“Lovely to see you dear,” Maggie said, smothering Alicia against her chest.
“MMM!” she groaned, her airways blocked.
“What brought you home?” Maggie said, eagerly sitting down and staring at Alicia with hyper-focus.
All this was strange. First, when she arrived, one of her younger sisters had cried bloody murder, and run off, and less than a minute later Maggie herself had come to get her and sat her down for a talk.
Having grown up with her, Alicia could read the woman’s subtle tells, and she was truly eager to hear about something.
“I wanted to ask about uncle Marcus.”
Maggie’s brows furrowed, obviously not expecting Alicia’s line of questioning.
“What about him?”
“Is he still alive?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“His place is burned down. Didn’t you hear?”
Maggie froze in place, her habitual smile flickering out.
“I should have,” She said, putting her knuckle to her lips as she thought. “I really should have. That’s not good.”
“That dour detective plays things close to the vest, I’ll give him that.” Maggie grimaced in a rare moment of outward anger before she returned back to her typical amused self.
“I don’t know about your uncle, but if we haven’t heard from him or any of his men, chances are good he’s gone, dear.”
“Dead?” Alicia asked, a cold shiver running down the back of her neck.
“He’s not on vacation if that’s what you’re asking.” Maggie said, pausing to take a sip from the wineglass in front of her.
Ask your uncle about me, he’s got the inside scoop.
What happened in that alley? Alicia had taken the cigar from Edward, and after that she didn’t remember a thing. She thought maybe the relief of winning that fight mixed with the blunt had somehow killed her short term memory, or caused her to faint.
She had seen her uncle, he’d been snoring away that very night. Had Edward gone back and lit the place on fire, allowing her uncle to succumb to smoke inhalation while he was too insensate to move?
Something didn’t feel right about that.
“Alicia,” Maggie said, her voice bringing Alicia out of her thoughts. “You dropped something.”
On que, one of her brothers entered, bringing Alicia’s rapier with him. Johnathan nodded to the two of them, then went his way as she picked up her rapier and cradled it against her chest.
“I didn’t see Guile when I went back! I was sure some scavenger had melted it down into pieces and sold them!”
The chances of a scavenger being able to do anything to adamantium were slim to none, but she had still been concerned.
Maggie watched her snuggle her rapier for a moment, her finger tapping the rim of her drink impatiently.
“I wanted to ask you something.”
“A detective came by, thinking there might have been someone else there with you. Do you remember who you met in the alley where they found that sword?”
“The Bergstrom heir, apparently.”
The crystal goblet shattered in her aunt’s grip.
***The Next Day***
“Therefore the upper classmen will be taking a field trip into the Clarkstown forest on the edge of the Green Hell to-.”
“That’s what stuck!?” Edward blurted from the back of the class, making Alicia tense and stare at the phytomagus. Edward took a deep breath and closed his eyes again, going back to sleep while the headmaster finished delivering the news.
“To significantly reduce the Yenner population. This is going to be a dangerous trip, so each family is suggested to send a bodyguard with their student…”
Ms. Pendleton’s words droned into the background as Alicia stared at the wolf in their midst. Could this odd boy really be a monster capable of killing her uncle and weaving spells? He certainly didn’t seem to respect any authority but his own.
The night before, Maggie had given her a mission. Bring Edward over to their side, or learn the secret of magic from him.
Maggie didn’t even have any evidence, just half-assed testimony from an aging detective who told of a wooden knife.
But he’s so plain, Alicia thought, watching him while resting her head on her palm. If she had to guess, she would think he was a Berserker after that outburst the day before. He had never demonstrated anything resembling mysticism, and he certainly hadn’t made anything out of wood or controlled plants.
Alicia couldn’t overlook the possibility that this was a red herring designed to eat up her time and distract her from important matters.
At least Thomas is having fun, She thought idly. The boy had blended seamlessly into the local hoodlums and begun making his own little empire. Not a bad idea, getting started at the grass roots.
“…now I’ll let you back you your class. Remember to come prepared for a trek on Friday.”
The headmaster gave the floor back to their instructor and went her own way, but not before shooting Edward a…longing stare?
Alicia felt her eyebrow raise.
There was definitely something off about the Bergstrom Heir, but magic? Who knew.
Perhaps the Bergstroms, tired of having their Heirs killed, had adopted the most bloodthirsty, dangerous boy they could find, as a way of vicariously exacting their revenge.
That seems outlandish.
