Chapter 1: Enter Aaron, Stage Left
“Evil wizard!,” proclaimed the knight while pointing at a decidedly unamused evil wizard seated at the throne. “I’ve come to defeat you!”
Callum Hunt, level seventy Dark Mage, guardian of the Castle Panopticon, was bored out of his damn mind. The asshole currently screaming at him (respectfully dubbed Sir Loud Mouth by Yours Truly) seemed to be having a grand old time tracking mud and leaves throughout Call’s throne room and disturbing the peace like he owned the freaking place, as if it wasn’t bad enough that he’d interrupted him in the middle of breakfast. The wizard had half a mind to kick him straight out, even though it was against protocol to dismiss a hero while in the midst of a battle.
Well, technically they weren’t in a battle yet. Right now they were just doing the introductions. Or as Call liked to call it, the standard pissing-contest that he’d been subjected to daily for the past thousand or so years.
“First, I defeated the ogre by the caves of Hunith,” the knight continued and, wow, this guy was still talking? “Then I acquired the Ring of Truth from the volcanoes of Mount Beezlebub. Next I retrieved the Sword of Justice from the Catacombs of...”
Call tuned him out. Blah blah blah, look at all the cool stuff I got! Whoop dee doo, what an accomplishment. Getting past the stupid ogre that guarded the Caves wasn’t an accomplishment. Defeating a thousands of years old Dark Mage; now that was an accomplishment.
Too bad none of these sorry excuses for heroes had ever beaten him before. Talk about a snooze-fest.
The first few hundred years were fun, though. Call would actually give the heroes a fair fight with his advanced magic. Sometimes he would shake things up a little and bring a dragon in to burn these losers to a crisp. But after he started noticing the same behavior, the same motions, the same techniques, things got boring fast. Pretty soon he was just listening to introductions and then blasting them to smithereens with a bolt of magic so severe that the smell of burning flesh would linger until another one showed up the next day.
It was a pretty miserable existence, but this was the price Call had to pay for the crimes he’d committed in his past life. To be honest, he was kind of annoyed at himself. Like, what was his previous self even thinking ? Everyone knows that when you break wizard protocol the punishment attaches to your soul and follows you straight into your next life. And now Call was cursed to guarding the final checkpoint to a stupid Quest because of something he didn’t even remember doing. Amazing.
“I’ll admit,” the knight said, hefting his girthy sword in one arm as he circled the front of the black throne, while Call just sat there with his cheek resting on his hand. “When they told me about the powerful boss wizard residing in the throne room of the cursed princess’ castle, I expected someone...older.”
“And I expected a knight that wasn’t a complete fuck up, but here we are.” He didn’t actually say that. What he really said was, “Foolish mortal, I am thousands of years old and have bested hundreds of thousands of knights and others who wish to save thine princess. Pray tell, what about you makes you so different?”
Yikes. If there was one thing Call hated about this whole arrangement, it had to be the stupid script he had to follow every time one of these jackasses decided to challenge him. Like, come on, who even says “thine” anymore? Losers, that’s who.
The knight totally fell for it though. With a loud and confident laugh, that only served to piss Call off more, he began to list every one of his “heroic” accomplishments like that was supposed to scare him or something. The only scary part about this was the dude’s outfit. Like, the court jester called, he wants his balloon pants and pointy shoes back.
Call definitely looked a lot cooler. Being a level seventy anything meant that you always had the freshest battle outfit in all the seven kingdoms. The black and silver design scheme he had going on was the most badass thing ever. And it matched his black hair and silver eyes, which was even cooler.
But the winter weather up here on the mountains was beyond cold, and his threadbare cape was doing jack-all to keep him protected from the harsh winds. He didn’t even have his wicked cool wizard hat anymore; he’d lost it while cleaning the castle one day and never found it. One of those damn knights probably stole it when he wasn’t looking.
“And now, villain!,” shouted the knight, making Call jump. “Once I have defeated you and taken your head as a spoil of war, I will save the princess from your evil clutches and make her my lovely bride!”
Call sighed and drummed his fingers impatiently along the arm of the chair. “She’s not here,” he told him.
The knight faltered. He looked comically confused, which almost made Call snort. “I--uh, what?”
“She’s not here,” he repeated, annoyed. “The princess ran off ages ago with a female knight. There’s no one here.” Except me , he thought sourly.
The knight looked incredibly lost, like he wasn’t expecting this to happen at all (which was understandable), but the next second he was puffing up his chest again and yelling, “O-Of course you’re lying, wizard! Trying to throw me off her trail, I presume? No matter! I will not be bested by mere tricks!”
For the love of...Call let out a very long and very irritated sigh through his nose before rising into a standing position. He made sure to float at least a few inches off the ground. His bad leg was hurting more than usual today, and he couldn’t be bothered to stand on it now (plus it made him taller).
“Sir Knight,” Call said like he was reading from a paper (read: very bored). “Do you truly believe that you have what it takes to defeat me, the Dark Wizard of Old.”
At this point he just wanted this whole thing to be over with. He could care less about stupid heroes and their stupid swords and their stupid families that would mourn if they never returned from their stupid quests. All he cared about was finding his stupid hat (seriously, where did he put it?) and eating his stupid breakfast.
“I've already told you, villain! Your evil ways are no match for my heroic prowess and dashing good looks! You will lead me to the princess at once or else face the consequences of your villainous actions and--!”
“Look, buddy,” he interrupted. “Let me break this whole thing down for you in a way that you’ll understand. I'm a level seventy Mage. Seventy. That's the highest rank you can possibly get to in any classing scale. What are you, like, level ten?”
“Level twenty three,” the knight replied, a bit miffed.
“Yeah, whatever. Look, what I'm trying to say is that I'm infinitely more powerful than you are, and fighting me is only going to end badly for you. So why don't you just turn around and go home?”
Call thought he was being pretty reasonable and merciful, but the knight obviously didn't see it that way. He shouted, “Only a fool would listen to your pretty words and be swayed to forfeit without collecting the prize!” A sly smile. “Perhaps you’re just frightened that you might lose. How ironic that the Enemy of Death fears death itself!”
Call's face darkened immediately. “How do you---”
“No more silly chatter!,” announced Sir Whateverthehellhisnameis. He pulled out his sword and brandished it menacingly at Call, a cocky grin stretching across his face. “Now then! Let us begin the b---”
A bolt of pure black shot from Call’s palm and the knight literally went up in a puff of smoke. Ashes rained down from the domed ceiling and settled daintily around the knight’s previously occupied and now smoking pointed shoes. The throne room was quiet once again. Call sighed.
Man, he hated his job.
Two days later someone actually interesting entered the castle.
It was a kid. There was no sugar-coating it, no going around it, there was a real, honest to goodness kid approaching him right now. Call nearly sat up in surprise when he saw him, but then realized he was pretty comfy in his chair so he just stayed as he was.
A cluster of dead leaves blew in through the open door as the boy entered on horseback, his steed’s soft hoof-steps echoing loudly in the empty throne room past the heaps of ashes from Wednesday that Call hadn't gotten around to cleaning up yet. Call watched with slight interest as the boy dismounted, patted his mare’s snout reassuringly, then took a few steps into the room.
It only took him a couple of seconds to notice Call, and when he did, he froze on the spot. This was followed by rapid blinking, a cursory rubbing of the eyes in disbelief, and then, strangest of all, a violent flush starting from the neck to the tips of his ears.
“Uh, hi,” the boy said awkwardly.
Call raised an eyebrow but didn't move from his position. “Sup.”
He probably looked utterly ridiculous hanging upside down off of his throne the way he was, but, to be fair, he’d stopped caring a few millenia ago.
The boy, for his part, looked rather impressive in his knightly get-up. Blond hair tousled by the wind, a face that, while young, would definitely prove to be handsome in the years to come, a posture that oozed confidence. Hell, even his cape was a thousand times better than Call's. And it was purple . Talk about fancy.
If Call didn't know any better he’d say that the boy in front of him was a royal, or at least of royal blood, but the tan and freckled skin that you could only inherit from a life of labor in the sun told a different story altogether.
After a moment of awkward staring between the two, the boy suddenly cleared his throat and bowed low, armor clinking and cape sweeping the floor.
“I am prince Aaron Stewart from the kingdom Magisteria,” he said clearly, making Call's eyebrows shoot up into his bangs. “And I have come to rescue Princess Tamara of the Rajavi kingdom from this tower of evil.” He peeked up at Call from under his fringe. “Uh...Your Majesty? I’m assuming?”
Hah, Your Majesty. Now that’s rich.
He sighed and said to him in a totally monotonous voice, “Rise, brave hero. You have traveled far during this Quest and have faced many dangers along the way. At this point in your journey you will hold council with the Dark Wizard of Old, the keeper of these grounds and the guardian of the fair princess you seek. Come forward, and face your destiny.”
Call said all of this while still upside down.
The prince approached the throne cautiously. There were way too many openings to kill him in that short span of time. He didn’t even have his sword out or anything. Call had to wonder what Magisteria was thinking sending an untrained child to face him. They must be getting desperate.
“Forgive my insolence,” the boy started, wringing at his stupid purple cape. “But...who are you? Where is the Dark Wizard?”
“Dunno,” Call said flatly. “Why don’t you check the parlor? Maybe he’s in there catching up on Keeping Up With the Kardashians .”
For his merit, the prince seemed to register that he was being sarcastic. He frowned and said, “Is the wizard even here? Why are you here?”
“ I,” Call sniffed. “Am Callum Hunt, guardian of the Castle Panopticon, Ruler of these magical lands, and...pretty much any other cool sounding title you can think of.” He yawned and waved an arm lazily. “Level seventy Dark Wizard of Old, at your service.”
The boy, Prince Aaron (prince stewart?) immediately tensed and placed his hand on his sword hilt. About time .
“ You’re the Dark Mage?,” he asked incredulously, which did absolutely nothing for Call’s self esteem. “But you’re...you’re like my age!”
The wizard didn’t bother to respond. The prince looked like his mind was working at a mile a minute. “ You’re the Dark Wizard. You’re the guy I have to defeat to finish the Quest.”
He nodded, getting irritated again.
“I...okay.” Prince Aaron looked a little harassed. “Great. Cool.” He cleared his throat and slipped his sword from its sheath and took a fighting stance.
“Villain,” he began and oh god not this again-- “I have come to retrieve the princess---”
“The princess is gone ,” Call exploded. He slapped a hand down. “My God, all of you heroes are ridiculous, I’ve literally been here for thousands of years! Did you really think the princess would stay young for that long?”
The prince blinked in shock. “W-Well I thought....since, you know, magic---maybe you were keeping her immortal or something?”
Call almost laughed. “Are you for real? The only immortal being here is me, and that’s only because of the stupid curse. Don’t you guys communicate with each other or something? Hold a monthly knight’s meeting at a round table? Princess Tamara ran off with Lady Celia eons ago, how do none of you know this?”
Now he looked downright sheepish, “I-I’m sorry, I’m kind of new to this.”
Could’ve fooled me , Call thought sarcastically. “Did you even learn anything before starting your journey? Don’t they teach you this stuff in school anymore? Or like, hero training?”
If there was one thing Call loved more than blasting these stupid heroes into the next life, it was tearing apart their self-esteem. None of them liked being made fools out of, but this one especially seemed to be really embarrassed about it. It almost made Call feel a little bad.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” he acquiesced. “Really, I am, but...if the princess isn’t here then why are you still here?”
