All things considered, it shouldn't have come to any surprise that the day would end tiring and bruised. But, that didn't stop the boy from being any less confused and surprised whenever the usual routine came along each day. It always started innocent enough and ended with a new bruise.

Yet he was always surprised.

Even now, sitting under a park tree with his knees drawn up to his chest, he couldn't shake the confusion of why this happened.

Kids were mean. They always became mean when playing and he couldn't understand why. Was it because he looked different from them, acted different? Was that reason enough for them to be cruel? It was a kind of mindset that just made his head spin.

Sure, he looked different from them; he had scars, more so than any other kid in the small town. Over his lip, across his cheek, all over his arms and legs, his stomach and back. His hands didn't have the same softness to them as the other children, they were rough, his teeth too sharp for them. Even his hair was too different for them; white. Weird. He couldn't understand why the color of his hair mattered so much, but it set him apart from all the blondes, brunettes, redheads and ink colored hair of the other kids.

They didn't like the name that he had either, said it was wrong of him to have his name when he wasn't a part of the culture. He was something called 'Asian', not 'Hawaiian'—he didn't know what either of them meant. (I like my name, mama gave me this name)

He didn't understand a lot of things.

The other kids saw it as more reason to be mean. He didn't know what most of the stuff they talked about were, struggled to understand them when they spoke fast—words too foreign for his ears, a language he still struggled to grasp—and they couldn't understand him that well either with his limited vocabulary.

Reading was difficult and he had trouble talking; words spoken in slow slurs, broken and butchered until their meanings could barely be discerned. If he couldn't remember the right word, he would throw a different one in expecting the others to understand. The kids usually ignored him because of it. If they couldn't understand him, why even pretend to listen to him?

But mama understood. She always understood whatever he had to say, even if his words didn't make sense to others. She always nodded and smiled and understood him, and she'd even teach him more words so that others would understand him.

But that didn't stop the other kids from being unnecessarily cruel to him.

Maleko flexed his small fingers, stared at the forming bruises that were creeping slowly across the skin of his arms, and knew there were more forming under his shirt and shorts.

Playing was fun. Maleko liked playing, he liked roughhousing. Even if the other kids were bigger than him, and even if it was three kids against just him—it was fun. But when they started saying things and he couldn't understand the words, but understood the venomous bite to them, when they started pulling his hair and hitting him harder than a play-fight called for—it wasn't fun.

David was mean, too. But that wasn't a surprise; he'd always been mean ever since Maleko had first met him.

But, he was cool, too! David, the leader of the towns kids, was strong and confident and really smart! Smarter than Maleko, more well-liked than Maleko. The other kids always followed his lead and listened to him. He was the one who always invited Maleko to play, was his friend, even. Mama didn't like David, didn't like it when Maleko played with him. She said that he was a bad kid, but she didn't stop Maleko from playing with him, because mama knew that they were friends. Even if David was mean, was the one who would get the kids to be cruel, he was still Maleko's friend.

And he wanted to be a hero, so there wasn't any way he could be a bad guy! David wanted to go to a place called the DWMA when he got older (Whatever that was) and he was going to fight all the bad guys in the world. He said he was going to pair up with a really powerful weapon, make a Death Scythe before he graduated and become the strongest meister out there.

Maleko thought it was cool to have a dream like that.

Though… at the moment he found it hard to picture his friend as any kind of hero.

In the cartoons that he watched with mama, the heroes always protected people no matter what. They were good and kind, like Superman! Maleko knew that they couldn't all be Superman, cause Superman is… well, Superman! He was the best and the greatest of heroes, and the others could at least try to be a good and kind hero like him, too.

David just wanted to win and beat up the bad people. It wasn't as though Maleko thought there was anything wrong with wanting to beat the bad guys, but wasn't David also supposed to protect people if he was going to be a hero?

(Not all heroes think like that)

Maleko frowned as mama's voice rang through his head, remembering what she had told him shortly after David first told him about that dream. When he had told mama about David wanting to go to this 'DWMA' place, she had this face like she bite a lemon, face all scrunched up, brows furrowed and frowning like she didn't like it. He didn't think much of it, mama got that face a lot when David was brought up. She said that not all the heroes that came from the place were good people.

He didn't get it.

If it was a place that taught and trained heroes, then that meant that there were plenty who were good and just, and Maleko wanted to believe that his friend would be one of those good heroes when he got to achieve his dream. He was sure that David would be one of the best, cause no one was as determined, smart or strong as David.

