Text version

the comic's manuscript, without pictures

17. Redrawing

Perched on a stool in one corner of the alchemy laboratory, Adrien waited for Val as he prepared their next lesson. Books piled on the table as Val abandoned one idea after another in search for a recipe he deemed suitable for that day; he unceremoniously shoved away a bowl of magical crystals to make more room for his next lead. A dusty sunbeam swirled over his hands; where it touched the light patterns pulsing over his skin, it transformed into blue smoke.

One week had passed since Adrien had learned of Val's secret; still he struggled to navigate the miasma of this revelation. There was so much to think about, so much he wished to know; he couldn't yet grasp upon the full meaning of what had transpired, and he could only wait for change to make its way between the two of them, to open new paths where they could meet and share.

Adrien watched the shimmer of Val's fingers flare as he turned the pages of a manual of alchemy. This was who he was, in all of his beauty, in all of his loneliness. What was it like to be him, what was it like to be a demon? Adrien could not know, and could not begin to imagine; maybe it wasn't for him to ever truly understand - but he would try, and he would be at his side, and he would care, and he would try to give him respite, and he would beg all that was good in himself not to fail him now, not now, not now that it mattered like never before.

Within the tangle of chaos and confusion that shrouded Adrien's mind, there was one thought that he dared only glance in passing. A shudder ran down his back as he remembered imagining his own hand as Val's - and what followed. He had no idea why he had done that. Had it been mortal fear speaking to his deepest wantings? Had it been stray desire already long gone? Did he even want to know?


He snapped out of his daze. His eyes finally perceived the figure of Val as he stood in front of him with a perplexed expression on his face. Then came the mortifying realization that Val had been wasting his words on him while he was off for an adventure in his own head. "Oh -- I'm so sorry", Adrien gasped, and he leaped out of his seat. "Have you found a recipe?".

"Yes", Val nodded. "I picked one for you. Today, we will be making the Clarifying Shampoo".

Adrien had wanted to be more serious after lapsing like that, but his mouth turned into a grin almost against his will. "The -- the what?", he couldn't help but chuckle.

"The Clarifying Shampoo, that's what it's called", Val said as he gestured at the books that he'd strewn over the table and dismissed them to their previous locations on the shelves. He raised one eyebrow at Adrien, bemused. "Do you have an objection?".

"No, no", Adrien chuckled, "it's just -- um, does shampoo count as a potion?".

"This one does", Val plainly replied. "If you wash your hair with it in the evening, you will have clear thoughts and great ideas in the morning. It also leaves your hair refreshed and gives it a vibrant sheen. And a wonderful scent of lemon and lavender", he added with a simper. He pointed at the left-hand page for Adrien to read:

The Clarifying Shampoo

Each sense to be cleansed
After a night's rest of clarity
To illuminate darkened thought

"Alright, so I want to use something that cleanses each sense", Adrien pondered. "If the result smells like lemon and lavender, I guess that takes care of taste and smell. And I think water needs to be involved in this, otherwise it's never going to be a fluid". He carried a glass bowl to the sink by the wall and filled it, then set it over the burner to heat it. "It probably has to contain soap, too. As for sound... I don't know, maybe a bell?".

"Oh, what a nice thought", Val commented as he scribbled about it in his journal.

"And as for the sight... I don't know, it could be a lot of things. It could just be something that looks pretty...". As he spoke, his eyes had been drawn by the steady flame of the burner. "...Oh, wow, that was easy. Yeah, I can meditate over the fire...".

Val giggled softly. "Yes, very well done. And what about the other two lines?".

"After a night... That must mean to let it sit overnight. Better under moonlight, I imagine...". He checked the astronomical chart that adorned one wall. "Eh... Waning, five days past the full moon. It'll have to do, I guess...".


The next morning, Adrien woke up to another snowy day; the days had been getting brighter and less cold, but the long winter of the high plains wasn't over yet. After his breakfast, he had expected to go to the alchemy laboratory and work on another potion, but after returning from the bathroom to the main room he found that Val was still sitting in his armchair, leafing through his journal and writing something from time to time. In the middle of the table, there now was a tall stack of parchment paper, a fountain pen, and all the supplies needed to impress a seal - a stick of wax with a wick on one end, a box of matches, and a stamp. Adrien walked towards Val, his head slightly tilted. "Why all this stuff?".