“Why are you here?,” Call countered. “You’re like, what, eight? Why did your kingdom think it was a great idea to send you?”
Prince Aaron’s green eyes darkened. “That’s not really any of your business.”
“To answer your earlier question,” Call plowed through, “ I’m here because I can’t leave until someone defeats me. As you can see, that hasn’t happened yet. What about you, mister hero, you think you can take me on?”
The boy sighed. He lowered his sword. “To be honest I don’t really want to fight anymore,” he said. “I’m tired of fighting.”
The wizard placed a heartfelt hand on his chest. “ Same . How about you go home and drop this quest and we can forget all about this stupid battle, hm? I, for one, think that’s a great idea.”
“Or,” the other said. “We can still have a battle but not fight .”
“What?” Call squinted. “What are you selling now?”
Prince Aaron seemed to have found his confidence again. “You said that I’m supposed to hold council with you, not fight you. What if I choose something other than a battle of strength?”
Call raised both his eyebrows this time. “Then I’d say that you’re probably the smartest guy who’s come through here in the past millennium.” He stood and floated slowly over before stopping about a meter from the princeling, only mildly annoyed that he only came up to his nose even three inches off the ground. “However, you must still defeat me in some way. What battle do you choose, if not a test of strength?”
Prince Aaron was blushing again, strangely. Maybe Call was a bit too close. The blond cleared his throat and said, “How about a battle of wits?”
“A battle of wits,” Call dead-panned. “What.”
“You know, like---like a riddle!” He was getting flustered. “Or a puzzle of some sort.”
“Those are the same thing,” Call pointed out. “You want to defeat me with puzzles? ”
Call was about to laugh and just zap him right then and there to be done with it, but he suddenly got an idea. “Okay, Prince Aaron Stewart,” he began carefully. “I’ll give you a puzzle. If you solve it by tomorrow morning you will have passed your Quest. If not...” He let a slow smile spread across his face. “Then I’ll kill you.”
The Prince swallowed fearfully, but other than that betrayed no emotion. “I-I accept your terms, Great Wizard.”
Oho, so now he was great wizard, huh? The prospect of getting exploded to death suddenly made a guy a lot more polite.
Call nonchalantly floated backwards so that he sat upon his throne once again, closing his eyes. “Here’s your puzzle: Find my hat. You have until tomorrow.” He clapped his hands. “Begin!”
Silence. Prince Aaron continued to stare at him expectantly until he realized that he wasn’t offering anything more.
“....What do you mean find your hat?”
“I mean exactly what I said. Find my hat.” He peeked at him from one open eye. “It’s a black wizard hat with silver designs on it. I lost it somewhere on the castle grounds. Deliver it to me by sunrise tomorrow or die.”
Another pause. “Okay...where was the last place you put it?”
Call picked at his ear. “Well if I knew that , then I wouldn’t be looking for it, now would I?” He flicked the blob of earwax somewhere offscreen. “But the last time I had it...that would be about a hundred years ago, I think.”
“It’s been missing for a hundred years and you expect me to find it?,” he asked, annoyed. “That’s not even a puzzle!”
“Of course it is. It’s the best puzzle.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Chop chop. Time’s a’ wastin’.”
Call decided it was high time he got started on his breakfast. He rose up from his throne and stretched, basking in the small sliver of rare sunlight from the window as the boy-prince just kind of stared at him incredulously. Call summoned his breakfast from the kitchen.
As he chewed his sausage he mentioned briefly, “Oh, by the way, this castle has 500 rooms and 35 floors. Good luck.”
Chapter 2: We're Going On A Trip
“I just got attacked by a wolf,” he said as a way of greeting.
Call hummed. He took another handful of corn and held it out for the squirrels to feed on. “Did you find the hat yet?”
Didn't expect this to get so much attention the first day, wow! Here's the second chapter since I had it finished.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Call first had the curse placed on him, all he could think about was his crushing loneliness.
He thought he would get over it with time, that he would forget his mom and his dad and all his friends as the years passed. But he didn’t expect it to get worse, especially after Tamara left and he had absolutely no one to talk to. Heroes never stayed to chat. They came and went. Most of them died by his hand. It was all very depressing.
So he started to distract himself. He took walks. He tended to his garden. He even managed to befriend the woodland creatures in the surrounding forest. Being an immortal fourteen year old meant that you had to entertain yourself somehow . Call had more than enough time to teach himself new things. Gardening was his favorite past time at the moment.
And that’s exactly where the prince found him, tending to his garden.
“I just got attacked by a wolf,” he said by a way of greeting.
Call hummed. He took another handful of corn and held it out for the squirrels to feed on. “Did you find the hat yet?”
The boy huffed and gestured angrily at himself. “Obviously not .”
Prince Aaron was seething. His blond hair was covered in twigs and leaves like he’d rolled around on the forest floor. Even the shiny silver armor was distinctly missing from his person. Now he just had on a white tunic and riding pants, but both garments were clearly more well tailored than the average outfit.
Even like this he looked like your typical hero. Blonde, tall, athletic, good . Call felt himself frown. It wasn’t like he was jealous or anything, though. Definitely not.
He placed a finger on his chin and looked off into the distance. “Hm. Did you check the basement?”
“I checked every room in that castle. And I saw some questionable things in there that I’m not even going to mention. I even searched the forest!” He waved his arm around frantically. “I got attacked by a sentient plant. A sentient plant . Do you know what sentient means?”
Call stared at him. “Yes--”
“It means that it was alive! It almost ate me. A plant! ”
He suddenly slumped and sat down heavily on a nearby rock, burying his face in his hands. “What am I even doing. This is clearly hopeless.” He peeked up at Call between his fingers. “Maybe I should just go home.”
“Maybe.” He shrugged. “It’s almost sundown. If you don’t find the hat by then--”
“Then you’ll kill me. Right.” He swallowed. “How many heroes have you killed already?”
Call wasn’t expecting a question like that. He stood and then winced after applying too much pressure to his bad leg (Aaron either didn’t notice or had the social grace not to say anything). “I dunno. A lot. You start to lose count after the first hundred or so.”
Aaron nodded slowly. “And you don’t feel bad about it? I mean...”
“I’m a villain. It’s my job.” He picked up a nearby water pitcher and tipped it over onto a patch of Daffodils. “Besides, when you’ve been doing this every day for as long as I have you start to become desensitized.”
Aaron looked kind of angry. Call didn’t know why. It was a pretty simple concept to understand.
He asked,“What about you, Boy Wonder? How’d you end up on a Quest like this?”
The prince shrugged, still tense. “It’s...kind of a long story.”
“Meh. We’ve got like,” he looked at his imaginary watch, “Eight minutes before sundown. I’m always up for a good story.”
Aaron pursed his lips. He had a troubled expression on his face. “Well---”
Before he could continue, something large moved in the bushes behind him. Both boys startled.
“What--” Call started, before being shoved protectively behind the hero, who already had his sword brandished in front of him.
“Stay back,” he barked. His eyes were narrowed. “It’s the wolf. It must have followed me back here.”
“What,” Call said again, but then stopped when he caught sight of a gray snout, black and silver fur, jagged white teeth and blood red eyes---
“Havoc! ,” he screeched, knocking the prince to the ground with an “oof!” as he flew past him to throw his arms around the animal emerging from the underbrush like a shadow of the night. “There you are, you stupid mutt! Where have you been ?”
Havoc, the large gray Chaos Wolf, gave a pleased wuff and let his master climb all over him, tongue lolling and red-blue coruscating eyes darting around in excitement. Aaron groaned as he sat up, massaging his head.
“Is that your dog?,” he asked stupidly.
“Um, no, how dare you. He’s my familiar .” Call scratched lovingly between the wolf’s ears, earning another booming bark of contentment.
“I found him while I was searching for the hat,” Aaron explained. He looked a mixture of horrified and amused at Call’s antics. “He was stuck in a ditch a few miles into the forest. I helped him out and then he tried to eat me.”
Call couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the knowledge that his familiar had gotten stuck in a hole for a century, but he was mostly glad to have his best friend back. A few minutes later the mage suddenly remembered his manners and cleared his throat, turning to face the prince with what he hoped was a gracious incline of the head.
“Thank you, hero,” he said with forced politeness. “Your kindness will not go unwarranted.”
“No problem.” He still looked a little dazed.
Call frowned at his familiar. “I can't believe you fell in a ditch. I thought you ran off for good.”
Big hole, Havoc whuffed. Big, dark, cold. Couldn't see. But the tall puppy came and got me out! Happy! He suddenly perked up with his massive tail wagging dangerously and bounded over to the prince, who immediately scrambled to his feet.
Puppy! Havoc woofed, sniffing the prince with renewed enthusiasm. Tall yellow puppy! Hello!! Puppy!!
“Not a puppy,” Call said sourly, attempting to drag the wolf's snout away from the other boy. “Havoc, no , not a puppy . Leave him alone.”
“This is unreal,” the other boy was saying, attempting to keep the wolf from climbing him. “This is so unreal, Chaos wolves are supposed to be extinct”
Call stared. “No they’re not. My family has a whole bunch back at home.” He forgot that he hadn’t been at home for about three thousand years.
“Well I’m glad you found your...familiar.” The word seemed foreign on his tongue. “But I still need to find the hat before sundown. Do you have any suggestions to where it might be?”
Before he could respond, both boys noticed the shadows around them elongating, the air turning colder. The prince whipped around and stared at the setting sun.
Aaron’s face slowly drained of color. “Sundown,” he whispered. “Oh no.”
The two of them watched as the last vestiges of red sunlight disappeared behind the mountains, bringing forth a blueish hue to the forest. Aaron made a half-choked noise and slowly turned to face the dark wizard, hands shaking visibly.
“You...my time’s up, isn’t it?” His voice was calm, but his eyes were wide with fear. “Are you--are you going to kill me?”
Call almost smiled. Instead, he wordlessly pointed up.
Above the two boys, a paragraph of glowing white text had shimmered into existence in the wintery air. In the swiftly approaching darkness it cast an almost unsettling white glow across their faces.
Task: Locate Magical Garment Completed!
New Badge Added To Inventory!
Aaron dropped his eyes back to him as the text fizzled out, casting them in darkness once again. “But...how?”
With difficulty, Call got to his feet. He dusted off his hands and held them out, palms downward. A burst of magic crackled down his forearms and between his fingertips, surrounding the unconcerned wolf below him with magic darker than black itself. Chaos magic. Aaron yelped.
“What are you doing?!,” he yelled, then brandished his sword like he was going to do something. Call rolled his eyes. Humans were so dramatic.
Barely half a second later the smoke cleared and a sleek black hat was sitting contentedly where the wolf used to be.
Call picked up the garment and placed it on his head. “See? Hat.”
Aaron lowered his sword. “Right. Of course.” He looked a bit faint. “Do all Chaos Wolves turn into hats?”
“He’s my familiar ,” Call repeated in a “duh” tone of voice. “They shapeshift. I’m assuming that’s another thing they neglected to teach you in hero training?”
The other boy nodded, then shook his head, then placed a hand to his forehead and breathed . “I...I’ve never seen magic up close before...”
Never seen magic up close? Did he live under a rock or something? Whatever. Call adjusted his hat and tried to ignore the heavy feeling in his stomach. “Congrats. You’re the first hero to beat me in the past three thousand years. How’s it feel?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Good I guess?” An awkward pause. “To be honest I didn’t think I’d survive as long as I did. I’m just glad I’ll be making it home in one piece.”
