Rald hugged her legs to her chest as she curled up against the wall. The storm outside raged as four students stood in the dark of the communal building. It was the dead of night on the week of the finals and Carly had corralled her little group to the lab for a stake out. Even in her cloak, Rald was freezing. Fall had nearly gone away and the cold winds of winter were all too eager to rear their head. “Carly, I do not see this bearing any fruit,” Sophia sighed, taking her big hat off and fixing her frazzled hair. The journalist stepped away from the window overlooking the path on the south side of campus and set her camera on the windowsill, “Both times you guys spotted him, it was a night like this,” She shivered as well, “We can’t just let this guy run rampant, we need more evidence, a picture maybe, and we’ll be able to go forward with this. People will HAVE to believe us!” Blud crossed his arms, “There’s not even a guarantee this moss collector will show up,” He took off his cloak and threw it over his sister’s shoulders. “I want to study and go to bed,” Rald whimpered. “Yeah we shoulda brought some study materials,” He grumbled again, “We could have done something productive instead of just wastin’ our time on this crap.” “Do you not want to find this butcher? If they were any shorter I would start accusing you of being him!” “At least cast a warmth spell, it’s freezing in here,” Sophia requested, “You are the evocation student, after all.” “No way! He’ll see it for sure!” Carly snapped. “Then put it under a blanket! We’ll catch our deaths in here if we don’t!” The cat-witch hissed, conjuring a heavy comforter for the four. “Fine! But if we miss him because of this, then this will have been a waste of time!” The reporter nagged before casting a softly glowing magicked flame. Sophia quickly threw the blanket over it and used a spell to hang it over them, the two goblins scurrying under it. Sophia sighed with relief as a wave of warmth washed over her, “I swear, I expected you demi-humans to be a hardier bunch,” Carly turned back to the window. A little switch sat on the windowsill next to her camera. A clever trap had been laid, magitech that Sophia had procured had been set to have a wireless activation. Once the fiend stepped within range, a photo would be shot by Carly. As a precaution the reporter also had with her another camera should the first not work. Cameras and lights, all ready to go. Now all they had to do was wait. “Anything yet?” Blud whined, sticking his head out from under the blanket. An hour had passed, but there was still no sign of the Butcher. Sophia had been using the time to quiz the two goblins as best she could without any of the materials, but even now the three had burned themselves out. Carly glanced at the goblins before turning back to the window. “Look, I’ll give it fifteen more minutes and-” Carly stopped short, freezing in place. Blud cocked his head to the side quizzically. “What?” The reporter simply raised a pointed finger at the window, and the goblin scrambled up beside her, standing on his tippy toes and peeking over the windowsill. “He’s here!” They both rasped out breathlessly. Rald and Sophia were out from the blanket in a flash, the four looking out of the window into the dark of the southern woods. The stench hit the goblins first, then Sophia and finally Carly. It was the sickly, sweet rot of death wafting in from the forest. It made both of the goblin’s stomachs rumble, though both were too frightened to notice. There standing in the moonlight was the shape of what Carly had deemed ‘The Butcher.’ Now that she saw it herself, she realized just how fitting the nomenclature was. Blood coated the creature’s blackened cloak and pale white, expressionless mask. The looks of terror on both Blud and Sophia’s faces confirmed that it was indeed The Butcher. It floated closer forward. All was silent but for a howling wind that blew through the trees and the pitter patter of the rain on the windows. “Do it! Th-The button!” Sophia hissed, snapping Carly out of her frightened state. “No! Not yet! SHHH!” Carly shushed them and squatted down. Everyone followed her lead, getting as low as they could, while keeping an eye on The Butcher. Carly had her button in one hand and her camera in the other, the backup in case her trap failed, “Wait for it, wait for it,” They all waited patiently, their hearts pounding in their chests, “Now!” She exclaimed, gripping the switch. Flood lights illuminated the fiend, cameras snapped photos, and The Butcher reared back in surprise before drawing out a long, black wand. With a single wave of it, a dark energy emanated from The Butcher. The lights shattered, glass spraying from both bulbs and the cameras which fell from their hiding spots before The Butcher dashed away. “My cameras!” Carly started to rush toward the stairs, but everyone else grabbed her. “No! They could see you!” Sophia hissed. Blud grit his teeth, “We’re trying NOT to get killed!” The reporter fought back tears as she watched the monster retreat, “No… They got away…” “Miss Carly?” Rald put her little hand on the reporter’s shoulder, “We live to fight another day. We have to, especially if we’re the only bulwark against this foe. Cameras can be replaced and repaired, you can’t.” Carly sighed and wiped her eyes, “Right,” She looked at her extra camera, flipping through the photos that were taken when the trap had gone off. A few were blurry, but