"Oh, yes", Val nodded. He closed the journal and set the pen down. "This is magigraphic paper. It has been a while since the last time you've drawn spells, so I thought that today we could take a break from alchemy, and you could practice enchanting scrolls instead".

"Really!", Adrien gasped. "You -- you think I'm ready for that?".

"I think you're more than ready", Val said with a smile. "You've already practiced a lot of elemental magic, after all".

"Yeah -- but...". Adrien's brow furrowed. He knew that magigraphic paper was expensive material - he had received a block of it many years ago as a present, and he had hated to take it apart and cut it up so that he could attach samples of his spells in his letters of application to all the sorcerers that he wanted to petition for an apprenticeship. "But are you sure that I -- that I'm really ready to use such nice things? If I make a mistake, I'll waste your paper, and --".

"-- The paper was supplied by the Council of Magic", Val said, cheeky. "It came with the apprenticeship packet, and I can request more if needed, so I'd use it with absolute abandon. This is a great opportunity to make all the mistakes you want".

Adrien chuckled a little; then he took a deep breath to steady himself. "If you say so, then...".

"Oh, I am saying so", Val grinned. He stood up from his armchair. "But before you start, I'd recommend you clear your mind. Would you like to come sit by the fire?".

"That sounds wonderful", Adrien smiled.

Val's fingers shone brighter as he magicked up two patterned pillows for each to sit upon. Adrien kneeled onto his own and sat before the fireplace - the heat emanating from it was such that it made the loose locks of his hair float a little. He closed his eyes.

It had been about a month since the last time he'd meditated like that, seated on the floor with Val at his side; and Adrien realized how much he'd been missing this activity. He had been longing for that calm, that relief, that warmth, and that comfort - for the feeling of that silent peace shared between him and Val. Adrien directed his attention towards the crackling of the fire and let his breathing become deeper; in time, he found himself drifting and at peace.

When Adrien felt ready to begin, he returned to his armchair. Before working on the scrolls proper, he warmed up his hand by drawing circles on a regular sheet of paper; then, when he thought his linework looked good enough, he carefully laid down a sheet of magigraphic paper on the table. Val stood at Adrien's side to survey his work.

"Yeah, I've done this before... I just need to draw the spell, make sure it works, and then seal the scroll", Adrien said. "Right?".

"Right", Val nodded.

Adrien breathed in and decided to channel his intention to do well into a Circle of Fire; when the ink on the paper turned into a flash of light, he could tell that all had gone as expected. He rolled the paper, then picked up the wax and stamp that would seal it - in mirror writing, he could read that the stamp would impress the words "Sample - For training purposes only". Adrien reached for the box of matches and struck one; he lit the wick on one end of the stick, let a few drops of wax drip onto the paper, then pressed the stamp down - its wooden handle wiggled a little under the pressure of his fingers. The seal that held the magic within the scroll was now in place, and the spell's glow had dimmed down to a weak pulse. Adrien leaned back into his armchair and breathed out.

"Let's test it", Val said. "Could I have the scroll, please?".

Adrien gave him the paper. Val took a few steps back; as he took a deep breath, the light on his fingers flickered and focused. With one quick gesture of his hand, he broke the seal. From inside the scroll, a fireball appeared; it swirled around Val, then landed on his open palm, where it sizzled away. He turned towards Adrien, smiling.

"Very good", he said. "Perfect, in fact".

Adrien smiled and chuckled in reply, scratching one cheek with the side of one finger. "Thank you", he said.

Val rejoined Adrien at his side. "Continue like this", he said. "Do you have any questions?".

"Questions?", Adrien repeated. "...Well, it's not really a question, but -- I think the stamp's handle is a bit wiggly".

Val picked up the stamp and turned it in his hands. "Yes, I'd noticed", he said. "I don't think the Council spent much on these", he then added under his breath. He set the stamp back on the table, then went to rummage in one of the cabinets under the bookshelves. He returned to the table with another stamp. "You can use mine, if you'd rather". He passed it to Adrien: this one had a lacquered red handle that ended in an ornate golden ferrule. The seal bore a large V overlaid onto a rose, and an inscription underneath that mirrored to "Master Sorcerer Valerion".

