TW: Lotta blood, non-fatal.


An hour before, golden boy Lewis Pepper had decided on a swim.

By now, the ranks for the first two classes were up on the Groom Room doors, and so access was granted to students in the top half of the rankings. Inside, the girls' Groom Room resembled a medieval spa, with three aromatic bath pools ("Hot", "Cold", and "Just Right"), a Little Match Girl sauna, three Rose Red makeup stations, a Cinderella-themed pedicure corner, and a waterfall shower built into a Little Mermaid lagoon. The boys' Groom Rooms focussed more on fitness, with a Midas Gold sweat lodge, a peasant-themed tanning room, and a gymnasium with Norse hammers, mud wrestling pit, saltwater lap pool, and full array of Turkish baths.

Head still buzzing with thoughts of that strange boy from the Welcoming and Chivalry, Lewis had hoped a dip in the chilled waters before Swordplay would clear his mind enough to focus. When he emerged dripping from the pool, swan crest glittering on bare chest, he lifted his head to find a gaggle of girls in the hallway outside crowded at the porthole window to the boys' Groom Rooms, gaping at him. He flushed and hurriedly picked up a towel to cover himself and dry off.

Lewis took his time, the swan crest transferring once again to his shirt and then his jacket as he redressed slowly, buying as much time as possible before he had to confront the girls at the door. Finally cinching his tie, he lifted his head to see a flash of purple at the window, and sighed. Looked like he wouldn't be avoiding them after all. He trudged slowly to the door and opened it, keeping his eyes down—

The hallway was empty. Nothing there but the scent of roses in the faint breeze. Confused as he was, Lewis sighed in relief and took a step forward.

Something smacked into his chest, landing with an "Oof!" on the floor before him. Lewis looked down with surprise and froze.

It was that boy from before—the one that had caught his rose at the Welcoming. He was muttering to himself, pushing himself to his feet and then brushing himself down, before looking up and freezing under his gaze.

Seconds ticked by in tense silence.

"Uh . . . sorry," Lewis finally managed, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "I wasn't watching where I was going."

"Well, you should," the other huffed, shoulders tense, eyes fixed on the floor, and walked past him without another word, crossing the hall and reaching out to yank at a door. It was locked.

Lewis stared. "Are . . . you going to Swordplay?" He gestured the other way with his thumb. "It's this way."

The student stomped past him, fists clenched.

"Uh, it was nice to meet you!" Lewis tried one more time. The boy shook his head and disappeared around the corner.

Lewis stood alone in the hallway, staring after where he'd last seen him, feeling confused and scorned.

༻·𖥸·༺

Swordplay took place in a grassy clearing around the side of the castle with Professor Eider Întuneric—Arthur jolted when he saw him. Of course, it was the teacher he'd seen the previous night in the Gallery of Good, raven-black hair upswept, navy eyes bright and piercing, sporting a form-fitting waistcoat and white shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Funnily enough, up close, he looked barely older than his students, though he was around a head taller.

"Swordplay will be a mix of theory and practical lessons, depending on the material," Professor Întuneric announced, after introducing himself. "Our theories will be held either in the Valour Commons or Hansel's Haven, depending on availability, and our practicals here. Today we'll just be gauging everyone on what they know already, so we can work on improving from there. That sound good?"

Though Arthur had never touched a sword in his life and was unsure if he could even hold one without accidentally stabbing himself, he found himself relaxing just a little in Întuneric's casual presence, devoid of expectancy like the other classes.

"Arthur of Woods Beyond?"

Arthur's head jerked up. "Huh?"

The professor chuckled from the front of the class, holding a ledger. "Roll call."

"Oh," Arthur replied, exhaling. "Here."

"Chaddick of Foxwood?"

"Yes."

"Eugene of Camelot?"

"Present, Sir."

"Thank you. Lewis of Foxwood?"

Silence.

He tried again. "Lewis of Foxwood?"