the black cloaked figure was totally visible in each. The blood, more or less so, “It's not much, but it's a start. There might still be photos on the other ones…” Rald had been divining during this, “I-I don’t see anything near us. Though they could be masked by magic. We need some kind of idea to conceal ourselves if we’re going to retrieve those cameras any time soon.” Her goblin brother rubbed his chin, “Alright. Sophia, teleport yourself down to the path and head this way. You two, we’re gonna act like we were trying to catch her in the act, like she’s seein’ a guy or somethin'. We can get someone in Karak-Albrac to try and fix ‘em later.” “Oh, I’ve so got that,” Carly chuckled, “Let’s go. Teleport down there and wait a minute.” “Alone?” The cat-witch mewled. “Fine, take Blud,” Carly waved her hand dismissively, “Let me handle all the talking, Rald.” “Ugh, fine,” Sophia waved her staff and teleported herself and the goblin to the far side of campus. Her next spell was a water repellant coating for her designer robes. Blud cast a magic umbrella to shield himself. Silently, the two strode across the campus toward where The Butcher had appeared. The two felt like someone was watching them the whole time. They turned down the path, the lightning overhead illuminating the now broken cameras and lights for a moment or two, “Hey, look at this,” Blud called as he knelt down and picked up a muddy and wet camera. It was as he feared, their protective coverings had come off and now they were sopping wet. “A camera?” Sophia casted a light spell, illuminating the area in a soft green glow, “A few more cameras too. What are these other things?” She mock examined the magitech lights. “AHA!” Carly jumped from the entrance to the recreation area and pointed a finger at the cat-witch, “I caught you red-handed, Sophia! The rumors of you stalking about at night are true and now I’ve caught you on camera!” “I do not think these cameras are going to be spilling any secrets…” Sophia sheepishly explained as she pointed to the near destroyed cameras. “My cameras! My-my set up! No! What did you do!?” She ran to them, picking up the cameras like you would a dying loved one, “How could you do this? Destroy all I’ve done in the name of journalism!?” She was hamming it up, but they hoped it was convincing. “Woah, lady. It was broken when we got here!” Blud hollered, “Rald, what are you doing with this woman?” “I could ask you the same thing,” Rald huffed back as she started to pick up the broken equipment. “Rald. Did you not see what broke it when I was in the bathroom?” Carly’s tone was nothing but despair. “I-I looked away for just a spell but… I didn’t hear anything when it happened over the storm,” Rald quickly turned to her brother, “If you’re gonna break it the most you could do it help clean up!” She snarled in a commanding tone that startled even Blud. He just nodded and helped. “This is the LAST time I set one of these motion traps. Probably scared a darn dog or something,” Carly wiped her eyes, “There’s no way I’m gonna get the photos off these now, even if I manage to fix them…” Sophia made a face, “Maybe we can get someone in the transmutation house to help? They know some repair spells, correct?” “I hope so… But is it worth it without the pictures they took? No way they survived whatever did this, along with the rain,” All four of them felt the eyes that had been upon them pull away but they didn’t dare drop the act, “Help bring them to my dorm, I will handle it tomorrow,” Carly ordered. “Yeah, yeah. You got it, lady,” Blud sighed as he picked up some lights. . . . . . Evening crept over Fairgarland as the first day of the fall term finals drew its curtain, leaving many of her students wondering how they had done and worrying about the finals that were to come. Many except for Harold, who sat quietly stewing at his desk in his dorm. He stared at the wall above his desk, a corkboard having recently been hung over it. On the board he had tacked photos, articles and handwritten notes he himself penned, all magically weaved together by a thread of hazel colored mana. Harold looked over each of the items, scrutinizing them. The centermost was a photo of Galahad Loxely provided by that newspaper girl, Carly Haelstorm. She had been most helpful providing any and all material Harold had requested, even coming up with theories of her own far-fetched ideas as to who Loxley was exactly. The first of many threads was a search into his lineage. Esteemed wizards and nobles from the old world were each to their own branching thread, those with families and those without were further splintered. Could he be the son of royal blood, his love for demi-humans could suggest he himself was one. Perhaps he was far older than he looked, or he could even be some form of half-elf that has enjoyed a youthful longevity. He could be from the old world himself. Half of these ideas were Carly's, but Harold could not discount them as he had not considered them before. Although the half-elf theory was likely bunk as he exhibited no signs of such a union, but he could still be a halfbreed of some sort that would produce a similar result. Harold shook his head, there was no use dwelling on that, all it did was open more avenues for him to explore. The prince looked down on his desk, a magicked scroll containing the census of the world's mages laid spread out before him. He had already eliminated the idea that Galahad was