in agreement and says, “I miss Victor... we used to play together when I was very small. Now I know he's my brother, I wish I had more time with him.”

 

Otabek doesn't push the swing this time, instead asking, “Are you worried about your mother?”

 

“Yes but I'm more worried how my father will react when I'm not home when he comes to pick me up,” Yuri has a dreading expression. Mylrin can get aggressive when he doesn't get what he wants. Yuri has never seen Mylrin hit anyone but senses in his soul he has in the past and that he's a very vicious man when pushed to his emotional limits. He will threaten and manipulate to get what he wants, like how he treats his mother who stands proudly against his abusive behavior. That's one quality Yuri will always admire about his mother, “Will you help me hide from him, Otabek?”

 

“Of course, I don't want to run into that bastard either since who knows what he'll do to me...” Otabek says.

 

Yuri slows in the swing and comments, “I can't believe the Arcana is dumb enough to believe Mylrin when he said Izetta is dead. I know he used mind control on Tabitha to tell them that but he had to control the whole council for them to believe that garbage,” Otabek knows who Tabitha is, Milla, but isn't ready to admit he's met her while on patrols of the castle grounds years ago, “Poor Tabby, I'm surprised she's not a Crows member just for my dad being an asshole to her.”

 

“Now everyone is suited to fight with the Crows, Yura... If you were old enough, would you fight with the Crows?” Otabek asks.

 

“No, they may be fighting a good cause but... they don't understand completely why my father is the way he is,” Yuri gets out of the swing and switches with Otabek, being his turn to push. Otabek listens as Yuri tries to push him, “Mylrin... was treated unfairly by Katsuki, too. Sure, he is a piece of shit but he doesn't bear the complete blame. The Crows are willing to ignore Katsuki's sins and make him an ally and that's why I would never be apart of them... I mean, Katsuki hurt you too. I'm Prince Yuran, if I remember you telling it right, I was everything you had in my past life and Katsuki took that away. How am I supposed to support a group who would support that?”

 

Otabek can't help but smile a bit. Yuri is smart, just like Yuran was, and even he can sense the deity power inside him that has yet to fully blossom (Yuri still has dreams about the past, which confirms this suspicion further. Yuri is on the same page). Yuri truly is growing into the role of a wise god of peace as Yuran had and he's only eight and a half seasons at most, “I don't blame you, Yura. You see both sides of conflicts... so what should be done, in your opinion?”

 

Yuri stops pushing to voice his thoughts, “First, Mylrin needs to back the fuck off. He may be in emotional pain from Katsuki cursing him and what not but the best thing for him is to just create his own pocket dimension and create a dream world of his own. He needs to let go,” The two are now face to face since Yuri moves himself to lean against the swing set, “Second, Izetta needs to be exorcised from Katsuki... it may kill him but Izetta is a bigger problem if we finally want peace between the nations. I don't know what else to do beyond that.”

 

There's a nod from Otabek and the short reply, “I'm not sure either but you have a good idea on how to solve the Mylrin problem... would you miss Mylrin?”

 

“... If I'm honest, a little bit. He tries to be a good dad but I know he never will be. It's the sentiment I'll miss.”

 

The two are quiet for a little bit but it is comfortable silence. Yuri tries to push Otabek on the swing again until it's a gentle rhythm back and forth. Today is unusual because of the deep conversation but the time at the playground isn't unusual. Neither of them trust the rickety jungle gym but the swing is a good warm up before playing tag or hide-and-seek. However, both of them aren't prepared for who arrives.

 

“Yura! Beka!” Both turn to the honey-colored haired boy with chocolate brown eyes they know as Demetri. He's a small boy due to being born prematurely about Yura's age but he's always cheerful to see Yuri (and now Otabek since he befriends people quickly). Demetri has accepted Yuri no matter what, even when he revealed he is a magician. Yuri runs over and hugs his friend he hasn't seen in awhile. Otabek soon follows once the swing slows.

 

“I missed you!” Yuri says.

 

“Same here! Could you help me out like before?” There's some embarrassment as Demetri asks Yuri immediately knows what he wants.

 

“The wild dogs attack you again?”

 

Demetri nods and says, “I need both of your help. One of them took the scarf my mother gave to me,” He looks like he's about to cry, “Mama's not here anymore so I need it back, it's all I have of her.”

 

Both of them get close and run their friends' back, Otabek assures, “We'll get it back, Where did the dogs go?”

 

“Towards the river. I'm sure they're back at their den. I'll pay you back with lunch when you get it back.” Demetri's offer sounds good since the two haven't had breakfast yet and their stomachs growl.

 

“Deal,” Yuri accepts, “We'll see you when we get the scarf back.”

 

Demetri gives them a look of hope, “Thank you so much.”

 

“No problem, we'll see you.”

 

They know exactly where the wild dog den is so Yuri and Otabek prepare for a fight.

 

 

Surprisingly, getting the scarf back wasn't hard. The dogs were aggressive but Yuri discovered the mind control spell he learned works on animals as Otabek was ready to defend from powerful jaws. Otabek would usually encourage Yuri to not use a mind control spell but in this case there was no reasoning with hungry, wild animals. Once the dogs were pacified, Yuri grabbed the green scarf and both boys ran before the dogs were any wiser.

 

Now, the two are following the river back to civilization. The river is calming and both can sense the forest inhabitants minding their own business around them.

 

“Well, that was easy,” Otabek comments.

 

Yuri snorts as they approach the city and the playground. They're almost there when both freeze at who they see talking to Demetri. Both of them hide and listen in to the conversation between Demetri and Mylrin.

 

“I haven't seen him, sir... I'm playing by myself today.” Demetri claims.

 

“Are you sure? My son used to play with you all the time.” Mylrin pushes.

 

When Demetri shakes his head, Mylrin sighs and says, “Well, thank you for your time... I'll search elsewhere.”

 

They wait at least five minutes after Mylrin leaves before revealing themselves to Demetri, who complains, “Your dad is weird. He thought I was hiding you even though you weren't even here so I lied so he'd go away.”

 

“Thank you, Demetri. You're a good friend,” he holds out the scarf, “Consider this payment for your help keeping my dad from finding me.”

 

Demetri takes the scarf and is almost crying, “No problem! I'm just grateful to have my scarf!”

 

“Stop eating your lunch outside and the dogs will stop attacking you for food.” Otabek scolds Demetri and Demetri gives nervous laughter. Yuri grunts in agreement because he's a bit tired of being his friend's savior multiple times, bless his heart.

 

Demetri asks, “Can we play for awhile? Dad isn't home from work yet and being home is boring. I wanna play tag!”

 

After a couple moments of consideration, Yuri yells, “Otabek is 'it'!”

 

The two run from Otabek and Otabek chuckles, deciding to go after Demetri first since he's slower.

 

 

Victor has waited all day for this. Yuuri has kept everyone from the library for some reason and it irritates Victor. Makkachin keeps him calm by staying close and assuring that Yuuri isn't going to disappoint him and they're right as Yuuri opens the doors to the library at the promised time of eight o'clock.

 

“Come in. We have a guest.” Yuuri says and Victor enters. Makkachin stays at the doorway with Phichit, who is guarding against listeners. The library is immaculate as ever and the guest is standing by the piano. He is dressed in a black cloak with a black, beak-like mask hanging from his neck. He has blond hair and a beard, looking in his twenties.

 

Yuuri leads him to the guest and introduces, “This is Emil Nikola, one of the co-leaders of a resistance group and a close ally of mine. He's delivered word from the defense against the Paladins.”

 

Emil smiles and holds out a hand, “You must be Victor, pleased to meet you.”

 

“Nice to meet you, Emil.” Victor shakes his hand.

 

Yuuri motions them all to follow him to the seating area; In his hand, Yuuri has an envelope. The three sit once in the seating area with Yuuri and Victor side by side while Emil takes up an arm chair.

 

“Ready to read the letter?” Emil asks.

 

There's a nod from Yuuri and looks to Victor to make sure he's ready as well. Victor gives a nod and Yuuri opens the letter. It's from Celestino and Yuuri reads aloud. Victor almost snorts a bit at the opening of 'Lord Katsuki Yuuri' at how mighty it sounds but his amusement fades as it's revealed Miss Plisetsky is now a member of the Crows/resistance group and the deaths that happened in order to keep him safe from his own father.

 

Yuuri's face is unreadable as he asks Emil, “Is there more I should know that Celestino cannot put into the letter? I assume that's why you stayed and have not immediately left.”

 

Emil confirms, “Yes, Celestino had to leave soon after due to his duties to the Paladins but there's a possibility he will not return if Mylrin decides he should die for incompetence.”

 

“... Because of me? Mylrin is willing to risk war to get me back?” Victor asks.

 

There's a dejected nod from Emil and Yuuri comments, “I'm not surprised if he kills Celestino but I'm grateful your team has given us time,” Yuuri has a soft smile and says, “Thank you so much. We need all the time we can get.”

 

Victor is conflicted but expected to be. People are dying because of him and buying time doesn't seem to be the solution. Victor decides to ask Emil, “Is it possible you know anything about how the Plisetskys are doing? Same with Lillia in Peterov Village? I know I'm asking a lot of you.”

 

Emil thinks a bit and says, “From what Marigold has told me, her family is doing alright. They've adopted a teenage half-elf. I didn't think any other elves existed besides Mylrin, you and little Yuri-”

 

“Wait, a half-elf? Is his name Otabek? And Yuri?” Victor is confused.

 

Emil furrows his brow and says, “Yeah, his name is Otabek and yes, Yuri Plisetsky. Marigold's son is also Mylrin's. You didn't know?”

 

“... No, I didn't.” Victor's mind is blown. He's grateful Otabek is alive but also in realization he helped Miss Plisetsky give birth to his half-brother. Yuuri seems relieved about Otabek, too.

 

Emil continues, “I'm not sure about Lillia but Peterov Village has been peaceful in the last few years, if that's what you're wondering as well,” Victor is pacified and Emil faces Yuuri, “Lord Yuuri, you have until winter to figure out how you're going to solve this conflict with Mylrin. I know you're already dealing with Izetta but Mylrin is closer and closer to destroying us all. What do you have planned?”

 

Yuuri balls his fists in his lap and Victor wonders aloud, “Isn't Izetta dead?”

 

Yuuri steadily gets out, in distress, “No... She's still around but not physically,” He glares a bit at Emil, “I have her handled but I have no idea on how to handle Mylrin. I've considered traveling by myself and fighting him on my own but I refuse to leave my servants and Victor defenseless,” Victor blushes a bit as Yuuri's hand finds his and Emil makes a face of understanding.

 

“I see. If I could offer some assistance from our resistance, I could gather more troops to protect your servants while you travel to battle Mylrin.” Emil offers.

 

Yuuri shakes his head, “Not at this time. I will consider your offer as winter approaches. We will stay in touch.”

 

Emil nods and asks, “May I stay the night? I don't want to travel back over the mountains during the night. I'll freeze to death.”

 

With Yuuri's confirmation, Victor wants to ask Yuuri about Izetta but is also distracted about the hand wrapped around his. Instead, he decides to savor the moment even if his questions remain unasked. Yuuri stands and gives instructions, “Emil, tell Phichit that I would like you escorted to your guest room. Thank you for telling us what you know.”

 

“No problem!” Emil smiles widely as he stands and heads to Phichit.

 

Yuuri lets go of Victor's hand, much to his disappointment, and says, “I'll inform the others later of the news and catch them up to what we know now... Don't think too much of the hand-holding; it's just to establish how close you are to me as a friend.”

 

Somehow, that makes Victor's heart hurt more but he doesn't say anything as Yuuri finishes with, “I'll have JJ prepare you some dinner if you want. Now that we know we have until winter to prepare, we don't need to worry about Mylrin.”

 

“Yuuri,” Victor isn't sure what to say, a lot has happened and he's fallen so fast that he's not sure where to begin. All that comes to mind is, “It's going to be okay. Means we can read books together again and take baths together like we use to. Everything can be normal for awhile.”

 

Yuuri's eyes meet his and repeats, “Normal...”

 

“Yes, normal.” Victor reassures with a smile even if everything is chaos on the inside. Yuuri seems to like that and smiles back.

 

“I'll take you up on that... About Izetta, I'll tell you some other time but now is not the time.” Yuuri informs and Victor sighs, not going to fight him on it. Victor finally stands and follows Yuuri out of the library. The two stop when it's time to go their separate ways. There's one long, lingering look between the two before Yuuri rushes off in long strides down the hallway.

 

Damn, Victor needs to talk to Christophe. He needs advice more than he's ever needed before as he's watching Yuuri disappear down a hallway and all he can think about is his hand on his.

 

 

Each step fills Celestino with dread as he travels the marble hallways to Mylrin's office. He's prepared to die today simply for the Paladins failure, if not for suspicions of betrayal. Three knocks on Mylrin's door and a soft 'come in' allows him to open the door.

 

Celestino expected rage and fury when he opened the door but what he sees is a deadpan Mylrin staring and a smashed vase on the floor that's been swept into a pile. If anything, an unreadable Mylrin is more terrifying than an angry one.

 

“Y-You called me, sir?” Celestino asks.

 

“I did... What are you playing at?”

“Huh?”

 

Mylrin suddenly stands and the next thing Celestino knows he's forced against a wall and can't move. Mylrin's magic is too strong to fight against yet he still struggles. With a couple gliding steps, Mylrin is inches from his face with a furious expression, “What are you playing at that you could let weeks and months of progress just go down the drain? I can only imagine one reason and it's because you're a traitor.”