"Here! I'm sorry," came a voice from behind, and the class turned. Arthur paled.

The purple-haired boy from the Welcoming was jogging toward them from the castle, pulling up on the edge of the group with an apologetic grin. "Sorry, Sir, I got lost."

Arthur grimaced. Hadn't he pointed Arthur to Swordplay?

"No trouble," their teacher reassured, and scribbled on his ledger. "Nicholas of Murmuring Mountains?"

Arthur stepped further into the crowd of students, trying to hide from the newcomer—Lewis. God, this guy was everywhere.

"Alright," came Întuneric's voice. "I'm gonna partner you guys up first to see how you do with students your own age, then I'll duel each of you one-on-one to gauge your experience." He winked. "Don't worry, I'll go easy on you. Could everyone please choose a training sword from the crate?"

Once everyone had a sword the professor paced through them, examining the way they held their weapons. "Alright . . . Chaddick, you go with Eugene. Nicholas . . . with Tarquin. And Lewis . . ." He stopped in front of the student and turned to scan the class. ". . . You go with Arthur."

Arthur deflated. Oh, great.

With pairs allocated, students drifted together, raising their swords and adopting their stances, all except Arthur and Lewis, who stood with legs together, swords hanging by their sides, awkwardly avoiding looking at each other.

After a few moments, Lewis cleared his throat. "Um, hello again."

Arthur stayed silent.

". . . Have you fought with a sword before?"

God, he didn't want to have to talk to this guy, but with one last-place ranking already, Arthur knew he couldn't make a habit of failing classes. He shook his head no.

"That's alright. I've fought before a couple of times. I can . . . teach you a bit, if you like?"

Arthur sighed heavily. This was a nightmare. He forced his eyes up to meet Lewis'. "Okay."

The boy seemed to brighten a bit as he took a step closer and held his sword up. "Okay, well first thing is you'll need to anchor the hilt with your thumb and forefinger in a 'C' shape, to keep from dropping it. Grip it securely, but not too tight; your knuckles will get fatigued."

Arthur begrudgingly loosened his grip around the hilt, but only the tiniest bit. He still didn't have much faith in himself to wield the thing safely.

"If you're holding it pointing towards the ground, use one hand so you can swing freely. But if you're holding it pointing upwards, two hands help steady the sword and you'll have more force behind your swing," Lewis continued, demonstrating with his own weapon. "And angle it like this for proper form."

Shoulders raised by his ears, Arthur raised the thing in front of him, pointed at the other student, as if to ward him off. Copying the boys around them, he stood with his feet apart and bent his knees a little.

"Hey, that looks great!" Lewis smiled, and Arthur immediately averted his eyes. "We can try sparring if you like? Just slowly."

Arthur nodded once, and the other advanced, slowly, so he could predict his movements, raising the hilt of his sword so the tip pointed down and bumping it against Arthur's blade as he raised it to defend. Next, Lewis brought his sword around and swung it slowly from the side, Arthur bringing his own weapon to point down as he blocked.

As they worked, Lewis' advances slowly became faster and faster, until their swords clashed with rhythmic frequency, Lewis pressing forward a little harder, Arthur stepping back in response.

"You're doing really well," Lewis smiled, and his teeth gleamed in the sunlight. "Do you know how to win a duel?"

"No," Arthur huffed, choosing to ignore the compliment, sword raised and stepping back as Lewis advanced.

"You have to catch your partner off guard, bring their sword down—" Lewis began, swinging lower. Arthur caught the blow with the blade diagonally, leaving plenty of sword across his body so as to not leave an opening.

"That's really good," Lewis said, but then he started moving faster, slashing his sword up, down, to the side, and Arthur responded by following with his own blade, Lewis pressing forward, Arthur stepping back, steel clanging, until Arthur felt something against his back and, unable to move further, hurriedly blocked a swing from the side, and suddenly Lewis' training blade was framing him against the tree he had backed into, blade levelled and inches from his throat.