Call felt...something. It almost felt like disappointment. For a second he’d forgotten that the boy would have to leave after this, just like every other hero before him.
It would be upsetting going back to that castle by himself. Alone. Well, not alone since he had Havoc again, but still...
Aaron said, “So...what about you? I beat you, right? Doesn’t that mean the curse is lifted?”
Call blinked. “I...guess so. Huh. I didn’t really think about that.” He lifted the sleeve of his robe and sure enough, the black curse-signifying mark that had been branded into his skin had faded. It was barely visible anymore.
“What are you going to do, then? Since you’re no longer immortal?”
Again, the wizard blinked. “I don’t really know,” he admitted. “I’ve been like this for so long...this castle is all I really have anymore. I have nowhere else to go.”
He didn’t know why he was telling the boy all of this. He half expected him to go “well, that sounds like a you problem!” and bop the fuck out of there without a second glance. What he didn’t expect him to say was:
“Oh. Well, you could always come with me.”
Call legitimately thought he’d had a seizure or something for a second there, because what . “What?”
“Well...” The prince scratched at his neck. He seemed nervous. “That was...kind of my initial goal. Travel to the Castle Panopticon and rescue the trapped damsel. They didn’t specify that the damsel had to be the princess per say---”
“ What? ”
“And since the princess isn’t here, that leaves you,” he finished with an awkward smile. “I mean, it makes more sense this way, I think. It explains why the King wants to see you so badly. Technically my Quest isn't fully completed unless you come back with me.”
Call was absolutely floored. “Why does the king want me? ” He took the smallest step back. “I don't have any treasure. I swear.”
That was a lie, but he wasn’t about to give all of his secrets away, no siree. Maybe they didn’t even want gold from him, maybe they just wanted to kill him. It wouldn’t be the first time some obscure king wanted him murdered for personal reasons.
Aaron frowned like he knew what he was thinking. “No no, nothing like that. He just wants to see you. Something about being old friends?”
Call choked. “ What? How old is--?”
“Listen, I don’t know all the details, I’m as much in the dark as you are. But I need this. I need to pass this Quest.” His green eyes bore into Call’s, desperate. “ Please , just trust me. Come with me.”
It wasn’t the standard Quest proposal, definitely, but the universe still managed to accept it as such, going by the customary glowing white text that suddenly appeared in the air above them.
Quest: Return to Magisteria
“What happens if I go with you?,” he demanded of the prince.
The boy shrugged. “A number of things. You could be executed on the spot for treason. We could be overtaken by bandits before we even reach the capitol....”
Call swallowed. “And if I stay?”
Aaron looked at him seriously. “Absolutely nothing.” He raised his eyebrows. “But that’s kind of boring, isn’t it?”
A pause. Both boys stared at each other in silence. This prince was truly peculiar. Nothing like any other sort of royalty Call had come across before.
“I like that answer,” he told him, then hit accept.
Quest: Return to Magisteria
Shorter than the last one, but don't worry. It'll pick up from here on out.
I may or may not add Jasper to this. We'll see.
EDIT: Yikes, tfw you upload the unedited version of the chapter. It's fixed now ( ་ − ་ )ུ
Chapter 3: Call Is Not A Fairy
“I think you’re right,” the first guy said, totally ignoring him. “Definitely a fairy. What should we do with it?”
“Eat it?,” one guy suggested and Aaron choked.
“No, no,” he said, much to Call’s relief. “We should sell it on the black market!” What.
I'm literally making this up as I go
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Okay so, we’re here,” Aaron said, pointing to a small red dot on his map as the Dark Wizard floated nonchalantly next to him above his head. “And we need to get...there.” He dragged his finger about six inches to the left.
“That’s Magisteria?,” the wizard (“Just call me Call, jeez”) asked, resting his head on his arms. He’d been levitating himself like that ever since they started their journey down the mountain and Aaron was starting to get some serious anxiety about it. “Why is it so big?”
Aaron didn’t know if he should be amused or terrified. The wizard was...strange, for lack of a better word. And rude. And kind of annoying, honestly. When Aaron had first seen him up on that throne that first day, all regal and ethereal-looking even upside down, he’d thought the boy was some kind of Fae creature. He definitely looked the part with his midnight colored hair and slightly pointed ears, but with the signature hat missing, he hadn’t really looked anything like a Dark Mage.
Now, though, now that he had his hat back and Aaron had seen exactly the kind of magic he was capable of first hand, he could definitely see the darkness hiding behind those silver eyes. And how uncaring he’d been when talking about the heroes he’d murdered these past few millennia? Gosh, it made Aaron shudder just thinking about it.
(One thing Aaron had noticed as they were packing to leave last night, was that the other boy really really liked coffee. Like, 75% of the bags he was bringing with him were just filled with instant coffee packets. The wizard hoarded the stuff like it was worth its weight in diamonds. And he was very particular about it, too. Aaron had strict orders not to touch any of it lest he wanted to die a most horrible and painful death.
“But how can you even ingest it?,” Aaron had asked with a curled lip. “Isn’t it like thousands of years old?”
Call rolled his eyes. “Preservation spell, duh.”
“Okay...so you can immortalize a million pounds of gross coffee but you can’t immortalize a princess. Sounds about right.”
The wizard flipped over in midair. He seemed to enjoy being upside down a lot. “Listen, humans and inanimate objects are two different things. Keeping a human alive when they should be dead? That’s called necromancy. I don't do necromancy, got it?”
Aaron hadn’t replied because, seriously? The kid was evil, it was literally in his official title, but he guessed even villains had to draw the line somewhere).
He was weird, but the boy was very pretty, which kind of balanced it out. Not necessarily mind-blowingly attractive, but he had an exotic look about him that Aaron wasn’t used to. His kingdom was mainly made up of fair-skinned, light haired people who were tall and well-fed. This boy was rail thin and medium-skinned, and practically drowning in the black robes he wore. It was different. A good different.
“Magisteria and Collegium merged about 300 years ago,” he answered Call’s earlier question while trying not to focus on how close the other boy was to him. “So now it’s just Magisteria.”
“So there’s only six kingdoms now? Wild.” He moved away and Aaron felt like he could breathe again. There was just something about him that put the prince on edge. Maybe it was the fact that the other boy could murder him easily if he so chose. Or maybe it was the unsettling silver eyes that traced his every movement. Or maybe it was his sly smile, the mischievous twinkle in his eye, the cute little freckles across his nose---
What the heck is wrong with you , he hissed in his mind. You can’t think like that, Aaron. He’s a boy. Stop.
He swallowed and faced forward. He shouldn’t be thinking about these things; not now, not ever. He had a mission to complete.
After a moment he glanced up at the wizard, who was humming a tune to himself. “When we do make it to town you have to stop doing that,” he told him.
A frown. “Doing what?”
He gestured vaguely. “You know, that. Floating. Magic .”
“Because it’s dangerous,” he explained patiently. “In some kingdoms people aren’t really used to magic.” Understatement of the century. “We don’t really know how certain people will react to seeing a magic user. It’s safer just to keep it on the down-low.”
Call seemed deep in thought. “I get it. Fine.” He didn’t look fine. He actually looked sort of worried.
For the second time that day, Aaron found himself wishing he knew what the other boy was thinking.
Call didn’t expect Questing to be this awkward.
He’d run out of things to talk to about an hour ago. And Aaron didn’t seem to want to talk to him much anyway. That equated to long periods of stifling silence between the two companions. It was unbearable.
At one point they passed a grove of blossoming trees. There were birds and other forest creatures bathing in a nearby ravine and the sun was shining down onto the grass and budding flowers. The peaceful scene was disturbed by another smattering of trees nearby, that had been smashed into the ground by a pile of big ass rocks. It looked like the aftermath of a battle. Call made an inquiring noise and pointed.
“What happened there?”
“Oh,” said the prince. “The checkpoint before yours. The cyclopes?”
Call felt his eyes widen, but kept it hidden under the brim of his hat. “You defeated the cyclopes?”
“Yes?” He shot him a weird look. “I thought all heroes that reached you had to defeat them first.”
Call nodded but that wasn’t the case at all, since the cyclopes were only activated if the hero coming to face Call had a particularly high skill level. Like a back up plan to make sure Call wasn’t in any real danger when the hero reached the castle.
The fact that this kid triggered the system with just him, his horse, and his sword was kind of terrifying.
“What level did you say you were again?,” he asked casually.
Without missing a beat Aaron said, “I don’t remember saying it in the first place,” and then spurred his horse forward with a soft kick of his heel.
Call got the message. Touchy subject, do not bring up a second time.
Twenty minutes later and Call was bored out of his mind. He’d been trying to do somersaults through the air, but had to stop once he got his hair caught in a tree branch. Aaron seemed content with ignoring him, although sometimes he would glance at him from time to time if he made a loud enough noise.
And what was up with that anyway? He was the one who invited him to come along, you’d think that he’d have some form of entertainment planned. Or like, even a deck of cards at least. But no, he just ignored him. Talk about a lousy host.
“Why do you always carry that sword around?,” Call asked rudely. He pointed at the purple and gold scabbard hanging by the prince’s hip. “You afraid we’re gonna get attacked by evil chipmunks or something?”
“Why do you fly everywhere?,” Aaron countered. “Don’t you get tired?”
Call crossed his arms. Actually, now that he thought about it, he was getting pretty tired. He’d unconsciously dropped about a foot in the air, too. Huffing, he removed his hat and let the familiar crackle of magic flow through his fingertips.
The prince tensed again, but Call ignored him, focusing all his attention on the hat, which was now twisting and elongating and growing fur right before his eyes. Two seconds and a lot of black smoke later, it was a horse.
Hello! Havoc whinnied, shaking his black mane and snorting. I am here! Hello! Horse!!!
“Good boy,” Call cooed, resting a hand on the mare’s head as he gently settled onto his back while Aaron just. Stared.
Carrots? Havoc asked, stomping his front feet in excitement. It’s been awhile since he was an equine. Please, Carrots? Yes? Call, carrots? Please!!
“Later.” He pat his head and did his best to ignore the obvious horror etched onto the Prince’s face. He couldn’t exactly blame the other boy. No matter what form Havoc was in, he still kept the red constellation-like eyes that all Chaos Ridden shared and, to be fair, a midnight black horse with fire red eyes and razor sharp teeth was extremely terrifying to look at.
They carried on, this time both on horseback. Call was starting to get pretty winded. The weather here was a lot warmer than up on the mountain and sweat was beginning to accumulate under his robes. No way he was taking off his cloak though, the thing had 150+ defense and attack power.
Not like he’d need to use it, really. Aaron obviously took care of all the checkpoints already. And they shouldn’t be resetting for another few days--
An arrow embedded itself in the tree next to Call’s head.
Havoc stopped trotting. Call stopped breathing.
“Um--” He turned, wide-eyed, to the other boy. Then more arrows started falling out of the sky.
“Shit! ,” Aaron cursed, pulling hard at the reigns and causing his horse to rear up with a loud whinny in protest. Three more arrows got buried in the dirt by her hooves. “Bandits! Ride ahead!”
He was off like a shot. Call scrambled to get Havoc moving too in the maelstrom of sharp objects landing around them. It didn’t help that the horse was completely panicking, red eyes rolling in fear.
He got him moving just as a group of men on horseback burst into the clearing, mouths and noses covered in red bandannas and crossbows already reloading for another attack. Call didn’t stick around to chat.
He pulled Havoc to a stop when they caught up with Aaron, who’d gotten off his horse for some reason. “Why’d you stop?,” he asked, confused. “What’s wrong?”