 

“N-No, sir! How could you think that of me! We didn't anticipate the Crows power when they attacked! I told you in the letter, please let me go!” Celestino is in a panic and Mylrin stares at him for awhile. The grip of the spell loosens but Mylrin still has him pinned. Mylrin turns from furious to disappointed.

 

“... I know you're lying to me. I've known you for a couple years and you stutter when you lie,” Mylrin points out the stutter and Celestino internally curses himself for the telltale action. Celestino feels his mind go numb and immediately starts to struggle again because Mylrin is using his mind control magic. Mylrin is calm as he asks, “I order you to tell me the truth. Why, after all this time, would you betray me and sell out to the Crows? I trusted you with my secrets.”

 

Celestino can't control his tongue as he answers the question, “I never sold out to the Crows... I've been their leader this whole time and a double agent.”

 

Mylrin is genuinely shocked, stumbling over his words with the next question, “Why? I told you everything and you still did this. Why?”

 

There's not even a struggle for Celestino, even with the spell he feels more liberated confessing than keeping it in, “You're absolutely delusional if you think anyone would openly allow you destroy the world just because something bad happened to you. Katsuki did indeed hurt you but you must be really weak as a person if you can't move on, especially when you had it coming after what you've done to the young man. I hate you and only played along just to keep Victor from you. If anything, Victor doesn't deserve a terrible father like you.”

 

Mylrin crumbles internally as Celestino says exactly what will hurt him. It's like Izetta all over again except with a man he considered his friend. Except for this time, he recovers his composure. He doesn't let Celestino ruin him so quickly (but knows he will feel the hurt later) and decides he's relieved to know the truth. He expected too much to have a friend in his world it seems. However, Celestino is a decent magician for other uses if he can't be a trustworthy leader and friend.

 

The spell tightens Celestino against the wall, showing Mylrin's irritation, and he coughs from the pressure of the spell, “H-Hurts... please Mylrin. I betrayed you for your own good. Stop this madness.”

 

Mylrin snorts, “Oh, now that your life is in danger you're going to beg for me to keep you alive? You're lucky I still have use for you since all the mountain pass setback has done is given me time to develop my alternate plan.”

 

Before Celestino can even ask, Mylrin says, “You know how bloodlings are made? You know it takes two magicians of power to create one... but what about an army?” Mylrin grins and uses a hand to grasp the other man's chin, “All you are of use to me to create some powerful bloodlings over the next few months. I can easily replace you as leader of my Paladins. Keeping you here in my office with the sole purpose of creating bloodlings to fight Katsuki.You understand why it has to be bloodlings to fight him, right?”

 

Celestino nods, knowing Katsuki won't be able to fight his own kind. Mylrin smirks and comments, “Good, then you'll understand I just spared you from a painful death. You're going to be in misery but alive,” Mylrin goes to his desk and gets a knife, “So, shall we begin? I'm excited to begin even if you weren't my first choice for a blood donor.”

 

Celestino's eyes widen in fear and he struggles, not wanting Mylrin anywhere near him. He can't even scream because Mylrin quiets him as he prepares to take from him, “Face your punishment, my friend. I'm not playing games anymore. It's time to get my son back...”

 

 

 

Weeks pass from the day Emil brought news of the thwarted invasion. Emil only stayed for a night before leaving. News of the invasion failure reached all the servants and a sense of calm and understanding flow through all. Now that everyone knows what Yuuri tried to hide, everyone feels less angry because they know what they need to prepare for. It's not much better, having a looming threat above them, but it's better than the sudden attack they couldn't prepare for.

 

It's midsummer now, no longer spring and the heat is increasing. With more sunny days, Yuuri increasingly leaves the castle to sunbathe and usually Victor watches him from the medical wing windows. Christophe and Masumi have finally agreed to speak with him about Yuuri and his feelings. The longer he wants Yuuri, the more it pains his heart and those two are the only ones who can help him through these feelings before Yuuri has time to break him. Victor doesn't see a situation where Yuuri accepts his love in their current situation.

 

Victor is watching Yuuri turn onto his side in the garden grass when there's a knock on the door and a soft 'woof' from Makkachin. Victor greets, “Come in, Chris, Masumi.”

 

The door slowly opens, revealing his bespectacled friend and his cat-like lover. Christophe smiles gently at him and Masumi gives a nod of the head in acknowledgment. Makkachin gets up and greets Masumi with a wagging tail while Victor and Christophe exchange hugs.

 

When they pull away, Christophe asks, “How are you? What did you need to speak to me about?” He also adds, “After we speak, I have a surprise for you in the dining room.”

 

Victor raises an eyebrow at that but answers, “I could be better; the past few weeks have been mentally tough for me... It's about Yuuri,” He takes a deep breath and admits to both of them, “I've fallen in love with Yuuri and I'm not sure what to do about it. What do I do?”

 

Christophe stares at him for a few seconds and then snorts, “Well, finally one of you admitted you have feelings for one another.”

 

“... Huh?” Victor says.

 

Masumi answers as he gives Makkachin pats, “Finally you realize you're in love with Yuuri. We've known for awhile the two of you loved each other but we just were waiting for one of you to finally admit it.”

 

Victor furrows his brow with another, “Huh!?”

 

Christophe and Masumi give each other a look and snort. Before even Victor can ask, Christophe says, “It was really obvious. The two of you spent almost every day with one another before the Paladin incident and the way you two look at each other is more than just friendly,” He claps Victor on the shoulder, “You want my advice? Confess. Tell him you love him. You don't need to pressure him into accepting them but make him aware.”

 

Victor seems to calm at that but voices his worry, “... I'm worried he won't even want to be around me. He shuts himself off, Chris. I don't want to hurt him by confessing.”

 

Masumi stands and sighs at hearing that and is almost irritated, “You won't hurt him, trust us.”

 

Christophe gives Masumi a scolding look before adding, “You won't, my friend. However, consider it. You have until winter to tell him your feelings so there's no rush... or you could stay quiet and let it eat you from the inside out. It's your choice.”

 

“... You're not wrong,” Victor sighs and seats himself at his desk so he can run his hands through his hair, undoing his ponytail, “I can't believe I ignored the signs for so long and that I fell for Yuuri... I mean, to think he wanted to kill me three years ago when I arrived and now I can't stop thinking about him.”

 

Christophe and Masumi pull up chairs and sit with him, Christophe trying to comfort, “Love is a funny thing... If it makes you feel any better, at least your situation wasn't like mine. I had to run away from home just to be with the one I love.”

 

Victor gazes at him in curiosity, “You never told me everything about that. I know you're here from Halgilen, that castle just over the trees, but you've never told the whole story to me.”

 

Christophe's gaze goes dark and Masumi turns away, Victor thinks he's crossed a boundary but Christophe snorts and asks, “Have you heard of the legend of the missing prince of Halgilen?”

 

Victor nods and adds, “Yes, Halgilen gained its independence from Rosvenia because the prince was not present to marry the princess of Rosvenia- Wait, are you saying-”

 

There's a nod from Christophe and Victor says, “You... Are you a Giacometti? Of the royal family?”

 

“Correct, I am Christophe Giacometti of Halgilen. I abandoned my people because I couldn't stand the idea of marrying a woman I would never love,” His expression is regretful, “I wanted Masumi and no one else. My parents threatened to kill him, my familiar, for our love.”

 

“I see... I'm sorry, Chris.”

 

“Don't worry about it. I ended up here in Izetta's castle. If I hadn't of run away, you and I wouldn't be speaking right now. Izetta planned to assassinate me that night but we surrendered when found and Yuuri convinced her to take pity on both of us,” Christophe smiles as Masumi leans into him, lessening the tension, “In a way, I'm glad I'm in this castle. My point is, Victor, that you should value that you don't have to fight to have Yuuri's love like I did.”

 

Victor understands now. Not just Christophe's past but its relation to him and Yuuri, “I'll keep that in mind, thank you for the advice and trusting me with your secrets.”

 

He snorts, “That's hardly a secret. Everyone in this castle knows I'm a prince now I've told you.”

 

Victor smiles and then remembers, “You had a surprise for me?”

 

“Oh right, Phichit organized a lunch party in the dining room. Act surprised when we take you to the dining room.” Christophe tells him.

 

Victor is surprised because he wonders, “Are you sure? Everyone has been ignoring me for the castle invasion attempt...”

 

Christophe and Masumi shake their heads and Chris assures, “This is to apologize for that. If we knew Yuuri's reasons earlier, you wouldn't have been shunned by the others... even I'm guilty of it. I'm sorry.”

 

“I forgive you,” Victor gazes out the window one more time to see Yuuri is now standing and wandering the garden almost out of sight so he says, “Take me to the lunch. I'm getting hungry and would like to reconnect with those who shied from me this past month and a half.”

 

 

Victor pretended to be surprised for Phichit but was seen through very easily, leading to Phichit whining to Christophe about ruining surprises. Everyone is at the table except for Chihoko. When Victor asks Phichit where she is, Phichit quotes she told him to 'fuck off with his party' and claims she's just tired. Victor is taken aback by the language used but isn't really surprised from what he knows from becoming acquainted with the water goddess in the past month what she's like (when he says acquainted, he means he visited her a couple times in her bathing area turned bedroom and was passive aggressively insulted the entire time they small-talked).

 

Regardless, he's greeted by apologetic looks from the crowd and food aplenty on the dining table. Victor addresses them all, “Everyone, thank you for this... I know you were angry at me but I'm glad we finally can get past it and focus on the future. Let's eat.”

 

Everyone can agree to that statement as they seat themselves around the dining table. The stained glass mimics them and Victor's stomach growls as a plate of pasta is set in front of him by a cheerful JJ. JJ really outdid himself this time because there's more food than people to feed and he wonders if JJ has been cooking since the early morning to make this happen. As Victor wonders if JJ has eaten, Minami rips into a chicken leg and fights over who gets the corner piece of cake with Phichit.

 

“Back off, I want that piece!” Minami glares at Phichit.

 

Phichit snarls, “No way, loser. I went for it first.”

 

Victor is about to point out there are four corners until Minami snarls back, “I called it first, you asshole. So back off.”

 

“Oh, you're gonna call me names now. Alright shithead, I'll fight you for it.” Phichit pulls out a knife and so does Minami.

 

Victor is about to beg they calm down but Christophe stops him with a hand on the shoulder and says, “Let them fight it out. They won't kill each other but desserts mean serious business for them.”

 

As Leo, Guang-hong and Seung-gil are quietly egging the two on to fight while eating their pasta, Victor sighs and just watches as the two fighters leave the table to engage in a knife fight in the corner of the room over cake. Seung-gil flinches when a blade strike almost slashes across Phichit's face but is blocked with quick precision and sparks fly from the blades.

 

From the side of Victor's vision, he can see JJ simply shaking his head in disappointment at the unexpected knife fight lunch show. Isabella seems to be trying not to laugh at the display. Leo and Guang-hong have taken opposite sides and are cheering their fighters on. Victor tries to focus on his pasta but it's hard when Phichit now has Minami pinned against a wall with a knife to his throat. However, Minami is skilled and exploits Phichit's exposed abdomen with a swift kick. That's enough for Phichit to jump back and Minami has the chance to lock blades with the other once again.

 

The fight ends quickly when Phichit fakes out Minami and trips him. He's pinned under Phichit and can't move, “Give up.”

 

Minami whines but surrenders, accepting he won't get that specific corner of the cake. Guang claps and Leo groans at who won. Seung-gil looks relieved and goes back to his food with the others. When Phichit returns triumphantly to claim his cake, he announces, “That's what you get for challenging a Thalanan warrior! You picked the wrong battle.”

 

Minami rolls his eyes as he stuffs his mouth halfway with noodles and counters, “Sure, you were trained to fight but yet you've never seen the battlefield you were meant to fight on. Your skills are useless besides protecting Master Yuuri.”

 

That obviously offends Phichit, who glares but holds his tongue. Instead, he takes a spiteful bite of cake. Victor has always been curious about the past of the others at the table and to catch a glimpse of Phichit's interests him further. He listens as they speak.

 

Phichit eventually does bite back with, “You wouldn't be that skilled with a knife if it weren't for me; I taught you everything you know so you have no right to scratch at me when you're in the same boat as me,” He sighs and cuts his cake in half, “I'll share if you admit you're no better than me.”

 

Minami accepts his offer, “Of course, thank you... I'm sorry for fighting you. Growing up a warrior isn't an easy life so I should be nicer to you.”

 

Phichit chuckles and assures, “I may have lost my parents to Izetta but I didn't see them killed in front of me, you have it harder than me.”

 

Seung-gil interrupts with, “We get it, you feel sorry for each other. Stop trying to one up each other with personal tragedy.”

 

The two quiet down and simply share cake. Even JJ joins them after awhile with Isabella trying to feed him fruits. Victor smiles at the conflict has resolved and they can all eat together like this in peace.

 

Victor finds himself mentally organizing what he knows about those around, background-wise, just like when he first arrived and wrote down what he knew about each servant. Around the table, he remembers their pasts from previous conversations and gossip:

 

Minami Kenjiro: Watched his mother be killed by Izetta. She was a scientist (astronomy) and studying the movements of the moon and sun. Apparently Izetta considered her a threat because it would have lead to non-magician independence from magicians when it comes to energy and navigation.

 

Christophe Giacometti: Prince of Halgilen in the past, ran away from home to escape arranged marriage. Was spared by Izetta because he willingly gave himself up to her.