When he met Lewis' eyes, he grinned. "And that's how you win a duel."

"Alright, let's split!" came Întuneric's call from across the clearing, and Lewis turned to look over his shoulder. Arthur dropped his own sword and shoved him away by the chest, tromping forward. He saw Lewis' face fall, and crushed the guilt that welled up inside him. This guy was the enemy.

The boys gathered before their teacher, ready for their one-on-ones, and Arthur hurriedly grabbed another dulled blade from the crate.

As the class watched on, their professor duelled both Gene and another student named Chaddick, with dark honey hair and grey eyes. Both of them responded exceptionally well to Întuneric's advances both were ultimately both disarmed, the latter with a hooked foot around the ankle, tripping him, training sword thunking to the grass.

"No fair!" Chaddick yelped, sword to his throat, and the professor chuckled.

"You're here to learn to fight Nevers, aren't you? Nevers don't play by the rules—they'll play dirty." He grabbed him by the hand and heaved him up. "You need to keep your eyes open at all times."

Chaddick nodded begrudgingly, and Întuneric smiled. "But otherwise, well done," he said, clapping Chaddick on the back as he picked up his sword, and scanned the class for his next duel. His glittering blue eyes fell on Arthur and he tilted his chin in a gesture. "Arthur! You're next."

Arthur shyly stepped up to him, adopting his stance and shifting his weight between his feet to stay alert.

"Have you sparred before?" his teacher asked, lunging forward fluidly. Arthur raised his blade to block with a clang!.

"Not until today," he gritted, straining against his teacher's weight. The professor backed off and came forward again with another attack.

"Really? I saw you with Lewis earlier. You're pretty good for a beginner."

"Thanks," he said, flicking his teacher's sword up and away.

"Try a bit of offence," Întuneric offered, clashing against his blade again. "If you see an opening, go for it."

The parried back and forth for a little, Arthur deflecting his blows, until his teacher raised his arms a little higher than before and Arthur saw his opening, swinging low—

"Remember what I told Chaddick?" Întuneric smirked, and Arthur's eyes widened.

The professor jumped his swing easily and spun his own sword around to hold it by the blade, reaching around and swiping Arthur's ankles out from under him.

Arthur fell seemingly in slow motion, holding his sword out to the side to avoid impaling himself, and just as he hit the ground—

He fell into warm, strong arms.

He looked up.

Lewis' amethyst eyes blinked back at him.

Arthur could see the question in them. The seeking of approval.

He grunted and rolled out of them and onto his knees on the grass, hurriedly picking himself up.

"You did well," their professor smiled at him.

"Th-Thanks," Arthur grumbled, keeping his eyes down.

"Are you okay?"

The question was soft, but he didn't look up at Lewis.

"Just fine," he said cuttingly, and when their teacher called up another partner, Arthur went forward and dropped his sword in the crate and then powered across the clearing and away from the class, away from Lewis, whose eyes he could feel burning into his back.

Once he rounded the castle and was out of sight Arthur exhaled, letting his shoulders droop just a little. There was a strange feeling trying to rise in his chest and he squashed it. What was the guy's problem? Couldn't he see he just wanted to be left alone? Was he that irritating with everybody?

As Arthur walked through spattered trees, he came to a group of girls in Good's pink uniforms by the lakeside, gathered around and gazing into the water. He grimaced.

"Beautiful, Annik! So clear," their teacher preened, a short, lean woman in fuchsia with almond skin and dark curls. "With projection like that I can see you have a predisposed talent for passive communication! Now, should I give you your ranks?"

The girls all straightened and nodded, and the teacher waved her pink-lit finger, shining numbers popping into existence above their heads. The woman in pink turned to face the forest and lifted a hand to the sky, squinting into the sun as she measured it with her fingers.

Arthur froze, afraid he'd been spotted, but the teacher smiled with an "Oh!" and dropped her hand, turning back to the girls. "This lesson went much faster than I expected. Girls, I'm letting you go early. Well done, everyone!"