With those thoughts still in his head, Maleko wiped some dirt from his face and pushed himself onto his feet.

If David didn't want to become the kind of hero that protected people as well as fought the bad guys, then Maleko could be the one who protected people in David's place. David could fight all the bad people in the world, beat them up, and Maleko could help him by keeping the good people safe in his place! Maybe he could go to this DWMA place with him, too.

Stretching his limbs, Maleko squinted against the sun in his eyes. It was halfway across the sky, almost time for food, mama would be done with her afternoon shopping in the market street and he could meet up with her. They could walk home together and talk about this and that. She'd fix them up some sandwiches and juice, they'd watch cartoons and play until the sun went down and it was time to sleep.

The park was empty, which wasn't common around this time of day, usually there were kids playing. But the other kids probably didn't want to get David angry by being around after his outburst at Maleko earlier. Maleko had said he wanted to play the hero and not the kishin egg today. He always played the kishin egg while the others were the heroes who fought and beat up the evil monster. Maleko had wanted to be the good guy today, and David hadn't liked that. If David didn't like it, the other boys didn't like it either.

They left Maleko soon after the fight finished up to go play somewhere else, while the smaller boy had laid, bruised and battered, on the cool grass.

He could have won, could have won easily. But mama didn't like him doing the things he could do when she want there—magic, she called it. She said he can't use it unless she was around. Even if she hadn't said he couldn't use them, he didn't want to hurt the other kids. David always got mad whenever he didn't fight back, but David would surely understand that it Maleko fought back, then David would get really hurt.

So long as his friends were happy and weren't hurt, then Maleko would be fine. Besides, he'd gotten hurt far worse than a few bruises before, he'd gotten hurt lots before he met mama, so he could take what the other boys dished out. Mama wasn't going to be happy when she saw the bruises, though.

He was brought out from his thoughts when he picked up a familiar scent and the sound of determined steps kicking at the ground behind him. Turning around, Maleko found himself facing his angry looking friend.

"'vid!" Maleko greeted, perking up at seeing the boy, bigger despite the same ages, or maybe Maleko was just smaller? Malnourished, he remembered a funny looking man who smelled of lizards said once to mama when she first brought Maleko across the ocean to the islands with her. He said he was small cause he hadn't eaten enough, or something. He wasn't sure, the man used a lot of big words that Maleko couldn't understand.

His smile faltered as he looked at David, "Why here? You… you'll miss food," he said slowly, making a face to try and force the words out. They slurred together, broken and heavily accented, but the worry was still there. Whenever David skipped a meal, he got really cranky, and then he'd start being mean again.

"I can be here if I want to," David barked, his eyes as intense as ever. "I came to get you and bring you back to the others, those stupid extras can't play a good kishin! You're the only one out of them who knows how to act like an evil monsters," he explained impatiently, as though it should have been obvious to Maleko. "Come on."

Maleko pouted and stepped back a little, "D'wanna monster."

(I'm not a monster)

David frowned and then he threw his hands into the air. "Okay, fine! You can be the damn damsel in distress next time! Come on, I don't have all day!"

"Don' wanna play!" Maleko responded firmly, digging his fingers into the shorts he was wearing. He was dirty, tired and hungry, he wasn't in the mood to play with the other kids in the warm sun right now, he wanted to find mama and go home, eat something and relax. Maleko had played with the other kids enough for now.

But his friend only glowered at him for that, "Come on, you stupid weirdo!" David yelled and roughly grabbed onto Maleko's wrist, starting to drag him across the park to where the other kids probably were on the other side of the small hill. His grip was tight, and his merciless fingers dug so deep into the bruises he had that it hurt.

"Le'go!" Maleko cried out, grabbing at David's chubby wrist to try and pry him off. For a moment, he considered using his magic. He could use it and then David would let go of him right away. But then David might get hurt, he might have Maleko and never play with him again, and so he refrained from using magic. "Le'go! Do'wanna play!"

David turned around, brown eyes wild with annoyance and anger. He always had temper issues and it was clear that Maleko had pushed the wrong button as the boy lifted a fist. "Can you just shut up already, you're so annoying!" he tried to punch Maleko, but the boy ducked out of the way and pushed hard against David.

His grip on Maleko's wrist hadn't let up, and so when David tumbled onto the ground, he dragged Maleko down with him. It was only when they both hit the grass that he let go of Maleko.