Aaron said, “They have us surrounded. We have no choice but to face them off.”
He pulled out his sword, the gold plating made the blade glow in the sunlight. “Get behind me!,” he told the wizard. “I’ll handle this.”
Call’s face soured as he dismounted. “Just because I’m technically the damsel by your Quest specifications doesn’t mean you have to treat me like one,” he said wryly. He held up a hand. “I can take care of them just fine--”
“No way, I told you no magic! If one of them sees you using it they’ll definitely kill you.” His eyes darted around as the group emerged from the trees and slowly advanced on them. “Just...pretend to be normal. Okay?”
“Normal ,” Call scoffed. “If I killed them first then there wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Shh,” he hissed. One bandit, a large man who didn’t even have his face covered like the rest of them, approached the two boys. His hair was brown and greasy, his face not in much better shape. The entire group looked pretty rough. Well, you probably had to, if you were going to be that low on the classing scale.
Before Aaron could move, or do much of anything really, the man struck out, fast as a viper, removed the prince’s sword, and had him immobilized on the ground. Call went down after a well-placed kick to his bad leg sent him sprawling.
“Wow,” he said sarcastically, cheek pressed to the dirt. “You sure did handle that well. I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“Oh, shut up,” Aaron groaned.
The man that knocked them down chuckled. He yelled over his shoulder, “Check their bags!” to his posse, then turned back to face the prisoners with a mocking smile.
“Well, what do we have here?,” he said, circling the two boys. He aimed a kick at Aaron’s side, who winced, but otherwise didn’t show any signs of pain. “A Hero and a...” He paused at Call. “What are you supposed to be? A fairy?”
Call’s hackles rose up immediately. “ What did you call me?!”
“I think it is a fairy, boss!,” one of the bandits exclaimed suddenly. “Look at its hair and skin! No other creature has coloring like that!”
“Coloring?! ,” Call spluttered. “I’m Hispanic!”
“I think you’re right,” the first guy said, totally ignoring him. “Definitely a fairy. What should we do with it?”
“Eat it?,” one guy suggested and Aaron choked.
“No, no,” he said, much to Call’s relief. “We should sell it on the black market!” What.
“Great idea, boss!”
“Yeah! Let’s sell it!”
“You’re so smart! We’ll make millions!”
“I am not a fairy ,” Call yelped, but they either didn’t hear him or didn’t care. One made a grab for him but he hissed and let his magic crackle between his fingers as a warning. “Hey, buddy, watch it---”
Aaron kicked him, hard. He yelped and the magic sputtered out. “Hey, what the--”
“Don’t .” His eyes were imploring. “You won’t need to. Just trust me.” Call opened his mouth to possibly cuss him out, but before he could, the Prince suddenly sprang up and tackled the nearest bandit to the ground.
While the other bandits were busy trying to subdue the prince, Call attempted to crawl away unnoticed. His plans were quickly foiled when he was suddenly grabbed from behind.
“I don’t think so, Fae,” the bandit snarled into his ear and Call immediately recoiled.
“Dude, you got some hot breath,” he wheezed, trying to kick out as his hands were bound behind his back. On the other side of the clearing Aaron had gotten his sword back and was currently fighting with three guys at once. It didn’t look too good.
Call called out to him uncertainly, “Uh, are you sure you don’t want me to--”
“No! ” Aaron shouted. “I can handle this myself! I can!” His eyes were a bit crazed.
“Doesn’t really look like it to me!,” Call shouted back, before his mouth was gagged with a dirty cloth. He glared at the bandits currently tying him up. Seriously?
While that was going on, Aaron moved sinuously as he fought, slicing tendons and immobilizing enemies without really killing them, fighting in a way that was somehow merciless and merciful at the same time.
Call couldn’t help but roll his eyes. Heroes .
“D-Don’t worry!,” Aaron yelled to him as more bandits rushed him and as others began to drag Call away. “I’ll come back for you! I promise!”
Call yelled back a few choice words which, muffled by the gag, came out as “hm-hM- HMPH! ”, and the next thing he knew, he was being hauled into the back of a caravan. The door closed shut, plunging him into darkness, and seconds later the unmistakeable sound of an engine started up.
Oh, he was definitely killing that hero when this was over.
Call rode in the back of the truck for what seemed like hours. Without any windows he had no idea where he was going. He could be all the way in Timbuktu for all he knew.
The worst part about this was that he couldn’t seem to use his magic (although the smell was a close second, definitely); the bandits must have used some sort of magic-nullifying agent on the caravan. Call didn’t know where the hell they got it from or how they’d had the insight to use it, but if there was one thing he was sure of, it was that Aaron was totally getting zapped as soon as he showed up.
They must’ve actually been riding for a few hours, because when the doors finally opened and Call was ushered outside it was already nighttime. But before he could even summon a single spark he was shoved into a large iron-wrought cage. A cage .
“Really?,” he asked, clutching the handle bars. “Is this really happening right now? Are you serious .”
“Don’t try any funny magick-y business, Fae,” one guy told him. “That cage is magic-proof.”
Call groaned so loud that it echoed throughout the bandits’ campsite. Just fantastic .
After a while the bandits started setting up the campfire. They laid out cots and pitched tents that looked a hell of a lot more comfortable than Call’s sleeping arrangements. They kept running into trouble about where to put his cage though. Apparently there wasn’t enough room for him.
“You know,” Call began conversationally. “This would be done a lot faster if you just let me go. I’m really weighing you guys down here.”
“Shut up before we gag you again,” the nearest one grumbled, and Call begrudgingly fell silent. This was so stupid. If Aaron didn’t get his ass over here within the next ten minutes Call was going to kill someone.
“Why does it have so much coffee? ,” one guy muttered to himself as he dug through his bags.
“Don’t touch that!,” Call spat, squirming around indignantly. “Hey, I said paws off, bucko. Yeah--I’m talking to you, put it down --”
“We need more firewood,” one of them said to the guy that Call assumed was the head honcho. “Should we send out a team?”
“Why even bother?,” the man grunted. “We have some stuff here that we can burn instead.”
And then, to Call’s horror, they began dumping all the packets of instant coffee into the bonfire.
“NOT MY COFFEE! ,” Call roared. He struggled against his bonds. “ AARON DO SOMETHING! .”
“Will you shut up already?,” Head Honcho shouted at him, banging a fist on the cage so hard that it rattled Call’s brain. “My god, if I’d known fairies were this annoying I wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place.”
Oh, fuck this.
“That is it!,” Call screeched. “The second I get out of here I’m personally tearing each and every one of your throats out with my teeth! Hey, where are you going--- don’t walk away from me! ”
“You know it wouldn’t be good to sell it,” one of the subordinates murmured to the Boss as the fairy continued to screech nonsensical threats in the background. “The rules say if we find any magical beings we have to turn them into the King--”
“And you know,” the man returned nastily. “That we are just as much illegal as some stupid little fairy. We turn it in, we get caught. Simple as that.” He took a deep inhale from his pipe. “I’d rather not get captured by the King. He’d have us executed. By Him .”
The subordinate shuddered, eyes fearful. “I thought that was only a rumor. Is it true what he does? His methods?”
“Oh, it’s the truth,” he assured him. “Just make sure you’re not caught and you won’t have to find out.”
While the two men continued to talk in hushed voices, Call was plotting a murder. A murder that involved the bandits, this cage, and the stupid, pompous, disgustingly heroic, blond-haired, green-eyed, handsome, son of a ---
“Call!,” a familiar voice called, and Call jerked up instantly. Could it be--?
Aaron burst into the clearing, on his horse, cape flying and brandishing his sword like some sort of avenging angel while every bandit in the vicinity yelled in surprise. An impressive entrance, but nothing compared to Havoc, who’d come storming in on his heels, jet black and spitting and absolutely lethal . The Chaos Ridden was so angry that chaos magic was bleeding off of his coat, making him appear like an illusion of smoke.
Call could honestly cry.
“For Magisteria!,” the prince yelled, then dove into battle. A crowd of bandits rushed him with a cry of their own. He parried and thrust, kicked and spun, jumped off his horse then continued to fight some more. Havoc was using his razor-sharp teeth to mow down every bandit that got in his way. Both were fighting well, but weren’t going where Call needed them to.
“Aaron!,” he yelled, pressing his body to the front of the cage. “The key! Get the key!”
“What?,” he shouted back, blocking someone’s sword with a quick parry then slicing the back of his heel open (He still wasn’t delivering any fatal blows? What did he think this was, Dragon Tales? This wasn’t the time for mercy, Call wanted blood to spill).
Thankfully, Havoc seemed to understand what he was getting at. He grabbed the key off the ring with his teeth and slipped it to Call through the bars, all the while huffing smoke out of his nostrils and pacing frantically back and forth neighing, Call! Call! Fight, kill! Save Call! Carrots??
It took a bit of jiggling, but as soon as Call was out, he tumbled to the ground with a loud, triumphant, “Yes!”
He could feel his magic coursing through his body, bright, powerful, alive . After being dormant for that many hours it was rejuvenating to have all of it rush back to him at once. Like a rush of pure adrenaline. Tendrils of black began to leak steadily from his fingers.
“Wait--” Aaron seemed to notice the change of energy in the atmosphere. His eyes went wide. “Call, no! Don’t kill them!”
“Don’t worry I won’t!,” he yelled back. The force of magical energy gathering in his palms was blowing his hair back and making his pupils wide and black. Dark. Evil. He was grinning maniacally. “Havoc will do it for me!”
All the bandits could do was watch in horror as inky black tendrils slid across the campsite towards the demon horse, before engulfing it in a cloud of absolute darkness that grew and grew with each passing second. Gigantic, midnight-colored wings emerged from the chaos, pointed towards the night sky.
An ear shattering roar shook the ground. Aaron dropped his sword.
“AHA!,” Call laughed hysterically, raising his arms up to the sky as Havoc, the friendly, lovable, blood-thirsty mother fucking dragon rose up on his hind legs and roared a second time, blue fire arcing into the air. “Rise my child, rise!”
It only took two minutes.
In the aftermath, after the bandits were all dead, after the entire campfire was burned to smithereens, Call and Aaron stood there, up to their ankles in ashes, in complete silence. There were still pockets of fire littered throughout the forest. A branch broke off of a tree and hit the ground.
“Um,” Call put a hand to his forehead. He had soot covering his face and hands. For the first time in 3 millennia, he looked positively shocked. “I might’ve...overdone it a bit.”
Aaron made a noise that managed to sound horrified, helpless, and resigned all at the same time. “Hmh. You think? ”
Havoc the dragon gave one last roar before his body began to bleed into an amalgamation of smoke and darkness. He morphed back into a hat and fell to the dusty ground.
Call slumped forward. Aaron quickly held him upright before he could hit the ground. “Hey, are you alright?”
“...Tired,” the wizard mumbled, gray eyes fluttering. “Used too much...magic. Out of mana.”
Aaron checked his stats and cursed under his breath. His health was perfectly fine, but his mana was indeed dangerously low. “How do we get it back up again?”
The wizard grumbled under his breath. “Stupid humans...don’t know anything.” With Aaron’s help, they managed to get him onto his horse, the poor thing was so spooked at this point that she was frozen stiff. “I need coffee.”
“Uh,” he glanced at the burnt packets littering the forest floor. “I think we’re out of coffee...”
“Well, I need it to increase my mana!,” Call slurred heatedly. “Why else did you think I brought so much?”
