Her eyes shot open. Fenrir’s muzzle welcomed her, his hot tongue slapping her right cheek with worry. She blinked her eyes, trying to wash away the nightmare. Her heart threatened to burst from her chest as she felt paralyzed with fear.
‘Inhale through the nose.’
Cool, calming air flowed through her nostrils, filling her lungs to the brim.
‘Exhale through the mouth.’
Her thin, peachy lips party slightly, air rushing out until she thought her chest would collapse.
She repeated the exercise until she felt that her body became calm. Sweat had caked her body and was starting to soak the blankets. Fenrir laid next to her. Worry, confusion… and fear. All these emotions swirled in his eyes as she looked into them. She slipped out a single hand and scratched under the muzzle. “I’m okay.” she lied. Fenrir also knew she lied.
It had been two weeks since she came to live at the Academy. two weeks since she’d felt comfortable sleeping since she felt safe asleep. At first, it was no dreams. Just cold, unending darkness that felt like she was going to be swallowed whole. Then it was events in games she had been a part of, but… They were altered. She wasn’t sure what was going.
Those fun memories started to twist into horrid battles. It wasn’t the fun game she remembered. She had spoken to Fenrir about it, and he comforted her. “No, I remember exactly as you remember. Not as your nightmares show you. I’m sure it isn’t something like different memories.” With that possibility out of the way. She began to notice a recurring trend.
She was always abandoned in the end.
She was alone in this world, aside from Fenrir. Jessin had been up in the air while Fenrir had adamantly refused to speak about Athena. He always had the saddest expression when her name came up, she couldn’t bring herself to ask anymore. She wasn’t particularly concerned, but at the same time, each passing day began to wear on her.
The first few days she came, she could ignore the fact she was in a new world. Desmond was there to occupy her. The dragon attack. Dealing with coming to the Capital. Each new situation served as a distraction, but she hadn’t gone anywhere in these weeks since coming to the Academy except go to classes and browse the city. This was the last week of school before Christmas.
The absence of her friends and her family began to tear her apart, little by little, in the littlest of ways. Her desk was covered in an assortment of clutter, items she picked up as gifts out of habit. Ones for close guildmembers. Some for her best friends.
And a few for her parents.
Mindless browsing of the shops and she’d unknowing began to prepare for Christmas, as this world knew of the holiday, it wasn’t hard to miss the cheer in the air. Yet, no cheer existed in Avery’s heart. At the end of the day, her parents were not there to greet her. Her friends were not dropping by unexpectedly to bring their gifts. Her guild members weren’t there to pester her to go on the holiday events.
She sat up, letting the sweat-soaked blanket fall of her nude body. Strains of stray hair sticking to her cheeks, chin, and lips. She looked a sorry mess as her eyes dully glowed in the faint moonlight that poured out into the room through the lone window. The clear midnight sky giving her some comfort after that dream. To look out into the expansive world, free.
Every time she awoke, she had hoped her parents would open that door. Tell her that it was all a bad dream. Hold her close. She was an adult now, but she was still a little girl inside. A girl who was taken from the world, thrown into a virtual world, then to only be thrown into another world. She wasn’t sure how to handle this second life, or whatever you’d call it. Her friends are gone, her loved ones are gone. Even her guild was gone, and the Sky Gardens in shambles and deserted. There was a lot on her mind these few weeks and the peace had become her prison.
She slid her bare feet onto the soft ornate rug at her feet and opened her inventory screen. Her inventory held three sets of clothes. The Academy Mage-Warrior set, casual clothes, and the outfit Desmond bought her when they arrived. There was also a few other clothes, but just things she’d need when sleeping or when it rained and snowed. The rest was from the Dragon, her money, Mjolnor, and Excalibur.
Pulling out her casual clothes and the Cloud-Dancer, she slipped on her boots. She combed her hair back before pulling the hood over. Fenrir came off the bed and waited by the door as she straightened out her clothes. With one final look in the mirror, she somehow felt a disgust deep in her. Unsure of why, she frowned as she left the room, Fenrir in tow.