And it was as he laid against the cool grass that Maleko could feel power coursing through him, whispering into his ears. His body felt hot and his nails wanted to dig into something, twitching and driving him crazy. With a sharp breath, Maleko dug his fingers into the soft earth beneath him, digging up clumps of grass as he tried to calm his itching claws.

Pushing David had been a bad move. His friend didn't like it when Maleko refused to fight back, but he hated it even more when other kids did fight back against him, as though they were challenging his dominance.

So when David got up, angrier than ever, he didn't even hesitate to lunge at Maleko, pushing him down against the ground. Maleko threw his hands up, curbing around his face to shield it from the oncoming punches, ready to take the brunt of the blows from David.

But nothing came.

Maleko opened his eyes and saw terror and fear on David's face. The boy was looking at something in front of him, something Maleko couldn't see from where he laid. But he could feel all the tremors and trembles coming off of David and seeping into him, could see the sweat start to form on his sun kissed neck.

"A'vid?" Maleko asked, the concern obvious in his face, but he knew he should have stayed quiet when David turned to face him, red gaze full of anger and fear.

"You'd make a lousy monster, anyway!" David spat, pushing himself off of Maleko and scrambling away, back to the safety of the other kids on the other side of the small hill, leaving Maleko sitting on the grass to watch him go.

He almost reached out to David, almost launched himself after his friend to ask him what was wrong. But a shadow fell over him and he found himself frozen in spot.

He turned his head, expecting some kind of threat, something scary and dangerous, because it must have been if it scared David off. He cursed himself for not having noticed the approach sooner.

But as Maleko turned around, instead of some fearsome creature, he saw a young slim woman with short brown hair with dyed blue tips, the same bluish shade as her eyes.

"Mama!" Maleko cried out in glee, stumbling to his feet and throwing himself onto her, his small arms wrapping around her legs in a hug. He could smell the various meats and vegetables in the shopping bags she carried, could smell the salty ocean clinging to her. She smelled like home.

Her expression was soft when she looked at Maleko, and brought a free hand to run through his messy white hair. "How's my little boy doing?" she asked him with a smile. She didn't bring up David, didn't bring up that David was close to throttling Maleko and would have if she hadn't shown up. Maleko never made a big deal out of the beatings the other kids gave him, and until he did want her to step in, she'd let it slide.

At her question, Maleko started purring as he buried his face into her stomach, making the fabric of her shirt wrinkle up a little. He relished in the cold that radiated off of her. Mama was always cool to the touch, her hands cold, her whole body cold, the perfect kind that would soothe the excess heat that Maleko produced.

The other kids were scared of mama, not that he could really understand why. They always backed off when she was around, never did anything particularly mean to him and never roughhoused too much with him if they could see her. He wondered why.

"Let's go home. We'll get you all cleaned up and I'll make us some lunch; how does that sound?" mama asked.

Maleko just nuzzled against her more, still smiling wide.

-0-

The day went on and eventually it came night time.

Kai sighed as she sat on the faded grey couch, her expression irritable and thoughtful in equal measures. Running a finger over the rim of her bottle of Heineken, she let her mind wander around, thinking mindless thoughts. Of this, of that, of consequences and actions.

Wordlessly, she tipped the bottle back and waited a few seconds before righting the bottle out and listening to the liquid slosh inside against the glass, seeking out its equilibrium.

She was laid across the couch, the TV droning on in front of her as it played some late night cartoon about a team of heroes. Though most of Kai's attention was actually on the floor, listening to the chorus of squeaks and growls, of unintelligible words as Maleko played and spoke in a language only he could understand.

He had gotten cleaned up after she picked him up from the park, all the dirt and grass washed off him and his bruises treated as best as she could. He was dressed in clean pajamas; a simple flannel set. Pale pastel pink with a bunny printed on the front of the shirt, and little white puff designs along the pants, his favorite pair. Though Kai was still dressed for the day in jeans and a plain grey long-sleeve.

Maybe she should speak to Mrs. Kaiwi about David's behavior; it honestly made Kai livid whenever she saw the bruises the brat gave Maleko. It bothered her even more that Maleko didn't mind at all. Sure, they may be children, eight and nine-year-old's, but even they ought to know when they were going to far. And even Maleko ought to know that he shouldn't have to take that kind of bullying and abuse.