 

Phichit Chulanont: From Thalanen. I suspect he was born a child soldier since Thalanen has been in civil war for centuries. Still unknown how he came up into Izetta's care but Yuuri has hinted that Izetta has a habit of 'rescuing' children from 'unfortunate circumstances'. Perhaps an orphan?

 

Guang-Hong: Ex-slave. Supposedly purchased with Leo by Izetta. The two are extremely close. It's not for sure and as much I want to deny it but it's possible they could have been purchased from Nikolai Plisetsky when he still ran his family's trading company. It's no secret they traffick humans.

 

Leo: Same as Guang-hong. However, he's neither Thalenese or Rosvensian but his skin tone suggests Thalenese. Anything's possible so maybe he's from a nation across the oceans?

 

Jean-Jaques: Rosvenian Orc. He told me he was banished from his village because his health made him too sick to serve in his town's guardsmen and when he was discovered romancing Isabella because she's Fae. Supposedly, Izetta saved him from death and kept him alive with magic for a long time so he's lucky I arrived at the castle before his condition progressed any worse.

 

Isabella: Ended up in the castle because she refused to leave JJ's side.

 

Seung-gil: Thalenese and was also probably a child soldier. Says that he lived either in Hepstin or Clovesdale so he must be a refugee of civil war in Thalenan at the least. Is close with Phichit?

 

He'll have to write it down later. Knowing the past of everyone has helped him understand when there's conflict but there's one thing the Paladin incident taught him and that's that the servants collectively rely on Yuuri. It shows by hurt they were to be lied to and now in their calm that they know the truth. Even with their differences, they come together under Yuuri and he can't help but think how that's going to to be tested the sooner Mylrin makes his way toward the castle.

 

Christophe pokes Victor and gestures to his food. Victor gets back to eating and he looks around the table, feeling the momentary peace of their lunch and grateful for it.

 

 

Yuuri is wandering through the garden, trying to devise a plan to deal with Mylrin. He knows his servants are depending on him to keep them safe as well as he needs to keep Victor out of Mylrin's hands... he just doesn't know how he's supposed to do that when he doesn't want to leave the castle.

 

 

Against his better judgment, he closes his eyes and calls Izetta to his mind to speak, “Izetta... I need your help.”

Chapter Text

Izetta... I need your help.”

 

It takes a moment but he feels her stir and eventually replies, “I could only guess what and I'd be right.

 

Yuuri ignores the subtle jab and asks, “If you were in control of me, what would you do about Mylrin?

 

She doesn't reply for a long time. Long enough to listen to the birds sing and notices how full the blooms on the roses are before she finally speaks, “Seriously? Do you dare taunt me with my ultimate goal? You might as well give up control if you want to find out.

 

Well, I thought I'd at least try-”

 

You thought wrong.” She snaps.

 

Yuuri grits his teeth as his throat tighten a bit and his insides feel knotted, knowing it's Izetta hurting him. He insists, “Izetta, I'm serious. Or maybe I shouldn't have asked you to begin with... The more I think about it, there's nothing really I can do right now.” Yuuri sighs and bears the pain Izetta is causing him just by letting her have enough control to speak to him.

 

Well... If I was in your place instead, I'd give Victor to Mylrin since Mylrin would make a good pawn in taking over the world and also hunt down the other child Mylrin sired,” Yuuri listens to her in disgust as she finishes with, “I have nothing against Mylrin anymore. Now I know the truth, I regret losing him. Even in your body, I could easily win back such a weak-willed lover and use him.

 

Yuuri says aloud to her, “You... You're disgusting. I should have never asked you.”

 

She chuckles in her mind, “Being in your mind for years has given me time to think, my little Yurik,” He cringes at the nickname Mylrin used to use for him, “And what I still want is world domination. Once this world is mine, I can do what I want with it. No more Crows, No Arcana to block my path. You stand no chance against Mylrin and the Paladins on your own.

 

Yuuri wants to refute that but then truly considers all his options and he has very few he hasn't already exhausted. It's depressing enough for his mind to linger to more damning consequences, “...What about the other servants? This is hypothetical but what would you do with them if I let you have control?” Yuuri is curious, even if he's horrified at Izetta's honesty.

 

Keep them alive for my personal service. They would still be useful in managing the castle.”

 

Is... that the same for Victor as well? Theoretically, of course.”

 

He can feel Izetta smirk as she confirms, “Of course, with Victor in my hands, I can have Mylrin under my every command. Why wouldn't I keep him?”

 

I was... just curious is all.” Yuuri knows he's running out of time with Victor and control of his body. Izetta's presence in his body is slowly killing him. There's a high chance that Yuuri will die within the next few years even with Chihoko's help and the support of his servants. Knowing this information is oddly comforting because even if he fails and Izetta and Mylrin get what they want he knows that Victor will be safe. He almost wants to slap himself for how negative his thinking is but it's best to be prepared for any outcome.

 

I've had enough of you, get out of my head,” Yuuri orders her. He's ready to go inside and eat lunch while he figures out a plan for Mylrin. Izetta wasn't much help on what he actually wanted.

 

However, she refuses, “Excuse me but I'm not going anywhere,” Yuuri feels his insides sear in pain and he collapses to his knees. This is new. He's in a full-blown panic because Izetta has never hurt him like this before. He holds his stomach on the ground and notices in a window that a servant has noticed him collapse. She continues, “If anything, this is perfect. I can torture you this way until you give up your body. Chihoko can't stop me now, can she?”

 

Yuuri whimpers as his body is in agony. Why, why now? He clutches the ground and tries to sit up but he's struggling to breathe. Izetta is killing him; that's all it feels like. She wants him to give up but he refuses. He'd rather die than let her have control... for now at least.

 

Yuuri is losing consciousness as he hears pounding footsteps of two people running into the garden. He's not sure who they are at first; their voices are hazy. His eyes close and he lets unconsciousness take him... or so he thought.

 

Because his lungs suddenly fill with air and he can breathe. He's panting when he's breathing on his own again and his body feels numb. Before he can look to see what or who saved him, he feels magic will him back into the darkness of sleep with the voice, “Rest Yusha, you're going to be okay.”

 

 

The last thing Victor expected was to be told Yuuri collapsed in the garden. Phichit had frantically ran to him and they both bolted for the garden to save him. When he got there, Yuuri wasn't breathing and appeared to be in agony. The first thing he noticed was the asphyxiation was magic caused... as if Yuuri's own magic were attacking himself.

 

The first thing Victor casts is a counter-spell, one that can block whatever the source of the magical illness. It works but a chill goes through Victor as he senses the magic isn't Yuuri's... or any of the other servants. It's someone's he's never felt before but at the same time it feels familiar, as if it's always been there. He shakes the feeling off and notices Yuuri panting and shaking.

 

The best he can do for him is a numbing spell and a sleep spell, comforting him with, ““Rest Yusha, you're going to be okay.”

 

Yuuri lets out a light whimper before he starts to fall asleep. Victor motions Phichit to prop Yuuri up so Victor can examine him further. Other servants have gathered in the windows, watching with curiosity. Victor checks his pulse; it's weak and he needs to rest in the infirmary.

 

Just as Victor is about to tell Phichit to take him there, Yuuri starts to cough wetly. Phichit almost drops him because he coughs up a black substance with reddish undertones hinting at blood. Victor is quick to get a handkerchief from his pocket and wipe the substance from Yuuri's lips. Traces of energy cast linger in the substance and Victor can sense it. To find out what's wrong with Yuuri will rely on his findings with the handkerchief.

 

Victor asks Phichit, “Please bring him to the infirmary and keep watch over him,” Victor's emotions finally come to the surface as he realizes he could have watched Yuuri die if not for his quick intervention, “I-I need to consult the texts of my mentor to see if they offer any insight on what is ailing Yuuri.”

 

Phichit gives a sympathetic look, nodding as he lifts Yuuri and carries him to the infirmary in his arms. Victor follows long enough to see Phichit taking Yuuri up the stairs but soon has to part ways to get to the library.

 

He's never encountered a magical illness before and seeing Yuuri in such distress has worn at his mind deeper than he expected. His confidence is almost non-existent. It isn't until he reaches the library doors that he realizes he's crying. He wipes his eyes and waits until he's inside the library doors. He slumps against the doors and buries his face in his knees.

 

What happened? Yuuri was perfectly fine before and then he collapsed. Victor does all he can to control his breathing and try to put together what he knows as a healer and from Yakov's lessons. Even though his own distress, he remembers Yakov's teachings about magical illnesses only magicians but Yuuri coughing up something doesn't exist in any of the known illnesses he's been taught or anything he's come across in the textbooks in the library... Unless it's not a magical illness.

 

Victor sniffles and stands with a goal in mind. With a wave of a hand and the command 'Retrieve all texts regarding health', Victor plans to scour the library for answers. Books fly off the shelves to him and neatly organize themselves in piles for him. There has to be something. Maybe he's overreacting but his instincts tell him Yuuri doesn't have a magical illness... that it's something much worse.

 

He pulls the handkerchief from his pocket and knows what he must do first before reading every medical text blindly. He focuses his magic on the handkerchief and reads the energy still remaining. The first thing he senses is blood but the energy grabs at him like tendrils and Victor feels himself start to feel faint. Oddly enough, he lets the energy take him and his vision goes black.

 

 

“Victor is going to find out the truth, isn't he?” Phichit asks Christophe as he strokes Yuuri's hair.

 

Christophe is attending to Yuuri laying in bed, healing the internal injuries Izetta must have caused. He sighs and nods in confirmation.

 

Phichit turns his head to stare at the floor before stressing, “Victor might run away from us because of this. Izetta is going to be in control any day now and Victor will not last long in Izetta's hands-”

 

“He won't,” Christophe interrupts. Phichit looks back to Christophe in surprise and he firmly replies, “Victor loves Yuuri. Even if Izetta took over him today, he'd still love Yuuri and would do anything to save him.”

 

Phichit snorts and shakes his head, “You and I both know that Yuuri's possession is too deep-rooted for him to be saved... Victor won't be able to save him without the help of a deity... one that isn't Chihoko.” Like a disease, Izetta has slowly built up a resistance to Chihoko's magic to Phichit's observation. Izetta will become almost invincible because of Chihoko's blood running through Yuuri as a dreaded side effect.

 

Christophe comments, “Let's hope Otabek has found Prince Yuran's reincarnation... Only a deity as pure-hearted as the god of peace can truly battle Izetta's evil at this point.”

 

“As much as a pipe dream that is, I hope so too,” Phichit agrees and relaxes at Yuuri's peaceful expression. It leaves the two both in thought while they wait for Victor to return from the library.

 

 

Victor's sight is restored and he's no longer in the library. He's confused for a moment as a examines the room he's in. He's in a child's bedroom, belonging to a girl due to a number of dolls and the physical appearance of a girl with black hair on her bed. She appears to be about ten seasons in age. Victor pinches himself and confirms his suspicions. This is a memory.

 

Yakov taught him long ago that sometimes objects or illnesses carry memories that relate to the patient... but the presence of the young girl suggests this isn't a memory belonging to Yuuri. As odd as it is, Victor is curious what the sample he collected from Yuuri has to tell him.

 

The girl appears to be playing with something on her mauve comforter and an opened envelope rests on her pillow. Victor gets a bit closer and is disgusted by the thing she's playing with. It's a dead rat. He backs away but still watches.

 

There's a loud deep-voiced grumbling of the man in the other room and the girl sighs upon hearing it. To Victor's horror, the girl casts a spell with the words 'Reanimate: rat' and the rat comes back to life with a pained squeal. She gently commands the reluctantly alive creature, “Go see that father is distracted... I must leave in peace.”

 

The rat painfully does as it's commanded, jumping off the bed and scurrying past Victor out the door behind him. Victor shudders away from the creature and is shocked by the actions of the girl. She just used necromancy, a forbidden type of magic due to its cruel manipulation of living souls and painful consequences.

 

He can hear the deep-voiced man in the other room shriek and scream expletives as he tries to get rid of the rat. The girl works quickly, pulling a large rucksack out from under her bed and frantically packing clothes from her dresser. Victor frowns when he notices the girl has bruises on her arms and a red cheek, realizing she plans to run away. He also examines the envelope as the girl walks through him while packing to see where it's from.

 

The seal on the envelope is from a school of magic that has long since been destroyed, hinting how old this memory really is.

 

The girl has her bag packed and makes a run for it while her father is distracted by the rat, leaving Victor to wonder who she really is before the memory fades out...

 

And Victor finds himself in a new setting.

 

A grand stretch of meadow appears before him leading to a high cliff-face above a swift river. Summer flowers are in bloom, stained orange in the light of dusk. Victor can see an enormous castle off in the distance. However, what catches his attention is that the girl from before is here and she's now a young woman.

 

She's almost as tall as Victor now and he notices now that she has violet eyes. A rare eye color and a forbidden magical gift. She's still in her school uniform of fitted robes, as it must be because of the emblem of the school on her breast. She's making her way to the cliff-edge.

 

That's when Victor has to do a double-take. The young man at the cliff-edge looks almost the same as him from behind. Long silver hair in a ponytail and a matching face when the man turns upon hearing the girl's footsteps. He's also wearing a school uniform as well.

 

Is that... Mylrin? He can only assume from Yuuri's descriptions because he knows that isn't him. The pointed ears and green eyes give it away upon a closer inspection. It has to be Mylrin Nikiforov.

 

Mylrin's face is damp from tears and he's in distress, confusion appearing on his expression as the girl approaches.