In the corridor, she unconsciously stopped in front of Desmond’s door, as she had the other nights. Half of her wanted to flee the Capital, clear her minds out in the forest nearby. The half hoped he’d open his door by some stroke of luck that she’d happen to be standing there. Should the stars align that is. Yet tonight they did not as the cold wooden door remained closed. Not a sound stirred.
Disappointment filling her heart, she walked down the stairwell with heavy steps. The moonlight poured through the multiple windows in the stairwell along with the others on each level. She passed by a few night-owls who pulled their tired bodies up the stairs. A few other students softly spoke to each other on one level by a window. A midnight meet-up.
On the bottom level, hearths crackled and popped. Their warm stones retaining the chaos and hunger of their fires. Her steps echoed through the mostly empty lounge. A few guards talked for a few minutes before continuing on their patrols. The desk where the beloved Mr. Cleanbeard tended to the administration of the dorm during the day was tidy and empty. A closed sign sitting on top. A few students sat here and there. Most dozing off, while some adamantly studied for the Year-End’s Test.
Yet again, she found the hope that one of them would raise their heads, ask her what was eating at her. But no one did. She didn’t know why she hoped, or why she didn’t speak to Desmond.
Maybe she didn’t want to destroy that free-spirited image he had of her. That carefree girl who’d smile at him every time they saw each other. She had become a sort of talisman to him in as the Imperial Castle became unsettled. The war with the Demons was a never-ending march to defeat. Diplomatic ties with the neighboring countries were deteriorating. All were being barely held together by Empress Maria while her husband went gallanting with his consort and concubines for the holiday.
She thought all of this left the dorm and pushed through the cold snowy night.
At the entrance, Aldin was standing guard along with another guard she didn’t recognize. They stopped her as she tried to pass, “No students can leave the premises after nightfall.” It was a young man, in his early twenties. Aldin recognized who she was. “Ah, it’s just Ms. Avery. She’s fine.” His face showed he was thinking whether to finish his thought. “That special student? My bad. It’s a pleasure to meet your Lady Bailey, please forgive me.” The man gave an awkward laugh, trying to play off his mistake.
Avery wasn’t in the mood to care nor respond.
Seeing as she only waited to pass, they both stepped out of her way. Just as she stepped out the gate, Aldin put his hand on her shoulder to stop her. “You okay…?” His deep voice expressing his concern. Like a lighthouse in the middle of a stormy sea, she saw some hope to clear her heart. “Walk and talk…?” She turned slightly. He gave her a nod before adding, ” Where you heading?”, “Out of the Capital to hunt.”.
He smiled slightly. “I can walk with you to the front gate. I haven’t taken my break yet.”
. . .
Aldin left some words with the new guard and walked down the baren residential streets. For a while, they both walked silently together. Softy torchlight danced across the freshly fallen snow. Their snows intertwining as they flicked with each passing light. “So what’s on your mind kid?” He broke the silence, an uncharacteristically serious tone. A few more moments elapsed before she responded.
With a bittersweet voice, she spoke. “Do you feel lonely out here?”, Sensing that question was tied to her problem, he took a minute to give her a serious answer. “Yes. I do sometimes.” He pondered for a moment, contemplating how much he could tell her – she cut in before he could finish his thought though. “I’ve felt alone in this world. My family is gone. My friends are gone. One of my followers, Jessin, is missing and the other… Fenrir refuses to speak about…” She stopped as she became choked up.
Aldin looked at her. He knew she had been dealing with something the past week. The Headmaster reported to him that she’d been leaving in the night only to come back in the early mornings at sunrise. “How old are you? Under twenty? Kids your age feel that way.” Passing off the buck like a normal shitty adult would do, he tried to avoid speaking on that topic. He felt bad, but he had his past too.