Poor Aaron shrugged helplessly. “I-I don’t know, I thought you just really liked coffee!”
Another few sentences grumbled under his breath. To Aaron it almost sounded like another language.
“When do we...reach the next town...”
He checked the map. “About a day’s time.”
Call huffed as his eyes shut. “We’ll...we’ll restock there.” Then he passed out.
Aaron adjusted the wizard so he lay more comfortably on the saddle, feeling more than terrible about the whole thing. If only he’d gotten there quicker. If only he’d stopped the bandits the first time. If only he weren’t so...so...
He sighed. Why couldn’t he ever do anything right?
Since I'm graduating tomorrow and I start working full time on Monday I probably won't be able to post for awhile, so I wanted to get this chapter out before then since people seem to really like it ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ
The fight scenes are short because I cannot write fight scenes. Also I have no idea where this is going.
Next up is: the Quest for coffee
Chapter 4: The Pied Piper
“A dragon,” he breathed. But it wasn’t just any dragon. It was a five headed dragon. A five headed dragon that was lifting its groggy heads and fixing glowing red eyes on the approaching Hero.
“Ohh....” Call said, followed by a loud expletive. “We are so dead.”
This took forever I'm sorryyyy
Also can I just say...that this chapter went in a completely different direction than I had planned. Like, I literally rewrote it during church this morning.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Call was miserable.
His leg ached. His head ached. Everything ached. It felt like he’d been hit by a semi and then attacked by vultures and then set on fire. Even his eyebrows hurt.
Running out of Mana is possibly the worst thing that can happen to a Mage. And he thought being without magic earlier yesterday was bad. Now it was worse, because instead of being unable to use it, he just didn’t have it. Which meant no flying. Which meant walking around on his bum leg and pretending like every step didn’t cause him excruciating pain.
It didn’t help that the weather had done a complete 180 in the past few hours. It was overcast and chilly while simultaneously humid and gross. Which, to be honest, perfectly reflected Call’s mood.
“We should probably bathe,” Aaron said as he walked alongside the horse that he’d so graciously given to Call when he’d noticed that he couldn’t walk that well. “You stink.”
The courageous, gentle, and kind Hero, Ladies and Gentlemen.
“Well, it’s not like you smell like daisies and rainbows either,” Call sniffed, but he couldn’t even really feel offended because, yeah, he definitely stunk. Both of them did. They were covered from head to toe in gunky black Chaos residue and dirt. And the ashes of their fallen enemies. You don’t even want to imagine what that smelled like.
But yeah, they definitely needed to find some place to wash off soon, because the stuff was starting to dry in places on Call that Chaos magic should never reach.
Eventually they made it to a river that wasn’t very big, but it would do the job. Before getting in though, Call paused and frowned.
“What’s wrong?,” Aaron asked.
Call dipped his hand in the water. It was cold and muddy and there were no fish to speak of. It looked...sick. Where was the Naiad that resided in the waters? Shouldn’t she be taking care of it?
Call straightened and wiped his hand on his robes, surveying the forest. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t seen any Naiads at all during this trip. Not a single Faerie or Dryad or Gnome either. This forest had no magical creatures in it whatsoever. It was eerily...empty.
“Nothing,” he said aloud to the prince. He started to disrobe, then paused, shooting a raised eyebrow at the other boy. “What, you waiting for a show or something?”
Call silently snickered to himself as the blond prince turned red and stumbled off quickly into the underbrush back to camp. He continued to slip out of his garments.
First went the hat, setting it aside on the grass. Then he took off his cape, his silver belt that held his dagger Semiramis, his silver-threaded black robes. He took his time with the last one, making sure to avoid accidentally swiping his bad leg with the rough fabric.
Call stared at his leg. He never liked to look at it for too long; the midnight black limb a stark difference from the rest of his skin. But he supposed it did its job, as a reminder of what he’d done.
He wiggled the blackened toes, ran a gentle finger up the soot-colored calf and stopped at an unblemished, medium toned knee. The skin was breaking off in places now, the appendage cracked and brittle with time. Chunks of it were already crumbled and missing like a ruined clay pot.
Thunder boomed overhead. Call shivered.
When he slipped into the water, he closed his eyes and tried his very best to forget a boy with blonde hair and silver eyes and a soul that pulsed with life until it didn’t.
But, as always, it didn’t work.
It was beginning to rain by the time they rode into town, soft sheets of it coming down at random intervals. Call held his hat tightly down and hunched his shoulders, frowning. His hair was going to suffer big time in this humidity.
Weirdly enough, there was no one there to greet them as they crossed the town’s borders. Actually, there weren’t any people in the town at all . By the looks of it, it seemed to be a fishing port of sorts, with a gray ocean churning in the distance.
The horse’s hoofsteps echoed loudly against the empty cobblestone streets. There were no children, no animals, no music. And on top of that, a thick white fog was permeating the air and making it nearly impossible to see what was coming from where.
“Alright,” Call said, breaking the silence. “I’m not the only one who finds this town extremely creepy, right?”
Aaron didn’t respond. He looked troubled. “It wasn’t like this when I came through the first time. Where did everyone go?”
“Maybe they died,” Call shrugged, but it didn’t seem like Aaron enjoyed that observation. Pretty soon, though, they started to hear far off voices. It sounded like it was coming from the town’s square.
They soon found a crowd of people surrounding a stage that had been erected for some sort of event. Call dismounted as they got closer and held onto the horse’s saddle for support. No one paid them much attention.
A man wearing a golden colored sash was up at the soapbox, speaking into a microphone to the crowd below. There were three other people up there with him, and all four of them seemed to be arguing.
“Your methods are what’s ruining this town!,” said one of the men, and the crowd roared its dissent. People were stomping their feet and yelling out insults. Like a very angry mosh pit.
“What’s going on?,” Call mumbled aloud.
“It’s a town meeting,” a voice replied from his left, and Call turned to face a tweedy-looking boy with brown hair and startlingly blue eyes. “You must be new here. We don’t get many out of towners.”
Call nodded. “We’re just passing through,” he said, hooking a thumb over at the prince. “I’m Call, this is Aaron.”
“Drew,” introduced the boy. He seemed younger than them, maybe around eleven or twelve, and marginally poorer, going by his tattered clothes. And was he cold, or just shivering from nerves? Whatever the case, the boy looked pretty pathetic. Call almost felt bad for him. Almost.
“If we send out any more of our men, Hamelin will suffer,” barked one of the men on the stage. He had a beard and ratty clothes, not unlike Drew’s.
“And what do you suggest we do?,” replied the cool tone of whom Call assumed to be the Mayor. “Stand by and let all our cattle be eaten? We’ll all be dead by starvation by next winter.”
Mumbling from the crowd. Call shot a look at Aaron, who looked just as confused.
“A beast of sorts has been spotted in the cove near the town’s edge,” Drew explained to him in a whisper. “It attacks at night and steals our livestock and fish.” He wrung his hands together. “We’ve been trying to send out teams of men to vanquish the beast, but none ever return.”
“You’re running out of people to send,” Call guessed, and the younger boy nodded. Which was to be expected. If the “beast” or whatever really was that strong, it was useless to send ordinary townspeople out to fight it. Strength by numbers meant nothing against a being of level fifty or higher. They needed someone with training. They needed a Hero.
“Welp,” Call said, shrugging. “S’not my problem. Come on, Aaron, let’s go find where they keep the coffee.”
But when he turned to grab the other boy, he wasn’t there. Dreading the worst, Call looked up at the stage.
“I’ll go,” Aaron declared, bending on one knee in front of the mayor while the crowd hushed in awe (no one paid attention to Call, who’d yelled out a very irritated, “Really? ” and threw his hands up in the air in disbelief). “If you’ll accept me, that is.”
No one said anything for a moment, clearly still in shock. The mayor was the first to recover. “What is your name, boy?," he asked.
Aaron straightened to his full height, which was really something with the added leverage up on that stage. “I am Prince Aaron Stewart from the kingdom of Magisteria, conqueror of giants, ogres, gremlins, and the Dark Wizard of Old-”
(Call flipped him a very inappropriate hand gesture from the crowd)
“-and I am willing to take on another challenge to help the people of this town. And with the help of my assistant,” He pointed at Call, who froze and shot Aaron a panicked look that clearly read “Don’t bring me into this!” as everyone turned to stare at him, “I will vanquish this mighty beast once and for all.”
Whispers of “hero” went throughout the crowd, like the whispered name of a god. Call gagged.
“Very well,” said the mayor. And then, to Call’s horror, a small blurb of words appeared both over Aaron’s and his head.
Quest: Defeat the Unnamed Beast
Aaron hit accept before Call could say otherwise.
“Then it is decided,” said the mayor. He nodded at him and Aaron. “Best of luck to you both.”
“Thank you,” said the prince graciously. When he descended down the steps, the crowd parted like the red sea. Call tried not to smack him over the head in front of everyone.
“What happened to our coffee escapade?,” he demanded. “You’re just going to put it off for this stupid side Quest? What about me? Why do you even care?”
Aaron grabbed him by the arm and started tugging him towards the beach, while Call squawked indignantly. He said, steely serious, “I know you’re a villain and everything and you don’t care about the well-being of other people, but you don’t need to be a jerk.”
His mouth snapped shut. Well.
Aaron finally let him go once Call stopped struggling and the two continued down the path to the beach. The mayor had given them a very crudely drawn map to help them get to the general vicinity that they believed the monster was residing in, so the boys followed it.
It was a pretty difficult path to follow, though. The beach was rocky and had a lot of cliff faces that were covered in slippery saltwater. Aaron easily hefted himself up and over rocks like it was no big deal. Call huffed as he launched himself over the ledge, wincing as his leg banged against the rocks. Aaron reached down and pulled him up, which was actually very nice of him. He even kept a steady hand on Call’s shoulder to make sure he didn’t fall off.
“You okay?,” he asked. His green eyes were studying him in concern.
Call swallowed. “Yeah.”
He hated being so useless. He just hoped they could get this over with so he could fill up on Mana again.
Eventually they came upon a large cove nestled between expertly arranged jagged rocks. The ocean's waves churned against the side of the cave, but the entrance was facing the two boys as they climbed over the rocks.
It wasn’t until they got closer that Aaron saw it, its scales blending in seamlessly with the grayish blue hue of the ocean. The beast. It was...
“A dragon,” he breathed. But it wasn’t just any dragon. It was a five headed dragon. A five headed dragon that was lifting its groggy heads and fixing glowing red eyes on the approaching Hero.
“Ohh....” Call said, followed by a loud expletive. “We are so dead.”
The monster made a rumbling noise and rose to full height, stepping fully out of the cave. It was so big that Call and Aaron looked like ants in comparison. It was so big that it looked like it was moving in slow motion.
“Aaron,” said the wizard carefully, unconsciously moving closer to him. “Please tell me you’re above level twenty, at least. Because without my magic I can’t defeat this thing.”
Prince Aaron Stewart of Magisteria, Level 2 Hero, 100 Health
Callum Hunt, Dark Wizard of Old, Level 75 Mage, 100 Health, 0 Mana
The Unspeakable Beast, Level 45 Boss Monster, 100 Health, 88 Poison
“YOU’RE ONLY LEVEL TWO?!,” Call shouted, and Aaron flinched hard, like he’d been punched in the gut. “Are you serious? ”
The dragon roared with all heads, the sound brain-rattling and horrible. In one mouth greenish goo-like poison dripped from its teeth. In another mouth sparks of fire began to form.