 

The girl simply tells him, “No, Mylrin,” She takes a step closer, “What you're about to do would really be a waste of life.”

 

Mylrin turns to her fully and asks, “How did you know I was here and why do you care?” Mylrin crosses his arms and stares at the ground, “I'm better off dead. I have no home to return to.”

 

Victor can sense the ulterior motive just from the look in her eyes, his suspicions of who she is becoming truer. She says, “Even so, you have the ability to control minds. Why can't you just use your powers to get what you want? You can give yourself a home and friends very easily if you tried.”

 

Mylrin eyes her suspiciously, “Just the same reason as you can't use necromancy, Izetta. It's forbidden.”

 

Victor get closer as Izetta snorts and argues, “Who cares what the Arcana says isn't allowed? A gift is a gift and should be cherished!” She gets uncomfortably close to Mylrin, who freezes, “You should be cherished. That's what it really is, isn't it? You... don't feel like you have any worth?”

 

That must have hit a nerve because he pushes her back gently and yells, “Again, why do you care? Leave me alone.”

 

Izetta gives him a deceptively caring look and says, “Because I can relate...I just don't want you to try and take your life like I tried,” That seems to lighten Mylrin and catch his attention, “I don't think you actually want to die... you just want someone to notice you.”

 

That makes Mylrin nod and he takes a step towards her. He doesn't see the quick grin from her as he agrees, “You're... right. It's really lonely and I don't know what to do now that we're graduates. I'm scared.”

 

What if you could change that? Would you try?”

 

Mylrin considers this and nods.

 

She offers a hand, “Then stay by me. We can help each other.”

 

Victor watches as Mylrin takes her hand with a smile and the memory fades out...

 

This time, Victor knows exactly where he is. He's inside Izetta's castle once again. Only... he's in a corridor he doesn't recognize. Judging where he is at for the height of the window to the ground, he must be on the fifth floor in one of the normally forbidden sections of the castle.

 

Victor's ears perk up at Izetta's voice calling out, “Yurik, darling. Stop hiding and let me see you! Mylrin has been oddly happy today and that makes me worry.”

 

On cue, there's a sniffle behind Victor and turns to see a door of a broom closet. Victor remembers Yuuri telling him about this and hopes Izetta doesn't find him. Of course, that doesn't go how he wants it.

 

Victor backs away as Izetta appears in the hallway, searching. She freezes when she hears a sniffle and looks to the source.

 

Oh gods, leave him alone.” Victor can't help but mutter even if he can't be heard. He's becoming more irritated as this memory goes on.

 

As Izetta knocks on the door of the broom closet, Victor hears a voice in his mind that's muffled, “There's nothing you can do, Vitya. You need to leave.”

 

Victor holds his head upon hearing the voice but his gaze is also fixed on Izetta, who demands, “Yurik, open the damn door.”

 

Victor grits his teeth and irrational argues, “I have to save him, I-I can't let her bother Yuuri anymore.”

 

The voice is clearer this time... a voice he hasn't heard in a long time. Yakov demands, “Vitya, this isn't real. You can't help him.”

 

That's right, you can't help him.” Izetta's voice responds back.

 

Victor blinks and the scene has changed again into something even more horrific, something that he's only seen described in books. This time, Izetta is in a flowing, wispy dress that reminds Victor of a ghost while she looms over a chained Yuuri. Except, Yuuri is not just chained at the neck but Victor feels sick seeing meat hooks at the end of some of the chains pulling at Yuuri's skin. Yuuri is slumped over: the same black substance he collected on the handkerchief is leaking from his wounds. Izetta's violet eyes meet Victor's, locking him into place, as she comes from behind Yuuri and lifts his head so Victor can see his pale, defeated look.

 

Victor can't believe what he's seeing. It can't be real but it feels more than real.

 

Oh Victor, it's too late,” Izetta taunts as she squeezes Yuuri's cheeks with her hand, “I'm so close to breaking him and having control.”

 

Victor is about to demand she let him go, even if he's still in shock and confusion of the situation, but is stopped by Yuuri's weak voice, “Ignore her, Vitya... It's going to be okay. I-I can handle her for now. You need to get o-out of here.”

 

Let's go, Vitya. You can't help him like this... You don't have the strength right now to rid him of a possession.” Yakov gently commands.

 

The last thing Victor sees and hears is Izetta hugging Yuuri from behind with a malicious chuckle while Yuuri seethes in pain and tears. Victor is reaching out to him when he feels the familiar hand of Yakov pull him away from behind and Victor falls into darkness...

 

There's a gasp from Victor as he's brought back to reality. It takes him a moment to process everything that just happened as well as his surroundings. The library's calming quiet helps him get his breathing in check. This is real, the memories were not. He notices his wrist where his 'Stand Together' contract seal is is glowing gently. So, that's what made him feel Yakov's presence in the memory.

 

Except... that last part wasn't a memory. And, Izetta's memories should not be among Yuuri's. They're two separate beings so the only way they could share memories is if-

 

Suddenly, years of avoidance and mystery surrounding Yuuri makes sense. The other man obviously was trying to hide a secret for a long time and the clues are coming together. The servants being unable to say if Izetta was really dead or not, Yuuri disappearing for long periods of time because he's 'ill' but refuses Victor's help and mind-Yakov mentioning it. It can't be a magical illness plaguing Yuuri... He feels like an idiot for not realizing Yuuri has been possessed by Izetta this entire time.

 

Victor falls to the floor at his discovery and feels a wave of sympathy for his suffering friend, “Oh Yuuri, you were scared of what I'd think of you. That can be the only reason you'd keep such a secret from me... but I understand. I... I just need to know how to help you.”

 

There's a bark on the other side of the library door and it's pushed open by Makkachin. The familiar runs over to their master and whines, “Victor, are you alright? I sensed you were in distress and needed to make sure you're alright.

 

Victor sighs and says, “I'm fine... but I'm aware of what's wrong with Yuuri.”

 

Makkachin listens with interest as Victor asks, “Makka, help me find books on possession and exorcisms.”

 

 

Over one hundred books in the library carry some form of mention to possession and exorcism in the library. Victor is overwhelmed, using magic to find books related to health and possession to see if any other healers have treated a possession to find little to none of what he's looking for.

 

Makkachin, for the first time Victor is aware of, has taken human form in order to help sort through the books they've already checked or organized out because they're fictional in nature. Makkachin is an androgynous adult in appearance with curly brown hair, wide eyes and plain brown peasant clothes. Their dog-like ears and wail occasionally flick or move with interest as they help Victor read for relevant information. It was weird at first but Victor got used to it within minutes when Makkachin's work proved to double his efforts.

 

Makkachin exclaims in a frustrated, soft toned voice, “Everything I'm finding is fictional or treating magical possession as untreatable unless by religious means.”

 

“As am I. Thousands of books in this library and it feels hopeless. We just need to keep searching.” Victor tries to stay positive; his one goal currently to help Yuuri anyway he can besides treating the physical effects.

 

Text-searching spells help him finally find something informational about possession. Victor reads the excerpt from the book:

 

Magical possession occurs when someone is within enough distance for a distressed soul to enter their body. Whether from wrongful death, powerful will or vengeance, the soul latches onto the body of the host and saps away at their life in order to coexist.

 

In most cases, the soul will simply do that but in more aggressive cases the soul will try to entirely hijack the body from the host. If the host resists, it will take tremendous energy to keep back the invader and will slowly kill the host over time.

 

Of course, the book only tells him what he already knows. Victor sighs and puts the book to the side, asking aloud, “Come on, there has to be something!”

 

Victor's attention is caught when his 'Stand Together' contract seal glows, “What the?”

 

Makkachin also gets close, looking confused. Victor watches as the seal glows light blue and he can hear unintelligible whispers in his mind. Just as he's about to speak again but he sees a book out of his many piles of them start to glow the same color. He doesn't hesitate and grabs the book from the pile despite making a mess.

 

The book stops glowing once it's in Victor's hands. Victor examines the title and smirks. It reads, 'A Guide to Non-Traditional Illness by Vledamer Sweetling and Yakov Feltsman'.

 

So, Yakov has written more books than I thought.” Victor thinks before he opens the book to read the chapter index. Listed for chapter seventeen, it says 'Spiritual illness and possession'. When he turns to that chapter, text glows from the spell he used before to find what he's looking for.

 

It's the information he already knew but what catches his eye is the side notes written by Yakov,

 

On curing a possession:

 

An exorcism must take place in order to rid the patient of the spirit but only if the possession isn't deep-rooted. A priest or other religious institution has the skill to rid of a minor possession. Once the possession becomes deep-rooted, the help of a deity's blood is needed.

 

From my experience as a healer, possession becomes a terminal illness once the patient starts coughing up blood and losing control of their body. By this time, the patient is most likely suffering from a great deal of pain. If you're patient is deep-rooted, the best thing you can do is relieve their pain until a deity is present for a guided exorcism.

 

He re-reads the section about three times before he fully absorbs it. He wonders if Yuuri knew that the blood of a deity like Chihoko is needed to rid Izetta from him... or what if doesn't work? Regardless, Victor knows Yuuri doesn't have long if he's already coughing blood and having fits.

 

All it makes him want to do is value his time with Yuuri. If he can't cure him, he'll give him all he can.

 

Makkachin read the section over his shoulder and asks, “What are you going to do?”

 

“I need to talk to Chihoko but... I need to talk to Yuuri first. I need him to know I'm not going to leave his side.”

 

 

Lillia is washing dishes when the mail arrives in the form a crow perched on her windowsill with a letter tied to it.

 

It doesn't surprise her because she knows exactly who it's from. She dries her hands and opens the window to retrieve the letter. The crow is relieved to have the letter untied from its leg and flies away with a caw.

 

The sender is listed as Marigold Plisetsky, as suspected. Lillia makes her way and settles down in her favorite chair before opening the letter with one of her long nails. The letter contains grim news:

 

Dear Lillia,

 

I'm sending you this letter with unpleasant news from our informants and a request long overdue.

 

For the news (whether you care or not), we've discovered that Mylrin is already replacing the Paladins we killed at an alarming rate. Most of them appear to be teenagers that he's recruiting from Thalanese refugees and Nihilego traitors.

 

We don't like killing young ones or brainwashed; which most are mind-spelled by Mylrin. A messenger is being sent to Yuuri as I write this to you but at this rate, we risk Victor falling into Mylrin's hands... leading to my request I have for you.

 

Years ago, you said you would be willing to teach Yuri magic. My little Yura is proficient in his languages and spells for his age. He has befriended the half-elf, Otabek, that showed up at our home. It took me awhile to get it out of him but Otabek confessed that somehow my son might be a deity. I honestly have no reason to distrust him but if this is true then I cannot teach him how to control these powers.

 

My dear friend, I know you come from a homeland that is ruled by a deity just as the High Elves had. I know you are far more proficient in ancient magic and combat. And I sure as hell know you know I'm scared Mylrin will steal my son from me once he captures Victor.

 

I'm begging you, please take Yuri and Otabek with you to Thalanen and teach them everything you know so he may one day face his father with at least a choice in his future, for both their futures. If he's really a deity, there's a chance he can defeat Mylrin on his own with the right training... training I cannot provide.

 

With all consideration, Marigold

 

Lillia reads over the letter twice. She remembers telling Marigold on the day her husband died that she'd teach Yuri magic but now the stakes are higher. Yuri, a deity? Huh, Lillia can't say she's surprised. He always seemed years older in his eyes than his actual age.

 

Of course, she'll teach Yuri magic but... she's not sure taking him back to her homeland will be a good idea. The deity that rules her homeland is a very jealous god and he may not accept another deity in his presence. However, getting Yuri away from Mylrin is the main goal of this so it's worth the risk.

 

At this point, she's ready to stop standing on the sidelines and do something to keep the world from falling into the wrong hands. She'll do it even if it means undermining Mylrin, who once was like a son to her and Yakov.

 

 

Lillia refolds the letter so she can save it, now looking for a fresh piece of parchment so she may write back a reply for plans to teach Yuri. 

Chapter Text

When Victor arrives to the infirmary, Phichit and Christophe sit up straight and simply gaze at him knowingly. They've changed Yuuri into bedclothes, who is sleepingly peacefully as if he didn't suffer today. Even a rarer sight, Vicchan is laying on the bed beside Yuuri and Chihoko in her human form is standing in the corner, both almost glaring at Victor. Victor is holding the book with the information he needed and feels like he's intruding.



“So, you know what's wrong with Yuuri.” Phichit's voice is soft and it's not a question.



“I do... you all knew but couldn't tell me.” Victor states.



There are soft nods before Christophe says, “I've stabilized Yuuri.”



“Good,” Victor says, “You may go, I want to speak to Yuuri alone when he wakes... about the possession. I think I know a way to help.”



Both Phichit and Christophe give him an unconvinced look before quietly leaving the infirmary. It's Chihoko who speaks up, “You realize that I can't help- No... You must not.” She sighs and stares at the floor, realizing Yuuri hasn't told Victor about her.



Victor's attention is caught further because of what he read in the book, “How come you can't help? It says the blood of a deity can help with a strong exorcism-”



“Izetta is becoming immune to my magic, Victor.” Chihoko interrupts with a stern tone and regrettably continues, “He... can't be helped by me because Izetta is already used to my blood. You must know what that means because otherwise, I would never share my blood.”



Victor has to think about it for a few moments but it's Makkachin who reminds Victor what it means, “That means Yuuri is a bloodling, Vitya. Chihoko is one of his blood parents. Deities don't share blood power unless it's required.