"Are you... are you sure I can use this?", Adrien asked, one eyebrow raised.

"Of course", Val nodded. "We're only practicing, and all of these seals are going to be broken immediately".

"No, no", Adrien gasped, "I meant -- is it okay for me to use your -- I mean, it's yours, and -- what if I ruin it --".

Val laughed. "I've had it since I took the Master rank. You're not going to break it today. Especially since it's enchanted to be unbreakable anyway".

"I -- I guess", Adrien caved in. "Just -- only if you're really sure".

"I am", Val smiled. He went back to sit at his armchair at the opposite side of the table from Adrien. "You can continue practicing with the scrolls", he said. "Stack each finished one to the side, and we'll review them all at the same time later". He opened his journal again and leafed through it; he then placed it on the table and began writing something in it - the pulse of his fingers changed a little every time he added new words. Adrien resumed working on his scrolls; he drew two more Fire circles, then prepared himself to seal them. He picked up Val's stamp again.

"Speaking of which... Can I ask you -- if you excuse my curiosity -- you don't have to answer --".

"Your curiosity is always excused", Val smiled, looking up from his journal.

Adrien's cheeks turned a bit red. "Yes, I -- I was just wondering, if you can answer -- you said you've had this stamp ever since you became a Master, and so I was wondering -- how old are you?".

Val chuckled. "Yes, I suppose I can tell you... I'm thirty-one".

Adrien raised his eyebrows. "Really?".

"Yes", Val said. "Surprised?".

"Of course I'm surprised!", Adrien chuckled. "At this point, I thought you might be like, five hundred, maybe five thousand years old...".

"Well, every demon who is five thousand years old must have been thirty-one, at some point", Val smiled, leaning his head over one hand.

"I -- I guess!", Adrien laughed. He stamped the scrolls he'd just made; he smiled with satisfaction as he saw Val's insignia appear in red wax over the parchment. "So, you've had this stamp since...".

"Ever since I was... ah, twelve", Val replied.

Adrien gasped so hard that he made himself cough. He noisily wheezed for air. "You -- you took the Master rank at twelve?!".

"Yes, but --".

Adrien let out a long, exasperated yowl. "Then I really have no hope of ever catching up!", he whimpered, flopping sideways onto the table. "You've made it to Master as a child, and I --".

"Adrien!". Val's hands flashed; the suddenly forceful tone of his voice put a stop to Adrien's theatrics of despair. "We've already talked about this. Each person's journey is different. Especially since I was never a child to start with".

"...What do you mean, you were never a child?".

Val closed his eyes, and the pulse over his hands grew slow and solemn. "A human child has to grow to gain awareness of themselves. A demon possesses that awareness since the beginning.

Therefore, a demon is never a child - nor an adult, for that matter. A demon is an immutable, yet fluid consciousness... I hope you can understand", Val whispered.

Adrien lowered his head. "So you mean to tell me that, at twelve, you were as you are now", he concluded.

"In the sense that matters to you right now, yes", Val replied.

"And that when you were born, you already -- looked as you do now".

"No", Val said. "When I was born, I appeared as a spirit with no physical form. I gained my bodily form later".

"Later", Adrien repeated, bewildered by all this new information. "How? I mean -- did you just wake up one day, and you had a body, or --".

"Oh, no -- it is more gradual than that", Val said with a little chuckle. "During my first year, I would try to take the shape of people around me... In time, I learned how to change my shape more readily, and decided how I wanted to look like".

"You -- decided?", Adrien repeated, amazed. He tried to relate to that thought - and he struggled, as he could not imagine wanting to be anything other than himself; he hadn't even changed his haircut in many years. "Did you have to sit down and... choose the exact shape of your hands, and...?".

"Not quite to that extent", Val smiled. "In taking the appearance of people around me, I decided what aspects I wanted to keep for myself, or changed them to my tastes".

"Wow", Adrien whispered. He wasn't quite sure how to wrap his head around this information. "And you've looked like this ever since?".

"Yes", Val replied.

"Once you decide, can you no longer change?".

