“Mary, snap out of it!” Tafel shouted and avoided a sword strike aimed at her head. She gritted her teeth and summoned a wall of ice that was promptly destroyed by a punch from an armored hand. “Didn’t you say I was your friend? You don’t attack friends like this!”

Mary trembled, and her movements seemed to slow, but an instant later, her body regained its nimbleness and the edge of her sword came dangerously close to Tafel’s face. A few locks of hair fell to the ground, and a nick appeared on Tafel’s cheek, a single drop of blood oozing out. Beads of sweat rolled down her forehead and into her eyes, creating a stinging sensation, but she didn’t dare wipe them away.

“I never thought a magician would be able to survive for so long against my niece,” Zyocuh said and rubbed his chin, “and such a young one at that. What are you doing, Mary? Dispose of her already, or do you want to be punished?”

A shudder racked Mary’s body, and a small whimper escaped from her throat. Tafel’s eyes widened, and she took that chance to refresh the haste spell she had cast on herself. “Mary, you’re not a child anymore. He can’t punish you. You don’t have to listen to him.” Tafel swallowed when Mary didn’t respond but didn’t move to attack either. “Listen to me, your friend, instead.”

“Don’t you remember what you did to the last friend you had?” Zyocuh asked. He was squatting over Vur, painting red symbols on his unconscious body with a brush. Any attempts at reaching him were stopped by Mary, Alice nearly losing her head when she tried. “You remember, don’t you, Mary? Do you think you deserve to have friends after that? You ripped that poor girl’s arm off.”

Mary whimpered again, her neck shrinking into her shoulders like a guilty puppy. “I, I didn’t mean to,” she said in a small voice. “I—”

A piercing snap echoed through the mostly empty remnants of the dining room. “Then do as I say and get rid of her,” Zyocuh said and lowered his hand. Mary’s eyes glazed over again, and her body stopped shaking.

“That makes no sense at all,” Tafel said and pointed her staff at Mary. “How would killing me, your friend, atone for ripping off your childhood friend’s arm? Think about it, Mary. You might not be the best student, but that doesn’t mean you’re dumb. Your uncle’s using some weird method to control you.”

“Weird method?” Zyocuh asked. “Is listening to your guardian who simply wants the best for you a weird method?” He stopped painting on Vur’s stomach and smiled at Tafel while twirling the brush in his hands. “I was with Mary for the earliest ten years of her life. You were with her for how long? A week? Two weeks? Do you really think she values you more than she values me?”

“She doesn’t value you,” Tafel said. “She’s terrified of you.”

Zyocuh shrugged. “There is value in fear,” he said. “And clearly, fear is worth much more than friendship. Now, if you’ll so kindly stop interrupting me; I have a new vessel to prepare.”

Tafel glared at Zyocuh. “You know, you’re making me really, really mad,” she said. “I’ll give you one chance, just one, to stop everything you’re doing and get the hell out of Mary’s life. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take that chance.”

“Your threats reflect your age,” Zyocuh said and snorted. He rolled his eyes and dipped his brush into the inkwell by his side. “I’m so terrified. Mary, stop hesitating or you really will be punished.”

Tafel growled and narrowed her eyes. “You asked for it.” Her horns shone with a brilliant silver light, causing everyone in the room to squint lest they be blinded. She slammed the butt of her staff against the ground, and a massive portal appeared behind her, filling the whole width of the room and growing past the ceiling that had long been destroyed. Within the portal, there was the scenery of a cave with glowing crystal ores.

“What is this?” Zyocuh asked, raising an eyebrow. “Are you thinking of running away?”

Tafel took in a deep breath and shouted, “Sera! Someone’s trying to kill Vur and I really need your help!”

A thunderous roar shook the room, echoing out of the cave. The tremors caused the edges of the portal to waver, but Tafel gritted her teeth and clenched her staff tighter, stabilizing the silver border. Earthquake-causing footsteps rang out as a massive figure appeared in Zyocuh’s line of sight. His eyes nearly fell out of his head when he saw the sky-blue dragon galloping towards him. He looked down at the unconscious boy who had been imprinted by a dragon and looked back up at the dragon that was now in the dining room and staring down at him with murder in her eyes. It didn’t take him very long to figure out the connection between the two. Before he could say anything, Sera roared in his face, rupturing his ear drums and blowing him back with a breath that smelled oddly like cookies. He tumbled along the floor, and a claw that was larger than his whole body slammed down on him as if he were a fly being swat.

Sera lifted her paw and snorted, exhaling white fire from her nostrils. Zyocuh twitched once, and Sera promptly brought her paw back down again, the remains of the walls collapsing from the sudden impact. She lifted her paw once more and waited a moment to see if the pest would move again, but he didn’t. Her head tilted to the side, and she shrugged before slapping down again for good measure. When she brought her paw back, she frowned at the sight. Zyocuh was unmoving and covered in blood, but it was still easy to make out the outline of his body in contrast to the ground. “Why is this thing so sturdy?” Sera muttered and turned around. Her tail rose into the air, and she turned her head to look behind herself. Then she slammed her tail into the poor man over and over again until there was a ten-foot-deep fissure in the ground.

The people left in the room swallowed at the sight. They were all on their knees, bouncing up and down in time with the tail as the floor rose and fell. Alice whispered to Tafel, “Isn’t this cheating? I thought you’d depend on yourself to save Vur.”

Tafel shook her head. “I may be prideful, and I may want to do everything myself, but I’m not going to risk Vur’s well-being for some stupid satisfaction.”

“But, but the climax,” Alice said and bit her lower lip. “Don’t you believe in the whole growing-strong-while-struggling mentality? After nearly dying, you discover a newfound strength and achieve heights you’ve only dreamed about before.”

Tafel raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been reading too many stories,” she said before waving at Mary, who was standing and falling while moving around Sera like a bee buzzing around a bear ransacking its hive, wanting to take action but unsure how. “Calm down, Mary. Your uncle can’t hurt you now.”


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