Text version

the comic's manuscript, without pictures

4. Abysses

The next morning, Adrien found himself wide awake with a strange sort of excitement coursing through his veins - a euphoria of anticipation for the day to come. He skipped every other step on the way up to the bathroom; he washed his face with cold water, cherishing its reinvigorating shudder. He hurried downstairs and opened his wardrobe to choose his robes; he didn't want to waste a second of this day he wanted to seize. He put on his shoes, left his room, and descended to the main hall.

Valerion was sitting on his armchair at the far end of the table, reading a book. "Good morning, Adrien", he said. "How are you today?".

"I'm good, thank you". Adrien took his place on the armchair at the opposite end, and allowed himself to sink a bit in his seat. "And you?".

"Fine, thank you". Valerion put down his book on the table, then stretched his fingers. "What would you like for breakfast?".

"Could I have bread and jam?".

"Naturally. Still sour cherry?".

Adrien paused for an instant. "Could I ask what other types do you have?".

A facetious, irreverent smile appeared on Valerion's face. "Everything, except for apricot".

"Everything!", Adrien repeated, laughing. "Do you... do you have fig jam?".

"Of course", Valerion replied. He traced a spell in the air, and the table was set - bread, jam, and related tableware on one end, a cup of coffee with a few biscuits at the other. Adrien nodded to thank his host; then he picked up the jar, twisted it open, and started spreading the fig jam on a slice of bread. "Oh, this is going to be great", he commented, catching its scent. He bit into the bread, and his smile opened broader as the flavor took hold of his tongue - sweet, dry, resinous, at times viscous and at others crispy. There was more jam on his second slice than there had been on the first, and yet more on the third. At the other side of the table, Valerion was slowly drinking his coffee; sometimes he'd dunk a biscuit in his cup and take a small bite out of it. Adrien, too, took his time in eating; as excited as he was for the upcoming practice session, he didn't want to rush through this moment.

In spite of everything, at some point, the high of his electric enthusiasm started to fade, and a sort of amorphous nervousness began rising to take its place. Adrien recognized that cold pang in his stomach - it had happened to him other times; it was this dreadful feeling of having been left without something important - as if the ground had been stolen from his feet; and the more he struggled, the farther he fell from the surface. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, trying to keep this feeling at bay - but it would not leave him, and he could not make it leave.

"Is everything alright?".

He lifted his gaze; at the other side of the table, the sorcerer Valerion was looking at him with an expression of concern on his face. "I -- I am not sure", Adrien mumbled.

"If anything is troubling you, please, feel free".

There was a pause in which Adrien debated whether it was worthwhile to try to give a form to the haze that had taken him over. He looked down to his plate, fixating on the shape of the flower petals in the decorations around the border. He breathed out, then finally spoke: "I -- I don't know, I'm just -- I don't know", he said, shaking his head. He looked down at his legs, wringing his hands; then he looked up again - "I don't know -- everything is fine, and I'm just -- panicking, for no reason -- everything was just fine before, it is still fine -- but -- I don't know, there's no reason, but there it is". He breathed out. "Just, nevermind -- I'm sorry...".

"It's alright", Valerion said, soothingly. "It happens. You don't need to apologize".

Adrien looked down. "It's just... Nothing is wrong, there's no reason -- but my hands are shaking...". He crunched his hands into fists. "I'm so pathetic".

"Please, don't say that", Valerion said, a little frown on his face.

Adrien swallowed, then shook his head. He poured himself a glass of water, then drank it in a few big gulps. He breathed out. "Sorry", he said.

"You don't need to apologize to me", Valerion said, the faintest smile flickering through the attentive apprehension in his eyes.

Adrien did not reply, but he lowered his head in understanding. He knotted his fingers. "It's just so... so annoying", he said. "If I had a reason to be having a problem, that would be one thing, but...".

Valerion seemed to be deep in thought. "This is not something that has to have a reason", he then said. "You can think of it this way: if you caught a cold, would you blame yourself because you have no reason to be catching a cold?".

"I -- I guess not", Adrien replied.

"If someone called you pathetic for being ill and bedbound, what would you say to that person?".

Adrien's mouth twisted into a restrained sort of smile. "Many words that I wouldn't repeat here", he said with a faint chuckle to his voice.

Valerion laughed softly in response. "And you would be right to do so".

"I guess that was the bully talking, wasn't it?".

