All The Warm Lives, part 5: Cupcakes

I screwed up Gaetana’s rank in the last section — Lictors are actually the leaders of a Hellknight order.  Paralictors fall beneath them (with a Mistress or Master of Blades (Maidrayne Vox’s rank) being the second in command below the Lictor and above a Paralictor) and Maralictors are beneath Paralictors.  I’m not going to go back and fix the previous chapter, but from here on out Gaetana will correctly be addressed as Maralictor.

* * *

A knock sounded on the door that lead to the conference room where Maidrayne Vox was currently in conversation with Darean Halst inside the Bastion of the Nail. “Lady Vox?” came Maralictor Gaetana’s voice from the hallway. “Lady Redbreeze to see you again, ma’am.”

Yes, send her in,” Vox replied, setting aside the paperwork that she and Halst were looking over together. The door opened, and Maralictor Gaetana stepped aside to admit the Sarenite paladin.

Lady Vox…Paralictor Halst,” Osanna greeted both of the Hellknight commanders as Gaetana closed the door behind her once she was inside the room.

Yes, good afternoon, Lady Redbreeze,” Halst addressed her with a nod. “Lady Vox told me you had come to call.”

We were just going over the final details of the prisoner’s transfer,” Vox added. “I trust you are done visiting with him?”

I am,” Osanna confirmed. Vox could tell there was a hint of uneasiness to the tiefling’s voice as she continued. “That’s actually what I wanted to speak with you about before I left, if I may trouble you for a moment of your time.”

We are expected at the Pediment Building,” Halst commented abruptly.

A moment, then,” Vox declared, holding up a hand to Halst before he could continued. “Speak, then, Lady Redbreeze.”

I would ask that you keep Glenn here until the time of his sentencing before the Justice Court,” Osanna requested.

There was a moment’s pause where none of them spoke, during which time Vox stared down at the tiefling, studying her. Osanna seemed slightly out of sorts; Vox couldn’t quite place how, but in the many times that the two of them had spoken and worked together to better Magnimar and its people, she had never seen the paladin quite like this before. Was she…flustered?

Why would we do that?” Halst demanded suddenly, breaking Vox’s train of thought.

I am not one to mince words,” Osanna started, looking pointedly at Vox, and the centaur offered her a thin, appreciative smirk as the tiefling continued, “so I will simply be blunt with you instead. The Hells are an awful place. We all know that. Glenn does not deserve to go there – he is, at his core, a remarkable person.”

A remarkable person who nearly beat a member of the Council of Ushers to death,” Halst grunted.

Yes, and he doesn’t deny that,” Osanna agreed. “He made a mistake – a grievous one – and he’s prepared to pay for it.”

Then what difference does it make if he goes to the Hells today or in a week, after his sentencing?” Halst pressed with a frown.

I am going to ask the Justices to stay his term in the Hells, in favor of letting him assist me instead,” Osanna explained.

Halst paused, and Vox arched an eyebrow in interest. “You seem to have a plan already in mind.”

I do,” Osanna confirmed, nodding to the Mistress of Blades. “As I said, Glenn is, at his core, a good person who made a single mistake – he would be a much better asset to Magnimar by aiding its people than he would be sitting locked in a cell beneath the Pediment Building for some months. It’s in his nature to help others.”

And you think you can convince the Justices of this?” Halst asked.

I do,” Osanna said again with another nod. “I have done it before, for those who are truly repentant, and they have been a genuine asset to me and the people of the Underbridge. I can guarantee you – and the members of the Justices – that Glenn will be no different. In the meantime, I would ask that you simply keep him here…out of harm’s way.”

Halst was frowning, but Vox felt a tug at the corners of her mouth as her smile broadened. “Well,” the centaur began, “the Gallahads did ask us to investigate this matter ourselves, privately, rather than leaving it to the city guard. It would be well within our rights to keep him here until the time of his trial, should we decide to do so.”

Halst turned to look at her, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Ma’am?”

Vox bent over the paperwork that she and the Paralictor had been studying before Osanna entered the room. The centaur took a quill from an inkwell set on the table and hastily but neatly signed her name on the topmost document. “Take this back to the Pediment Building, Paralictor,” Vox said, setting the quill back in the ink pot and handing Halst the top sheaf of parchment. “Tell them their prisoner transfer request has been denied.”