But he took it anyways, he always took what the other kids gave him with a smile and a laugh like it didn't bother him.

It didn't help that the boy was so oddly infatuated with David. Kai couldn't understand what was so great about the kid, and maybe it was just regular idolization because from a child's perspective David was 'cool'. She hoped that he would grow out of that soon, but so long as he cared so much for the brat, Kai couldn't do much to him without upsetting Maleko. Her son would throw a fit if he found out that David just so happened to have drowned under mysterious circumstances, he'd be crying and so upset that the heartbreak that would give her would be worse than what she felt now.

Not that it would be hard for her to drown David in the first place. She was a witch and water was her domain. Maleko might catch on if she tried, though. He wasn't nearly as dumb as many people seemed to think he was, he just had a different way of thinking and seeing, and he was just knowledgeable in a different way than the others.

He had a good sense for danger and he'd probably recognize her magic, too. If he did figure out it was her who drowned David, he'd be mad. As much as she hated the brat, she hated the idea of loosing Maleko's affection even more.

And right now, Maleko was happy. He liked playing with David even if it got too rough and the playing became bullying. He was so obnoxiously happy and innocent, didn't see anything wrong with the people around him.

Kai couldn't help but feel a small twinge of envy for her son.

He was so happy, so innocently happy all the time. And he was still young, his age left him untouched by the destructive sway that magic held over their kind. He wasn't trapped by the pull of magic that drew witches and sorcerers to destroy. He only ever destroyed when his playing got too rough or because he didn't know any better, not because he was under the impulse of his magic.

It's why, for his own safety, that Kai had prohibited him from ever using his magic outside of her supervision. The last thing she needed was the boy to unleash some fire spell with innocent intentions in the middle of a public space only to draw in every meister and weapon on this island after them.

Not that there were too many around. For all of the few-hundred some years that Kai had been alive, her home, the Polynesian islands, had always had few meister-weapon pairs. It's made the islands feel safer, as though she didn't have to feel as though a meister was standing behind her all the time. Because of that, no matter how often she left the islands for this or for that, she would always return home when she got bored or felt the mainlands were growing too dangerous for her.

Plus, Kai liked the isolation and privacy the islands gave her. She could go out and use her magic on the sea and no one would know, she could release all the pent up stress and urges her magic gave her without causing any scene or draw in the attentions of threats, be them witches or witch-hunters.

She just wanted to stay out of the war between Death and witches.

However, even though she wanted to stay out of it all, she would on occasion still attend Mass with the other witches. She had taken Maleko to a couple after taking him in, and maybe, deep down, it was because she wanted him to know more about his own kind, to let him meet others like him. Maybe it was because, even though she wanted to keep him away from the rest of the world so he wouldn't get hurt, she also wanted to lift him up to the world and say 'this is mine' with a sense of pride that words couldn't describe.

That had been a mistake. She took him to Mass with her, attended a bit more frequently, enough so that it got a little attention. Enough so that people noticed.

That Medusa noticed.

Her grip on her beer tightened, the liquid inside rippling and crashing against the glass like a stormy sea. Personally, Kai had hoped that, what with Medusa' infiltration of the DWMA and her ultimate failure at reviving the Kishin leading to her death, that no one would have to deal with that woman ever again.

Then the snake witch herself, in the body of a child, had come to her front door.

The woman was every bit a snake, she could sense someone's weakness, attacked just the right parts to make her opponent putty in her hands. She was awful, even for a witch she was awful, and she cared only for her own plans, didn't care if she risked the rest of the world, the rest of their kind.

Blackmail and coercion. That's how Medusa managed to get Kai to agree to working alongside her. The threat of Maleko's safety, she couldn't risk it, and so she ended up risking her own peaceful solitary life instead. The boy wasn't able to protect himself from serious threats yet, she needed to keep him safe.

Safe from threats like Medusa.

So if doing the snakes dirty work meant that Maleko would be a little safer, then she would throw aside her wants for privacy and isolation.

Even if it angered her. Even if it left a bitter taste in her mouth that couldn't be washed out no matter how much she tried. Like a static in her brain. Her body tingling, violent urges she'd never felt before crawling all over her, a need to hurt, a need to wring the snakes neck just to see her squirm.

She felt a weight fall over her lap, not so heavy that it bothered her, but enough so that it drew her from her thoughts and brought her back to the present.