Tittering, the students made their way back towards the frosted castle doors in pairs. Arthur stepped up behind a tree, leaning out and squinting at the lake. What had they all been looking at?

"Hello," said a soft voice beside him, and Arthur whirled around in fright to find the teacher right next to him. Completely unperturbed, she smiled at him. "You're looking at the lake, I see."

Confused, Arthur threw a glance over his shoulder. She had just been standing a dozen metres away. How had she been so quick?

"Would you like me to show you what's in it?" she asked, and Arthur turned back to face her. Seeing his expression, she laughed. "Light-footedness is a talent of mine."

Mind blank, Arthur searched for something to say. ". . . What class do you take?" he asked eventually, and winced in embarrassment.

The teacher's raspberry eyes were kind as she rested a gentle hand between his shoulder blades, guiding him forward with her. "I teach Animal Communication to the girls of Good. We were just looking at Wish Fish."

"Wish Fish?" Arthur asked, nose crinkling.

"Magical fish you can find scattered in oases across the realms," she explained, walking them both to the grassy banks and settling down on her knees. "They're a very useful form of communication if you're facing troubles—lost your voice, under a spell, missing your tongue—and for some, they also serve as a force of direction. They can help you realise your dreams, recover memories . . . but it takes a special soul to connect with them that way. They operate mainly off very concise, concentrated thoughts." She leaned forward to trail her fingers through the water. "I was just asking the girls to show me their deepest wishes, if they had any."

"And . . . what were they?" Arthur asked, intrigued despite himself.

The teacher giggled. "Boys, mostly."

Arthur grimaced. "Oh."

She laughed again, swishing her fingers deeper, eyes on the lake in front of her. "All except one. Special girl, she is."

As Arthur watched, a hundred tiny white fish bobbed up to the surface, kissing her fingers. Entranced, he leaned forward, trailing his fingers in too, and felt tingles across his skin as the fish greeted him as well.

"Who was it?" he asked, watching as the fish meandered through the water, coiling and twisting around each other playfully.

"I'm not telling," the teacher teased, and she turned to look at him, eyes sparkling. "Do you want to see how they work?"

"Yes please," he said, and withdrew his fingers as the teacher leaned in closer, closing her eyes, a smile playing around her lips. Before his eyes, the fish began to turn pink, blue, green, white, and then arranged themselves into a cloudy picture—as the lines sharpened, he found he was looking at a group of girls in pink, brandishing glinting swords as they duelled in trousers and shirts, and a separate class of boys in blue on the bank before them, reaching into the crystalline water, much like the teacher was doing right now.

"What's that?" he breathed, entranced by the magical image.

The teacher opened her eyes and sighed in contentment. "Equality." She withdrew her fingers but the fish stayed, image rippling in the waters. "A School for Good in which boys and girls can take whatever classes they want. Wear whatever they want." She paused for a moment, thinking. "A school where girls aren't told their worth depends on whether or not they can marry a prince."

Arthur scrunched his nose. "What? They teach that here?"

When the teacher turned to him, she was still smiling, but there was sadness in her eyes. "You've read the fairytales, haven't you? All those heroes were once students at this school. That's how they were taught."

"So that's why boy and girl classes are divided?" Arthur asked, watching the picture as it began to fade.

The teacher nodded, lips pursed. "They say it's tradition. I've gone to the Deans about it, but they have to follow the School Master's orders, and he has no intention of changing the schools. It just makes me wonder . . . Evil classes aren't divided by gender. Surely, Good would be stronger united. I guess everyone's too convinced of Good's winning streak to think about change."

Arthur was silent for a moment. Now that he thought about it, dividing boys and girls like that didn't really make any sense. He looked up at her. "Is the School Master Evil?"

The teacher looked shocked. "Why would you say that?"

He shrugged. "I'd think if he was Good then he'd be happy to work on strengthening Good, whether they keep winning or not."