Halst took the parchment with a nod. “Yes, ma’am.” He turned, nodding once to Osanna as he strode briskly out of the room.

Vox waited until the Paralictor had closed the door behind him before turning back to Osanna. “He was one of your companions, wasn’t he? During your operation against the Runelord. I remember now. Samael Thrune told me. I thought his name sounded familiar.”

Yes,” Osanna said with a nod.

And you care for him,” Vox went on, coming around the table to face the tiefling directly. Her inquiry was less a question and more a statement of fact.

Yes,” Osanna repeated, and Vox thought she could see the faintest shadow of color creep into the paladin’s lavender cheeks, “in so much that I don’t want to see any ill befall him inside the Hells. We both know what goes on there.”

Do realize that if your petition falls on deaf ears and the Justice Court denies your request, there is little more we can do,” Vox stated with a frown. “We have no further right to hold him here if they do sentence him to a jail term.”

Of course,” Osanna replied, “I understand. Thank you for heeding my request to keep him here until then.”

Consider it a favor rendered,” the centaur proclaimed. “Is there anything else I can do for you today, Osanna?”

Actually…there is one more thing.”

My, you are just full of demands, aren’t you? Go on, then.”

I trust you have his belongings?”

Yes. Inquisitor Thrune brought them in with the prisoner.”

Would you consider releasing them to me?”

Vox’s frown deepened. “I’m afraid I cannot allow that, even for you, Osanna,” the centaur said, folding her arms across her chest. “If he were to get out, it would be far too easy for him to take them and leave town for good – it already took us seven months to track him down, as it was.”

I can assure you, he’s not going anywhere,” Osanna insisted. Vox opened her mouth to reply, but the tiefling pressed on before she had a chance to. “But I understand, of course. Could I ask for just a few of his things, then? They are important to him – he just wants to make sure they are accounted for.”

We aren’t about to misplace them,” Vox said imperiously.

No, of course not,” Osanna agreed. “But surely if Samael has spoken to you of our exploits, you must know the power some of those items contain – if one of your initiates were to mishandle them, the results could be…unfortunate. Besides, by your own logic, would it not be prudent to keep some of his belongings in different locations? If he did get out – which he won’t – but if he did, it would be harder for him to get ahold of all of them if some of them were here, and some of them were with me.”

Vox stared down at the tiefling, unsure if she should feel annoyed or impressed at the young woman’s ability to out think her on the spot. “Two,” the centaur snorted after a moment, stomping her foot agitatedly on the floor. “You may take two of his belongings. No more.”

Thank you,” Osanna replied with a smile, bowing her head.

*

The Hells?” Ular asked, and Osanna could hear the alarm rising in his voice. “They’re going to send Glenn to the Hells?”

Not if I can help it,” the tiefling replied. She and the former Shoanti tribesman were standing in the kitchen of the temple of Sarenrae, Osanna moving about hurriedly if somewhat distractedly packing her haversack with items to bring to Glenn during her impending trip that afternoon.

You can’t let them,” Ular agreed earnestly. “That place is…is maldare, Osanna.” She recognized the Varisian word for “damned.”

I know, Ular,” Osanna replied patiently, stepping into the larder located off the kitchen and pulling a whole, salt-cured fish down from where it had been hanging from a hook in the ceiling. “His sentencing hearing is the day after tomorrow – I’m going to do everything I can to keep him from going there.”

I remember when the two of you came down there to release me,” Ular reminisced, “along with that brute of a Hellknight. It was like being born again. Not having to fight for food – not having to worry about falling asleep at the wrong time, in case I got stabbed in the back – I hadn’t seen the sun in months.”

Osanna carefully wrapped the dried fish in a clean tea towel before placing it in her haversack. “I remember,” she murmured with a small frown, trying to push down the slight sense of panic she felt rising in her stomach. “I have been trying to amend how the Justice Courts operate – and particularly, how they treat their prisoners – but it has been an uphill battle.”

There was silence in the kitchen for a moment as Osanna filled a waterskin with fresh water from a drinking barrel in the corner. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Ular asked quietly as she placed the skin in her haversack.