“I’m technically older than Mrs. Tavi. Fenrir is older than you too.” She responded out of spite. Aldin almost tripped over himself in shock. He had to stop to catch himself. “W-Wait..” He turned to her, wide-eyed. “I’m a Primordial, remember?” Avery glared at him, her beautiful golden eyes glowed, yet he could see the redness in the white of her eyes. “Y-Yeah… I forget that sometimes.” He tried to laugh it off. As Captain at the school, he was in the ‘know’, but he couldn’t connect her behavior with some ancient entity. She may have been stand-offish at first, but she was like every young kid; always wanting friends.
She had made some as well. She also was a good influence on Desmond, leading him to gain friends too. “So… What happened to them..?” He asked curiously. He didn’t know Primordials had a family. “I used to be sick.” She glanced at the moon that climbed high into the heavens above. “I ended up dying, or so I thought. I woke up all alone. My home in shambles, my followers dispersed, and foreign people claiming they owned my land.” She looked back to the road ahead.
They had come to the main road and turned down towards the ramparts. Carriages and wagons rolled by. The city never slept. The red light district was a few blocks east of the main gate. The only public entrance down the hill into the forest. “I know what some of that is like…” Avery looked to him with a slightly raised eyebrow before turning back to the road. Walking on the right edge of the road, horses clapped by. Oddly calming to the mind to know even other people were awake with them.
“I used to be an Adventurer before I came back to the Academy,” Aldin spoke up. “I was a damn good one. This was bad a few years ago when I was young and thought I was top of the world. hahaha…” Depreciation colored his laugh. “I lived in a village a few miles away. A farming village that grew by the year once. I had a beautiful wife. The biggest breasts you’d ever see!” He made groping motions on his chest, trying to crack a joke. Yet his face wasn’t laughing. His eyes pinked as he cleared his throat.
“I had two handsome sons… A beautiful daughter… She made the best damn food I’d ever tasted. She burnt a lot of food though. haha…” The gates began to gradually grow in the distance, it’s grand doors rising from the snow. “One day, I left on a designated emergency mission. I left along with the army to suppress some damn rebellion to the south. When I got back… My village was burned down. I found my wife… Half… Eaten.” He stopped this time to compose himself. Tears running down his handsome face. The pain was plain as the moon in the cloudless sky.
“I never found my kids…” He kept moving. “What happened…?” Avery felt his pain. Her pain was less than his. She felt stupid to mulling over her problems now guilty that she thought he was so carefree. “Desmond’s bastard of a father thought it would be alright not to tell the public that a horde of goblins was moving. Figured they’d be snuffed out before it grew. They were. Only after seven villages were destroyed.” By the time his story was finished, he managed to return his usual playboy self.
Yet his red eyes seemed to destroy that facade.
“Everyone at the academy has a sad story, or did I just get unlucky to attract the only one?” Avery laughed, trying to lighten the mood. “I’ll tell you the truth. Most of the workers at the Academy have a story, most are just retired adventurers, knights, and so on. Some never got their glory, others betrayed. Others lost their families like me, but we got something in common. We’re good at what we do.” He puffed out his chest.” I was an A-ranked adventurer!”
She nodded.” So an A-Rank is now guarding brats in daycare…?” She let out a sore laugh. “Damn right,” he said with a straight face. “I’ll make sure no bastard harms them, not if I can stop them. Not like what happened to my kids.” She felt his determination in his voice. She wasn’t sure what to do with his sob story, but yet, she felt good she wasn’t the only one suffering.
Misery always loved company, she guessed.
“Avery… If you ever need to talk, come to us. Headmaster, Mrs. Tavi, Walden… We’re all here to help those under our care. That’s our job and what we came to the Academy to do. Don’t ever feel you can’t talk to us.” He said with a sad face. He knew the pain of holding back. The needles that he’d stab in his heart. The least he could do is let this…