The teacher thought about this for a moment, and then smiled. "No one really knows which side he's on. But everyone assumes he'd Good, because we've been winning all the stories for the last two hundred years."

Arthur nodded slowly. That also made sense. So why would the School Master want to keep Good divided?

They sat like that for a while, silent, each lost in their own thoughts, waters lapping at the banks, until the teacher spoke. "Would you like to try a wish?"

Arthur snapped to attention. "Huh?"

"The Wish Fish." She gestured to the school of pale fish, bobbing patiently before them. "Make a wish and see if they draw it for you."

Arthur gulped. "I'm . . . allowed?"

The teacher smiled. "I know boys don't take Animal Communication, but . . . my dream has to start somewhere, right?"

Arthur stared at her with wide eyes for a moment before remembering his manners. "O— Oh! Thank you, uh . . ."

"You can call me Alita." Her eyes were warm.

Arthur nodded, offering a small smile of his own, and leaned over across the water, reaching in. The fish immediately gathered around his fingertip, kissing the skin and shimmying around each other.

"Close your eyes," Alita instructed, "And just focus. What do you wish for?"

Arthur obeyed, letting his eyelids fluttered shut, and thought. What do I wish for . . . ? Well, he didn't want to fail school, for starters . . . he wanted to see Vivi again . . . he wanted to go home . . .

He felt the fish twirling around his finger and peeked open an eyes to find them trembling like tulips in the wind, flushed in shades of orange, blue, and pink. It didn't look like anything.

"Keep going," Alita coaxed. "It looks like you're a bit foggy. Just concentrate."

He frowned, burrowing into his thoughts. The fish started to tremble like tulips in the wind, and suddenly Arthur found himself wrestling with wishes in his head.

Back home—Don't fail—Back home—Vivi safe—Back home—Lewis gone

Wishes swept into a cyclone, and the fish flailed in the water. "Concentrate . . ." Came Alita's voice, fading into the background.

New face—Same face—Different school—Away from school!—More friends—No friends

The fish, red as blood, started to quake, as if about to explode. Alarmed, Arthur tried to pull his finger out, but the fish clamped onto it, anchoring him in place.

"What the—!"

The fish turned black as night and flew to him, flooding his hand in a shivering mass. Beside him, Alita gasped, and Arthur frantically wrenched harder, but then his head exploded with pain—

Home School Mom Dad Good Bad Boys Girls Ever Never—

The fish vibrated harder, faster, until they blurred from vision and Arthur saw eyes pop off, fins shatter, bellies swell with engorged blood vessels, the fish letting out a thousand tortured screams, Arthur's head splitting in two—

FailWinTruthLiesLostFoundStrongWeakFriendFoe—

The fish swelled into a ballooning black mass, creeping up his hand. Arthur thrashed to free his finger until he heard his bone break and shrieked in agony as the screaming fish sucked his whole arm into their ebony cocoon.

He whirled to Alita, gaping beside him— "Help!—"

The cocoon billowed into his face, suffocating his cries. With a high, sickening shriek, the deathly womb swallowed him. Arthur gasped for breath, limbs flailing, trying to kick himself out, but pain seared through his head and the surrounding mass forced him into a foetal crouch.

HateLovePunishRewardHunterHuntedLiveDieKillKissTake—

Screaming with vengeance, the black cocoon sucked him deeper like a gelatinous grave, stifling his last breaths, leeching him every last drop of life until there was nothing left to—

Give.

The screaming stopped. The cocoon sloughed away.

Arthur fell back in shock.

In his arms was a young girl, no more than twelve or thirteen, with sandy skin and rich dark curls. Gasping softly, like a fish on land, she raised a hand to squeeze his shoulder, and looked up at him with amber eyes.

"A hundred years, and you're the first who wished to free me," the girl whispered, smiling. "Thank you."

Letting her eyes flutter closed, her hand dropped, her body splintering into golden light, and then with a burst of white, she was gone, Arthur alone on the bank.