"Yes, it was", Valerion said, accompanying his words with a slow nod.

Adrien looked down at the plate again. Deep in thought, he repeatedly ran his hands on his hair, down to where it was tied into a small tuft of a ponytail; he then twirled the loose ends around his fingers, pondering his mentor's words. He took in a few deep breaths; some of the clouds seemed to have been dispersed, but he was still feeling rather shaken. He glanced at his half-eaten slice of bread and jam; he picked it up, brought it to his mouth, then furrowed his brow and put it down again. "I'd want to continue eating, but...".

"It's alright; you don't have to finish it".

"But it's so good - it's such a shame...".

A smile of sympathy and understanding appeared on Valerion's face. "Would you like some tea instead, and then maybe you can finish that slice?".

"Oh -- that would be great -- thank you so much", Adrien said, bowing his head slightly, a weak smile on his face.

"What kind of tea would you like?".

He chuckled softly. "Do you also have any tea except for apricot?".

Valerion's eyes narrowed in a smile. "I do have apricot tea; would you want that?".

Adrien laughed a little bit more. "Actually, if you have it, could I just have a chamomile?".

"Of course. Would you like some honey with it?".

"Oh -- yes, that would be great -- thank you, thank you so much".

With a quick motion of his fingers, a cup of chamomile on a saucer appeared on the table in front of Adrien, together with a jar of honey and a teaspoon. Adrien smiled, then picked up the jar, opened it, and dipped the spoon in; when he lifted it, he waited a moment for the excess to drip back into the jar, then stirred the honey-covered teaspoon into the warm chamomile, softly tinkling against the ceramic of the cup every few spins. He raised the cup, gently blew the vapor away, and took a sip; he instantly felt better. With a smile, he recognized something else beneath his returning peace: a gladness to be there - there, sitting on the velvet of that comfortable armchair in front of a lovely breakfast, opposite from his kind host and his cup of coffee, in a stone tower lost in the woods two hills away from a village.

Smiling, he picked up his slice of bread and jam. He took another bite.


He peered past the darkness within his eyelids, intense in his search, determined to find. When the hands of his fears would dare to reach for his spine, he'd be ready to turn around and bite them off. They wouldn't hold him captive; they wouldn't rend his mind. He felt himself fall, or perhaps rise - he couldn't tell. He breathed out; he looked back; he saw how far away he was from home, and the thought made him shiver.

"Breathe in".

And yet he ran on, he ran so fast, his feet light on the darkness beneath and above his path. His monsters couldn't catch up with him. How clumsy they seemed now; he could hear them stumble and trip behind his steps, graceless, whining and hissing, furious at his escape. And to think that he had been curling up under their claws just a little while before, and so many times before that.

"Breathe out".

He found himself waiting for his words, his voice a tether to which he held on as he descended into the abyss. He didn't expect there to be a bottom to it, but he hadn't realized just how much darkness there would be - he hadn't imagined how far he'd have to go. Somewhere in there, he started to notice, he had lost track of the faint howling of his fears; after a while, he could no longer remember who they were. He had never heard such a silence; it was the most wonderful sound he'd ever heard.

A smile spread across his face.

"I am ready".

Adrien walked towards the wall - one step, another, then he breathed out: a curve appeared beneath his outstretched fingers, precisely picked out of all possibilities like the perfect word to define a thought. In crisp detail, he saw his own arm following the shape - veins and tendons hiding and resurfacing under the skin of his own hand, casting shadows onto each other in motion, knuckles highlighted by the midmorning sun, his reality intense, as if captured through the mind of a painter or a poet, his eyes outside of his own body, his body outside of himself. And yet, he recognized at the edge of his incredulous amazement, and yet it was him at the center of the action - him, not someone else; this expression of beauty was flowing from his core, the motion encompassing more than movement, shaking his being to his foundation, stirring something within his throat that made him want to release a scream.

He breathed out as the circle completed itself, then in again.

With all of his strength, with that scream spreading to his fingers, he tensed a triangle within the circle - one, two, three lines, and back to the beginning: a Circle of Fire. He pulled back his hand from the wall, stepped away, breathed out, his eyes wide, catching the light of the whole room; then he plunged back in, his left hand outstretched, for he was sure, he was certain, he knew that this was it, no insecurity this time, no fear, no anxiety - just a great smile that enclosed all of himself as he emerged from the abyss.

He touched the wall.