Actually, there is,” the tiefling replied, turning to face him as she closed her satchel. “Can you move the acolytes down into the library in the basement for me?”

Ular paused before replying. “You mean to convert their room back into Glenn’s quarters.”

Yes,” Osanna said. “Yservielle is here infrequently enough that they can share the space downstairs with her. Just don’t disturb any of her belongings.”

Yes…of course,” Ular nodded, “but what if you can’t–”

I will,” Osanna interrupted him firmly before he could finish his thought, shouldering her haversack and starting for the entrance to the temple. I have to.

An hour later, after stopping for an errand along the way, Osanna pushed her way through the front doors of the Bastion of the Nail. It was a cold, blustery day, and even with both magical protection against the cold and a heavy winter coat, she was glad to be out of the snow and wind.

Maralictor Gaetana was standing at the back of the small lobby, her back toward the entrance, apparently peering through the door that lead further into the Bastion. She turned immediately as Osanna entered, looking momentarily alarmed before her features relaxed in recognition. “Ah. Good afternoon, Lady Redbreeze.”

And a good afternoon to you, Maralictor. Is everything alright?” Osanna replied, dusting snow off her shoulders as she stepped into the Hellknight stronghold.

Yes, I believe so. We had a minor incident just a few minutes ago, but I believe everything is under control,” Gaetana replied, glancing over her shoulder again. “Are you here to see the prisoner?”

Yes,” Osanna frowned slightly, “although, is there anything I can assist with?”

That won’t be necessary, thank you. Paralictor Halst is currently in a meeting with the rest of the Order in the conference room discussing what to do about the matter. You are welcome to see yourself down to the prison ward. Please do not disturb them.”

Osanna knew better than to stick her nose too far into the Hellknights’ business when it wasn’t wanted. “Yes, of course. Thank you.”

As Osanna descended the stairs to the prison ward, she heard an odd noise in the distance, like the splattering of liquid off something solid. She paused at the bottom of the steps, listening, and realized the sound was coming from the last cell in the prison block and that it was alarmingly familiar. Tapping her halo to illuminate the otherwise dark hallway, she hurried down the row of empty cells.

In the last cramped chamber, Glenn was kneeling over the pitiful excuse for a toilet in the corner of the room, one hand braced against the wall next to him for support as he retched violently into the basin. Osanna stared at him wide-eyed for a moment from outside the cell’s gated door until he seemed to be finished; he gasped, breathing hard, and she could see him trembling slightly as he tried to regain his composure.

Glenn, what happened?” Osanna asked, gripping one of the bars of the cell door. He glanced over his shoulder in alarm, relaxing slightly when he saw her. “Are you alright?”

The Daemon…” Glenn muttered, falling back into a sitting position on the floor and leaning against the wall, “it finally appeared. I was wondering when it would.”

Osanna stared at him silently for a moment; his eyes were closed and he was still breathing heavily, a line of perspiration beading his forehead across the Mark of Wrath. “What happened?” she asked again.

They killed it,” Glenn replied flatly. “I didn’t see it. But I could feel it. It gets worse each time it happens.”

She could see in the dim light that he was pale and still shivering slightly. “I’m going to go get them to open this door,” she said, starting to move back up the hallway toward the stairs, “so I can have a look at you.”

Don’t.” Glenn’s voice caused Osanna to pause and turn back to the cell. He was staring at her now, his face anxious and apprehensive, but before she could speak, he continued. “I don’t think they know where the Daemon came from – that it’s connected to me. And…I don’t think they need to.” Osanna gave him a slightly incredulous look, and he frowned. “You think they’d want to keep me here if they knew they could be under attack by a random Daemon at any time?”

Osanna paused, considering. Keeping something like this from the Hellknights went against her nature – she had been trying to foster positive relations with the Order of the Nail ever since she established her temple in the Underbridge district, and if they ever found out she had withheld this kind of information from them, she knew it would damage her reputation and her standing with their order. On the other hand, Glenn was right – they would likely have him in shackles and sent off to the Hells within an hour if they knew he was tied to the Daemon attack, and she feared the worst if he were to be sent there now, in his current condition – especially if the Daemon returned.

