Text version

the comic's manuscript, without pictures

18. Six months

When morning came, Adrien knew that, this time, he needed to feel ashamed. After all the trust, all the kindness, all that Val had done for him - this is how he repayed him: by making him into a fantasy of a demon who would fuck him and then disappear. The realization that he was capable of such treason crushed him. Val had been opening himself to him, grateful to have found his understanding, sharing his deepest secrets as he had never done before - and he had been polluting this bond; he had been using it - and breaking it. He bit into his fingertips - deep enough to make his nails turn red. What would have Val said if he had known? He would have been so disappointed, so mortified - so betrayed.

Adrien took in a few deep breaths. At least for the time being, he had to push his thoughts away. He needed to be at his best to help Val through the upcoming long day of errands; he could not allow him to discover the ways in which he had failed him - and he could not allow himself to discover the ways of his failures. This was not the time for epiphanies, as needed as they were.

After a short breakfast, Val and Adrien left the tower - the sun had yet to rise behind their backs as they made their way down the hill, so they walked by a magical light which Val had summoned to help them see the path. The air was damp and chilly, and it stuck to Adrien's mouth as a cloud of vapor; the road was still patched with old snow - and where the snow had melted, the soil was frozen and made their hike difficult. On the way, Adrien kept glancing at Val and wanting to speak to him without fear - but shame strangled the words out of his throat. It was Val who had to initiate most of the conversation; that day, he seemed to be in a particularly good mood - and Adrien felt himself sink every time he caught a glance of his smiling face. He knew how difficult this day was going to be for Val; he knew about his doubts and fears - he alone knew, he remarked with a stab of self-reproach as he noticed the black gloves that had to cover Val's hands once again. Maybe, Adrien thought, maybe Val's smile was also because of him - a smile of gratitude for being at his side in this moment. Gathering all of his strength, Adrien swallowed down his chaos, put up his bravest face, and went on the best he could. He could not allow his turmoil to take over - not there, not then.

In the two hours that they spent walking downhill, it had become morning - a fresh, clear morning that tinged the hilly landscape with endless blue. When the village came into view, Adrien noticed activity in the square - people were crowding around what appeared to be booths; even from afar, he could hear the rumbling blur of chatter that rose from the crowd.

"What's going on?", he asked Val.

"Ah -- right, I forgot to tell you. Monday is market day".

"Oh", Adrien said. "I didn't know they did that".

"Having people from the rest of the region come sell their goods is a necessity in such a small town", Val said. "After all, Falderdeen only has one store and one inn".

"And the nearest city is days away...", Adrien added, his head low. "I've been wondering how do you even manage -- I mean, it can't be easy to find specialty magical supplies here".

"Ah... I buy some supplies through the mail, and some others... elsewhere", Val said, lowering his voice. "When I am... called elsewhere, sometimes I run some errands before returning to my room".

"Oh", Adrien said, his eyes wide. "You... you can do that?".

"It can be part of the contract that the... the door has to be left open for a little longer", Val said, speaking quickly. "But -- let us talk about this another time, I -- I'm sure nobody can hear us, but --".

"Yes, I -- I understand", Adrien said, his tone urgent. "Sorry".

There was a long, awkward silence that Adrien felt the need to break.

"Do you have a shopping list?".

"I have taken note of a few things that I would like to buy", Val said. "For the most part, however, we'll see when we're there".


It was a quarter to ten by when they reached Falderdeen. They walked past the few buildings at the edge of town, then towards the square, where the market was taking place. Adrien followed Val through the crowd, taking in his surroundings as best as he could. All sorts of goods were being sold in each stand - vegetables of the season, cured meats hanging from hooks, strong-smelling cheeses, olives and spices in labeled barrels; and then clothing, toys, books, and home supplies of all kinds. The market itself only covered the area of the square, but the selection of goods was wider than what Adrien would have expected to find in such a small village.

Val stopped by a stand that had a yellow and white cloth awning. Underneath it, a man with a thick brown mustache and a coppola was selling vegetables. Val stepped in the shade beneath the awning. "Good morning, Ivan", he said to the seller.