"I could change at any moment", Val said, and the glow over his hands shimmered in a wave from finger to finger. "But I like my current bodily form, and right now I have no wish to change it".

Adrien smiled. He picked up another sheet of parchment and drew a Darkness circle while Val resumed writing in his journal. "I -- I had another thought", he chuckled. "It's silly, but -- do demons celebrate birthdays?".

Val laughed at the question. "Well --".

"-- sorry, I knew it was silly --".

"No, no, not at all", Val chuckled. "We do... but we start counting from the day of our welcome into demonkind - the First Day, we call it. That aside, it is much the same as a human birthday... Mine is on the 15th of November".

Adrien committed this date to memory with all of his might. "15th of November", he repeated. "Alright".

"And yours?".

"M-mine?", Adrien stammered. "April 9th".

"Oh, that's only about a month from now", Val smiled. "Thank you for telling me. We should celebrate it".

"Aww", Adrien laughed. "You -- you don't have to do anything...".

"Please, not even a cake? Will you allow me to offer you cake?", Val smiled, leaning forward a little.

Reflexively, Adrien moved one lock of hair in front of his eyes - and in front of his red face. "I -- well -- I guess that's alright", he giggled. "Thank -- thank you". He drew another circle and sealed it with slightly trembling hands. "Sorry for hitting you with so many questions", Adrien quickly added. "If I am being impolite --".

"You aren't", Val softly said. "I... I am glad that you are asking me these things", he then said, a strange smile on his face. "I should thank you for giving me the opportunity... to talk about myself. I never do... As I tell you, I feel like I am understanding myself better, as well".

Adrien looked down - he smiled a little, but said nothing in reply. He grabbed another sheet of parchment. "...Oh -- I just remembered -- and what happened to the Clarifying Shampoo?".

"Ah, that", Val said - with a little chuckle to the back of his voice. He magicked the bottle and made it float towards Adrien. It had already been bottled and rated by the potion tester, as the label tied to the neck of the bottle read:

Clarifying Shampoo

Effectiveness: Insignificant
Duration: 5 hours

"I don't think the clouds ever broke tonight", Val commented. "Sitting under a cloudy sky is hardly suitable for decanting the Clarifying Shampoo".

Adrien chuckled. "...Does it even work at all?".

"Well, I imagine its effects will be so faint that you might not even... It may still manage to wash your hair, though", Val added with a smile. "Feel free to try it one day, but don't expect it to give you a great revelation... or tangle-free hair, for that matter".

Adrien giggled again as he re-read the label. "Insignificant. Here it says I'm insignificant!".

"Not you... the potion", Val corrected him with a pert smile. "Don't worry about it. We'll try again another time".


And Adrien did try to improve at alchemy - he still needed to do more work before he would be able to brew a healing potion, but he could see that his efforts were starting to pay off. On the second Sunday of March, he prepared the Leaping Jelly, a potion that granted the power to jump to great heights; he thought he'd done a good job - and not even the potion tester could disagree. Afterwards, during dinner, Val let Adrien know that tomorrow he'd be going to Falderdeen to restock, and asked him if he wanted to go with him - Adrien didn't have to think twice before agreeing.

That evening, they bid each other goodnight earlier than their usual, as they would have to wake up again at six in the morning. Adrien went back to the west tower and prepared for the following day: he picked the clothes he would wear, washed himself, shaved, then returned to his room and settled into bed. As he lay with his back against the sheets, he let his mind free to roam - and, among the other things, he found himself thinking about Val. So much had changed in the span of not even two weeks; and yet, so little had changed. All was good and all was well; everything had been moving forwards - painlessly and unflinchingly.

There was, however, one thing that remained unanswered - and that he could not leave as such: what had happened to him on the evening when he discovered that Val was a demon. He remembered his heart beating fast and the fear he had felt - afraid for his life as he was at that time; he had imagined the toxic embrace of a demon who could hold him one last time before his end - a demon, or rather Val...

Above his body, flickering through the darkness of the room, he could create his image again - behind his eyelids, he saw Val crawling on top of him, his black eyes looking down at him, a smile on his face - and he couldn't help but shudder at the thought of a caress down his chest.

Adrien sat up, his body throbbing. This time, too, he listened to its call.