Aaron was paralyzed for just a moment, then shook his head, water flying off of his blond curls. “T-That’s not important right now. What’s important is defeating this monster.”
He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. He’d hoped that the wizard would never find out about his true level. But if he had to prove his worth to him, then so be it.
He needed to prove he could do this.
“Wait!” Call started, “Don’t--”
But Aaron didn’t listen. With a yell that only managed to sound a little bit squeaky, he charged the dragon head on. All five of its heads came streaking towards him, but he dodged in the last second, rolled to avoid another strike, then came up on his feet just in time to jump away from a huge glob of acid. Vaguely, he could hear Call screaming encouragement at him in the background.
“I swear to God Aaron if you die from this I’m bringing you back from the dead myself and shoving a rusty spork up your --”
Okay, maybe not encouragement. Definitely not encouragement.
He avoided another spit of poison and ducked when the heat of a too-close encounter with a burning pillar of flame nearly scorched off his eyebrows. He didn’t even have time to think about how he’d survived this long or how he hadn’t even been injured yet, but he chalked it up to adrenaline.
Finally, he spotted an opening. While he’d been dodging, he’d been keeping a close eye on the dragon and discovered a blind spot between two of its heads. Without waiting any further, he shot forward, green eyes narrowed in concentration, sword brandished above his head.
The first head sliced off with a wet sounding schlock!
“Oh my god,” he heard Call say in the background as the dragon screeched loud enough to send seagulls flying. Blood dripped from the wound slowly, but Aaron was already moving. As the dragon writhed around in agony, distracted, Aaron took this chance to launch himself up, spin in midair, and then hack off another head.
“Oh my god ,” Call said again.
Another head went off and plopped into the sea. Then another. Aaron was sweating underneath his helmet, but he’d never felt more energized in his life. No, he felt more than energized; he felt invincible. Untouchable. Heroic .
With a final war cry and a rather complicated maneuver with his sword, he managed to block a column of fire, use the momentum to propel himself up and over, then swung blindly behind him as the head turned backwards and geared for another attack.
The attack never came. The head flopped onto the sand, along with its brothers. Aaron landed deftly besides the carnage with his cape fluttering in the wind, blond hair smoking a bit at the tips, but otherwise perfectly fine.
“I...I did it.” He stared wide-eyed at his sword. The golden swirls were marred by the heavy green blood, but not even the dragon’s poison could destroy a weapon that powerful. “I did it. I did it! Call, did you see that?! Did you--”
When he turned around the wizard wasn’t celebrating. He was watching the dead dragon’s form grimly. “Prince Aaron Stewart,” he declared flatly. “You are the biggest dumbass I have ever encountered.”
Before he could even ask, there was a rumble. The supposedly dead body beneath him began to shudder.
“That wasn’t a dragon, you absolute walnut,” Call continued. He slowly backed up. “That was a Hydra . Ring any bells?”
He wracked his brains, trying to come up with every Hero story he’d been taught before his Quest. “That was the monster Heracles fought,” Aaron murmured, backing off as well. The squirming neck stumps of the creature began to rise and bubble and swell, the animal standing on all four legs. “And Percy Jackson, too, I think.”
He nodded. “When you cut off one head, two more grow back.” Call shot him an unamused look. “Congratulations, you’ve just made our situation literally twice as worse.”
The now ten-headed dragon let out an ear-splitting roar that knocked both boys onto their butts.
Call watched as Aaron rushed the Hydra a second time, mind racing as he attempted to come up with a plan that involved, preferably, both of them making out of this alive. He came up with nothing.
He was still reeling from the reveal of Aaron being a freaking level 2 hero this entire time, which was so wild and unexpected that Call wasn’t even sure if he was awake right now. Or, maybe that was it. Maybe he was still dreaming. Maybe if he closed his eyes and wished himself away from this situation it would come true.
Aaron yelled as his sword was knocked from his hand and a particularly large glob of poison landed dangerously close to Call’s already smoking robes. Nope, definitely not dreaming.
He needed to think of something fast. If he didn’t do something soon the Hydra was going to kill Aaron and then Call and then Call was going to be reborn again with his stupid curse and have to do everything over again. Talk about a nightmare.
He hated being useless. He hated this stupid leg and this stupid curse and not having his stupid Mana. He hated that he couldn’t do anything to help. Even now, as the Hydra’s heads all leaned in towards the prince, teeth bared and red coruscating eyes wide with fury-
Wait. A Chaos Ridden?
Without wasting a second, Call ran in front of Aaron, arms spread wide and shouted, “Wait! ”
The Hydra paused. Aaron clutched the back of Call’s robes in a tight grip and hissed, “What are you doing? ”
“Child of darkness,” Call spoke clearly, completely ignoring the prince behind him. “I command you to cease attacking us at once. Obey the will of your creator!”
It took a moment, but the Chaos-Ridden Hydra’s eyes slowly cleared of the glass-like quality it had before. For the first time, it seemed like the creature was actually looking at them.
My...My Lord , it spoke in a deep hissing voice that echoed with each head. Forgive this simple creature. I have lost myself.
“That’s alright,” Call told him, while Aaron looked at him like he was totally insane. “An outside party may have affected your thinking. Do you recall anyone coming down here recently that wasn’t a Hero or one of the people from the town?”
The Hydra’s heads relaxed. It tilted one of them at him. It is a bit fuzzy , it admitted. But there was a young man here before. I tasted magic on his skin. It did not taste good, not as good as humans do.
With that thought lodged in its heads, it focused on Aaron again with a clear hunger in its gaze. Master, if I may ask, who is that delectable prince you have accompanying you?
He batted Aaron’s arm until he was behind him, so he could properly shield him from curious red eyes. “This is Aaron. He’s from Magisteria.”
“Why are you talking to it?,” Aaron whispered harshly from behind him. “Can you understand it?”
“Shh!,” Call shot back.
If Call didn’t know any better he’d say that the Hydra, which was watching their little exchange, had raised ten imaginary eyebrows. The Prophecy is true, then, it mused, Hm.
“What’s your name?,” Call asked quickly. Distracting this thing was probably a good idea. He couldn’t exactly have him eating Aaron.
The monster swiveled all twenty of its coruscating eyes on the wizard. A forked tongue darted out. I am the unnamed one, the wisest one, the all-knowing one. I have no purpose but to serve my lord, therefore I have no name .
“Hm.” He put a finger to his chin. “Then you’ll be... Warren.”
“Warren?,” Aaron murmured, but the Hydra perked up its many heads in delight.
The glowing words corrected themselves in the muggy air.
Warren the Hydra, Level 45 Boss Monster, 76 Health, 67 Poison.
Warren, it hissed. Yes, Warren likes this name. Tastes good. But not as good as prince meat.
“No Warren, no prince meat. Focus.” He held up his hands in a placating gesture but the animal flinched back instinctively. Chaos magic. Right. He continued, “You said something about a prophecy? Could you elaborate more on that please?”
Next to him Aaron sucked in a large breath between his teeth. He looked pale. Before Call could ask, the Hydra was speaking again.
Warren would like to tell his most Refined One the answer, but it is not Warren’s place to do so. Warren would suggest to look in a different place for the answer. A place that may seem closer than you think.
“Your cryptic words are both mysterious and unhelpful,” Call told him sincerely. “Truly magnificent.”
Warren is just trying to help, but also he cannot, because he is not allowed to. Wow, great. But if there is anything else his Master would need of him, Warren would do so without hesitation.
“Well,” Call said, tapping his chin. He remembered Aaron’s earlier words. Just because he’s a villain doesn’t mean he needs to be completely evil all the time. “If you could stop stealing the townspeople's fish and cattle and stuff and stop killing everyone, that’d be pretty swell.”
Of course, Master, Warren said humbly. Even though Warren doesn’t remember doing any of that in the first place. But Warren will be honored to help his Master.
“Great!” He clapped his hands together and turned to Aaron. “Well, looks like we’re done here!”
Aaron stared at him. He looked like he wanted to be shocked, but had resigned to the fate of being the one constantly surprised all the time. He said, “But we didn’t even defeat the beast!”
“So? We made a diplomatic agreement with it.” That should count for something, right?
“But we don’t have proof. Who says that they’ll believe us?”
Call huffed through his nose pointed to one of the severed heads on the ground, addressing the monster. “Can we take this?”
The Hydra made a pleased rumbling noise in all of its throats. Warren would be honored, very much indeed.
“Sweet.” Call waved Aaron over. “Put that in your bag and we'll head out.”
“Wait, you want me to what?”
They bickered about it for ten minutes while Warren settled down on all fours watched on in interest.
“But it’s still dripping poison!,” Aaron whined for the twentieth time.
“But it's still dripping poison!," Call mocked in a high pitched voice. "You're such a baby. You can't even pick up a decaying monster head and yet you call yourself a hero. Despicable.” He said all of this while rolling up his sleeves in preparation and Aaron quickly shifted his gaze skywards as the wizard bent down. Even though he couldn't see what was going on, he could hear it, which was probably just as bad.
Once the noises stopped, Aaron braved a tiny glance downwards and saw Call standing there with the Hydra’s head wrapped up in his cloak like a makeshift swaddle. You could still see the tongue hanging out from a gap in the fabric and it was still dripping green goo, but he did a pretty decent job, regardless.
The dark-haired boy shot him a curious and mildly disgruntled look. “When this is all over,” he said firmly. “You and I are going to talk.”
When they made it back into town and Call slammed the dead Hydra head onto the ground in the middle of the town’s square, the reaction had been instantaneous. Under the guise that they’d “defeated” the monster, the entirety of Hamelin rejoiced and threw a huge party in their honor. The boys were promised free housing, a feast, and, yes, you guessed it, coffee.
Call couldn’t have been happier.
Nighttime. Witching hour. Drew slipped away from the festivities and tugged on his cloak, streaking past the unaware citizens as he darted off towards the sea.
He took the same path as the heroes had earlier, hopping over seashells and climbing over jagged rocks to make it to his destination. Soon, he stumbled upon the cove and removed his hood as he approached the quickly awakening Hydra.
The beast growled as he came closer and stood to its full height, each head rising and hissing as it geared up to attack. Before it could, though, a sharp note tore through the air.
It was a flute. A simple, soft trill of pipes that echoed throughout the chamber. The Hydra froze and all twenty of its eyes turned glassy. Glowing blue musical notes appeared out from the darkness of the cave and snaked along the ground, wrapping tightly around the Hydra’s scales and gently pulling it downwards into a submissive position. The animal let out a sigh and closed its eyes, perfectly sated.
Drew walked past the now sleeping monster, further into the cave.
A lone figure was sitting on one of the rocks against the far wall, legs crossed. A vibrant blue cape and robes with golden threading, high-toed boots with gems along the heels. A pointed hat that sat upon brown curls, the brim covering cunning blue eyes.
And a long, golden pipe that he held to his lips as he softly played a tune.
“Brother,” Drew greeted.
The figure stopped playing. The glowing blue notes gradually vanished along with the song.
“Drew,” replied the other. He smiled, but it wasn’t a nice smile. It was full of wickedness and trickery. He said, “Tell me, is it true? It truly is him?”
“I have no doubts,” he said confidently. Gone was the nervous boy in the town’s square. Here was his true self: the brother of the Reaper, the Bounty Hunter. The Executioner. He smiled softly to himself. “He carries a magnificent magical energy with him. Do you suggest we kill him now and get it over with?”