low-born, his skill and techniques in magic implied training provided only to nobility or warrior mages like his own grandfather, Garnalga Babarry, his namesake. Perhaps a visit to the old wizard was in order. Harold narrowed his search to other noble lines for now. He might have even narrowed it further to those with dark hair, but Carly had suggested Loxley's hair might have been a simple glamor. It wasn't uncommon, even his sisters had used such things, but there was doubt in his mind. The glamor most likely would not have maintained itself during their duel. Still, he kept the possibility open, saving the lighter-haired families for last. The first few lines of families were useless, either having one child who looked nothing like Loxley or having no children at all. Harold had been told Loxley spoke of his many sisters before. Assuming he wasn't lying, Harold looked for families of at least three children. None of them matched, be it they were full demi-human griffonites or were simply another race of man entirely. Perhaps he was adopted, Harold mused and quickly dismissed. More likely he was some noble's bastard than an orphan scooped up off the streets. What of the Hamiltons? There were many daughters and a son or two, though Galahad lacked their cat-like ears. Maybe he was concealing them under that red hat? But Harold recalled the first-year had no hat in the first weeks of the semester. They were a possibility but unlikely. What of Maximillion? The sisters matched, yes, but the census made no mention of a son. Arthur Maximillion had been wed to Nambra Faith, a sorceress. Galahad was no sorcerer. Karak-Albrac was out as well as he was no dwarf and none of the other Fairgarland house families had children. None of the royal families from the old world matched up either. This was quickly becoming maddening for the prince. He severed the magic ties from the photo to the royal families of old. Just as he was getting ready to give up, a knock came from his door. "Enter." He called, turning away from his work. The door opened and there in his blue suit stood Sean Reagel. "I didn't see you at the finals," Said Sean, "Is everything okay?" Harold rolled his eyes and turned away from Sean. "Everything is fine, I took my finals last week to free up my time." The prince announced, "And before you think to ask, of course I passed." "That’s good and all, but I have not seen you for a week. Have you been cooped up in here all this time? It doesn't even look like you've been packing to go home," The abjuration president asked, stepping over to Harold's desk. He looked over the corkboard, then to the census on the prince's desk and sighed, "This is what you have been doing? You are not going to let this one go, are you?" "I shan't, thank you for asking." Harold retorted, "I must know how he bested me: who trained him, who were his parents. Only then can I begin to devise a way to defeat him upon our next duel." "You could ask him yourself," Sean suggested, which was met with a scoff from the prince. "Ask him? Sean, do you realize Loxley does not wish to be known? Loxley may not even be his true name. Carly Haelstorm thinks he could be half-fey." "You're joking," Sean said flatly. "Of course I am, but Carly was not. Even so, she could be right, he clearly does not want people to know who his family is," Harold groaned, rubbing his eyes. "Truth be told, I have learned the same when I spoke with him myself.” Sean admitted, “He does seem rather secretive about it.” “See?” Harold pointed at Sean, “Is that not strange to you?” “It may be a little strange, or he may have his reasons. Home life could be difficult for him. I tend not to pry,” Sean replied. “Yes, very admirable of you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be uncovering his lineage soon,” The prince waved a hand at Sean, shooing him away. “Will you be staying on campus for Thanksgiving?” Asked Sean, ignoring the prince’s gestures. “I shall not. My family always holds Thanksgiving back at the Babarry Estate. I have not been absent once, nor do I plan on it. It is one of the few days I get to see them,” The prince sighed, looking up at Sean. “Get to report everything you’ve done since then?” Sean smiled. Harold closed his eyes and exhaled, “And some. Though I will not be happy to relay my recent… defeat.” “A surprise for your family to be sure,” Sean agreed, “I am sure they will understand that you have met your better for once.” The prince waved a hand at the desk before him, giving Sean an intense stare, “That is why I need to find out just who exactly it was that I lost to– my better as you said. How can I explain to them that I don’t even know who Galahad Loxley is? They’ll take it that I lost to some no-named vagabond that happened upon our academy without so much as an explanation. He was swift-casting, Sean. Do you know how many wizards can do that?” Sean rubbed his mouth for a moment before shaking his head, “Not many. That certainly explains what happened to his arm. Such a reckless over-expenditure of mana.” “Mana-deprivation aside, he was still willing and able to do it. Had I been as driven as him, I might have scoured myself overdrawing on mana,” Harold explained, “I could not keep up and that is unthinkable.” “For you?” Asked Sean. “For my family,” Answered Harold. Sean shook his head and sighed, turning back to the door. “Well, I won’t stop you, but I certainly will not be a part of this. Try to keep it