"Oh, good morning, Master Valerion!", Ivan replied, leaning forward a little from his station behind the crates. "What a lovely day to come to town! Not a cloud in the sky. It's spring again!".

"So it seems", Val said, nodding and smiling. He opened a paper bag and filled it with leeks. "It looks like it's been good for your business, as well", Val said, noting the already half-depleted produce displays.

"Oh, yes, yes. These days are the best: not too hot, not too cold... I bring a full cart, and I go home with an empty cart. The second part makes my horse happy, too", he laughed to himself.

Val nodded and chuckled - and Adrien could tell from the stiffness in his smile that, although this game of social politeness had just started, it was already wearing him out. Val passed his now-full paper bag to Ivan to weigh, then picked up another. During this exchange, Ivan's eyes suddenly locked onto Adrien's.

"And you are?...".

Adrien stepped forwards. "Ah -- I'm Valerion's apprentice. My name is Adrien".

"Oh, really!", Ivan exclaimed, folding his arms onto the small wooden counter. "I've never seen you before. Have you been here for long?".

"Since August", Adrien replied.

"Really! That means you've been here for... six months! And this is the first time we meet!".

Val had filled one bag with cauliflower and lettuce, and was now placing radishes inside a third. "He has been very busy with his studies, so this is his first time here in town since his arrival", he chimed in with a little smile.

"That does sound very busy!", Ivan laughed, scratching one shoulder. "Where do you come from?".

"Ordly", Adrien replied.

"Really!", Ivan gasped. "From so far! Do you miss your hometown?".

"Sometimes", Adrien said, his brow slightly furrowed. "Not -- not that much, though".

"What about the sea? Don't you miss the sea?".

"Well, a bit", Adrien chuckled.

"I bet you do", Ivan said, lifting his head. "What do you think about our high plains? Very different from your sea, isn't it?".

"Yes, but they're beautiful too", Adrien said, playing with his fingers. "It's so open, here. You can see so far...".

Ivan let out a big belly laugh. "Nowhere in the world has views like the Avallans! As the saying goes, 'the sky ends sooner than the Avallans'... And I bet that the view from the tower must be something else!".

"It certainly is", Val said with a little smile. He had switched bags again, and was now purchasing potatoes.

"Is the snow too much for you?", Ivan continued asking Adrien.

Adrien chuckled. "It's -- well, a lot", he said, tugging a little at his scarf. "It never gets this cold in Ordly".

"And today it's not even that cold! Must be nice", Ivan laughed to himself. "I've been here for all my life, but maybe I'll retire to some place like that. Some place with a beach and a longer summer, maybe", he chuckled. He weighed Val's bags of groceries and came to the conclusion: "That will be 35 cetre".

Val passed the right amount of banknotes and coins to Ivan in exchange for his bags. He carefully set all his produce in his cloth bags and cast an Air spell onto them to make them weightless.

Ivan lifted a now-empty wooden crate from the display, and threw it to the back of the stand. "And that's it for the lemons", he commented.


There had been a girl of about twelve standing behind them, waiting for her turn to buy groceries. Adrien spun around and looked down at the girl - whose brown eyes instantly went wide, while her face progressively grew redder. She turned away. "I -- no -- it's okay -- just -- mom asked me to get a lemon, but --".

Val turned around and smiled at the girl, then took one bag off his shoulders, opened it again, and invited the girl to look inside. "Take one", he said, gesturing at the lemons that filled the bottom of the sack.

"Ah!", the girl stammered, shaking her head. "I couldn't --".

"It's my fault for taking too many", Val smiled. "Please, take one".

The girl paused again, then she cautiously fished out a lemon from the bag. "Thank you", she said in a hushed gasp.

"It's no problem", Val smiled and nodded. "Have a good day".

Val turned around and began carrying his things towards the next stand; Adrien nodded at the girl in farewell before following Val.

The next stand sold meats and cheeses. Val greeted the man and the woman who were working the stand, and began placing his order.

"I've not seen you before", the woman said to Adrien. "What's your name?".

"I'm Adrien - Valerion's apprentice"...