He blinks and has to take a seat next to Yuuri's bed. Victor is shocked by the discovery but it makes sense. Yuuri's anxiety could be a symptom of blood parent separation if Izetta killed his parents and Chihoko must be blood-linked to Yuuri to have such a close bond with him as a goddess.



Victor asks, becoming frustrated at the realization his one plan to cure Yuuri just fell through the cracks, “Are you sure? I'm sure if I used some of your blood I could-”



“I'm positive. You've seen his condition and that's with my help...” Chihoko starts to get a bit teary-eyed, wiping her eyes as she says, “I would help if I could. I love him like my own son and to see Izetta slowly kill him is hurt me.”



“Then... What do I do?” Victor asks, despair settling into his heart that he can't help Yuuri right now.



Chihoko sniffles a bit before she walks over and rests a hand on his shoulder, instructing, “Just make him feel comfortable as long as you can,” A gentle smile appears, “Make him feel loved. That's all I can ask.”



Victor can feel himself wanting to cry but doesn't allow himself. Instead, he nods and Chihoko takes her hand away to leave him with Yuuri and the familiars. The infirmary is dead quiet besides Yuuri's breathing and a soft buzzing from Christophe's healing spell still in effect. Victor scans for himself to see how Yuuri's condition is. He's stable but has some internal bleeding that will take several more hours to heal.



He's never had to do this to Yuuri before but it makes sense why Yuuri avoided seeing Victor when he got any kind of injury. Victor would have been able to sense he is a bloodling with a scan spell if he ever got the opportunity before. There's a stigma around bloodlings about being loyal servants... among other possible reasons Yuuri kept his race a secret, if not multiple. If Victor is honest, he doesn't mind that Yuuri is a bloodling but knowing he can't help him because of the bond he and Chihoko share is maddening.



Victor stays by Yuuri's side while he's sleeping and healing. Hours pass, signaled by the gradual lessening of light in the room and the candles lighting themselves when it is too dark. Victor realizes just how long he's been watching Yuuri sleep by the stiffness in his joints when he goes to readjust his ponytail. Just as he's stretching, he sees Yuuri stir from his rest. Yuuri groans softly as he tries to sit up.



Victor immediately stops him with a hand, “Don't sit up, you're still recovering.”



Yuuri eyes him groggily but complies, his attention shifting to his familiar, “Oh Vicchan, you came to visit me.”



The familiar visibly rolls his eyes and that makes Yuuri purse his lips in annoyance from the mental conversation that Victor cannot hear. Yuuri sighs when Vicchan whines, scratching his ears before addressing Victor, “... I'm sorry for passing out in the garden.”



“What? You don't need to apologize for that. Gave me a scare but you're safe now.”



Yuuri smiles, “Well,” He jokes, “Did you find out what's wrong with me? Do I have some terrible disease that causes fainting?”



With all seriousness, Victor says, “I know you're possessed by Izetta, Yuuri. You have internal bleeding... you're dying.”



Silence, until Makkachin eyes Vicchan and the two familiars leave together to let their masters talk alone. Yuuri's expression turns grim; he almost seems apathetic to Victor's admittance until his eyes drop and apathy turns to guilt. Victor isn't angry; he's on the brink of crying. It's no longer a secret between the two. Yuuri no longer has to keep his secret.



However, he asks Victor, “How do you know?”



“I investigated the blood you coughed up because it was an odd color. I thought it was from a magical illness but... the memories that came from the sample weren't yours. It didn't take me long to find out you're possessed. It all makes sense to me now.” Victor explains, his voice strained, “Yuuri, the worst part is that I can't even help you besides keep the pain at bay. Chihoko already shot down the one plan I thought I had at helping you.” In frustration, Victor throws the book with him on the ground and rests his head in his hands.



Yuuri hums in understanding because Chihoko must have explained why she can't help. He's a bit annoyed she exposed his race but that must not matter if Victor isn't commenting... even more surprising, he's not running away from him because of Izetta. However, that doesn't dispell Yuuri's fears.



“Victor... I understand if you're afraid of me or even hate me. If you want to leave, I can always have the Crows take you into their care and-”



Victor looks up from his hands with a bewildered look, “Yuuri, how could I be?” Victor can't believe this is how this is going to go but he admits softly, “I love you. I want to be with you as long as I live. I've accepted everything about you and it hurts me that I'm losing you to Izetta,” Tears finally flow from his eyes, “Yuuri, I would never fear or hate you. I love you so much it hurts.” He covers his face with his hands and sobs.



Stunned, Yuuri is a mix of emotions but the greatest one is shock followed by relief. He's shocked to see Victor cry but the relief that Victor loves him just the same is a warm blanket around him. Relief that Victor doesn't fear him.



The longer Victor cries, the more he hates seeing it. Yuuri slowly sits up and reaches for him. Victor sniffles and looks up at him. He wants to tell Yuuri to rest but he's frozen as Yuuri gets closer and cups Victor's cheeks with his hands. Yuuri grits his teeth for a second from pain but composes himself to wipes away Victor's tears.



Victor is the first to speak, “I don't know what to do, Y-Yuuri. I just know I don't want to lose you.”



Yuuri strokes his cheek with his thumb and speaks after moments of thoughts, “... I still have a few years of my lifespan, even if we only have weeks before Mylrin storms this castle. We have time to be together.”



“But-”



“Victor,” Yuuri stops him firmly, “You might not believe it but I'm almost one hundred fifty years old. I'm not afraid of death, especially if it's to destroy Izetta... but I promise I will cherish every moment we spend together from now on if you promise me you won't despair over me. I hate seeing you cry like this...”



“... That's all we can do, is just treasure the time we have?” Victor hands gently reach and rest on top of Yuuri's. Yuuri nods and their eyes gaze into each other gently. The sad truth is they don't have much time together but it doesn't hurt to see how precious it is. Victor closes his eyes and says, “Fine, I'll do my best not to despair...” he then has to ask, “Do you love me back? You never answered back.”



Yuuri pulls his hands gently away and snorts, “Of course, I love you. I have for almost a year now.”



Victor opens his eyes and almost chuckles through a sniffle. Yuuri continues, “We're going to continue as normal. You're going to care for me if I have any fits and I'll give you all the love I can.”



As much as Victor wishes there was any way he could help Yuuri, he nods and gives Yuuri a soft hug. Yuuri returns it until he's too achy and has to lay back down. When Yuuri is comfortable in bed, they hold hands to comfort each other with their new reality. Now, there is no miscommunication of their feelings for each other but the future looks bleak for them.



Outside the door, Phichit and Christophe have been listening in and are both disheartened by the situation. No matter how joyful they are for Victor and Yuuri's love, the reality of Yuuri's fate is set more in stone. All they can do is regrettably inform the rest of the castle of the situation and continue preparing for the incoming invasion.





“Beka, what do you think my mother wants?”

Otabek and Yuri are walking home together after his mother sent a mind message calling them home. Marigold has started using mind messages for about a month now to start communicating with Yuri when needed. The sensation is like a feeling more than spoken word in his head. He can feel his mother wants him to come home but there are no words saying it.



The sun is setting yet the summer heat is still powerful, making the two sluggish during their trek home. Even being sluggish in the summer days, both are aware that Mylrin has tried using Paladins to try and spy on Yuri. It's not a good sign.



“I'm not sure... but I have a feeling is has to do with why we're started being followed,” Otabek responds.



“They have to be Paladins; I'm not sure who else would follow me,” Yuri complains.



The follower vanishes once they are in sight of their home, much to their relief. Marigold comes out when they're almost at the door and motions them to come inside. Both bound inside with Marigold, closing the door behind them.



Marigold says, “I called you home for a family meeting... I have important but upsetting news.”



She motions them to the dining table for them to sit down. Nikolai's face is grim as he sits still at the head of the table and Marigold's is not much different. Yuri and Otabek seat themselves at the table, sensing the tension. Yuri can see the aura of his family and it's like a buzzing hive of bees with the level of stress that's presenting.



Yuri is the first to ask, “... What's the news? Did someone die?”



Marigold shakes her head, “No, but our family is going to be split apart for awhile.”



Otabek and Yuri are stunned and Yuri stands to demand, “What do you mean? What's going on?”



Marigold glances at her father for support and he nods. She takes a deep breath and explains how she's a member of the Crows. Both young men listen as she explains how she's been leaving to do tasks to keep Mylrin from capturing Victor from Izetta's castle. Yuri pretends he's not aware of this information with mock surprise but keeps listening until she gets to the point.



“Yuratchka... Victor, your brother, is still alive. You haven't seen him since you were small and he's in trouble. I'm doing my best to keep him safe... but I haven't done my part to keep you safe and I believe to keep you safe that I cannot have you within your father's grasp.”



Yuri processes what he's been told and starts to get what she's going to say but it's Otabek that guesses it first, “You're going to send Yura away?”



She nods and replies, “Both of you. I won't separate you two... I'm sending you both with Lillia. She can keep you safe from Mylrin as well as help train the... powers you've developed.”



“... What do you mean?” She can't possibly know about him being a deity, right? Unless Otabek said something. Otabek rubs the back of his neck nervously and that confirms Yuri's suspicions.



“I kind of badgered Otabek into telling me a couple weeks ago. I wanted to know how I was sensing how powerful you are and I had no idea you were a deity,” Marigold almost looks fearful and Yuri feels guilt seeing her mother act so. He even notices his grandfather is a bit nervous by that fact, “Oh Yuratchka, you're in danger and we can't keep you here. We can't prepare you in time for if Mylrin decides to come for you.”



For Yuri, he feels betrayed and not wanted. In his young mind, all he can focus on is that he's being sent away, not that he's being protected. He grits his teeth for a moment before arguing, “You can't send me away! I can protect myself and us!” He is almost crying because he doesn't want to go, “Please Mama, Grandpa, I know how to shield and fight. I can protect us-”



“Yura, you're not even at the proficiency of magic Prince Yuran was when he died by a Draconian's hands,” Otabek interrupts sternly. When Yuri faces him, his expression is serious, “Yuran was almost a man and he wasn't powerful enough to guard against the magic you're saying you can face now... Yura, really think about it. I know you can call back those memories from your past life. You tell me, are you really ready for Mylrin?”



Yuri does. In his mind, he can remember his death like it was yesterday. He remembers being powerful but the Draconian girl was quicker with god blood flowing through her from Yuuri before his heart was ripped from him. He shudders and replies, “... No, I'm not ready.”



There's a breath of relief that Yuri has humbled himself but Otabek continues, “So... You can see why being sent away is going to benefit you? You'll have time to prepare and your family here doesn't have the resources to teach you... We can't teach you anything about your deity powers and you need time to master them on your own.”



Yuri is frustrated. He knows he's not completely defenseless but he is nowhere near ready to face evil wizards and other enemies set out to capture him or kill him. He deflates and answers, “I understand now... I don't like being weak but I understand. When do I go?”



“As soon as possible,” Marigold says, “Lillia is expecting you any day. Pack tonight and we'll make our way to Peterov Village. Meeting dismissed.”



As Marigold leaves the room, Nikolai stands and stares at his grandson long enough for Yuri to notice. When the two meet eyes, eyes tear up and the two hug each other. Otabek watches with his own melancholy of the situation internalized. Yuri sobs, “I don't want to go. This isn't fair. I don't want our family broken apart.”



Nikolai sniffles, “We'll see each other again one day. I promise. I don't know how long you'll be gone but I know I'll see you again when you're a man,” He pulls away, put his hands on Yuri's shoulders and says, “Yuratchka, be strong. You have Otabek with you so you won't be alone. Can you promise me you'll try your best to stay strong while you're away?”



Yuri almost whimpers, wiping his eyes as he nods. Nikolai also motions Otabek over and gives them both a hug, saying finally, “We'll always be a family. Even when separated. Now go pack, Lillia is waiting.”



The two reluctantly go to their room to pack. The two pack quietly for a while before Yuri comments, “Beka... We're going to be alright, right?



Otabek doesn't respond as he's packing his wood flute. He has no idea what to tell Yuri but gives him a sympathetic look. Yuri sighs and the two quietly relish the last moments they have in their home before Marigold calls to them, “Let's go, boys.”





“Father Mylrin, if you keep this pace up, you will kill Father Celestino!” A female bloodling warns Mylrin because she can feel Celestino's pain as he's being drained of his energy to feed into a power circle, working to create another sibling for her of many.



“He has the energy for one more. I will let him rest after this one.” Mylrin tries to comfort his distressed blood-child but it isn't much comfort for the bloodling.



Celestino has been moved to Mylrin's work room for magic. This is where he has spent the summer. He is chained to the wall with steel chains and supported by oak restraint boards. His face is pale and his gaze vacant as he has accepted this fate. A broken man from being forced to use magic. He doesn't even look up as Mylrin takes blood from him and adds it to the power circle.



Mylrin adds his own magic before dismissing the bloodling girl, “Go attend weapons training with your siblings, my dear. Remember, who must you be ready to kill?”



The bloodling sighs as she leans against the marble wall, “My sole purpose is to kill Katsuki Yuuri and rescue Victor. I know...”



“Then go.” Mylrin barks and she leaves. However, she can't help but want to turn back when she hears Celestino cry out from being drained once again to create another sibling. It hurts her very soul to have one of her fathers be in pain.



She has no name. She is simply called 'bloodling' or 'my dear' but like many of her siblings, she has no name. She resembles Mylrin with her long white hair and green eyes but that's where the resemblance stops because she also features Celestino's tan skin and height. She is the second youngest bloodling out of twenty-four siblings at the age of one week. Lastly, she feels as if she is the black sheep of her siblings.