civil, Harold, I do not want to see you get expelled,” The warning Sean gave as he left did nothing to deter the prince. As the door shut Harold glared at the face of Galahad, whose fiery, red eyes looked through him and beyond even as a photo. Red eyes. Could they be glamored? But what if there weren’t? It was certainly an avenue to explore. The man's eyes were like red-amber gemstones, uncut yet sharp and alive with resolve. Eyes he had seen before. Harold quickly turned back the pages of the census, his eyes desperately searching through each family again as his mind raced to remember where he had seen those eyes before. There was no royalty with eyes burning like his, but there was nobility– a new line of it, in fact. Not heroes of an age long since passed. Finally Harold came to the page, a cold sweat coming over him. He wiped his palms on his lap before bringing the book closer to him. The family had no son, but in the mother's eyes he saw the same crimson flames. Could it be? It was possible, surely. But how? . . . . . Carly hurried across campus with a duffle bag slung over one shoulder. Sophia was with her but the goblins were busy with their finals, it was the last day for them after all. The dusk of evening was quickly approaching and much of the campus was preparing to depart home for the holiday, “I know not if they’ll allow me in,” Carly sighed as she looked down at her red arm band, “Interhouse politics and all that.” Sophia shook her head, “You hardly interact with your house’s council, they have no reason to hate you– I take that back. I recall a certain front page article you ran in your paper that caused Galahad to get involved in the duels.” “Yeah, well maybe Galahad wouldn’t have gotten in as house duelist if I hadn’t!” Carly retorted. “I suppose that did turn out quite well for them. I am sure they will understand our request for aid, especially if you grease a palm or two.” “Could you speak to them for me? They might like you better. Especially Fredrik,” Carly pleaded. Sophia adjusted her hat, “He may be the best for the job, actually,” She muttered to herself, “Fine. Follow my lead. The cat-witch approached Karak-Albrac’s door and knocked. It took a few moments for someone to open the door. It was the gnome of the house’s council, Suzie who looked up at the cat first, “Sophia Hamilton of House Hamilton. The daughter of ‘The Mad Black Cat,’” She teased, “To what do I owe the honor? And… oh,” She snorted, “The gossip queen.” Sophia bowed politely, “I assure you, once you get past her reputation, Carly is not all bad-- for a journalist. And do not put her president’s sins on her. She has no bearing on what he does. May we speak to Fredrik? Or Holmit, perhaps?” “You wanna talk to the Golden Wonder after you shattered his heart?” Suzie scoffed. The witch flinched, “I– We–” “I have moved past that,” A regal sounding voice announced, “Good day, Sophia,” Fredrik bowed, his face was concealed by a somewhat simple golden mask. It was the face of a man with a well defined chin and exaggerated laugh lines on his cheeks, “Suzie, I understand that gnomes think much differently of relationships, and although Miss Sophia did dump me–” “We were young! I did not know what I wanted yet, but Fredrik, your eccentricities are too much. And I was raised by a woman with the moniker The Mad Witch!” Sophia tried to explain herself, exacerbated. “I understand,” Fredrik laughed, “I was not accusing you. Gnomes do not like the idea of a relationship ending non-amicably. But I am over it. I have a new muse. No more tears from me! Now tell me, what are you doing with this journalist?” Carly pulled a camera from her bag, showing how broken it was. Sophia took it and presented it to Fredrik, “We were trying to photograph… uh…” “Wildlife! For a project! We’re seeing the effects of residual mana on the wildlife!” Carly blurted out. “Ah! I see!” Fredrik took it and examined it, “Quite damaged. Perhaps by magic?” “Sorcerer bears,” Carly whispered, as if trying to not let the common students hear, “Imagine the damage they could do after getting startled.” “Ah… I see. These are difficult repairs. How would you make it worth my time?” “I’ve got some money…” Carly fished through her pockets. “I need not your money. I have another idea. Sophia.” “Yes?” The witch’s tail flicked back and forth. “You are a prodigy at teleportation magic. I would like to skip the flight home. If you would get me home tomorrow, I will do it,” He requested. “I’ll get you some mana refreshments, Sophia,” Carly offered, “To make it easier.” “I shall do it. Easy,” She laughed, “Are you sure that is all?” “A trip back to the academy as well, then. I will provide you with the summoning circle runes for both trips,” Fredrik extended his hand for a shake and Carly butted in and shook it vigorously. “Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Carly felt like she could kiss the wizard, “You’re saving my career doing this!” “Yes, yes,” He sighed, “Had I known this, I might have demanded more,” He smirked behind his mask, “Enter. Come along,” He gestured. The two witches followed in and tried not to look any of their students in the eyes. Suzie was right behind them, keeping a close eye on Carly. The cameras were placed on a table in the back of the tower, “How long will it take?” Carly pestered. “As long as it needs to,” Fredrik replied as he drew his golden staff. Next a mortar and pestle were brought out. Mana salt, precious