In the coming hours, Adrien was forced to retell some version or another of his recent life adventures to about twenty different people, and had started to form a script that he could unfurl whenever asked. Val, too, had to engage in a lot of small talk - and Adrien could see on his face how much this had strained him; he knew that he couldn't wait to be done with their errands and return to his tower. By one in the afternoon, most of the sellers had packed up, but their day of shopping wasn't over yet. Val was still missing a few things, so he decided to stop by the general store to look for them.

The general store, the only permanent shop in the village of Falderdeen, was on one side of the square, in the same building as the tavern and inn. Its entrance was shielded from the elements by a thick, brown curtain that needed to be forcefully parted to enter the shop.

Adrien's eyes needed a moment to adjust themselves to the dim interior. On the inside, the shop was small and tightly packed; goods were efficiently arranged in piles that went up to the ceiling, unless they were hanging from hooks from the ceiling itself. The aisles had almost no maneuvering room - two people couldn't have passed each other going in different directions without their backs colliding with some merchandise. The air was heavy inside, and smelled like cardboard and dry pasta.

On the right, sitting behind a counter, there was a middle-aged man wearing round glasses. His dark eyes had a severe, hawkish expression to them that made Adrien shrink.

"Good day", Val said upon entering.

"Good day", the man replied.

"Good day", Adrien echoed in a lower voice, tailing behind his mentor. Val picked a basket, left his bags at the entrance, and began browsing the aisles; Adrien was about to follow him, but was stopped by the shopkeeper's voice: "The apprentice?", he said.

"What?", Adrien replied, without thinking.

"You are the apprentice", the man said, now with the tone of a statement rather than a question.

"Uh -- yes", Adrien replied, furrowing his brow.

The man stared at Adrien for a little while. "Are you going to introduce yourself?", he then said.

Adrien's eyes widened. He glanced at Val, who raised his eyes from a jar of capers and gestured with his head to comply with the shopkeeper's request. Adrien stepped towards the counter. "Yeah -- uh -- I'm Adrien", he said, offering one hand. The man waited one second before giving one firm shake to his hand. "Giorgio", he said.

There was an awkward pause in the conversation where Adrien felt as if Giorgio was mentally passing judgement on everything about him.

"How old are you?", Giorgio asked.

"I'll be twenty-four next month".

"Hm", Giorgio mumbled. "A bit old for an apprentice".

Adrien's stomach sank. "...Yes, well", he felt forced to admit.

Val emerged from one of the aisles. "There is no age limit on learning", he said - his voice gentle, but Adrien could tell from the twinkle in his eyes that he was just as bothered by Giorgio's remark as himself.

"Even so", Giorgio replied with a dismissive shrug. "Where are you from?", he then said to Adrien.


"Hm", Giorgio mumbled again. "You came all the way from there? How come? Aren't there any sorcerers in such a city?".

Adrien bit his lip. At the time, he had sent letters to request apprenticeships with sorcerers in his area, but they had all rejected him - if things had gone his way back then, he would have never sent that letter to Val, whose writing style did not enthuse him enough to want him as a teacher anyway. If things had gone how Adrien wanted back then, he would have never met Val, he realized in that moment. In any case, he did not want to go into that with the shopkeeper of all people. "Yes, but I came here", Adrien decided to say, hoping it would be enough.

"Seems like a lot", was Giorgio's reply. He cleared his voice. "What have you been studying?".

"Well, magic --".

"Yes, I know that already", Giorgio interrupted him, his expression unchanged, but his voice somewhat harsher than before. "What kind of magic?".

Adrien took off his scarf. "Well, a lot of different things... Right now, I'm studying alchemy".

Giorgio nodded, for once seemingly satisfied with Adrien's answer. "And then what?".

"Defense magic, elemental shape magic --".

"No. What after", Giorgio said, stressing the "after" in his sentence.

Adrien paused for a second. "After I'm done studying?".


"I don't really know", Adrien replied, feeling the palms of his hands turn sweaty. "I -- I guess I will be a full-fledged sorcerer. I'll be enchanting things, making potions, all of that -- on commission. So I hope".

Giorgio's only reply to that was a "hm" somewhere between pensive and scoffing. He picked up his newspaper again, forked his glasses on his face, and resumed his reading. Adrien stared at him for a few seconds, stunned; then he breathed out through his nose, and went to find Val in one of the aisles.