Out of all her siblings, she feels stronger connected to Celestino than to Mylrin. She feels his pain every day to the point she is constantly stressed. She has voiced this concern to her siblings and they simply cannot connect. If she could do anything to rid her of this pain, she would have Mylrin stop creating her new siblings... but at the same time, she would be disobeying her father Mylrin and that goes against her very being as well. She was born to serve and that's what she must do.



There is nothing she can do... or so she thinks.



Making her way up the staircase from the workroom, she stops in her tracks from sensing an odd presence coming from the marble wall. Her brow furrows because she recognizes the presence as one of the Paladins who delivers Mylrin news about his son Yuri but how is he in the wall?



“Reveal yourself.” She demands, using what little mind control magic she can use to force him.



There's a struggle but soon the Paladin is forced out of the wall in front of her. He must have used shifting magic to mold himself to the wall. The Paladin is a mid-height, red-headed man with odd pointed teeth. He is one of the magicians that Mylrin rescued from execution in Nihilego, going by the name Rin.



Rin grumbles a greeting, “Hello... Can't a guy just mold into a wall without being disturbed?”



“I don't buy that. Paladins aren't allowed in this part of the headquarters,” She narrows her eyes at him and commands, “Tell me why you're here.”



He tries resisting to answer, his face screwing up in a struggle until he can't and admits, “I'm a traitor. I'm rescuing Celestino,” Rin pants from thr struggle of resistance and now has a bit of fear in his expression. One of the bloodings knows his plan; he's already failed his mission for the Crows.



What he doesn't know is that this stops the bloodling in her previous tracks of thought. She can't free Celestino herself without feeling guilt and shame for betraying Mylrin but if someone else rescues him...



She grunts in understanding and takes the spell off him. He's confused until she informs, “My father will be coming up these stairs in about five minutes. When he does, you can then go down the stairs and rescue my other father. You won't miss the workroom.”



“... You're helping me?” Rin asks.



“I guess I am. Now hide before my father catches you.” She says.



He nods but asks, “Do you have a name?”



“... No, I do not.”



He hums and says, “I'll call you Mahou. Means 'magic' in my home country... If that's okay with you. I just need a name I can use to thank you properly.”



She's stunned for a moment because something about the gesture warms her heart in a way even her fathers couldn't. Giving her a name has given her something she didn't know she needed. What's it called, independence? Confidence? She's not sure but says, “Mahou is good,” she likes how the name rolls off her tongue, “You're welcome... now hide. I sense my father.”



He nods and morphs back into the wall, holding completely still to not be discovered. Just a minute later, Mylrin is coming up the stairs. Mahou continues down the stairs and runs into him. Mylrin has a confused look as he asks, “I thought you went to weapons training, why are you back so soon?”



She has never done this before but she lies, “I'm tired. I would like to go to my quarters and sleep.”



He considers it for a moment and sighs, “Oh dear, I've spoiled you already. Fine, go sleep,” He lets her pass through. She feels a rush from the lie and guilt but she buries it under the knowledge that her other father will be saved.



She makes it to her quarters and focuses on seeing through Celestino's eyes. It's not entertaining but comforting to her instinctually. Her bloodling gifts are lacking to most in the world but she practices them for comfort. She wonders if there's any other bloodling that understands how she feels when she uses the blood bond for comfort, even if that is not likely. Especially she wonders if any of her siblings share their minds with Mylrin and really know why he's dead set on killing Katsuki.



Her thoughts are broken when she briefly sees Rin come into view through her father's eyes. She sits up and peeks out her door through the work room. It all happens as if in a haze.



Rin carrying Celestino on his back after somehow breaking his restraints, labored steps up the staircase and finally Mahou casting what magic she has to give him the strength to leave with more speed. She can watch through Celestino's eyes for a while as they sneak their way through the Paladin headquarters and out through the city streets. When people in crow masks appear, Celestino must have closed his eyes because she can no longer see.



Opening her own eyes, an odd sense of relief for Celestino and guilt for Mylrin sweeps over her. All she can do is settle back into her living quarters and pretend to sleep to not raise suspicion. Especially when Mylrin returns and she feels his rage as he storms through the headquarters for answers.





Leaves begin to fall and the days become shorter as fall approaches. With the immense awareness of Yuuri's deteriorating condition, the changing of seasons is a daunting reminder of how little time is left. Despite the darkness hovering over everyone, there are gentle smiles when sights of requited love occasionally appear.



Hands held, pet names and sharing food become a norm between Yuuri and Victor now that no secrets stand between them. Victor has calmed from first hearing the news but he is depressed that he can't do anything to help Yuuri. If Yuuri wasn't as attentive as he is, Victor wouldn't be eating regularly or leaving the infirmary. Victor focuses most of his energy into monitoring Yuuri's condition and refuses to leave his side even when Yuuri became fully healed from the fit he had. It only took a week under Victor's care to fully heal.



Now, Yuuri knows that Victor simply won't forget he is dying and understands how much it must hurt him. However, that won't stop Yuuri from trying to cheer him up. They only have so much time together; why can't they spend it happily?



Victor is staring at the table top at dinner time when Yuuri gently coaxes, “Vitya, I have a bite of food for you. Open up.”



Victor looks up with tired eyes and eats the bites Yuuri feeds him. Victor knows he is sulking and rightfully so but at least Yuuri's efforts to cheer him up for slowly working. They're both unaware that everyone one else at the table is quietly watching, hearts warmed a bit.



Phichit whispers to Christophe, “Seeing those two trying to be happy makes me wish I had something like that.”



Christophe eyes him and asks, “Don't you have Seung-gil?”



“Not really... it's been awkward between us. I think we both want each other but the circumstances are... complicated.” Phichit admits.

Christophe hums and eyes Masumi for a moment, “I get what you mean...”



Leo and Guang-Hong watch with amusement, Leo whispering, “You and I would be complained at for being affectionate in public.”



Guang-Hong snorts, “We would but we have time... they don't.”



JJ and Isabella say nothing, both in understanding of what it means to try and make unfortunate circumstances work for them.



Seung-gil glances at the couple occasionally, his expression unreadable but irritated at how Minami next to him seems to be low-key glaring at the couple with his own pining. Seung-gil gets his attention and offers him cookies from the plate in front of him. Minami accepts and eats his feelings of heartbreak instead.



Yuuri notices eventually the looks he's getting but doesn't care. Victor is finally his and he likes showcasing it in front of the others. Every morsel of food he feeds to Victor makes him feel better, knowing he gets to care for Victor as Victor cares for him. He even notices the stained windows reflecting the scene of everyone at the table except in a cheerier tone than the current emotions.



When both Victor and Yuuri's plates are eaten clean, Yuuri stands. Victor is startled by the sudden movement until Yuuri offers his hand. Oh, they're going to continue on their daily routine. Victor takes his hand and stands.



Yuuri calls to JJ, “We've finished. Thank you for the delicious meal.”



JJ smiles and replies, “With pleasure,” Everyone prepares a groan as he says, “Of course it's good, it's JJ-style.”



Victor and Yuuri cringe; they knew it was coming but not when. Before they can deflate JJ's ego in any way, Yuuri leads Victor with him to their evening plans of reading in the library.



When the two are gone, conversation starts up at the table.



“They're perfect for each other. Too bad we're probably only a month away from Mylrin attacking the castle.” Phichit sighs.



Minami asks, “What should we do? When Mylrin attacks, there's no way we can fight all the Paladins. We're outnumbered.”



Guang-Hong offers, “... Could we just run? Even I doubt Yuuri expects us to face the Paladins by ourselves.”



Leo shakes his head, “We can't run. If you do, they get Victor and then we've betrayed Yuuri's trust... If we could get Yuuri and Victor to leave the castle by themselves-”



“That won't happen.” Phichit and Seung-gil say at the same time, Phichit continues, “Yuuri would die from the guilt of abandoning us and Victor would worry that JJ won't be cared for.”

JJ mutters, “Isabella can handle my medications so I'm fine...”



“Regardless, If worse comes to worse, I know what Yuuri is going to do,” Phichit says.



Everyone is dead quiet, knowing exactly what he's referring to. It's Christophe who laments, “If worse comes to worse, Yuuri will have Victor sent away with a few of us... the question is going to be who is ready for the possibility of leaving this castle to be Victor's bodyguard.”



There's no response to that. No one is ready for the possibility of leaving the castle, so Christophe simply says, “All of you consider it... and report to me if you're willing to volunteer.:



After that, everyone continues with dinner in contemplation of that possibility.





The library is calming the nerves of the two men. Candle illuminate the darker corners where the setting sunlight cannot reach. Today, the book Yuuri has chosen is a romance novel. The two are intertwined on the lounging sofa and taking turns reading chapters aloud until their bedtime. The novel is supposed to be about a magician girl who runs away from home and falls in love with a dark wizard after learning how misunderstood he is. Both realize the irony of reading such a story but they're enjoying it too much.



The novel is short. Only one hundred fifty pages so the two finish it within a few hours. The story ended despairingly, a true tragedy. The girl never got to marry the dark wizard because he was killed by the girl's rescuers. She never wanted to be rescued, ending with her desperately trying to keep the dead wizard's honor intact to end in failure.



When the last page is reached, it's Yuuri that curses, “Eirin's tits, that was a depressing ending.”



Victor is almost scandalized for a second because he's never heard Yuuri use a deity's name in vain or to curse but finds himself chuckling, “It was. I've heard you curse before but that's a bit much!”



Yuuri snorts, “I reserve high-class cursing for special occasions. Tragic books I consider a special occasion.”



There's some more chuckling before Victor pulls Yuuri close. Victor's hair warms their necks under them as they lay on the couch and cuddle close; the book is cast aside so they can relax together. Neither wants to admit how much the book reflects their own situation so they change the subject.



“Vitya, tell me about your life before coming to the castle. You've never told me much about your childhood.”



Victor half smiles and holds tighter, “Which part? I mostly trained under Yakov most days.”



Yuuri hums and says, “Your favorite memory. The one you cherish most.”



Victor pauses and thinks. There's a lot of memories, good and bad. There were days he felt so much joy from learning magic that he felt like a master and days he just couldn't seem to get anything right. But if there was one memory that he never wants to forget, it's this one, “There is one... When I was fourteen winters, I felt uncomfortable with all the girls asking to dance with me at the winter festival bonfire so my mother and Yakov danced with me so I wouldn't be bothered. My best memory is spending time with them. I... I never want to forget the ones who loved and raised me.”



Yuuri frowns when Victor's expression turns solemn and strokes his cheek. Victor meets his eyes when Yuuri offers, “How about a dance then?”



“A dance?” Victor questions. He's intrigued.



“A dance... the piano still works, I'm sure it will play us something to dance to.” Yuuri offers.



Both sit up. The idea of dancing with Yuuri sounds heavenly to Victor. The two get up and make their way to the piano... and a bit of shyness comes over the two. Even with all the affection the two have shared, dancing is traditionally saved for family members and lovers in both their cultures. It's one of the most romantic notions the two have offered one another.



The piano is a little dusty compared to when Otabek was around. Yuuri looks to Victor to command the piano to life since the instrument's loyalties still tie to Otabek and will likely not obey Yuuri. Victor casts a small wave of magic and the piano stirs with a single note played. There's a sense the object is waiting for them to dance before playing so the two face each other, taking each other's hand the other hand on the others' waist or shoulder.



As soon as Yuuri takes lead, a gentle melody begins and pauses each time they stop. Eyes meet and cheeks warm at the moment shared. Victor can't help but notice how gentle Yuuri's eyes are and Yuuri notices Victor's strong shoulders and perfect lips. Yuuri's grip on Victor's shoulder tightens and speeds up the pace of their waltz, the piano following along. Victor's smile turns almost into a grin as the two waltz across the library floor tile.



Both are in sync despite Victor's lack of experience. Just as Victor wonders, he realizes it's because Yuuri is using magic to coach his movements to each other. He doesn't mind because when the song suddenly slows, he realizes its because Yuuri dips him. Yuuri smirks before pulling him back to his feet and gazes expectantly at him. Victor smiles back and caresses Yuuri's cheek.



Just as the piano trails off, lips faintly brush one another in a kiss. With a nod in confirmation, they rejoin in a tight embrace. This is both their first kiss and it feels as if the heavens have personally blessed them both. Victor feels Yuuri's hand slides to his back and his hand squeezes Yuuri's hip. Mouths open to meet with tongue, the kiss deepening.



They're pressed close to each other and suddenly pulls them both away. Victor is disappointed and confused until Yuuri says, “Let's take this somewhere more private... like my room.”



Victor muddled mind likes where this is going... until an interloper knocks loudly on the library door. Yuuri sighs and unravels himself from Victor before saying, “Come in!”



Both watch as Minami comes in. Before Yuuri can ask, Minami announces, “An informant wishes to meet you, Master. It's urgent news about Mylrin.” 

 

Chapter Text

The informant is a mousy haired young man with fox-like eyes. He's dressed in the usual clothing of a Crow but Yuuri already has a mild distrust of him because he's never seen him before. Even more suspicious, it's usually Celestino, Emil or Michele that visits with the news. Not a low rank as this young man appears to be.

 

They're together in a meeting room on the first floor with Minami outside the door as a guard. Yuuri has Victor sitting next to him at the table with the informant across from them. They're able to see each other with the candlelight. Victor is highly aware of his surroundings because of Yuuri's tension. He's not sure what has Yuuri on edge but he's prepared for anything. The informant taps his fingers against the oak table, waiting to speak.