Kai looked down and there was Maleko, sprawled out across her legs and smiling innocently up at her, his big green eyes full of stars, of affection and happiness. She couldn't help the small smile as she reached down and ruffled his hair.

She had never felt these kinds of things, these happy, love filled emotions before meeting the boy. She couldn't remember ever feeling anything her whole life before him. All she could remember was a feeling of emptiness.

For centuries Kai had tried to make herself feel something, anything. Love, hate, anger, remorse, joy. She formed relationships, destroyed relationships, created cults and tore down temples, and yet nothing she ever did brought an ounce of feeling to her heart.

But now? She felt anger and bitterness, she could feel joy and warmth and love. All of these budding feelings brought to her by Maleko.

It as funny that a single child was able to let her frozen heart thaw and to feel. All these new emotions, they were genuine. And so new. To think she had only met him a year ago, had only started to feel a year ago, and yet it felt as though they had been together for eternity.

Kai could still remember it clearly, a simple excursion into the jungle in search of a variety of venomous creatures and poisonous plants—a favor she owed to a longtime associate of hers—and how she had come across the child in that same jungle. A boy who was in many ways the real life Mowgli and Tarzan. Naked, dirty, more animal than human in nature.

And yet within that jungle she found herself feeling affection for the child. He made her smile and laugh, something she had always had to force herself to do in the past. She hadn't wanted to lose these first emotions that had begun to grow, and so she took him from the wild into civilization.

Maleko had learned slowly at first, it was hard for him to shed his wild, feral nature. But once he started to get an understanding of the basics, he started developing quicker, and in that one year he had learned enough words to hold a conversation, and understood enough social norms to get by, and he was still improving.

Of course, his vocabulary was small, and he still only knew how to read a handful of words, but he had progressed so much in such a short amount of time that all Kai could feel was pride for him.

"Come on," Kai said softly, putting her beer down on the coffee table beside the couch and wrapping her arms around the boy, dragging him farther up so she could cuddle with her son. He was always so warm, which was to be expecting since the young sorcerer was born of fire magic, but she always relished the way the heat of his body soothed the chill in hers. "Did you have fun out with the other kids, today?" she asked, choosing to have some idle chatter.

Maleko smiled and nodded his head furiously. "Lots!"

She smiled warmly and laughed when the boy bopped his head against her collarbone, "How about we have a picnic tomorrow? Go somewhere nice, eat lunch outdoors and relax? Does that sound fun?"

"Oooh! Ye!"

"I'll make sure to pack your favorites, then," she had tuna for the sandwiches, right? She should, if not, she could buy some before making lunch for them. She continued to run her fingers through his messy hair as she spoke. "Maybe we can even do some camping, would you like that?"

Maleko yawned and nuzzled against her, "Ye," it was a bit sleepier now. Right, the poor kid wore himself out playing and fighting with David earlier, and it was getting late. Probably best to tuck him in for the night, she could play the rest of tomorrow out while he slept.

The boy didn't off too much resistance as Kai scooped him up in her arms and rose from the couch. He wrapped his smaller arms around her neck and buried his face in her shoulder, breathing hot puffs of air against her cold skin. She smiled as he mumbled something she couldn't quite make sense of, carrying him up the stairs of their house to his room.

His bedroom had originally been a workspace for Kai, cluttered and messy, with half-finished potions and ingredients scattered about, papers everywhere in no order. She never really took to potion making, and was never quite organized to deal with paperwork and research, so most of the things in that room had begun collecting dust. It was actually an improvement when she turned the room into a bedroom, with most of the things she kept in there thrown out or moved to the basement.

Right now it wasn't too cluttered. Maleko's bed was pressed up against the wall with the window on the other side of the room. Pale blue painted on the walls, glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. There was a small chest for all his toys and a rug on the floor for him.

It took a little bit of effort to get him to let go of her when she placed him on the bed, with Maleko grumbling 'Maaamaaa' and 'do'wanna sleep' but she was able to pry his tiny hands off her shirt and pulled his blankets up to his shoulders. Giving him his stuffed teddy, she smiled as her son drifted off to sleep in a matter of seconds.

So innocent, so small. Kai continued to smile, hand on her cheek as she watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, a warm expression on her face, just finding peace in the restful, peaceful face Maleko made as he slept. She waited a few moments, before getting up and walking out of the room, closing the door gently behind her.

Her smile stayed as she returned to the living room, bending over to gather up the toys that the boy had left on the floor.

