Micale stirred in his cot to Phalax’s left, squinting his eyes as shafts of light spearing from the cracked shutters struck his face. Phalax placed the pad of paper and charcoal pencils he’d been drawing with for the past thirty minutes on the floor next to his chair. A single rose was etched onto the page, one he had replicated many times. “Morning, Micale.”

“Is it now?” Micale grumbled in response. “Already?”

“Eh, it is a little early. But you slept all night long.”

“Can’t I sleep for a week?”

“Some people call that death. I don’t think that would fit you well.”

“Obviously not. At least not with these wizards. My back is sore as all hell thanks to them.”

“Oh, come on. You can’t blame them.”

“No. But it feels better to be a little angry at someone rather than just in pain. Well, now I’m really up thanks to your blathering.” Micale grinned as he pushed himself up to a sitting position. His smile turned into a frown as pain seared his back though. 

“Want any help?”

“No. I can do this. Just hurts like a son of a bitch. Anything to eat here?”

“Not anything good.”

“Hey, I heard that,” Vesik called from his station before the cauldron.

“Deer stew was good the first, second, third, and all the other times, Vesik,” Micale griped. “Now, it’s just okay.”

“Well, I caught several of them and we aren’t going to let them go to waste.”

Phalax scoffed then said, “You mean you stole several of them.”

“In this city that’s what hunting actually means. Now shut the hell up and come get some deer stew.”

Both men smiled then made their way over to Vesik, one of them much slower and more painfully than the other.

They took their meals, thanked Vesik, then went to sit outside, trying to keep from waking the others. Phalax asked, “Are you feeling up to trying anything today?”

Micale swallowed the stew in his mouth then asked, “What do you mean?”

“Some training or just a light workout. You said that you would teach me some stuff one day before we killed Zeraskyr.”

“Honestly, I’ve never taught anyone anything before. But I’ll try. Not sure where we can do it at though. We don’t have much room inside and we’ll attract far too much attention out here.”

“Let’s talk with Edmund when he gets up.”

The two ate until their bowls were empty, talking about home.

“It’s nice to hear of home,” came Vesik’s voice, drawing the men’s eyes to an open window that now sprouted his head.

They were surprised by his sudden remark, but not so much so that they couldn’t respond. “Do you miss it?” Micale asked.

“Damn right I do. My parents are still there. My wife too. And I had friends; three real crazy sons of bitches. I miss all of them. And my daughter. She’s not there, but she must be twenty now. Maybe a little older.”

Phalax was thoroughly interested in Vesik’s story. “How did it all happen, Vesik?”

Vesik folded his arms on the sill and rested his chin on them, staring out into the street. “I’ll give you the short version for now. I wanted to be powerful, more than anything. Something agreed to give it to me if I only gave up my daughter. One of them took her and turned me into a monster. I left Zepzier because I had to. The air became poison to me.

“I used my power to summon a demon from its realm. That was Zeraskyr, the one you two killed. He turned on me and, through my shortsightedness, killed me. Or so he thought. Edmund pulled the same trick on me as he did to you, Micale. Right before I died, I returned to my human form and he stole me. I did die then, but Edmund brought me back inside this.” He leaned back and ran his hands over his chest.

“This is a construct. I am not human. I’m a thing that was built with the soul and mind of a human trapped inside. But I feel pretty human, I think. It’s been a long while since I was one, so it’s a little hazy.” Vesik straightened, turning his eyes on Phalax and Micale. “Zeraskyr used my power, consumed it, and became strong enough to do all the things he did. So, I was the start of everything on Zepzier. Pretty damn insane, huh?”

Phalax shrugged then said, “It’s not the craziest crock of shit I’ve heard in the past few days.”

The three chuckled to one another. Phalax was glad to now understand how it all began. He imagined all the little details Vesik left out and hoped they’d come to light someday soon.

The door behind Phalax and Micale opened and Edmund ambled out, stretching and yawning. At his arrival, Vesik slapped the sill and announced, “One bowl of deer stew coming up.”

“Deer stew again…” Edmund groaned.

“Yes, dammit!” Vesik’s voice resounded from within.

Another grumbling voice from inside the house asked Vesik to kindly shut the hell up.

Phalax noticed that Edmund looked as though he’d aged by years in the past few days. Once the old man was done waking, which was a process that seemed to resemble a corpse coming back to life after several weeks and shaking off its stiffness, Phalax asked, “Edmund, is there a place Micale and I can train?”

“There is somewhere I can take you. We have to go by normal means. Teleporting opens a vein that the others can sense and track. It’ll be an hour ride.”

Micale shook his head then said, “I can’t ride a horse, Edmund. That would kill my back even more.”

“Have you seen any horses around here yet?” Both men thought for a moment, shared a glance, then shook their heads. “We aren’t taking a horse. You’ll see.”

Edmund walked back inside and called out, “We’re taking a small trip. These boys and I.” His thumbs hooked over his shoulders, pointed at Phalax and Micale. “We have room for one more. Who wants to come?”

Several voices called, “Me,” in unison. Then, they began bickering.

“After you all left me in that damn castle I better be allowed to go. You owe me that,” said Marlene.

“You’re here aren’t you? Besides, you’ve been on this planet longer than I have. What if I want to see it a little more?” said Daeson.

“To be polite, it sucks. This place isn’t much to look at. I’ve been making your food for the past five days. Don’t I get a break?” said Vesik.

Edmund waved his hands and said, “Shut up! You’re all a bunch of kids! Now, Vesik, you can’t go. I need you here in case anything happens while we’re away. You can move them if need be. Daeson, Marlene, one of you can sit on each other’s lap. Come on.”

“Oh, come on, Edmund. Mountain man doesn’t need to come too. Besides, he’d crush me to death!”

Daeson replied, “Mountain man? I thought you were actually clever, Marlene. And it’d be you sitting on my lap.”

“Like hell it would. I’d rather sit on Phalax’s lap then yours.”

Phalax’s face twisted in surprise and his eyes widened. He walked to the door and said, “I’d be honored, but that might be a little uncomfortable.”

“Oh, shut up. I said I’d rather, but I sure as hell am not actually going to.”

“We’re pulling straws!” Edmund hollered. He turned and walked outside, down the steps carefully, then to a tuft of long, dead grass near the street. He pulled two straws and grasped them in his fist. He went back inside and thrust his arm out before the two. They eyed each other, then snatched a straw each.

Daeson threw his straw down and snarled, “Fuck!”

Marlene stuck her tongue out at him and laughed.

Edmund snapped then said, “Marlene, let’s go.”

She began getting ready, continuing her taunting all the while.

Micale nudged Phalax and, with wide eyes asked, “Why the hell would you tell her not to sit on your lap? I think that’d turn out to be a damn comfortable ride.”

Phalax turned to put his back to the house then whispered, “Have you seen her? It’s been quite a while for me, Micale, and she looks damn good. It would get real uncomfortable real fast.”

Micale nodded his head one big, slow time and smiled. “Good thinking. Funny, but still good.”

The group prepared to leave then set out, Micale wearing his armor. As they left, Marlene called over her shoulder, “Feel free to kiss it as I walk away, Daeson. I won’t even be mad that you’re staring at it.” She pointed to her backside and smiled at Daeson, who played his part and stared plenty hard until she was out of the house.