 

Yuuri props his head with his arm and says, “Alright, tell me what you know. You're here awfully late.”

 

The informant half-smiles, “I apologize for my tardiness but I do have... important information,” He seems to be reluctant to tell them anything and that makes Yuuri narrow his eyes for the young man to continue, “I-In the town of Arisa there's an ambush preparing to attack this castle. You have three days to prepare... The attackers are going to be the oldest of Father- of Mylrin's bloodlings.”

 

Nobody misses the slip-up but it's Yuuri that understands what he meant to say. Yuuri stands.

 

“Yusha? What's the matter?” Victor asks.

 

“Stand up, 'informant',” Yuuri demands.

 

The informant stands; this time with a slight bit of fear in his eyes. Yuuri rounds the table and backs the other man against the wall. Victor stands, ready to help. Yuuri halts Victor with a hand and demands the informant, “Show me your blood seal. I know you're a bloodling but I don't know where your loyalties lie. Show. Me. Your. Seal.”

 

The bloodling is terrified and shakily lifts his wrist to show Yuuri. Yuuri grabs the wrist and yanks his sleeve down. Victor watches in awe as a small seal rises to the surface of his skin. The bloodling has now closed his eyes as Yuuri examines the seal.

 

A minute passes before Yuuri growls, “You're a bloodling sired by Mylrin.”

“My loyalties lie with my blood father Celestino!” The bloodling insists in fear, “I'm here to help you! I'm the second oldest bloodling of my siblings and I defected to the Crows when Mylrin discovered I didn't possess useful magic and abandoned me,” The bloodling starts to cry and Yuuri softens, taking a step back from the bloodling, “My lord Katsuki, it hurts so much. You're a bloodling yourself and should know how much it hurts to lose a blood parent. H-He shoved me aside as soon as I wasn't of any use to him. I'm not lying. I have nothing else to lose. I'm just lucky that my siblings haven't given me away when I traveled with them over the mountains.”

 

“...” Yuuri is quiet for a long time. Victor has no idea what to do so he watches how Yuuri handles this. Yuuri takes a step forward again and the bloodling cowers... until Yuuri strokes the others' hair gently. Victor and the bloodling are stunned at Yuuri's show of kindness. Yuuri speaks, “You risked a lot and hurt yourself as a bloodling to disobey Mylrin in order to help me, haven't you? You poor thing, you must be suffering. However, I want to know what drives you to disobey Mylrin. It can't just be Celestino, can it?”

 

The bloodling calms and even leans into Yuuri's touch for comfort before explaining, “Not all of my siblings are honest with each other but I'm doing this for my younger siblings who align with Celestino. Father Celestino wants to help you. It hurts me to help you because of Mylrin's blood in my veins. No matter who which father we help, we're in pain... It hurts so much that I want to die but I can't until I know my siblings are relieved of their pain. Does that make sense?”

 

Yuuri hums in understanding and validates, “It does. You want to help your siblings as well as yourself but you're not sure how. You want me to help you but how?”

 

Victor feels a little sick when he hears the answer to that. The bloodling really considers it or awhile and bluntly says it.

 

“Kill us. We want to die. We'd rather die than live with the guilt.”

 

Yuuri's gaze is blank at that, still stroking the bloodling's hair. Yuuri considers this for many moments of time to the point that Victor wants to say something, to break the tension.

 

“Do you have a name?” Yuuri asks.

 

“No.” The bloodling says.

 

“Do you wish you had a different blood parent than Mylrin?” Yuuri asks.

 

The bloodling is cautious but answers, “... Yes.”

 

Yuuri eyes Victor and says, “Then you have at least one thing in common with Victor. I'll let you stay as long as you help me deal with your incoming siblings. How many are attacking?”

 

“Eleven. That's not including me. They know I'm here.”

 

“That's all I need to know for now... Victor, take this bloodling with you. I don't trust him enough to have his own bedroom so I'm trusting you to watch him for the night.” Yuuri informs.

 

Victor nods, ready to settle down for the night after all the excitement. The bloodling is excused to Victor's side. Victor stands and leads the bloodling with him towards his room. Victor watches him carefully, knowing they can't trust this bloodling completely even if he seems honest enough.

 

When Victor and the bloodling have disappeared down the hallway and up the stairs. Yuuri orders a confused looking Minami, “Get Phichit and Chris. I need to speak to you and them about this bloodling attack... and what to do with the current bloodling we have.”

 

Minami nods and rushes through the castle to find them... Yuuri holds his head, feeling Izetta stir inside him from this ordeal.

 

 

“How the hell did they find our castle?” Phichit demands, not even bothering to sit at the table with Minami, Christophe and Yuuri. Yuuri is holding his head, trying to block out Izetta and listening as the others discuss everything relayed from the bloodling.

 

“We know this bloodling must have found our castle through the Crows but it's easy to explain how Mylrin has already found us,” Christophe informs, “Hunters and gathers from Arisa must have seen and reported our castle's appearance to their leaders. It's not hard to figure that that information has flowed straight to the Paladins stationed here in Halgilen and made it to Mylrin over time... Of course, Night Riders also flock to our castle so certainly Arisa has noticed an increase of the undead riders in their town at night because of us.”

 

Phichit grumbles in irritation, “Still, it's not fair they found us so fast... I thought we'd have a few more weeks before the Paladins arrived over the mountains but now what do we do? Prepare for battle?”

 

Yuuri nods and Minami counters, “What about when the Paladins get here? Mylrin must be traveling here as we speak! We don't have enough fighters to take down the Paladins. Even with the Night Riders, we're under armed...”

 

Yuuri stands, still rubbing his temple and says, “I know we cannot win a battle against Mylrin in the state we're in. I don't expect anyone to fight if they don't want to because we have time to plan this time... This time, we're going to have to avoid battle with the Paladins...”

 

“... Are you suggesting what we've been thinking?” Christophe asks, “Are you.... really considering of sending us all away? Not just Victor?”

 

Silence. Pure silence for almost minutes as Yuuri stares at the floor. Yuuri has considered this before except in a different scenario of sending the servants away, before Victor even arrived at the castle. That was when Yuuri was first possessed by Izetta and couldn't control her so he tried to get the servants to leave the castle before he lost control. Of course, that never happened because they all had faith Yuuri could overcome Izetta.

 

“... Yes, I've considered it.”

 

The faces of all three of them drop. That was the last scenario they wanted but inevitable. They can fight the bloodlings. Eleven fighters will be easy to combat and destroy but the dozens of Paladins? Not a chance. The only question is... where to send everyone?

 

Yuuri announces his proposal to the others, “This is what I've considered. Some of you will have to stay here at the castle for me to confront Mylrin. Only a couple. Everyone else will evacuate... as in, you'll finally be free of me,” He takes a deep breath and says, “Phichit, Minami, you two will be in charge of leading Victor, JJ, Isabella and Seung-gil to Thalanen. Phichit knows how to navigate Thalanen like the back of his hand so you'll be able to get somewhere that isn't war-torn to hide,” Yuuri turns to Christophe, “Chris, your familiars, Guang-Hong and Leo will stay behind to help me with Mylrin. I... need someone with magic to be able to assist me as well as two fighters in case it goes wrong.”

 

It takes a moment to sink in. There are shock and disbelief. Minami looks furious at the thought of even being sent away, Phichit looks despaired and Christophe has an accepting look. It's Minami that argues first, “... That's your plan? To just send us away and leave Guang-Hong and Leo to fight the Paladins alone?” Minami says what he knows will hurt Yuuri the most, “Have you considered how we feel? How heartbroken Victor will be if he's forced from you?” Minami tears up a bit, his own heartbreak coming to the surface. Phichit rests a hand on Minami's shoulder, trying to comfort him.

 

Yuuri clenches his fists and the look he gives Minami is deadly, “Minami, I'm doing this for all our own good. If I can get most of you out of the castle, I can avoid deaths of any of you-”

 

“Master... I'd rather die protecting you than be sent away. Just as Victor, I love you,” Yuuri is stunned by the confession and no one interrupts Minami, who is in tears, “I... I know there is no way we can defeat the Paladins but serving you is all I ever want to do. Please don't send me away.”

 

Yuuri's gaze becomes sympathetic to Minami as he says, “I can't do that. Just... Please listen to me. Phichit, Minami, I trust you to inform the rest of the castle of the evacuation plans. My word is final.”

 

Minami is frozen, his mouth hung open with words trapped in his throat. Yuuri completely ignored his confession and all he can do is obey orders. He closes his eyes and mouth and nods. Phichit sighs and nods as well.

 

Christophe addresses the last order of business, “What's to be done with the bloodling in the castle?”

 

Yuuri is blunt, “He's to be killed after the rest of the bloodlings attack. We will have no use for him after that. I don't care how friendly he is, we can't trust him as long as he has Mylrin's blood in his veins.”

 

No one points out the hypocrisy in the statement, considering Victor is of Mylrin's blood. Instead, Christophe nods and asks, “Is that all? May we leave?”

 

“Minami and Phichit may leave. I need to speak with you a little longer.”

 

Phichit leads Minami out of the room... Christophe and Yuuri pretend not to hear Minami's crying through the door and down the hallway. Yuuri settles back into his seat, holding his head once again. Christophe follows suit and asks, “... Is there a reason why you picked me to stay behind?”

 

“There is... Chris, don't tell anyone else what I'm about to tell you...”

 

“Hold on... I'm wondering what Minami was wondering. What about Victor? He'll be devastated without you.” Christophe's gaze is sympathetic.

 

Yuuri sighs and holds back his emotions before replying, “It will devastate me as well... but it must be done.”

 

 

Victor has changed into his bedclothes, a bit disappointed he doesn't get to spend the night with Yuuri and that the bloodling will be sharing his bed instead. Makkachin has warmed up to the bloodling quickly because of how friendly he is and the two are already cuddling on their side of the bed. Victor shakes his head because it's amusing to see Makkachin so comfortable with someone else.

 

He climbs into bed and settles with his back to the bloodling. He's about to blow out the candle when the bloodling suddenly says, “You know... You and I are brothers, now that I think about it.”

 

“Yeah, we are.” Victor is aware of this but doesn't want to think too much about it, “What about it?”

 

“Well... I'm happy to meet another one of my siblings. I have a lot of them but you must be really special for Father to make us try to find you... and I kind of understand why he hates Katsuki but I don't hate him. This all seems too ridiculous, fighting each other.” The bloodling rambles, sounding tired.

 

“I see,” Victor cuddles his pillow tighter, “It really is ridiculous. All this fighting and greed for power is ridiculous...” Victor listens to the bloodling ramble on about something related to his siblings but Victor is tired enough to not catch it. He settles for grunts of agreement until the bloodling yawns and says a 'good night'.

 

Lying there for several minutes, he hears Makkachin say in his mind, “Quite talkative, isn't he?

 

He is. Friendly enough but Yuuri distrusts him still... Well, I sense more than that from Yuuri,” Victor gently sighs before continuing, “Something is not right. Yuuri may have shown pacifism for this bloodling right now but I feel a storm brewing. This really might be the end, Makka. I don't know how Yuuri is mentally right now and I can't predict what he'll do.”

 

... Vitya, no matter what happens, even if you somehow lose Yuuri, you'll still have me. All we can do is prepare for the worst now. There is no time left.” Makkachin isn't wrong but all Victor can give is a hum of agreement when his heart aches over the possibilities.

 

He closes his eyes and whispers, “Good night, Makkachin."

 

 

The next day, Victor wakes to find the bloodling is gone from his bed but Makkachin is still there. He stretches and asks Makkachin, “Where did the bloodling go? Also, I wish I had a name to call him besides that.”

 

He went to bathe. That's what he told me. Otherwise, I'm not sure.

 

Victor hums and wonders aloud, “What is JJ making for breakfast? He's hinted he might be wanting to make pancakes.”

 

Well, go see. I will warn you; I sense the tension in the castle today. Be careful, Victor.” Makkachin says and Victor nods, now sensing it as well now that he's fully awake.

 

Once dressed and out the door of his room, the tension is palpable. Passing the stained glass, a scene of battle between two warriors shows itself. That's concerning because the stained glass is heavily influenced by the thoughts and feelings of the residents of the castle. Victor's steps are hurried as he makes his way to the dining room.

 

The wave of stress hits Victor like a runaway cart. Everyone is in different states of distress. Victor has to block out the emotions in order to focus and take his seat next to where Yuuri usually would be. Yuuri is the only one absent. Even the bloodling is in a guest seat with fresh clothing and damp hair. Victor observes everyone around the table to assess the stress.

 

Guang-Hong and Leo are scooted close together and speaking quietly amongst each other. Minami is poking at his pancakes with a resentful gaze towards Victor when their eyes meet. Victor looks away to see Christophe and Phichit with melancholy expressions, quietly eating. Seung-gil doesn't seem to have much of an appetite. JJ and Isabella are despairing as well but it shows as blank expressions. The bloodling simple gives him a defeated look when their eyes meet. What the hell is going on?

 

Victor leans to Christophe first and asks him, “What has everyone so down? Why is Minami glaring at me?”

 

Christophe sighs and leans in to whisper, “Yuuri has ordered everyone prepare for battle in the days to come. He'll be asking you to help prepare when he arrives... and other things I cannot speak about with you by Yuuri's order.”