Her phone pinged on the coffee table and Kai paused, toys in arm. Not many people knew her number and already there was a list of suspects in her mind as she made her way over to the device and lifted it, hoping that it was just some spam she could ignore.

But as she skimmed the message and read the contact, she had to keep herself from rolling her eyes. Well, it was typical of him to call her late at night, that way Maleko was already asleep and safe in bed, he wouldn't notice her being gone for a couple of hours.

"Alright, Kom," she muttered as she replied to the reptilian sorcerer's text. "Maleko is a pretty heavy sleeper so he won't notice I'm gone, I can spare a few hours to help you out with whatever bullshit you need."

Well she couldn't be too angry at him for calling her up for a favor; he was one of the few people who stood by her side no matter what. Plus, if he hadn't asked for her help and sent her up to Asia for some animal catching, she never would have met Maleko.

And right now? He was helping her develop a poison of sorts to finally get rid of Medusa without her knowing what was going on. If they could discretely poison medusa with something not even she could cure in time, without her knowing who was responsible, then maybe Maleko wouldn't be in so much danger.

Grabbing her coat and slipping it on, she glanced on last time behind her before smiling and closing the door behind her. Just a few hours, she'd be home before Maleko woke up.

-0-

Yet Maleko did wake up.

He woke up and the hairs on the back of his neck were stiff and his fingers were twitching. A low rumble escaped his chest as he curled his fingers into the sheets of his bed just to give them something to do.

Something felt wrong.

He always had a good sense of danger, the years before meeting mama had taught him how to pick up on threats. If he wasn't prepared, he would die. He didn't want to die. So he had to be prepared. Always prepared. Simple as that.

He didn't feel threatened or danger often when mama was around, she always warded away anything bad. This was the first time in a long time that he had felt this sense of foreboding.

But he woke up, it was dark and late and the little machine next to his bed said 1:37 in bright, glowy red numbers. His body felt on edge and the air felt heavy. Maleko didn't like it. Didn't like the nervous feeling it gave him.

He pushed the blankets off and rolled off of his bed, landing on all fours before standing up and arching his back. The heavy feeling of the air didn't go away, it felt suffocating, like it was crushing him. He didn't like the bad vibe it gave off, it made him feel like something terrible was about to happen.

Slowly, Maleko creeped out of his room, pushing the door open and stepping into the hall. The lights were off, but he could see fine, the dark never bothered him. He couldn't hear anything, though, nothing but the outside world, the owls and bugs and raccoons. He couldn't hear mama. Was she asleep? It was late, she usually as asleep right now, if he woke her up, this bad feeling would go away and they'd be safe again.

Not wanting to be too loud, Maleko slowly walked down the hall, each step careful, his hand trailing along the wall as he headed towards mama's room. She kept the door open a crack, she always did in case Maleko needed her, or in case something happened and she could hear it better. Mama didn't have as good of hearing as Maleko, her senses weren't as sharp so she needed her door open.

But, when he pushed her door open and let out a low whimper to get her attention, he didn't see the familiar body under a pile of blankets. The bed was made, like no one had been in it since last night. It was cold to the touch, too, he noted when he approached it. Mama hadn't gone to bed yet; her body heat wasn't there at all. He worried his lower lip between his teeth and looked around.

It's okay, mama might just be downstairs, she could have fallen asleep on the couch. No, he would have heard her, she always left the TV on if she fell asleep down there. She must have gone to the store! That's it. He'd go downstairs and wait for her.

He slipped out of her room and glanced out the window that was beside her door in the hall. He could see the moon high in the sky, grinning, why did the moon grin and why was its mouth always bloody? Maleko didn't know, it was as silly to look at as the sun and its laughing face. Maybe he should ask mama when she got home?

Turning around and taking a few steps, the boy paused.

He could smell smoke.

Lots of smoke, different kinds, not right. Not from fire.

He could smell the awful smoke from those tiny burning paper things he often saw grownups have in their mouths that they'd suck on and breath out smoke, it always smelled awful, unnatural.

But he could smell another kind of smoke too, from fire, but not the kind of fire that got produced from a flame. Kind of ragged, disruptive. Like when mama and him went in one of the metal car things and the engine thingy began coughing. But not quite the same smoke.

Was there laughter? His ears twitched and he could just faintly hear laughter in the distance. But it felt like it was getting closer, the smoke felt like it was getting stronger, too, though he couldn't see it yet.