gold foil, a few gems, and a handful of dry, orange leaves were placed inside, “Mix this,” He ordered as he went to examine the camera. Sophia got on it, using a spell to make it quick as she mixed the expensive materials. Next the golden wizard procured a paint brush with a golden plated handle. Picking up the golden mixture with it, he brushed it across the damaged device. The gold flakes sparkled in the overhead light, “Alright. I believe I am ready. Please place the other devices on the table. I will get to them soon.” Each camera took the wizard an hour of agonizing, practiced meditation. After he was done with them, he downed a large mana potion and got back to work. The cameras, all three of them were done and the lights each went a bit quicker along with the miscellaneous magitech that had been used in the trap, “You were using all this for a trail cam?” The golden wizard wondered aloud once he was done. Sophia used the butt of her staff to wake up Carly, “Hm?” “Yes, we were,” Sophia replied. Fredrik nodded and turned one on, snapping a quick picture of the drowsy witch, “I see,” He checked for other pictures. The one he had just snapped was fine, but most others on the internal storage were corrupted or were just a jumbled mess with no discernable form. One caught his eye and made him stop. He examined a picture of a black-cloaked figure with a white mask with a bit of blood smeared across the face, “What have we here? An odd looking… bear?” Carly snatched it from him and glared, “Oh? Do you have anything to say about this mask, Fredrik?” She suddenly exclaimed, “Going out at night, Mister Mask-Lover?” She pointed an accusatory finger at the gold clad wizard. “Yes, I have something to say. That mask is quite boring. I have no interest in it. And no, I require my beautyrest. Usually at this time I would be in a full mud face mask. I do not appreciate your baseless accusations, journalist,” Fredrik growled back, "And to think I spent all this time fixing your things just so you could go down another of your conspiratorial rabbit holes." Sophia sighed, “Take your things and leave, Carly. Fredrik is not our enemy. He is telling the truth on both accounts. He also would not have helped us had he been the one to break these.” Carly huffed but nodded and left, “Fine. Goodbye. Have a nice vacation, you two.” “Same to you,” Sophia turned her attention back to her ex-lover, “Thank you again.” “Think nothing of it. Though I would pick better company if I was you. Also, please be careful,” He urged quietly, “I know not what you two are up to, but if you need my help, you know where to find me.” The cat-witch nodded as her tail flicked back and forth, “I will keep that in mind. Thank you,” With a small bow, Sophia had started to take her leave, “You know, you never told me who your new muse is. You brought it up at the duels, if I recall.” “You will learn eventually. The time is not right,” He chuckled, “Have a good night. Stay safe.” . . . . . With the end of the fall term at Fairgarland academy came a week long break for Thanksgiving. It was a pre-Cracking holiday, but those from the old world enjoyed the sentiment of it as well as Halloween and Christmas. Most students had gone home for the holidays. Miss Manus had bid a farewell to Fredrik, Todd, Holmit, and Suzie. Despite not seeing him, it was assumed that Galahad had left as well. She was used to being alone during this time since the fey did not celebrate holidays much. Most everyone was gone from the school grounds and now Manus sat on the couch on the top level of her dorm, reveling in the quiet that she was offered once or twice a year. Her fingers tapped upon a slate she had received some time ago as she shopped for magical paraphernalia ‘on the line.’ A new cloak? She considered, perhaps some spare spell books were in order, as hers were getting quite full. A new tome of knowledge or books on her favorite subjects perhaps? Maybe she should spoil herself, she did get all A’s this term once again, afterall. Time passed, the TV in front of her was on a shopping channel. Useless jewelry, strange ads for cooking utensils, and the odd tech product were all shown to the fey-witch who quickly disregarded them. Miss Manus sighed to herself, “Perhaps I should simply sleep for a week? Nay, I should prepare for my next term of teaching. Dinner needs to be acquired soon as well,” She noted as she checked the clock. It was nearly six in the afternoon. “Hey,” A voice made the witch jump. She swung around to see Galahad standing behind her. He had a shopping bag in one hand and a pizza in the other, “Galahad? I thought you had gone home for the holiday.” He shook his head as he plopped down on the couch next to her, “Going home is the last thing I want to do. You’re not going to the fey-lands for Thanksgiving with your family?” Miss Manus looked down, “I cannot fathom going home now. I have been gone for so long, I do not even think about leaving the campus at this point in my life.” Galahad’s head slowly turned to her as he set a two liter of soda on the table along with the pizza, “You… you don’t go off campus?” “I can eat, shop, and learn on campus. What else do I need?” The duelist couldn’t stop staring out of the shock he felt but found himself disregarding her question, “So you have no Thanksgiving plans?” “None at all.” “Then you’re coming with me. We’re going off campus for Thanksgiving. Blud and Rald’s family are hosting a feast