Val was crouching on the floor next to his basket as he inspected a jar of fig jam. He looked up at Adrien as he walked towards him. "Are you alright?", he mouthed to Adrien.

Adrien replied with a sharp nod.

"Are you sure?".

Adrien paused; then he mouthed a "yes", which he accompanied with a shrug. Val gazed at something far behind Adrien; then he stepped closer to him, reached for his shoulder, and gently rubbed it. Adrien closed his eyes and lowered his head - Val's hand was warm, and his touch more caring than he felt he deserved, especially on that day; in spite of everything, Adrien cherished it - it brought to the foreground of his mind just how much he treasured Val's softness and kindness. He had been more upset than he wanted to let himself know; but Val knew - and understood. When Val retreated his hand, Adrien opened his eyes.

"Thank you", Adrien whispered, smiling.

After paying for their purchases and leaving the store, Val supposed that the last stop of their day should be at the tavern, so to have something to eat before the long walk home.

Anne's tavern looked the same as the last time Adrien had been there. Anne herself was sitting at one of the tables, reading a book - her flower-printed blue dress somewhat matched the pink chair pillows. She bolted up as soon as she saw the two of them enter.

"Oh, good day, Valerion", she said with a big grin, hurrying behind the counter. "And -- my, who do we have here!... If it isn't Adrien, the apprentice! Haven't seen you around in a while! How have you been? The sorcerer Valerion told me last time that you've been doing splendidly".

Adrien chuckled, a little red in the face. He locked eyes with Val - who gave him a smile so bright that Adrien had to avert his gaze. "Well, I -- he might be exaggerating a bit".

"Absolutely not", Val replied to Anne, a little bit of mock indignity in his voice. "His progress has been impressive, and I won't let him tell you otherwise".

"My, my", Anne chuckled to herself. "Have you learned any magic that you could show me?".

"Oh -- yeah, but I don't really know if I could do that right now...".

Val looked at the rows of glass cups behind Anne, and smiled. "Why don't you try the Water spell on one of the glasses?".

"The Water spell?", Adrien blurted out. "But -- that's --".

"I am sure that you can do it", Val smiled. "Anne, could you please give him an empty glass? He will magically fill it with water".

"I -- I don't think I can --".

"Oh! But of course!", Anne exclaimed, and turned to pick a glass from one of the shelves. Meanwhile, Adrien had turned bright red in the face. "Not the Water spell!", he protested. "I really don't think I can do it --".

"I am absolutely sure you can", Val said, firm. "The last time you tried, you managed with no problem".

"But that was a while ago, and that was with all the meditation, and with the robe, and the staff...!".

"Yes, and your skills have only progressed in the meanwhile", Val said, placing a piece of chalk in Adrien's hand. "The other day you enchanted the scrolls without a single problem. I have no doubts that you will do it", Val said.

Anne set down a large glass on the counter. "Come on, don't be afraid!", she grinned.

Adrien looked at both of them and made a weak, squeaky sound. He looked at the chalk in his hand. "I -- I can try", he sighed - at this point, he thought it easier to accept his probable failure than to struggle any further. He took in a few deep breaths, steadying himself and focusing on the flow of his energy. He drew a Water circle on the counter; and against his expectations, the spell shimmered with light and the cup was filled with water.

Anne and Val clapped their hands for him. "Well done, well done!", Anne gasped. "See, you could do it!".

Adrien chuckled, overwhelmed by surprise and relief. "I guess I could", he said. Val shook his head and smiled. "He will make a fine sorcerer", he said to Anne.

"Oh, without a doubt", Anne chuckled. "Oh, hello there, Hala", Anne said to someone behind them.

Adrien turned around. In the commotion, he didn't notice that someone else had entered the tavern. There now was a woman standing by the tavern's door; next to her, there was the young girl that they'd met earlier at the market. The woman was smiling openly; the girl stood behind her with an unsure expression on her face.

"Hi, Anne", the woman replied as she walked towards the counter - with the young girl following her after a moment of hesitation. "And good afternoon, Master Valerion", she said with a small bow. "Good you're still in town... My daughter Katia said you helped her before in the market, and we wanted to thank you - we would love to have you over for a slice of lemon pie".