Everything turned into light, light burning within his eyes, stretching its rays through his chest and back; the symbol on the wall was glowing underneath his hand, a glow the likes of which he had never seen before - it ran electric on his skin and liquid inside his veins, it tangled and spread like roots in his head, it unleashed its words in a language that sank deep within his being; he felt that it belonged to him; it became him. He took in this light, intoxicated by its power and beauty, in breathless awe and visceral satisfaction; he had done it, he had done it. He laughed, enraptured; he turned around, grinning, and saw the same expression mirrored on his mentor's face, who was now standing, walking towards him. Valerion laughed in turn, then clapped Adrien on the shoulder.

"Congratulations", he said, smiling proud, "my greatest congratulations, Adrien - that is exactly how you do it; congratulations".

Adrien laughed in response, too euphoric to formulate words; he then sat down by the wall, winded.

"Would you like a seat?", Valerion asked.

"Ah -- thank you -- I'm fine", Adrien replied, raising his hand. He sat there for a while, spent, focusing on breathing and nothing else; at some point, Valerion crouched down in front of him, smiling, his hands relaxed on his thighs.

"How do you feel?".

"Great", Adrien said, still breathing shallow, a chuckle at the bottom of his voice, "but also exhausted".

"Do you need some water?".

"Yes, please -- thank you".

Valerion quickly moved his fingers, then positioned his hand as if to hold a cup; and it appeared - a glass of water, which he offered to Adrien. "Thanks", he whispered; a second after, he had gulped it all down.


"Yes, thank you".

He gave the glass back; Valerion moved his fingers again, and the glass was refilled. Adrien took a few sips, then lowered the cup and breathed in.


"Definitely. Thank you so much".

"Don't mention it", Valerion said, smiling. "I can only imagine how draining this must have been for you".

"Yeah -- I would have never thought it would be so exhausting. I mean -- I expected that it would be tiring, but" - he paused to search for the right words - "but not... not in this particular way. I don't know if I can explain it -- I'm sure you know, though".

"Don't worry. I'm sure that right now you must feel as if you've moved a mountain, but, with more practice, this will happen less and less".

"So is it like building stamina?".

"In a very broad sense", Valerion said, tilting his head slightly. "It has actually more to do with how you will be able to channel your energy more effectively, so less will go to waste".

"Oh, I see", Adrien smiled with excitement. "I can't wait to get there".

Valerion burst into laughter - that gentle, pleasant laugh of his. "Hey, now -- you have yet to finish celebrating your first success, and you're already setting new goals for yourself!".

Adrien chuckled with him, a bit embarrassed. "Right, right. Sorry! ...So, I can celebrate?".

"You should celebrate!", Valerion said with an emphatic nod of his head. "This is a very important day for you. Now you can no longer say that you can't do magic".

"Well, I don't know that yet", Adrien commented, a wrinkle of faint worry in his brow. "I don't know if I can repeat it".

"I am absolutely certain that you will", Valerion said, smiling broadly. "I saw how you did that, and, you can believe me - that was not a fluke. In fact, I thought that you were ready yesterday, as well - but I preferred to let you practice on the core shapes some more, so that you couldn't possibly fail".

"Really!", Adrien chuckled.

"Yes, really", Valerion repeated, smiling. "And I must congratulate you - you have already learned so much in the span of not even a week".

"Ah -- but -- but I should have already known how to do it -- there are children who can do what I just did", Adrien mumbled, looking downwards.

"That does not make your achievement any less impressive, Adrien", Valerion said, calmly. "Those children have started their formal training in magic at birth. You have been here for six days. It is awfully unfair to compare yourself to them, wouldn't you say so?".

"I -- I guess", Adrien replied, his voice low. "But -- but still, I mean -- you are, what, thirty? -- and you are a master sorcerer, while I'm still learning baby circles --".

"I have also started at birth", Valerion said, a kind smile in his eyes. "Really, you should not compare yourself to others. Your journey is your own. The only challenger you have to defeat is yourself. And wouldn't you say that today counts as a victory?".

"Yeah -- you're right", Adrien said, now smiling. He took another sip of water. "Thank you".

"That's more like it", Valerion said, bowing his head gently. "Listen to me, Adrien: even though you are not, I am absolutely confident in your abilities. You have been doing great so far, and I am sure that you will continue in the same way. You'll be fine, I promise".

Adrien smiled and closed his eyes, so glad to hear those words. "Thank you so much", he said, near tears. "Thank you".