which they have invited Reccoa and me too. I’m sure you can come, as well.” Miss Manus blinked at him, “Truely? Are you sure they want me there?” “Of course! I’m starting to wonder if you ever celebrated this holiday or even know what it's about,” Galahad laughed. “The founding of this nation we live in? Though I have seen some cite the slaughter of indigenous people as the reason,” Manus replied with a blank face. “No. Miss Manus, don’t be talking to those people. It’s all about bringing everyone around a table together for a huge meal.” “Like when we get together with our council for dinner?” Manus asked as she watched Galahad grab a slice of pepperoni pizza. The man nodded, “Like that but more… intimate, I guess. People you love and are friends with. I feel like your relationship with those guys is more official or professional.” “You are right. Well… I will go if I am allowed,” She decided, “I look forward to it.” “Good. I’ll give them a call tomorrow. I spent way too much time at their store today,” He sighed, “Have some pizza. If you want.” “Thank you. Were you shopping there?” “I wanted to, but Crud, their dad, said he owed me some money after my win, especially since I gave the store a shoutout at the duel. Some hats, a new cloak, some potions, and more than enough mana salt,” He sighed. “My, they seem to regard you as family already,” Miss Manus giggled. He simply shrugged back, “Well, goblins get a lot of crap just for being goblins, I guess. I feel like I’m more like them than I am Fredrik, Harold, or Sean.” “You seem to get along with Fredrik, at least?" Miss Manus pointed out. "Oh, sure, but even he gets busy and you know how he gets when he's focused on a project." Galahad explained. "You are right," Manus giggled at the thought of the gold wizard meticulously designing another of his eccentric masks. "I just get to hang around with Blud and Rald more than most people." Galahad continued. "You are half demi-human, correct? You have many demi-human sisters from what I remember being told,” Miss Manus put a hand on his shoulder, “I am sorry that you feel like an outcast, but I am glad you are able to find friends either way.” “Thank you. To be honest, I just wish I could do better with my classes.” “Galahad Loxley,” She gave him a tiny smirk, “You are being too hard on yourself. What are you trying to prove?” “I… I want to prove to myself that I don’t need my father’s constant guidance and mother’s nagging to succeed. I can learn magic on my own. I need to prove that I can,” Galahad explained, “I’m tired of being suffocated by my family.” “Your family… they were not, well, abusive, were they?” She timidly asked, clasping her hands together. “Oh! No, they weren’t,” Galahad found himself laughing, “Very loving parents. Just very overbearing, never let me feel like my accomplishments were my own. That’s kinda why I left, to fight for my independence. What about your family? Are you on good terms?” “Well, I would guess so. We write, but I have not been back to the kingdom in some time,” Manus started to eye the pizza. Galahad nodded as he ate a slice of it, “I should probably write home. I haven’t contacted them since I got into the tournament. I never even told them how worried I was or how I performed.” “Worried? What were you worried about?” “Losing, not getting into Karak-Albrac, all that stuff,” He sighed, “But I won. I got into the house I wanted and I stole a kiss from a fey princess. Speaking of, I never did get that, did I?” The blue fey-witch's face turned a bright pink, her ears burning up at the thought, "Well… you see… as a fey, I must uphold my promises. But you see, I already have. It was when you were asleep in your infirmary bed." “I DIDN’T DREAM THAT!?” Galahad gasped, his face now turning redder than hers, “I-It was cold, but kind of warm... I-I-I–” He sighed and put a hand on his own head, “Sorry. I’d had that dream stuck in my head for a long time.” The fey-witch giggled, “Do not turn into another Harold, Galahad. I do not need another desperate suitor.” “At least I’m likable, right?” “True. But if you want another kiss, show me you want it by getting straight A’s this term,” She challenged with a smile. “Fine. I got a high B, a mid B, and a very high C. I think I could do it this next term,” Galahad decided, “How about some tutoring? We have a few days before Thanksgiving.” “Of course, we can work on some materials for my next class this term,” She nodded, “Let us work on transmuting solids to liquids, that should not be so hard for you.” The fey-witch stared out the window of the carriage that they rode in. She sat next to Galahad with Reccoa across from them staring out the other window. The streets of the college town were quite sleepy for once and the light of the sunset cast a warm orange glow over the land and buildings. The plush interior of the carriage absorbed most of the rumbling of the road underneath its wheels. The horses whinnied as they were pulled to a stop. Galahad opened up their door and helped both of the ladies out, “Thanks!” He called to the driver as he tossed him a coin as a tip. “Raxpedalia’s Wondrous Bazaar?” Manus tilted her head. Galahad nodded, “That is their last name, ya’know. Very un-goblin-like, huh?” “Yessums. Not short like Blaad enjoy,” Reccoa noted, “We enter?” She pushed the door open without an answer and a bell overhead rang. “We’re closed!” A goblin called before poking her head out of the back room, "Oh! Lox