Val chuckled in response - but Adrien could tell that he was a little taken aback. "Ah, yes, of course, that would be wonderful", he said.


Val and Adrien followed Hala and Katia to their home on the second floor of a nearby building. The living room they were now in was small, but comfortable; the walls were covered with photos of their family and pictures drawn by children. Each took a seat at the round table by the window, where Hala had Katia cut the lemon pie for everyone.

Hala filled each plate with a slice of pie, which she offered to Val, Adrien, and Katia. "Thank you", Val said upon receiving his slice. He cut a small piece with the side of his fork, then tried it - with Adrien doing the same. "It's very flavorful", Val smiled. "Thank you again for inviting us".

"It's no problem at all", Hala said. "And, oh, but we haven't introduced each other yet", she then said, looking at Adrien. "Katia told me that you're the sorcerer's apprentice, and your name is...".

"Adrien", he nodded.

"Pleased to meet you", Hala smiled. "How long have you been here, now?".

"Six months", Adrien said. "But this is the first time I've been in town since I've arrived -- I've been busy studying".

"Right! Yes, we saw the magic you did earlier at Anne's", Hala smiled.

"Yes, it was really -- really cool", Katia piped up.

Adrien chuckled. "Ah, it -- it was nothing special...".

Val glanced up at him with gentle scolding in his eyes. "...Earlier it was all impossible, and now it's nothing special", he commented.

Adrien laughed a little under his breath, now a bit red in the face. He poked his slice of pie with his fork. "...Alright...".

"Where are you from?", Hala said.

"Ordly", Adrien said.

"Ordly. That's so far", she replied, her eyes now widening. "My eldest, Marina, is studying far away, too. She's at the university in Mindeve".

"What is she studying?" Val asked.

"Architecture. She will graduate this September".

Adrien smiled politely, but felt something tighten within his stomach at the turn the conversation was taking. He didn't want to think about university, about his past failures, and about other things that he didn't even want to start remembering. He breathed out quietly, reminding himself that this all was behind him; that he had decided to take a different path, that things had worked out for him in the end, that he was doing well as a sorcerer's apprentice... and that, come next September, his studies would be finished, and his time with Val would be over.

"Oh, and Katia is graduating too", Hala said with a tilt of her head.

"Uh, mom, that's -- not really the same", Katia interjected, one eyebrow raised. "I'm only graduating from middle school...".

"That is still an important achievement", Val smiled.

"Yeah, that's such a milestone", Adrien chimed in, smiling to put Katia - and himself - more at ease.

Val turned to Adrien. "How was it like for you?", he said.

"Me?", Adrien said, wide-eyed. He stumbled for a moment; then he chuckled to himself as he remembered. "Well, uh -- the day before I graduated from middle school, I stepped on a viperfish...".

"A viperfish?", Val replied.

"Ah -- yeah, you wouldn't know", Adrien started. "So, in the sea, there are these -- fish with a venomous spine on their back. They hide in the sand with only their spine out, and if you step on them, it really hurts".

"Oh, wow", Katia commented, impressed.

"It's usually nothing serious, though - the pain goes away in a day or so", Adrien added with a smile. "But -- yeah, so I had to get my diploma hopping on one foot", he chuckled.

"I'm sorry that happened", Val said - but Adrien noticed that there was a little bit of a chuckle to his voice as he said that.

"Why are you laughing?", he replied, mock resentment in his tone.

Val giggled with one hand in front of his mouth. "...You certainly do often... step into trouble".

Hala and Katia laughed; Adrien groaned.


It was about a quarter to four when Val and Adrien said goodbye to Hala and Katia and started making their way back to the tower. Thanks to the Air spell Val had cast on the bags, it was no trouble at all to carry them; they were a bit unwieldy due to their volume, but they weighed nothing on their backs. The only difficulty now was the walk itself: they were facing a hike that would last them almost three hours, all uphill.

They had been walking without speaking for about fifteen minutes when Val decided to break the silence.



He smiled. "Thank you so much for all of your help", he then said.

Adrien's eyes widened. He shook his head. "It's -- it's nothing", he stammered. "It's the least I can do".

There was a pause in which Adrien looked down at the path under his feet - the pebbles shone orange in the afternoon sunlight.