"It's alright", Valerion said. He stood up and walked towards the window. "I think this is enough strenuous endeavors for today. What do you say that we go back to the main hall, have some lunch, and spend the rest of this day in more relaxing activities?".

"That sounds great", Adrien said. He took another sip of water - the more he drank, the more he felt replenished from what had been spent in his intense exertion. He slowly stood up; the symbol he had drawn on the wall was still there - its undeniable beauty brought a smile to his face. Valerion was right - this was a victory; a sure, definite victory - something he should be celebrating, not dissecting into his usual fears. He had been able to push his monsters away to draw that perfect circle, and he could do it again.

He should do it again, he thought; he should do it much more.


Adrien couldn't help but chuckle and put down his book; he threw his head backwards on the headrest of the couch and leisurely stretched his arms, then turned towards his mentor, who was sitting on his armchair by the table, bent over a notebook on which he had been writing for a while. Valerion lifted his pen from the page and slightly tilted his head in the direction of Adrien, smiling.

"I just got to -- to that chapter", Adrien said, still giggling softly, "and yeah, you were right - some of these theories are, well --".

"-- Ridiculous?", Valerion continued, his smile now twisting at the corner of his mouth.

A somewhat roguish look appeared in Adrien's eyes. "Well, I was thinking of another word --".

"-- Bullshit?".

Adrien burst into an exuberant, irrepressible, zestful sort of laughter - it shook his entire body, and he had to quickly bend down to grab the book as it attempted to slide off his thighs. "Thank you!", he exclaimed between breaths, "that's -- that's exactly --!".

Valerion laughed with him. He lifted himself from his seat and slightly turned his armchair towards Adrien, then sat down again. "Which part are you reading?".

"The one about the -- the alien wars", Adrien said, covering his mouth with one hand as he giggled.

"Oh, that one", Valerion said, rolling his eyes.

Adrien chuckled. "It's so weird how the previous parts are so interesting and reasonable and -- and then, all of a sudden, bam!" - he bent his head downwards sharply, as if slamming at full force into an invisible wall - "this train of bullshit just comes out of nowhere!".

"Isn't it?", Valerion laughed. He twirled his fountain pen in his hands, then set it down on the table. "To be fair, I can understand why that theory was included in the book; after all, it has gained enough momentum --".

"Wait, there are people who really believe that?!".

"Apparently", Valerion said with a weak shrug. "I know that this is not the first time that I have encountered this theory".

"Wow", Adrien replied, a disbelieving laugh at the bottom of his voice. "That's -- that's amazing. So... do you think that it was put in the book just because it wouldn't have been complete otherwise?".

"To be honest, I am not entirely sure", Valerion said, with one eyebrow raised. "It seems to me that the author reported it in an unusually factual manner compared to her usual writing style; I cannot tell if that is because she wanted to maintain a neutral voice, or for other reasons".

Adrien nodded slowly as he looked down, in thought; then his mouth twisted into a silly smile. "Maybe it's because this theory is so absurd that it doesn't even deserve to be discussed seriously", he giggled. "I mean -- collateral damage from alien wars changing the color of a star? Seriously? What can you even say about it without sounding ridiculous, or like you're stating the obvious?".

"Good point", Valerion said, laughing a bit himself. "And I will admit that I wouldn't have known how to tackle the issue, either. Besides, from what I have seen of the author, she didn't sound like a conspiracy theorist to me".

"Oh! You -- you know her?", Adrien said, awestruck.

"As an acquaintance, yes", Valerion replied with a smile, his head gently tilted. "I haven't spoken much to her, but she seemed like a respectable scholar".

"Wow", Adrien commented in a low voice, his eyes wide, "that's amazing". He went quiet, unsure of what to add to the conversation; all of a sudden, he found himself struck by the realization that he had been chatting so freely and spontaneously with someone who was above him in ways he could barely begin to comprehend.

"Next time we meet, I should try to ask her about that", Valerion continued. "I wouldn't be surprised if it is how you say, and she purposely omitted all commentary".