and San!" Rald smiled at the duelist with rosy cheeks. Her eyes rested on Manus beside him and she double took her, "... And Miss Manus," The goblin's excitement was replaced with confusion and a hint of disappointment. "Blud said your mother wanted her to join us," Galahad explained, "She was going to be alone for Thanksgiving, and we couldn't allow that." "Yes, it seems ever since Galahad became the house duelist he's been making more and more decisions for me." Manus added, doing her best to make a joke. Rald snorted at the thought and shook her head, "Alright, fine, you may come in." She said, stepping aside and holding the door open for them. At the top of the stairs, Galahad put his cloak and hat on a hook that had been set aside for him. Next his shoes came off. Manus and Reccoa followed his lead. Miss Manus took off her cloak to reveal the woolen coat she wore underneath over her body stocking and leotard. Reccoa wore a crimson button up with black slacks and white suspenders. A necklace graced her neck, “Where’d you get that?” Galahad asked as he noticed the blue-green stone on the brass jewelry. “Blaad,” Reccoa replied with a smile as she adjusted her hair. Manus brushed her fluffy, dark hair back with her fingers, “My. How wonderful. He never gets me anything,” She playfully jabbed Galahad with her thumb. “You never ask,” He retorted with a teasing smile. “Is he here!?” A nasally voice shouted, “There he is! There’s the pride of my shop!” Crud laughed as he shook Galahad’s hand, “And ya brought some guests. I think Blud and Rald have talked about ya…” “Oh! Manus is here!” Root peeked into the entry way as everyone tried to file out into the small, goblin sized home, “You were at Fairgarland when I was getting my little thaumaturge degree,” She explained, “You were always a class ahead of me when I was learning transmutation. Always the one the professors said to look to for inspiration! A real prodigy! Amazing to see you’re the president of it now! Not that I'm surprised!” “Oh, thank you,” Manus gave a nervous smile as she and Reccoa were swarmed by young goblins who barraged them with questions. Galahad plopped down on a couch in the living room and sighed as he decompressed. Rald climbed onto the couch next to him, “Lox? Can I talk to you?” She asked. The man nodded, silently prompting her to continue as his eyes remained closed, “I’m… really worried about something.” “A class?” He hazarded a guess, “Or is it your brother being sweet on Reccoa?” “No… I-I can’t really say anything about it. But I’m worried I might be in danger… along with a few others.” Galahad’s hand firmly gripped her shoulder, “I won’t pry, but you can always come to me if you need help. House Maximillion would help too if you asked. I’ll tell my fellow council to offer you aid if you feel like you’re in danger, okay?” “A-are you sure?” She whimpered. “Of course. Here, take this too,” He pulled the circlet her father had given him and placed it atop her head. Next he put a warm, rune covered lava rock in her hands, “To keep you safe.” “T-Thank you,” She wiped her eyes quickly as the others approached. Manus sat on the couch with them and Reccoa and Blud sat on the loveseat off to the side, “How’s everyone today?” The lady goblin quickly asked to change topics. Most everyone in the group gave one word responses, deflating Rald further. Galahad quickly found himself swarmed by younger goblins who insisted on telling him how cool he was during his duel. A few of the ones older than Rald and Blud said the same. Over the cacophony of goblins came a single shout, “CHILDREN!” Root yelled, causing all of them to withdraw and scurry away through the various hallways and rooms, “I’m so sorry, Lox. You know how they can get. Also, I’m glad you all could make it. Reccoa, was it? Or do you prefer San?” “San fine,” The sectare woman nodded, “Yessums.” “Blud’s spoken a lot about you. A lot of good things, too. I’m startin’ to wonder if he’s sweet on ya!” Root laughed as Blud’s face turned red. Reccoa just looked confused. “Sweet? Has candy?” She asked, clearly misunderstanding. By now Blud had hidden his face in his big, red hat while his mother laughed, heading back to the oven. “Rald, the turkey is almost ready, could you help me with the potatoes?” She called out from the kitchen. Rald looked at Galahad and smiled, “You’re gonna like tonight’s dinner, for sure,” She scampered off to join her mom. Soon enough, Blud, Rald, Reccoa, Miss Manus, Galahad, and all the other goblins were sat around a table, “Are you using magic to expand this room?” Galahad asked as he stared down at the mishmash of tables that had been placed end to end to seat everyone. “Of course! Not everyone can fit in little spaces like we can!” Root laughed, “I shouldn’t be surprised that you can tell so easily.” With the use of magic, two roast turkeys were placed at the center of the table, steam rising from their tender skins. Four heaping mounds of mashed potatoes seasoned with garlic came next, with a gravy boat following soon after. Lots and lots of stuffing was placed on the opposite side of the turkeys, the smell and taste of the large fowl seeping into the breading. A steamed assortment of vegetables from carrots to broccoli drizzled with cheddar cheese lined the table, which was quickly joined by cranberry sauce, Jell-O, pumpkin pie, and a few small plates with sweet bread made from intestines that were all placed along the outer parts