But he doesn’t seem to be at all interested in politics. If he were a real heir, shouldn’t that be the filter through which he sees everything? It seemed as though the opposite were true. He seemed to treat everyone with an equal amount of condescension, certainly not looking to make friends and alliances.
What had he said he needed? A side-kick?
Alicia blew air through her lips as the lesson droned on.
A couple hours later, it was time to move to the practice yard, and the commotion woke Edward up. He yawned and stretched while pushing himself off the cold marble floor, blearily following the crowd.
Alicia sank into the back of the herd until she was walking beside him.
“Welcome to the land of the living.”
“Ugh,” he replied, smacking his lips. “Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked, expecting more than that.
He squinted at her. “Yeah.”
“Doing what? Or who?”
“Can’t tell you yet,” Edward said. “It’s not time for the punchline.”
The walked in silence for a moment as Alicia stewed on that bit of nonsense. She glanced up and noticed they’d fallen far behind the rest of the class.
The last student turned the corner, and Alicia snagged Edward by the shirt and slammed him against the wall.
“Is this about your uncle?” Edward said, blinking tears out of his eyes.
“What did you do?” she demanded.
“I killed him, obviously.”
Alicia delivered a solid knee to his groin, causing him to grunt in pain.
She punched him in the face.
“You know, he-“
She unsheathed her hidden knife and went for his throat. Maggie would be just as happy knowing no one else had access to this monster. Not a chance on Earth would she cozy up to the man who killed her favorite uncle. Not even for her aunt.
Edward held his hand up, and the blade pierced through, emerging from the back of his palm. His hand clamped down around hers, preventing her from pulling the blade out for another attack.
“Maybe not the knife.” Edward said, calmly pulling the blade away from his face.
Alicia aimed an elbow strike at his eyebrow, and unleashed a knee into his ribcage that cut through the air.
He shrugged them off, seemingly unaffected.
Alicia kept at it until she stood there, panting.
“You know, however kind he was to you, your uncle made the lives of thousands of people miserable. He was not a good man.” Edward said.
“He was MY family!”
“Come on, doesn’t that seem kind of hypocritical, considering you want to kill your family members too? I just got a head start, and a great deal on Adamantium…Brenna.”
Ice settled in the pit of her stomach.
“What the hell did you do?”
“I took over your uncle’s job.” Edward said with a shrug. “I figured the Dentons didn’t really need all that tax-free money, and that I could think of a better use for it. You know, he would have found out about your little trick siphoning money away from him in a matter of days, and he wouldn’t have been your favorite uncle after that.”
“I probably saved your life.” Edward gave her a knowing look.
Alicia punched him again, bruising her knuckles, but it didn’t wipe the expression off his face.
She tried to step away, but his hand was wrapped around hers.
“Let go of me!”
How dare he try to hold her after everything he’d done!
She struggled like that for a full minute, kicking and cursing, her screams ringing through the halls, all the while he pinned her knife hand in an iron grip, unflinching in the face of so much abuse.
Eventually her arms turned to lead, and sank down to her sides.
“It probably doesn’t mean much,” He said quietly. “but my parents played me and my brother off against each other for years before I figured it out and got outta there. It never got anyone killed, but there was plenty of betrayal on both side, and led to a historically inaccurate falling out.”
“I’m sorry your family is so fucked up.” Edward said when she had finally stopped struggling.
“You don’t know a damn thing!” Alicia said, rallying her energy to kick him. It felt like she was kicking ironwood, doing more damage to her legs than him.
“This is natural! This is what I was born to do, and if I’m weak, I’ll die, just like James, and Frank, and Steven, and Sarah!” Alicia started scratching at his wrist, completely out of control now. She began to mentally list every grievance she’d accumulated with her siblings in the last five years, when they had changed from a family to a den of snakes, eager to kill and eat each other.
He held her hand tight to the handle of the switch blade for what felt like an hour, but it must have only been ten minutes of her struggling to get away from him.
When Alicia got control of her breathing again, she stopped struggling and gently pushed away from Edward. He let her go.
She drew in a shuddering breath, her limbs shaky.
“I still hate you for killing Marcus.”
“Gotcha.” he said.
“But we can talk terms.”
“Oh, good,” he said, rocking back and forth. “Because I’ve realized I need s-“
At that exact moment Kyle turned the corner and froze, catching their attention.
The handsome teenager turned pale and sprinted away as fast as he could.
“What was that about?”
“I snuck into the Denton manor last night and pierced his nipples while he slept.”