Slowly, he turned to Alita, still frozen beside him. He held up his finger, healed like new. "Was. . . Was all that. . ."

He took a deep breath. ". . . NORMAL?"

Alita's expression told him all he needed to know.

Loud squawks pealed from above. Arthur looked up at a friendly dove hovering above them; only the dove's calls weren't friendly at all, but wild, frantic. From the Endless Woods came a fox's growl, guttural and disturbed—then more howls and wails from all around, animals in a frenzy—Arthur rocketed to his feet, and they screamed louder, louder, building with fever—

"WHAT'S GOING ON?" Arthur yelled, hands clamped over his ears, turning again to Alita.

As soon as he saw the teacher's face, he knew.

They want it too.

Before Arthur could move, the stampede came from every direction. Squirrels, rats, dogs, moles, deer, birds, cats, rabbits, a bumbling otter—every animal on the school grounds, every animal that could squeeze through the gates charged towards their saviour. . . .

Make us human! they demanded.

Arthur blanched. Since when could he understand animals?

Save us, young prince!

Since when could he understand delusional animals?

Panicked, he cried to Alita— "What do I do?!"

The teacher took one look at the stampede, her supposed friends, and, eyes wide, turned to him. "RUN!"

Finally, a piece of advice he could use.

༻·𖥸·༺

Far across the bay, from its perch atop the Evil turrets, a security gargoyle stirred from its slumber to a cacophony from the opposing banks. It blinked open red eyes and lifted its horned head, glancing across at its two companions, one with dragon wings and one with a snake's head, still asleep. Turning back to face the castle across the bay, the horned gargoyle could just make out a prince in blue charging toward the front doors, a stampede of roaring, shrieking animals on his heels. The gargoyle's eyes flashed. Uncurling its studded tail and thrusting out wide, jagged wings, it launched off its tower and swooped towards the bay.

༻·𖥸·༺

Arthur dashed for the towers as magpies pecked his hands, mice clung to his boots, frogs hopped up his suit. Batting at the mob, he stumbled up the hill, shielding his head, hurdling hogs, hawks, hares. But just as he had the white swan doors in sight, a moose charged out of the trees and sprang—he ducked and the moose crashed, skewering the swans. Arthur bolted through the glass stair room, past Pollux on goat legs, who glimpsed the onslaught behind him.

"What in the devil's—"

"Help!" he yelled—

"DON'T MOVE!" Pollux shrieked—

But Arthur was already charging up the Honour stairs. When he looked back, he saw Pollux deflecting animals right and left, before a thousand butterflies crashed through the sunroof and knocked his head off his goat legs, leaving the herd to chase him up the steps.

"NOT INTO THE TOWERS!" Pollux's head screeched as it rolled out the door—

But Arthur blew through the corridors into the full classrooms of Hansel's Haven. As boys and teachers tackled porcupines (ill-advised) and screaming girls hopped desks in high heels (extremely ill-advised), he tried to escape the threering hubbub, but animals just snatched mouthfuls of candy and kept chase. Still, he managed just enough of a lead to sprint up the stairs, slide through the frosted door, and kick it shut before the first weasel popped through.

Arthur doubled over, heaving for breath, breeze wafting over the rooftop. He lifted his head to find himself in an expansive menagerie, a collection of green leafy shrubs, artfully trimmed into scenes of Good's greatest victories; Snow White's prince kissing her back to life from her coffin, a prince slaying Sleeping Beauty's evil witch, a butler slipping Cinderella's glass slipper onto her foot. . . .

Something crashed against the door behind him and Arthur jumped, fumbling with his belt and yanking it off. Turning around, he hurriedly clasped it around the doorhandles and backed away, searching for another way off the roof. He spied a looming silhouette through the glaring sun and wilted in relief. Thinking it a teacher, he ran towards the shadow—

Fire blazed towards him and he ducked just in time, the bush behind him bursting into flames. When he raised his head the first thing he saw was a pair of flashing red eyes, set against a stony, demonic face atop a muscular man's body, swooping toward him from Evil on huge, batlike wings—

Arthur yelped and spun around, bolting in the opposite direction. Gargoyles! What did Pollux say about gargoyles at the Welcoming!