of the table on either side. Reccoa and Blud both stared at the plate of sweet bread that had been placed near them. Utensils and intricately painted ceramic plates depicting autumn themed plants and nicknacks were placed in front of everyone. Galahad reached into his bag and brought out a bottle of red wine, one of champagne, and some sparkling apple cider. Reccoa had brought sake and Manus a pot of tea, “You’re all gonna spoil us,” Crud grinned as he examined the sake bottle. Goblets were placed around the table with most of the kids pouring soda into their own cups. Next, everyone around the table started to plate up. Cuts of turkey, rolls, mashed potatoes, and everything else was piled high on everyone's plates by the enchanted cutlery, much to everyone’s amusement. Reccoa and Blud both grabbed most of the sweet bread, Rald dumped gravy on her food, Miss Manus loaded up on mashed potatoes, rolls, and sweets, and Galahad waited for the others to get their food before getting some for himself after helping two of the goblin children near him plate up. “Now,” Root stood on her chair to tower over everyone, “I’m glad to see so many people in my little home, it warms my heart. I know not all my children could make it, but they’re having their own dinners with their friends and families. I am proud to say we are host to three friends of my children today. Lox, San, and President Manus. I hope my children don’t cause ya’ll too much trouble, here or at school.” “We appreciate you having us in your home,” Galahad replied with a little nod as he finished plating up. Reccoa and Manus both nodded in agreement, “And don’t worry about them bothering us here. I can’t speak for these two, but I’m glad I don’t have to spend this Thanksgiving eating a cold pizza and some beer by myself.” “I have not celebrated this holiday much at all,” Miss Manus admitted, “But I am happy to be here.” “Yessums,” Reccoa nodded, the hunger obvious in her four eyes, “Am happy for so much delicious food.” The goblin mother smiled, “We are glad to have ya. Crud, could ya do the honors?” “The music thing?” Crud was mid pouring a glass of sake for himself, “Ah, the praying thing. Well, Lord above, whoever may be listnin’ to a goblin like me; thanks for bringin’ everyone here together and for our health. Ah… listen to me gettin’ all sappy. To wrap it up, God is good, bless this food, amen.” “Amen,” The table repeated before everyone started diving into their food. Root sighed and followed suit, using her magic to pour herself a glass of wine before having some turkey. She stared at the crowd around her table with a smile on her face. Who to pick on first? She asked herself. Reccoa and Manus were new to her home, she couldn’t yet. Galahad, maybe. He was preoccupied holding his rat familiar for the children to see as he described the duel to them, “Blud,” She called her son above the commotion, “What are you thankful for?” Blud put down the sweet bread he was chewing on. The intestines seemed to quell a primal hunger within him, “Uh, my friends?” “Rald?” “Well, friends was going to be my answer…” The goblin sighed, “My family. And my friends.” “A good choice,” Root giggled to herself, “How about you, San?” “Thankful? Blaad. Thankful friend enjoy what I do,” The sectare woman nodded to herself. Blud’s face glowed red as a Christmas ornament as Rald elbowed him. “Lox? What are you thankful for?” Root had the mercy to move on rather than tease her son. Galahad took a moment to formulate an answer, “My health, the health of my friends, the opportunities I’ve been blessed with, the food I am given, and especially the house at Fairgarland that has taken me in,” He explained quickly, “I could probably keep listing things.” “I’m thankful for Randy!” A child shouted as she pet the lethargic rat familiar. “Manus, your turn,” Root’s eyes went to the blue fey-witch. She froze for a moment, she knew the question was coming, but was struggling to think of something to answer with, “Well, I am thankful for my very competent council at Karak-Albrac. And… I cannot say that I am not thankful for Galahad, no matter how embarrassing it is. We would not have better lab times and respect from other houses without him.” “I could say that I’m thankful for him too! I’m blamin’ him for all this business I’ve been gettin’!” Crud laughed, “What about you, Root?” “I’m just thankful to have everyone around this table today,” She smiled cheerily, “Let’s move onto my other kids…” Miss Manus sighed with relief that she hadn’t been embarrassed in front of everyone. She glanced over to Galahad right next to her. The duelist was staring right at her with a smile, “Thank you,” He whispered, “It means a lot to me.” She nodded and returned a little smile, “You are most welcome, Galahad. Or should I call you Lox now?” She teased. Galahad found himself laughing, “Never thought I’d hear you saying that. Call me whatever you want,” He turned back to the goblin children he had been entertaining, “Calm down, calm down. I’m getting to the good stuff. So it was the third round and I was feeling great…” Miss Manus sighed, listening in on his exaggerated description of the duels while sipping on tea. She paused for a moment as she felt a lightness in her chest. It passed as quickly as it came, leaving the witch confused for a moment or two. There was no sense dwelling on it, so she decided to enjoy herself, digging into the food and joining in on the conversations.