“Not yet,” the other said quietly. He seemed deep in thought. “Father would want the final say, I’d guess. It wouldn’t do good to defy him now.” He went quiet.
“Alex,” said Drew. “What are you thinking?”
Alex thought for a second more, then smiled as his fingers ghosted along the divots of his flute, already forming a plan. “First," he told him. "We lie and wait for the perfect moment. And then, when they least expect it, we’ll strike.”
The pun was unavoidable, I'm sorry
Also I attempted to answer some questions...but I think I created more in the process. Oh well.
Chapter 5: Not What He Seems
“I know your intentions, Aaron Stewart,” said The Seer and her hair floated upwards out of her face, revealing a ghoulish expression. “And I do not approve.”
I'm not even going to acknowledge how long it's been. Please accept this long ass, wordy chapter as compensation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Mother was running away.
"Mama, where are you going?,” Aaron asked from the doorway, still in his nightgown. He had his hand me down teddy clutched in his tiny five-year-old grip, but he’d been awoken by loud crashes and yelling from down the hall and had gone to investigate.
Mother paused in her packing, turned to look at her son with red-rimmed eyes. Her normally flower-braided blond hair was messy and hanging about her shoulders. As he continued to stand there, she stared at him, frozen, eyes glazed over like she wasn’t actually seeing him at all.
“Mama?,” he asked again, and she made an aborted movement, then finally looked at him. In two powerful strides she crossed the room and clutched her son’s tiny hands in hers. Her green eyes bore into his with a strange intensity.
"I can’t stay here anymore,” she told him quickly. Her voice shook. “Baby, Daddy did something very bad and had to go away. Some people are going to try and take me away too, so I have to go, okay?”
He didn’t understand. “What did Daddy do? Where are you going?” When she didn’t respond, his lip started to tremble. “Can I go too?”
“No, baby. I’m sorry.” She kissed his hair, touched his cheek, like she was trying to memorize every aspect of his face. Then she touched the back of his neck, fingers skittering across the raised and burnt flesh like she was afraid to touch it.
"As long as you have this, I will be with you, always,” she told him, and he felt the back of his neck pulse in response. “You will do great things, Aaron. I love you.”
And then she was gone.
Aaron awoke with a start, breathing hard, crying, and with his mother’s face fresh in his mind.
Moonlight shone through the window. Aaron had a brief moment where he didn’t know where he was, and he started to panic, but then he remembered defeating the Hydra, the celebrations that took place in their honor afterwards, and the small hotel room that had been awarded to them for free by the thankful townspeople. He was fine. He was safe.
After a moment, his breathing subsided and he relaxed the grip he had on his heart, unaware that he’d clutched it in his sleep. On the opposite bed Call was snoring loudly, arm thrown across his face. Through the blur of tears Aaron could see his chest rising and falling softly, obviously still deeply asleep. Good.
He took another breath. Then another. Underneath the high collar of his tunic, the spiral on the back of his neck pulsed softly in tandem with his heartbeat, warm and stagnant even after all these years, but he supposed that was part of his mother’s promise. As long as he had it, she would be with him forever. No matter what.
He closed his eyes.
He didn’t have any other dreams that night.
A couple of hours later, he was awoken by a toe poking his cheek.
“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” a voice said grumpily, and he opened his eyes to find Call there, staring down at him sourly. His black hair was mussed up from sleep. “You know, for a Hero you’re kind of a bum.”
Aaron sat up and winced, rubbing his spine. For some reason he was on the floor. He must’ve rolled off the bed in the middle of the night again.
“What time is it?,” he asked groggily.
“Right. Lemme just check my handy dandy pocket watch,” Call said sarcastically, pushing up his sleeve to look at his bare wrist. “It’s about...five minutes past Get Your Ass Up O’ Clock.”
Aaron ignored him. “What are you wearing?”
Call scowled at him, which Aaron thought was unfair since it was a pretty valid question. And if the other boy thought that prancing around the room in a pair of sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt with the words “funky girl” written across the front in hot pink cursive wasn’t out of the ordinary, then he needed to get his life re-evaluated.
“My pajamas,” the wizard told him.
He squinted. “Did you steal those from someone else’s room?”
“What? Of course not. What do you take me for, some sort of criminal?” The Prince, wisely, did not answer this. “Anyway, I thought I’d wake you up before you sleep the day away. There’s breakfast downstairs in the tavern.” He limped over to the door and called over his shoulder, “So get up, I want pancakes.”
The door closed behind him. Aaron carefully rose to his feet and stretched, wincing when his back popped. He needed to get back on track with his training regimen.
Deciding to forgo his armor and cape today, Aaron pulled on a loose white tunic, a purple vest embroidered with golden swirls, and black pants and socks instead; which was, unfortunately, the simplest outfit he owned. Hopefully Call wouldn’t make fun of him.
He looked in the mirror. A regal prince stared back at him, confident, straight-backed, and most importantly, heroic. But beneath all of that, a young, scared boy was stood in his place, inexperienced and too deep into something that he shouldn’t have been involved with in the first place. He pressed his palm against the glass.
“Hey, Cinderella, let’s go! ,” Call’s annoyed voice floated into the room, and Aaron quickly dropped his hand and made his way downstairs.
“So,” Call said once they were seated at a table. He leaned in on his elbows. “Level 2 Hero. I just have one question: how?”
To be honest, a crowded restaurant probably wasn’t the best place to be having this conversation, but Call wanted answers and he wanted them now .
Aaron took awhile to answer. He looked downright miserable. This whole ‘not being a legitimate Hero’ thing was probably a huge ego killer.
He said, “I don’t really know what to tell you. I didn’t have a lot of training before they sent me off on this Quest. It was kind of a last minute thing.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he argued. “If you’re a level two Hero, how did you even make it to Panopticon Castle? How did you defeat all of the monsters and complete all of the tasks before making it to my checkpoint?”
“I don’t know, luck?” Now he just looked mad. “Look, if it’s a problem for you-”
“It’s not,” Call told him. Aaron didn’t look like he believed him. “It’s really not. I’m just...worried that this Quest will be too much for you to handle.”
His face darkened. “Well, I’ve gotten this far, haven’t I?”
Call just kind of stared at him. It made you wonder how a kid like Aaron, a prince no less, got tasked with doing something like this when he clearly wasn’t prepared for it. Was Magisteria really that desperate to get Call? And if so, why? He had so many questions. He wanted to ask all of them.
But he stayed quiet.
Aaron stabbed into his pancake like he was trying to make sure it was dead. Call eyed him warily. “You okay there?”
“Fine,” he gritted out. He chewed violently and stared out the window. “We should probably stock up on supplies before we head out again. We won't reach the next town for at least a week or so.”
“Okay.” A tense silence settled over the table. Neither boy seemed to want to look at each other.
Havoc interrupted the growing awkwardness by suddenly landing on the table, making Aaron jump. This morning he’d asked Call to transform him into a cat so he could go “hunting”. Call hadn’t really known what he meant, but now, as he deposited a dead bird onto Aaron’s plate (and looked totally pleased about it), he understood.
Good protein will make the tall puppy grow big and strong , Havoc meowed, while headbutting Aaron’s chest like what he’d just done wasn’t the worst thing ever. Birds are good protein. They will give you flight powers.
“I'm almost certain that's not how that works,” Call said, shooing the cat off the table while Aaron just kind of sat there in frozen disbelief with his hands raised in front of him, trying to both avoid looking at and touching the dead bird. Call pointed at the plate. “Hey, are you going to finish your pancakes?”
Later on, the two boys decided to go shopping in the town’s market-place for items before they set off and continued their Quest. They got basic things like food and clean water, and Call even bought a thermos for his coffee (which might've been the best and worst investment of this entire trip so far), while Aaron got some polish for his sword. It's not like they couldn't afford it. With both of their Gold combined, they could practically buy out an entire kingdom.
The only hiccup they ran into was at Starbucks, where Call decided was the perfect place to get some quality, healthy, non-GMO liquid death. Unfortunately, the barista wouldn’t let him buy out the entire store’s supply of coffee, which quickly developed into an Issue™.
Multiple threats and a shouting match later, (that ended with Aaron physically dragging the wizard out onto the street by the back of his robes as he hurled insults at the poor terrified barista) Call left the store with only two boxes of instant coffee and a tattered ego. Going by the look on Aaron’s face, he had no sympathy.
Around three o’ clock the two of them were finished shopping and decided to take a walk around the town for a bit, since they still had a couple of hours to kill. Eventually they stumbled upon a little trinket shop near the hotel and Call abruptly stopped in front of it.
He announced, “I want a souvenir,” then walked into the store. Aaron had no choice but to follow him.
The only other person inside the store besides them was a teenage girl behind the checkout counter who looked like she’d honestly rather die than have to help another customer. When Call walked in, she gave him a look full of such pure loathing and disgust that it was almost impressive.
But then her eyes widened when she caught sight of Aaron. And then- get this- she straightened up and threw him the biggest smile ever, completely transforming into a different person.
“Hi! Welcome to Ye Old Trinkets and Things! My name is Gwendolyn,” she said in the fakest, high-pitch voice known to man. “But you can call me Gwenda.” This was directed at Aaron, who turned a little pink. Oh god .
“What can I do for you boys today?,” she asked, even though she clearly only had eyes for the blond prince. Call almost gagged.
“We’re just looking, thanks,” said Aaron. He avoided her intense gaze while the two of them walked around the store and peered at the various toys and sculptures and other bargain items.
There wasn’t really anything particularly exciting, which was kind of disappointing. Call was about to leave the store when something caught his eye in the next aisle.
It was a tiny china doll, maybe about the size of a hairbrush, with a glossy finish and delicately crafted features that looked a little too realistic to be on a doll. It was wearing a red and gold dress with beautiful detailing, and its eyes were closed. With its dark hair and skin, it kind of looked like-
Aaron grabbed him by the arm and pulled him aside. “Don’t steal anything.”
Call scowled at him. “You’re not the boss of me.”
A warning look. “Do you want to get thrown in jail before we even make it to Magisteria? No? Then behave.”
“You boys are from Magisteria?,” the store clerk asked, materializing next to Aaron like a ninja in the night. She bat her eyelashes. “You’re pretty far from home. Are you staying for long?”
The wizard came very close to telling her to go away, but Aaron beat him to the punch. He said, “We’re just passing through town. We’re leaving tomorrow.”
An unnecessarily exaggerated pout. “Aw, that’s too bad. Well, let me know if you need anything. I’ll be right over here.”
Aaron threw her a million watt smile and this time Call actually gagged, sound effects and all. The prince kicked him. “Thank you, miss.”
This seemed to please her, and she flounced back off to the cashier desk. Call turned to the other boy with the world’s biggest shit-eating grin stretched across his face.
“Oh, gosh golly, thank you miss!,” he mocked in the worst impression of a southern accent. “Gee whiz, a little ol boy like me doesn’t know how to properly thank a lady like you! Why, I’m just redder than a tomato in the spring.”
“Do you ever shut up?,” Aaron huffed, but his cheeks were red with embarrassment. “Let’s just go already.”
Call was about to agree and follow him out of the store, but his eyes fell back on the little doll sitting serenely on the shelf. It really did look like her. He wondered if it was a relic from before. It surely looked like it.
Without thinking, he gently took the doll down and brought it to the front desk, where the cashier was still eyeing Aaron up like he was a slab of meat and she was a starving tiger who’d been living off of carrots since birth. “I’d like to buy this.”