There was a nervous twitch to his fingers again, sweat starting to drip down his neck.

Something wasn't right. Nothing about this was right, was normal.

Something was wrong.

The next instant, Maleko heard wood and bricks cracking and crumbling, a loud noise that had his sensitive ears ringing as his body hit the wall. He smelled fire, could feel it as flames started to creep across the floor.

Did he start something on fire?

No, not him. Maleko knew how to start a fire, he knew how to not start one, too. This wasn't his fire, not his flames. Someone else's. They tickled on his skin, like warm kisses. His head felt dizzy.

Someone was laughing, someone else was yelling, was that a creaking noise he heard? His vision was too blurry to try and see. But someone was breaking stuff, why were people trying to break his home? The loud noises that had his ears hurting didn't stop, either.

Maleko pushed himself to his feet, there were flames on his arm from the fire these people started. The ceiling groaned and bits of drywall crumbled. Had something crashed into his house? The house kept shuddering and groaning with each bang.

The voices were more clear now, too. The laugh was coming from a woman, he didn't recognize her, she wasn't mama. He couldn't make out much else. He heard steel. He heard explosions. Was she a witch? Mama's friend? But mama didn't like many of the witches or sorcerers that she talked to, she only really liked Kom. This wasn't Kom, he didn't do this kind of magic.

Maleko's body felt weird, his head felt sticky. Was that blood he smelled? He hit his head on the wall during the first explosion, maybe he cut his head somewhere along the way? Mama was going to be mad when she saw what was going on, saw the damage these people were doing to their home. The smells and sounds were overwhelming for him. He should stop them, before they got hurt, before they went too far and mama got really mad, before they—

He didn't know what happened, not really.

One moment he was trying to stay standing, his legs trembling under him and his head feeling all stuffed and messed up. The next he was stumbling backwards, crashing through the hallway window, breaking through the glass with his head and heading down to the ground below.

He was plummeting to the ground two stories below, broken glass raining down on him, and he wondered if it had been one of the explosions going on inside or the shuddering structure that knocked him back.

About halfway to the ground he realized he should try to stop himself from falling, mama would be sad if he got hurt. He twisted in the air, reached out with one hand, claws extended, but this wasn't like a tree where he could dig his claws into the trunk and slow himself down. The best he managed was grabbing onto the gutter and pausing his fall for a moment before it broke off and his descent continued.

He hit the ground at a slightly slower rate than he had originally thanks to his attempt at stopping the fall, with the gutter piece falling beside him. But the impact still rattled him right to the bones and forced the air out of his lungs as he sprawled out on the grass, feeling his head make another hard collision. But, he was on the ground now, that was good, better than being in the air. Now he just had too—

(When did I end up on the ground?)

He thought, confused, feeling shards of glass pressing uncomfortably into his face and into his arms. He could feel blood, too. Had he fallen? When did that happen?

Maleko tried to stand, or even sit up, but that was too much effort for his body at the moment. His eyes felt heavy and his brain felt all kinds of confused. Was it because he crashed through the window face first? Wait, did he go through a window? His ribs hurt, too. Something flew from the window and crashed into him, his vision was too blurry to make out what it was, but it felt like wood, and he felt it dig into his stomach, his ribs creaking under the pressure.

The smell of blood was even stronger than before, was it his blood? His hair felt damp and he felt something sticky and warm running down the skin of his belly.

The screams and sounds of fighting going on inside his house seemed to die down with one desperate, terrified scream. It fell quiet. He couldn't see, were his eyes closed? He wasn't sure. Where was mama?

Why was he on the grass again?

Someone approached him, he felt hands pushing him up to sit after knocking away the chair leg that was on him, someone swatted at his arm repeatedly why were they—oh right his shirt was on fire, they must not like fire. They were talking, too, but he couldn't make sense of their words, it felt like water between him and them.

"Hey, kid, try not to pass out," someone said and he could smell that awful papery-stick smoke on their breath, who were they talking to? Oh, right, him. Someone else pressed a hand to his face, he felt glass being pulled from his cheek. What was going on again.

All Maleko could do is mutter something not even he could quite understand as his consciousness faded away to the tempo of the throbbing of his skull.


Hey guys, third times the charm, right?

This is gonna be something I hope you guys can enjoy, and if you have any thoughts on this, things you liked or didn't like, suggestions for improvement, feel free to let me know!