Another hedge burst into flame beside him and he dodged it just in time, heat searing his side. Orders to kill.

He scampered between topiaries, dodging reaching talons and balls of fire, until he found himself facing a shimmering glass wall, the entire menagerie burning behind him, nowhere left to run.

He spun just in time for the gargoyle to reach out and knock him to his back, settling over his chest with a vicious snarl, its hot musty breath fanning across his face. Arthur closed his eyes, waiting for the pain—

It never came.

Cautiously, he opened his eyes to find the gargoyle motionless on his chest, so close he could see the reflections in his red eyes . . . reflections of a scared little boy.

"You . . . You want my help?" Arthur wheezed.

The gargoyle nodded, blinking back hopeful tears.

"B-But I— it was an accident," Arthur stuttered. "I . . . I don't know how I did it. I'm sorry."

The gargoyle gazed into his eyes and saw he was telling the truth. It slumped to the ground beside him, scattering ash.

Sitting up and looking down at the monster, just another lost child, Arthur thought of all the creatures in this world, the animal sidekicks from the stories. They didn't follow orders because they were loyal. They didn't help heroes because they were loving. They did it because someday, maybe loyalty and love would be repaid with a second chance at being human. Only through a fairy tale could they find their way back, to their imperfect selves, to their storyless lives. He was just like them now, searching for a way out, just wanting to go home.

He tentatively reached out to rest a hand on the gargoyle's back, fingers running over its studded spine. "I wish I could help you," he whispered, chest toiling with grief. "I wish I could help us all go home."

The gargoyle leaned into his touch, and Arthur rested his cheek against its stony back. As the burning menagerie closed in, he let the tears come.

Stone softened beneath his cheek.

The gargoyle lurched back in shock. As it stumbled to its feet, its rock shell cracked . . . its claws smoothed to hands . . . its eyes lightened with innocence, the monster's face beginning to melt into a little boy's. With a stunned gasp, Arthur reached out—

There was the crash of splintering glass and suddenly someone was standing in front of Arthur, sword drawn. "Get back!" a voice demanded, and Arthur paled.

"No!" he cried, scrambling to his feet. "No, Lewis, wait—"

"Get back to Evil where you belong, or I'll kill you," Lewis seethed, raising his sword—

The boy shrank back in terror, transformation not yet complete. . .

Lewis closed his eyes and swung the blade down, straight for the gargoyle's neck. . .

"NO!"

Lewis' sword stopped. He opened his eyes to find Arthur standing in front of him, shielding the boy, blade buried in the arm he'd flung out to protect himself.

"Arthur," Lewis gasped in horror, and Arthur fell to his knees, blade sliding out with a sickly sound. Behind him, the boy collapsed too, skin dewy soft, brown hair flopping over his eyes.

Lewis' mouth dropped open. "Who—"

Teachers charged through the shattered door behind him and swarmed to the two on the ground, their Swordplay professor propping a pale Arthur up in a growing pool of red and a dishevelled Alita collecting the unknown boy into her arms, but just as she did he gave one last breath and splintered to light, vanishing off the rooftop.

Weak in Professor Întuneric's arms, Arthur's breaths were laboured, arm limp by his side, soaked in blood. He slowly looked up at Lewis.

"Why . . . do you like me so much?" he breathed, and passed out.

Long after they'd hustled an unconscious Arthur off to be treated, long after the nymphs had extinguished the fire on the roof, long after the animals had been rounded up and the halls mopped and repaired, Lewis found that question still lingering in his mind. And he found he couldn't answer it.


I couldn't kill him I couldn't kill him I couldn't kill him give this little gargoyle boy the world please 😭😭😭

All direct similarities between this AU and the original books, including excerpts and characters, have been included as artistic choice.