“Okay.” She briefly tore her eyes away from Aaron and looked at the tiny object, exclaiming an, “Oh!,” as she seemed to recognize it. “This is a doll of Princess Tamara! You don’t really see many of these around nowadays. Especially one that’s in decent shape.”
So it was her. Call felt a sudden sadness wash over him, but he kept it pushed down. “It’s very detailed. I wonder who made it.”
“Not sure. There’s no inscription on it anywhere.” She turned it over, but came up empty. “It’s really beautiful though. It almost looks like a real person!”
Yeah , Call thought bitterly, watching as Gwenda roughly scanned the object and handled it into a plastic shopping bag like it was nothing. Almost. But it’s not her. She’s never coming back.
“It’s sad what happened to her,” she continued, and Call absently nodded. “I mean, jeez that legend always gives me the shivers whenever I think about it.”
Call frowned. “What legend?”
“Oh, you know, how she got stuck in that castle with the evil wizard,” she explained. “Legend says that one day the princess had been walking around Panopticon, which used to belong to the King and Queen, and found a Chaos Ridden in the forest. She tried to fight back, but the monster kidnapped her and took her to the evil wizard, who held her for ransom and told the King and Queen to hand over the castle and the kingdom in exchange for their youngest daughter. Then, as soon as he got the castle, he killed everyone in the kingdom and kept her captive for thousands of years.”
Call was appalled. “That’s not what happened!”
The girl gave him a weird look. “Well, that’s how I learned it.”
“Me too,” Aaron piped up. He glanced at Call really fast, as if gauging his reaction. “But no one really knows what happened. It’s all just speculation at this point, since all documentation of the incident has been lost to time. I bet the story’s been twisted around a lot too.”
He seemed to be trying to cheer Call up (for some reason) but Call wasn’t listening. He felt sick to his stomach. He’s been accused of countless things in the past, but this...this was just despicable.
Valiantly fighting back tears, he threw a handful of gold at the startled cashier and snatched the doll off the counter. Then he took off out of the store.
Aaron didn’t know where Call went and he was starting to get anxious.
After the wizard’s episode and miraculous vanishing act, Aaron apologized to the cashier for his rudeness and went looking for the other boy, who had managed to completely disappear in the thirty seconds it took him to reach outside.
Literally; Aaron walked up and down the length of the street, checked all of the alleyways, asked a couple of people if they saw a short, goth-looking kid with a permanent scowl walking around anywhere (they hadn’t), and even went back to the inn they were staying at, wondering if he was hiding under the bed or something. A quick scan of the room revealed that no, he wasn’t there, and Aaron had lost his one chance of redemption in a matter of minutes .
This was bad. This was really really bad. If Aaron didn’t have the wizard with him when he got back home, how was he going to prove that he accomplished his Quest? What was the King going to say? Oh god, the King -
He was so busy internally freaking out they he didn’t even notice the old lady walking across the street until he subsequently ran into her, causing her to drop her shopping bag.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!,” he apologized, bending down to help the old woman to her feet. He bent down a second time to retrieve her bag, which, thankfully, hadn’t come apart during its descent. “Are you alright, ma’am? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
She straightened, and he realized that the woman wasn’t really that old, but her long white hair made her appear that way at first glance. It cascaded down to her knees and over her face, which was almost as pale as her hair, and combined with her white dress and shoes, she looked like a straight up ghost.
“I’m fine, darling. Such a gentleman,” she said, her voice barely more than a breath. She accepted her bag with a smile. “I cannot thank you enough.”
Something about her was really off-putting, although it was hard to pinpoint exactly what. Maybe it was the way that icy mist clouded in the air every time she spoke, even though it was the middle of summer. Or maybe it was how everyone else seemed to be ignoring her, like she didn’t even exist.
“It was my fault for running into you,” he lamented. “Here, I’ll carry your stuff home for you.”
“Oh, there’s no need for that.” She placed a dainty hand on his arm. It was ice cold. “I couldn’t ask that of you, darling.”
“I insist.” His tone was firm. She chuckled and shook her head. It was at this moment that Aaron realized the woman was blind. Her cloudy white eyes were blank and unseeing. “Come then honey, my shop isn’t too far from here.”
And because Aaron could not, in fact, say no to anyone ever, he allowed himself to be escorted by the blind woman through the crowd of townsfolk. Eventually they came upon a small house on the edge of town that had fairy lights strung across the front door. A sign on the porch read “Madame Tarquin’s Fortune Telling”.
Somehow, she managed to unlock the door without struggling with the key, then led Aaron inside. “You can leave the bags on the table, Dear.”
Aaron was just about to do that, but then he took in the interior of the house and stopped dead in his tracks, mouth hanging open.
Compared to the outside of the cottage, the inside looked like a completely different house altogether. Shimmering white draperies criss-crossed the ceiling, hanging low enough to create an ethereal appearance but not low enough to touch the top of Aaron’s head. On the walls, which were black as midnight, were an array of finely cut crystals and gemstones of varying sizes and colors that reflected the light of the hundreds of candles placed throughout the room. In the center of the floor was a table covered in a white cloth, which housed a crystal ball.
Now, normally Aaron would be suspicious of a place that looked like it belonged to an eldritch abomination, but a strange sense of calm had settled over him the moment he walked into the shop, like the walls themselves were whispering assurances of safety to him, their voices lulling him into a sense of security...
“Your sword,” said Madame Tarquin quietly. “May I see it?”
Dazed, he handed it over. Her ice cold fingers barely brushed his in the exchange, but he shivered regardless.
“A beautiful weapon.” She ran her hand up and down the blade and he, vaguely, wondered how she didn’t cut herself on it. “A golden blade with silver infusing. Forged with obsidian.” She smiled. “I wonder, how did you get ahold of such a thing?”
The question temporarily snapped him out of it. The smallest trace of suspicion rose.
“It was passed down through my family,” he told her.
Her withered fingers continued to trace the blade, stopping briefly to run her fingernail into the jagged swirl that had been etched into the hilt. “I sense powerful magic inside of it. Very old and powerful magic. Who in your family gave this to you?”
“My mother.” The lie was smooth on his tongue.
She hummed. “Was your mother a Witch, by chance?”
Aaron swallowed. Flashes of green fire and screams flitted through his mind. “No.”
She didn’t press further. Calmly, she handed him his sword and he slipped it back into the sheath.
“Come, have a seat.” She took her place at the table, sitting adjacent to him. Looking into the crystal ball that sat in between them, Aaron couldn’t tell if his reflection was just distorted from the glass or if his face really looked that uneasy.
“Would you like some tea?,” she asked.
“Um, no thank you,” he declined politely, because, well, he didn’t exactly feel comfortable with a blind woman handling scalding hot liquids within his general radius.
As if she’d read his mind, she chuckled. “Alright, sweetheart. Let’s begin, shall we?”
Aaron blinked slowly. Begin what? , he wanted to ask, but he was slowly becoming more and more dazed, and thinking was becoming an increasingly difficult activity.
Reaching blindly (ha) behind her, she produced a stack of tarot cards and began shuffling them. “You aren’t the only one with relics from the past, little one. These cards belonged to my mother and my mother’s mother, and her mother before her. I think you’ll find that they are scarily accurate.”
He might’ve been intimidated, if it hadn’t been for the wink she sent his way. Of course, none of this was real. Fortune tellers like her have been around for centuries, but none of them use actual magic. Not these days, anyway.
She’d really gone all out though. He wondered how she managed to get the scarves hanging above to sparkle like spider silk, or some of the candles to float in thin air. It was a cool trick, even if it was fake.
“Pick three cards, please.” Aaron obeyed and withdrew three cards, but before he could look at them, she took them away again. And then instead of reading them herself, she set them aside face down on the table and turned to her crystal ball which was, right before their eyes, slowly filling with white smoke.
She placed her hands on it. Then whispered, “Show me your secrets. ”
It might’ve been his imagination, but he could’ve sworn the candles dimmed a little bit. There was a display of what Aaron could only call some serious lighting and sound effects from the crystal ball, which included strange flashes inside the mist, that sort of looked like lightning. After a moment, though, everything seemed to go back to normal.
That is, until Madame Tarquin lifted her head to reveal clear, attentive eyes, which were faintly glowing silver.
“I see great things in your future, Aaron Stewart,” she rasped, eyes pinning him in place. “Powerful things. However, great may not always mean good, and evil may not always mean bad. You should know this well; after all, that mark on the nape of your neck makes you a walking contradiction to everything associated with Heroism.”
Aaron stilled. His neck pulsed with warmth. “How did you-”
“Magic users aren’t persecuted and hated here like up north.” Her voice was still kind, but her expression was now cold. “Surely you must have realized that not every kingdom holds the same despicable virtues as yours, little prince.”
His hands started to shake. “You know who I am.”
“Of course. I am able to see not only your future, but your past and present. Every act of heroism you’ve accomplished. Every bad deed you’ve committed as well.” She smiled icily. “Here in Hamelin the people are much more accepting of magic folk, but not everywhere is like here. Tell me, what business do you have bringing that young wizard to a kingdom full of those that would murder him on the spot if they knew of his power? Surely nothing very heroic .”
He tried to stand, but it felt like icy hands were trapping him in his seat. He couldn’t move his hand to his sword either; he was completely frozen.
“I know your intentions, Aaron Stewart,” said The Seer and her hair floated upwards out of her face, revealing a ghoulish expression. “And I do not approve.”
Aaron left Madame Tarquin’s shop in a daze.
“Where were you?,” Call demanded when he saw him. He was flushed and heaving, face twisted in pain. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
“Where was I? Where were you? ,” Aaron shot back, coming back to his senses rather quickly. “You disappeared after running out of the store!”
“Don’t try to pin the blame on me,” Call scoffed, even though that was clearly what he was trying to do to Aaron here. “At least I haven’t been gone for five hours . It’s nearly eight o’ clock, dude!”
And just like that, a feeling of dread started to build up inside of him again. “I’ve been gone for five hours?”
He tried to remember what he’d been doing before this that would take up that much time, but he...couldn’t. He had been talking to someone. About what, though? And who had he been talking to? He vaguely recalled a woman, but he couldn’t remember her name or what she looked like or anything about her. His mind was drawing a complete blank.
He turned and looked at the building behind him. Nothing special, just a tiny, nondescript cottage on the edge of town. In one of the windows an elderly lady waved at him like they knew each other, even though he’s pretty sure he’s never seen her before in his life. Weird.
“Yes, you’ve been gone for five hours, you butt,” Call continued. “I had to walk all over town looking for your stupid ass. I even gave Havoc some of your underwear so he could sniff you out and we find you here of all places. What gives?”
“I don’t really remember. I was probably doing nothing.” His eyes narrowed. “What was that you said about my underwear?”
Havoc, this time a wolf, made a whining noise that kind of sounded like “uh oh”, although Aaron couldn’t be too sure since he could not, in fact, talk to animals.
“Let’s just go home,” Call groaned, effectively changing the subject, and Aaron didn’t even protest because he could already feel his eyes drooping.
Although, as the two walked back to their hotel room, he couldn’t help but feel like someone was intently gazing at the back of his neck. He unconsciously lifted the collar of his shirt, protecting it from prying eyes.
∠( ᐛ 」∠)＿
This was supposed to be a cracky, non-angsty fic, but then my imagination got away from me and now I have this unnecessarily complicated and interwoven plot planned and I apologize for that.
(I'm a little busy preparing for college, but I'll try to update when I can. Thank you to everyone who got on my ass about updating this chapter!!! It really motivated me to continue!!)