 

Victor immediately feels irritated. Yuuri is breaking his promise not to hide things from him. He'll just have to ask Yuuri and straighten this out. Christophe continues, “About Minami... He confessed his feelings to Yuuri last night and got rejected. He's blaming you.”

 

There's shock for a second but then Victor feels a bit of sympathy for Minami. He did know that the younger man was in love with Yuuri and can understand how devastated he must be... How he must envy Victor. Victor hums, “I see. I'll have to speak with Yuuri... What are your plans for today?”

 

“Hmm... I have to upgrade the emergency shielding nodes around the castle with Masumi. Seung-Il will be working with Isabella and JJ on crafting weapons and Phichit will be doing training drills with everyone else. Even the bloodling is going to train with us, make himself useful. You, I have no clue what Yuuri will assign for you when he returns.” Christophe lists off, casually.

 

Victor notices Yuuri's abandoned plate of food upon being mentioned and nods. JJ appears with Victor's food and then returns to Isabella for their conversation. Victor picks at his food and doesn't have much of an appetite himself with the atmosphere at hand, which gets worse when Yuuri reenters the room.

 

Everyone straightens up in their seats when Yuuri returns with Chihoko by his side. She seems irritated and won't even look at Yuuri; Yuuri looks awash with guilt. Moments of silence happen before Yuuri addresses everyone.

 

“Finish up breakfast and prepare for what we talked about. I know it is short notice but we don't have much time, three days at most... Victor, good morning.” Yuuri greets.

 

“Morning... What am I doing to help the situation?” Victor doesn't ask what he's actually wondering yet... but can see that Chihoko must not be happy about it. Chihoko looks over the blooding before taking her seat at the table.

 

Yuuri is a bit standoffish about it but informs, “I want you to check the health of everyone in the castle, Victor,” Not using a pet name still? That's not a good sign. “You think you can do that?”

 

“I can...” Victor can't hold back, “I can sense something else isn't right. Will you please tell me later what's going on? It can't just be the bloodlings why everyone is this anxious.”

 

Everyone stares at Victor. Some in surprise, some in pity and some in irritation. Yuuri's expression is what holds Victor's attention. Yuuri looks guilty and tired, squirming a bit in his seat before saying, “We'll talk about this later. Please... just listen to me and do as I say. We don't have much time. Everyone is dismissed.”

 

It doesn't take long for everyone to disperse, even leaving their breakfast to complete their duties. Victor narrows his eyes as everyone leaves one by one until Minami changes his route to confront Victor. The two are alone, tension is high.

 

“I'll tell you what's going on when I come in for my check up this afternoon. Yuuri seems to want to break both of our hearts.” Minami is gone as soon as he came and said that, leaving to do his combat practice.

 

Victor knows exactly what he's doing today; he's going to try and find out what Yuuri is hiding from him.

 

 

One by one, the servants visit Victor for check-ups upon Yuuri's orders. Everyone is in good health, so Victor mostly uses the time to interrogate them about Yuuri. It's the same question; What did Yuuri say that has everyone so on edge? However, every time he asks it to a different person he gets a similar answer. It's the bloodlings or the incoming battle... At least, until he gets to Leo.

 

Leo snaps at Victor while having his heart checked, “I can't say shit unless I want to end up in the dungeons... all I can say is that it's not just the bloodlings. You're not wrong to believe it;'s something more.”

 

Victor hums and replies calmly, “Well, thank you for confirming my suspicions. I won't bother you further. You're healthy, so go.” With that, Leo tugs his shirt back on and leaves... the last patient left being Minami, who already promised answers.

 

Victor is brushing Makkachin out of boredom when a knock sounds on the door. Slowly, Minami peeks in and Victor motions him over. Minami still has an irritated gaze towards Victor but Victor is more eager to hear the truth.

 

“Hurry up and check me... I'll tell you while you do that.” Minami commands, already removing his shirt so Victor can examine quicker. Victor doesn't disobey.

 

It's while Victor is checking Minami's reflexes that Minami tell him, “Yuuri is sending us away.”

 

Victor pauses, confused. Sent away? Victor stumbles over his words a bit and pulls his hands away from Minami, unable to focus on his healing magic, “What do you mean?”

 

Minami sighs irritably and crosses his arms as he says, “Just as I said, stupid. Everyone is stressed because we need to start planning to evacuate... We don't have enough fighters, even with the Night Riders, to hold off the Paladins. We can handle the bloodlings but the plan for the Paladins is to run away,” Minami becomes more upset the longer he continues and has to look away from Victor, “He's doing this for everyone's sake but... it is like Yuuri wants to hurt us. He doesn't mean to but he is-”

 

“I've... heard enough, Minami,” Victor holds his head in his hands and it hurts to hear but not surprising. If they're outnumbered, the only logical thing to do in Yuuri's condition is to evacuate everyone from the castle. However, it's not fair.

 

Minami uncrosses his arms and, oddly enough, sympathizes with Victor, “It really hurts... Just when you thought you two would be together, he casts you aside,” He snorts, “At least you know how I feel...”

 

As Minami gets up to leave, Victor finds himself thinking that he really doesn't know how Minami feels. It's not because he's devastated or hurt, it's because the overall emotion he feels even clearer is rage. How dare Yuuri do this to him? All this talk about enjoying the time they have together and it's squandered just because of Mylrin's damn Paladins. How fucking ridiculous.

 

Minami pauses at the door because when he opens it, standing there is Yuuri. Yuuri, who heard everything. Minami is frozen in fear he'll be punished but Yuuri just sighs quietly and leaves them behind. Minami is surprised and watches Yuuri walk away. Victor has no idea that Yuuri was at the door because he's still stewing in rage, considering how he's going to confront Yuuri later.

 

 

By the evening, Victor isn't as furious as he was when Minami first told him the truth. However, he still needs to talk to Yuuri... even if it means going to his room to do so. Victor is a bit nervous as he makes his way to Yuuri's bedroom on the upper floors. Last time he was near this corridor, Leo was chased off by Yuuri's familiar. In other words, Yuuri is very private with his living quarters for some reason.

 

Once again, Victor is standing outside the thrashed corridor leading to Yuuri's room. The torn painting of Mylrin at the end of the hallway seems to mock him the longer he looks at it. Victor takes a deep breath and makes his way to the door farthest down. Each step fills him oddly with dread; the cracked stained glass strains to form an image of warning to Victor but cannot fully form its warning.

 

He is almost to the door when Vicchan appears, opening the door before Victor can knock. Vicchan is in human form and doesn't look pleased in the slightest.

 

Before Victor can say his reason for being there, Vicchan says, “He doesn't want to see you. He knows you know.”

 

Victor almost sputters and his anger rises to the surface again, “I don't care if he doesn't want to see me. I need to talk to him about this! He went behind my back without considering my feelings-”

 

“Vicchan, let him in.” Yuuri's tired voice comes from inside.

 

Vicchan wants to argue but just sighs, opening the door further so Victor can come inside the room. Victor takes a breath to relax and mutters a 'thank you' before going inside.

 

Yuuri's room is... a complete disaster area. Stone walls have been chipped and burned from what looks like magic fire blasts, broken furniture and torn rugs. There's one broken window shining a little bit of light into the room that he can just barely see Yuuri's sullen face. Yuuri is on his in-ruins bed, his eyes locked on Victor.

 

He doesn't even get to comment on the state of Yuuri's room before Yuuri says, “... I understand if you hate me but I have to do this.”

 

That reminds Victor why he's there and his aggravation is back, “I understand why you're doing this but why didn't you tell me as soon as possible? You obviously were trying to keep it a secret by the way everyone else is acting,” Victor stands firm and crosses his arms before jabbing, “Do you really care so little about me that you have to lie to me?”

 

Yuuri stands and is now angry himself, “Victor, if I didn't care about you I would have given you to Mylrin by now or killed you as retaliation,” Yuuri looks very hurt, “Just... I knew you'd refuse to leave if I told you now.”

 

“No shit, Yuuri! Do you really expect me to leave you behind? We can't just run away like cowards!” Victor clenches his fists as he insists, “You can't expect me to leave your side so easily when you promised we would value our time together... T-This just isn't fair.” Victor is having a hard time holding back his emotions. His eyes start to tear up against his will and he's a little shaky.

 

Yuuri's shoulders sink and his expression is pitiful. He knows it isn't fair and hates it himself. He sits back down on his bed and agrees, “You're right. It isn't fair, Vitya,” The pet name catches Victor's attention, “I'm doing my best to do damage control but it only hurts those around me. I don't know what else to do, my love. I figured sending you away at the last minute would make you hate me... but at least you'd be safe from Mylrin. I-I must face him alone and buy time for everyone...”

 

The next words break Victor's heart to pieces.

 

“...We have to end this. I love you so much that I can't bear for you to possibly see me die facing Mylrin. I don't have the strength to fight him but I can hold him off until you and the other can escape.”

 

A long pause... and Victor can't stop himself from crying. Yuuri just watches as Victor wipes his eyes and sobs. Yuuri gets up again and tries to offer a hand to Victor but Victor smacks it away. Yuuri stares, stunned at him. Yuuri doesn't know what else to do; he has been honest with Victor about the hopeless situation they're in and that they all have to leave... why is he crying? Nobody else cried when Yuuri said he would most likely die in the battle against Mylrin.

 

“Vitya-”

 

“Shut up,” Victor snaps, wiping away more tears, “Do you realize how ridiculous this is? Why does it have to be you that sacrifices yourself and leaves us all behind? Have you ever considered how much we all care about you? I know how hopeless the situation is but this can't be the answer... I don't want it to be the answer. If it separates me from you, I don't want it.”

 

“Well, you have no choice,” Yuuri glares and distances himself from Victor, “I-I know you all care about me... but I would rather you all hate me in the end and be alive than try to help me and end up dead.”

 

Victor mocks, “So that fucking it? Your final decision?”

 

“... Yes. That's my final decision. When the Paladins are expected to arrive, everyone will evacuate immediately. Including you.” Yuuri goes stern, not backing down, fully expecting Victor to leave him and hate him from then on.

 

Except, Victor doesn't. He's crying and furious Yuuri is doing this but it all makes sense why. It's the only way Yuuri knows how to protect them and Victor doesn't have any suggestions on what to do differently. They have to accept what fate has dealt them. This is the end.

 

Victor looks up from his hands and stares at Yuuri. Yuuri freezes, not knowing what Victor is going to do next. Even more surprising, Victor sniffles and offers his arms out for a hug. It doesn't take long before Yuuri is crying too, accepting the hug and holding his lover tight.

 

In the hug, Victor spitefully says, “Don't you dare think I haven't forgotten our promise. If we have until the Paladins arrive then so be it. I'm going to stay by your side as long as possible. I love you so much it hurts.”

 

Yuuri sniffles and nods in Victor's shoulder. Vicchan sighs and leaves the two be. A wise decision because Victor and Yuuri hold each other for awhile, even curling up on Yuuri's bed for hours to simple cherish the time they have.

 

 

Hooves thunder through the town of Arisa. The citizens hide in fear of Night Riders, unaware that the source is not from the feared beasts but the Paladins. The Paladins pass through with white cloaks on horses, being lead by Mylrin.

 

The campsite at the edge of town is filled with the bloodlings ready for commands to attack the castle miles away. Mylrin and the Paladins are greeted by the bloodlings with bows and salutes. Mylrin dismounts his horse and his bloodling children flock to him, ready for any command.

 

“My dears, are you ready for battle?” Mylrin addresses them. Many nod or holler in agreement. Mylrin smiles and continues, “Tonight, you will make your way to the castle, save your brother and kill Katsuki. Whatever you do not achieve will be done by the Paladins,” His expression grows dark, “I expect success from you all. Don't fail me. Now, move out!”

 

Bloodlings scramble to get their weapons and get into formation in order to start the journey to the castle. One of the bloodlings, Mahou, meets eyes with Rin. The two share an uneasy look before the bloodlings vanish under the darkness of night.

 

Rin can't help but think, Please don't die. I know you're not the only one who wants to disobey Mylrin so please live.

 

“Fellow Paladins, we wait here until the bloodlings return. If they do not return within a few days, we set out to attack!” Mylrin informs and many Paladins cheer. Rin avoids eye contact with Mylrin, regretting his life choices that lead him to become a Paladin.

 

 

Misery. That's the feeling that Victor is swept up in as he mindlessly helps pack a large cart for the evacuation. He's preparing a month worth of JJ's medication for long-term travel and the only comfort he gets is Yuuri's occasional to give him kisses and encouragement. Everyone has to help with the cart since they're packing everyone's belongings onto the cart, enough food and supplies to last them several weeks until they reach Thalanen.

 

Victor finishes the last bottle of the medication when the bloodling, now named Fox, approaches him. They're in Victor's infirmary.

 

“What do you need, Fox?” Victor asks.

 

“I... came to tell you that I have all your things packed on the cart,” Fox pauses for a second and then admits, “I also came here to ask how you're holding up. I can sense how down you are about having to leave.”

 

Victor snorts in half-amusement, “I'm doing terrible but... I don't blame Yuuri for the choices he has had to make for everyone. I'm angry but I understand.”

 

“It's not fair.” Fox finishes the thought for him.

 

Victor nods and says, “I just want to be with Yuuri. Izetta and Mylrin be damned to all the hells.”

 

Fox is about to rest a hand on Victor's shoulder when there's shouting from outside. Fox rushes to the window and Victor makes his way over as well.

 

They freeze when they hear Phichit's announcement, “A large group is approaching the castle! Prepare for battle!”