"Ah -- it's not really that important", Adrien mumbled. He pulled his legs together and sat up, moved some of his hair in front of his cheeks, opened the book again, and searched for his place; his painful self-consciousness surfaced on his face in the form of a stifled wrinkle in his brow. He could still hear his own enthusiasm from a few minutes before - it rang in his ears, unpleasant, discordant. He looked down and tried to focus on the next paragraph; he forced his lips to not even twitch as he read some more poppycock about alien mirrors and laser beams. At the edge of his vision, he could see Valerion looking at him, his head slightly tilted, a worried expression on his face; Adrien couldn't help but lift his gaze and lock eyes with him for a second, then he looked down again.

"Is something the matter?", Valerion softly said.

There was a long pause in which Adrien opened his mouth and turned his head several times, as if to shift its contents around in the hope that they would align themselves in a coherent fashion. He kept on looking at the book, or rather through it; he intently stared at the word "spaceship" until he had stripped it of all meaning. Then his eyes widened; he remembered what Valerion had told him just a few hours before about not comparing himself to others. He threw his hair behind his shoulders and tried to put a weak smile on his face.

"Sorry", he finally said, "I just had a silly thought, but I think I'm fine now".

"Oh", Valerion said, tilting his head, smiling gently. "If you want to express any worry, as always, please - feel free".

Adrien nodded, his smile widening; then a faint crease appeared on his forehead. "I just hope I'm not an annoyance to you", he said, his voice low.

"An annoyance?", Valerion said, his eyebrows raised. "No, not at all. Why would you think that?".

"I -- well, I did say it was a silly thought", Adrien said, chuckling awkwardly.

"It's alright", Valerion continued, a kind smile in his eyes. "Don't worry about that, really. Oh, anyway", he said as he stood up and started walking towards the couch, "do you want to continue reading?".

Adrien tilted his head. "Ah -- not particularly -- I was ready to stop, actually".

"Too many alien shenanigans?".

"Yeah - I think I've reached the limit of bullshit I can take in one day", Adrien said with a chuckle. He placed a bookmark between the pages, closed the book, and put it on the couch. "How come?".

Valerion sat down at Adrien's side; he crossed his legs underneath his robe. "Perhaps we could do something different, today - for the occasion. Are you still tired from practice?".

"No, I'm fine now. What were you thinking?".

"I was thinking that I have a fine ping-pong table", Valerion replied, smiling.

There was a gasp of delight as Adrien's reaction. "That -- that would be fantastic!", he said, grinning broadly. "Where do you keep it?".

"It's in the storage tower, but I can teleport it here - there is more than enough room to play".

Adrien cocked his head. "Oh -- but won't that be dangerous? I mean -- what if a ball hits a bookshelf -- I wouldn't want --".

"Don't worry about that", Valerion said with a smile, "I will place a magical barrier around it".

"Oh!", Adrien exclaimed, smiling again. "Then -- yes, please -- thank you so much, this is such a great idea".

Valerion left the couch, and Adrien followed suit with a little skip to his step. They walked around the room; Valerion stopped in the middle of an empty portion - "Here should be fine", he declared. He moved his fingers in a complicated pattern; he breathed in, then out - the next moment, the ping-pong table had appeared in front of them, complete with two wooden paddles and a little ball. Adrien walked towards the table, his eyes wide; he picked up a paddle and turned it around in his hands, then set it down again. "I've seen you teleport things many times now, but it never ceases to amaze me", he said, a little laugh to his tone; Valerion smiled in response.

"Allow me to prepare the barrier, and then we can begin our game", he said. He picked up the ball in one hand and moved his other hand around it, putting some sort of enchantment on it; then he put it down again. He walked around the table, stopping at about one meter and a half away from its edge; then his fingers started spinning once more. A faintly glowing blue line appeared underneath his feet and started to move around the table, like ink trailing behind an invisible brush. Adrien watched the line crawl by his feet on the stone floor until it closed upon itself, forming a border around the ping-pong table.

"Try throwing the ball out of the border", Valerion said. Adrien picked up the ball and did as instructed; when it reached the line, it bounced off in mid-air and back towards them, as if hitting an invisible wall. He caught the ball as it bounced back, then placed it down on the table. "Wow", he commented, laughing. "What sort of spell is that?".

"It's a... somewhat unconventional use of defense magic", Valerion explained with a soft giggle.

"I see", Adrien replied, beaming. He walked towards the line and tried to touch it with the tip of his toe; to his surprise, he realized that the barrier did not affect his foot, or the rest of his leg. He walked in and out of the border a few times, nodding and smiling; then he picked up the ball and walked towards the line holding it. When the hand that was holding the ball reached the limit, he distinctly felt the resistance of the invisible wall - his hand could slide through, but the ball would be held back no matter how hard he pushed. He turned towards Valerion, grinning. "Brilliant -- really brilliant", Adrien said.