"I never know how to talk to people", he heard Val saying.

Adrien smiled. "You were fine".

"Just because you were there", Val said.

After that, they did not speak again for a while. In his head, Adrien went through all that had happened on that day - he could only imagine how exhausting it must have been for Val, who had so little to say and so much to hide. He himself felt quite drained by all the small talk and all the rehashing of his life story that he had to repeat to everyone. "By the way, about Giorgio...".

"...It wasn't anything you did", Val said. "I should have warned you in advance that he is... certainly abrasive. When I first met him, I was worried that he seemed to particularly dislike me... now I understand him as the kind of person who merely dislikes everybody. And he's only getting sourer with age".

"Why does he even run a shop, then?", Adrien asked, bewildered.

"He inherited it from his aunt. She did a much better job at running it, but she has since passed away", Val replied.

Adrien quietly nodded to himself. "Can I ask you... How long have you been living here?".

Val looked around before answering that question. "About fifteen years", he then replied in a low voice.

Adrien lowered his head, in thought. Val had been living at the tower long enough that he had seen Falderdeen change and people age around him. "...I wonder how that is like", he mused. "...To never grow old, while everyone else around you does".

Val drew in a deep breath. "It's how it is", he whispered. He drew a Darkness circle with the fingers of one hand and pushed the spell outward so to create a bubble of silence around them. "And one day, I'll eventually outlast a human lifetime. I know that, when that time comes, no matter what are my wishes, I will have to leave. I'll have to go somewhere else, pretend to be someone else, and hide behind a different name".

Adrien's eyes widened. "You... you will have to do that?...".

"So it seems", Val replied, his head lowered. "This is what we must do to continue living among humans".

Adrien felt a knot tighten in his throat. "I... I had no idea...".

There was a bitter smile on Val's face. "I may be immortal, but that does not make me unbound by time", he then said. "Time passes and things change... And they must end", he added, his voice low.

Adrien looked down at his feet. For more than one reason, he felt like he wanted to cry.

"Thank you for listening", he heard Val's voice whisper.

Adrien nodded, but said nothing in response. He looked at the path in front of him; far away, he could see the tower - its windows reflecting the setting sunlight, its rooves glowing against the sky.


By when they arrived, it was already dusk. After putting away the groceries, they ate dinner and bid each other goodnight. In his room, Adrien laid himself down with his back against the bed. The day had gone better than he had expected, but now he needed some space for his thoughts. He needed to go through his chaos and find an answer to grasp onto. He knew that he needed to understand.

He thought again about what he had seen on the evening that he had peered through that crack by the door. Again, he saw Val's back arching over the magic circle, his body covered in arcane symbols; his snarl, and the tendrils that flowed like black smoke around his arms and legs.
Adrien took in a sharp breath as he imagined who had been beyond that portal: someone bent over a magic circle, seeking release, begging for a demon's venomous embrace. The light of the sigil ripples; the demon they wished for rises, skin shimmering in blue ciphers - he bares his teeth. He hisses, crawls, slides within; mortal flesh is exchanged with immortal pleasure until the room is empty again.

Who was the demon who rose from that portal? That infernal being, coiled in dark tendrils - it was Val; it was Val - he knew this to be true. His kind, thoughtful, gentle mentor - he was also that demon; that cruel, furious, spiderlike demon, who growled on all fours as he readied himself for his feast. Now that he was thinking about it, Adrien realized that he had seen that demon in him before. It was the twinkle in his eye when he joked, it was perched on the corner of his mouth when he smiled - and it was what soaked his words with sadness when he opened his heart to him.

Adrien could hear no words spoken by the demon that he had imagined - all he could hear was the echo of Val's voice as he knew it, as he had spoken to him just a little while before:

"Thank you so much for all of your help".

"Thank you for listening".

Those, too, were the words of a demon.

He thought again about the caress he had received earlier that day, when he had been made upset by the conversation with the shopkeeper - how warm it was, and how much he had needed it. If he had been in another time and place, if things could have been different - he would have kissed him. Adrien paused; he felt the realization sink within himself, then land within his core.

"Val", he whispered to the darkness in his room, "I am sorry".