“Seriously?” She asked.
“I wrote a note and everything. He didn’t even wake up for it. You wanted to know why I was tired this morning? That was it.”
Disregarding how on Earth he managed to sneak into the Denton manor, that was the funniest thing she’d heard in weeks.
Alicia felt a mad chuckle welling up from deep inside.
“The rings were made out of adamantium, too. They’re not coming out.”
“Hahaha!” She broke into a full-blown laugh.
Once she calmed down, she took a deep, steadying breath.
She could cram the loss of her uncle down with the others for now if she had to. She had to refocus on what was important, which was doing what her aunt expected of her. She needed a way to get Edward on her side, but lust wasn’t the right way to go.
He had offered his own story to her. He was feeling lonely.
There’s no better way to get someone on your side than make them think that you’re on their side. In that case, she could pretend to betray her family in favor of him. Make her aunt seem like the evil temptress Alicia was trying to escape from.
Alicia decided to go with that route, but she still needed to confirm whether or not this Bergstrom was even worth her time.
“You should be careful, ‘cuz my aunt’s got it out for you. She thinks you’ve got some kind of forbidden class.”
“Oh?” Garth said. “Like what?”
“fito-something.” Alicia said, watching his expression closely. He didn’t reveal any telltale signs of surprise, but she couldn’t be sure.
“She thinks you can do magic.”
“Magic?” Edward asked, his eyes widening for a moment before he, too broke into laughter. “My parents chose berserker for me because I had such a hard time controlling myself! I wouldn’t know the first word to a magic spell!”
“Can you imagine, though?” he asked, striking a pose. “Elemental Lighting, strike my foes! Roast them where they stand! A little to the left, if you would, lightning.”
“You probably shouldn’t have left a dagger made of wood that was stronger than steel at the yenner ambush.” Alicia tested him a third time.
He paused, mid-pose, brows furrowed. “Well, shit.”
Alicia’s skin tingled with excitement.
“So you are a mage.” I don’t believe it, Aunt Maggie will be frothing at the mouth. Then another realization struck her like a punch to the stomach. They could all be killed by the inquisition if word got out.
“I admit nothing.” Edward said. “I’d be happy to submit to a Class Inspection.”
“If you were a mage, couldn’t you falsify it?”
“If you were a mage, I’d be obligated to report you to the church, who would then launch an Inquisition, composed of thousands of second tier warriors, and at least half a dozen royals, who can move the earth and sky with their will alone. They would tear this city apart, killing thousands until they found you, following you to the ends of the Earth if they had to.”
“Yeesh,” he said, raising his hand. Alicia felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up as something invisible shifted around her. He was probably thinking of erasing her, right here.
“But!” She added hastily, “I don’t want to do that!”
“I want the power to conquer my family with minimal bloodshed. Teach me magic, and I can do that.” That was her secondary goal, after all.
“You’re still thinking so small.” Edward said, cocking his head to the side.
“What about the rest of the world? If you had magic, Why would you care about being first chair of a family in charge of a minor city?”
That was true. Why would she have to give Maggie anything, when the power from magic would easily secure her place as head of the family? What would she even need a family for if she could conjure her every want out of thin air?
“I tell you what. I’ve got some stuff I’m working on that make your succession race look like small potatoes. Set aside your family and work with me for a while instead, and I’ll teach you everything I know, then you can decide whether you want to go back to your race.”
Alicia opened her mouth, moments away from agreeing, before she thought of Thomas. If she hadn’t convinced him to enter the running, she would have no qualms about leaving her family behind right here and now, but she was responsible for him.
“I…won’t.” Alicia said. “I’m responsible for my brother’s situation. I still won’t tell anyone about you, in the hopes that the offer still stands if my situation changes.”
“That’s a pretty mature decision.” Edward said. “Tell you what. If you just hang out with me and listen to my bitching, I’m not going to hide anything I’m doing from you. Maybe you’ll figure something out on your own.”
“Listen to your bitching?”
“I really need someone to talk to.” Edward said with a thin smile. “Keep me grounded, you know?”
“Oh, right,” he said, seizing the switchblade handle in his left hand and pulling the blade out of his palm.
“Almost forgot your knife.”
I almost forgot my knife. How on Earth did the person with the blade in his hand forget about it? Never mind carrying on a conversation like nothing was wrong.
Edward flexed his fingers as the wound closed in a matter of seconds.
“Ah, that’s better.”
What did I get myself into? Alicia thought, staring at his hand.