Valerion chuckled, then he brought one hand to his forehead and shifted his bangs of black hair around. "Thank you".

"I want to learn how to do that", Adrien said. "I'm really interested in defense magic".

Valerion looked to the side, in thought; then he nodded in agreement. "That could be the next subject of your studies", he said. "Yes - it would be a good idea for you to work on that; it will allow you to practice energy control while in a safe environment, with tangible results. Would you like to do that?".

"Oh -- that would be awesome!", Adrien exclaimed.

"Then we can start working on that tomorrow", Valerion said, smiling.

"Thank you!".

Valerion chuckled. "But now, what about starting our game?".

"Of course", Adrien said, laughing with him. "Sorry - I got a bit too excited there".

Valerion smiled kindly. "Please, never apologize for your enthusiasm; it is a wonderful thing".

Adrien didn't say anything in response, but he smiled. He placed himself in position at one side of the table, tied up his hair in a tight ponytail, picked up the paddle, then prepared to serve.

"Ok, here we go".

He threw the ball upwards, then hit it with the paddle during its descent; it flew past the net in an arc, hit the table, and was intercepted by Valerion, who sent it back towards Adrien. After its first bounce, Adrien hit the ball again with a quick, precise motion; it darted past the net, bounced, then flew past Valerion's shoulder before he could swing his paddle - the ball fell on the floor behind him, bouncing repeatedly until it hit the invisible wall. For a second, Valerion's eyes widened in an expression of surprise; then they narrowed as he laughed.

"Good one", he said, nodding. He turned around and picked up the ball, then returned it to the server. "Thank you", Adrien said. "Ah -- we're playing to...?".

"Until one of us reaches ten points, I thought", Valerion replied. "Is that alright with you?".

"Yes", Adrien said. He moved back in position and bounced the ball in his right hand several times. "Should I go?".


Again, Adrien threw the ball up, then hit it; it went diagonally across the table, over the net, bounced - Valerion swung the paddle but missed the ball, which hit the table a second time.

Valerion picked up the ball and passed it to Adrien again. "Sorry, that was quite ungraceful", he said with a little smile.

After a few more serves, it became evident to both who would be the one to win this game. Adrien had spent many of his summers enjoying himself with his friends in the beachfront bars of his hometown; ping-pong was one of his favorite games to play as he dried off between one swim and the next - and, as such, he'd become quite good at it. Generally, Adrien's moves were faster and more precise; Valerion put up a decent fight, but he soon had to accept that he was no match for him.

"Nine to four!", Valerion said as he handed the ball again to Adrien. "One more and you will have destroyed me completely. Really, I should have retired many points ago", he giggled.

Adrien laughed, then moved his hair away from his face. "Aw, I'm sorry, I didn't want --".

"Don't worry, don't worry - I'm only joking", Valerion chuckled. "Come on, let's finish this", he added with a sharp nod of his head.

Adrien bounced the ball in his hand one last time, then hit it with the paddle; it flew past the net in an arc, bounced on the opposite side, was sent back by Valerion, who aimed low, going towards the left corner of his opponent's court; and Adrien replied with a smash. Valerion retrieved the ball, set it down on the table, then clapped his hands.

"Well done", he said, smiling with his eyes. "Well done, Adrien - you are really good at this".

Adrien touched his cheek, embarrassed. "I'm sorry -- I wanted this to be a fun, relaxing game, not --".

"It has been a fun, relaxing game", Valerion said tilting his head slightly. "It just so happens that you are far more skilled than I am".

"If I may ask --".

"-- yes --".

"-- when was the last time you played?".

Valerion scratched his chin, in thought. "I think it was... five... years ago -- yes, I think so".

"Five years!", Adrien commented, chuckling. "Then you're just rusty! Of course it went this way -- the last time I played was no more than two months ago! I want a rematch -- on your behalf!".

"I guess I have to agree, yes?", Valerion replied, giggling softly.

They spent the rest of the evening playing, chatting, and laughing; afterwards they ate dinner together, then bid each other goodnight and retreated to their sleeping quarters. It had been only six days since Adrien's arrival at the tower, but he felt like it had been much longer. Excited for what would come, he fell asleep almost as soon as he touched the pillow with his cheek.