It’s only two days until your sentencing hearing,” Osanna reasoned, almost more to herself than to her companion.

I doubt the thing will return before then, anyway,” Glenn muttered, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the stone wall behind him. “But the Hellknights wouldn’t care if they knew the details.” Osanna had to admit to herself that he was probably right.

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to visit more often,” she said after a moment, pulling the rickety old stool forward to sit upon in front of Glenn’s cell. It had been a week since she had first convinced Maidrayne Vox to allow Glenn to remain inside the Bastion until his sentencing in front of the Justice Courts, and she had only been back once in that time frame.

It’s fine,” Glenn replied. “You’re busy. Always got your hands full.”

I brought you a clean change of clothes,” Osanna continued, opening her haversack and pulling out several pieces of clothing that she had picked up on her way to the Bastion that afternoon. Glenn made no move to get up from his spot on the floor of the cell, so Osanna set them just inside the barred gate. “Won’t you come here and let me take a look at you?”

I’m fine,” Glenn murmured. “The worst of it has passed.”

At least take some water. You look…” Osanna paused. She was going to say “terrible,” but thought better of it at the last minute.

She busied herself for a moment reaching into the haversack again to pull out the waterskin she had filled up at the temple, and Glenn chuckled harshly. “Sick? Pathetic? … Terrible?”

Osanna frowned, suddenly feeling annoyed. “Just take the water, Glenn,” she snapped, tossing it through the bars toward him. He glanced up in time to catch it deftly in one hand.

Thanks,” he muttered, flipping the container open and taking a sip. He swished the water in his mouth for a moment before turning to spit it into the basin next to him. Sitting back against the wall, he took a second sip, this time swallowing, before leaning his head against the stone behind him, closing his eyes again.

I brought you something to eat, as well,” Osanna continued, rapidly regaining her own composure as she pulled out the dried fish in addition to a number of other items she had packed from the temple’s pantry.

I’m not hungry at the moment,” Glenn grunted.

Maybe later, then,” Osanna said patiently, setting the wrapped food items down inside the cell next to the clothes she had brought. Glenn took another sip of water, but otherwise didn’t reply. “How have you been?” the tiefling went on.

Aside from cold, mostly left alone in total darkness for days on end, and now feeling like my insides have been rended open? Pretty much okay, I guess,” Glenn replied blandly.

Osanna frowned. “I’m going to do everything I can to get you out of here, Glenn,” she insisted. “I have a meeting with the Justice Court later this afternoon to finalize my speaking at your hearing. I’m sure they will listen – I’ve spoken in front of them before, gotten other peoples’ sentences suspended. We got Ular out, remember?”

As I recall, Ular was only in for theft,” Glenn said. “Have any of the people you’ve managed to get out been in for beating a member of the Council of Ushers?” Osanna didn’t reply immediately, so Glenn pressed on. “I didn’t think so.”

I will get you out of here,” Osanna whispered, more to herself than to the man crouched in the back of the cell.

And if you can’t?” Glenn asked. Osanna looked through the bars, and realized he was staring at her, frowning. “You’ve said it to me yourself many times – you can’t save everyone.”

Your pessimism was always refreshing,” Osanna snarled sarcastically. She stood suddenly, nearly upending the stool she had been sitting on. “I have an appointment to keep at the Pediment Building – I’ll see you in a few days. Enjoy the fish.”

Glenn didn’t respond as Osanna strode toward the stairway leading back up toward the Bastion proper. She could feel a tension building around her eyes, her vision clouding slightly, but she fought the sensation off, pushing her anger down to the bottom of her stomach.

I don’t see why you’re going to such trouble to help him. He’s become such an obnoxious, unpleasant little shitlicker. Unless you’re going to let me have my way with him when you get him out of this sewage pit? We can ravage him together, take turns breaking him…and when he’s shattered, we could leave him to bleed out slowly, it could take days for him to finally succumb to death. It would serve him right for treating us like this!

Osanna blinked back tears as she pushed open the doors to the Hellknight fortress, ignoring Maralictor Gaetana’s farewell as the tiefling departed the Bastion of the Nail. Osanna ignored Sarscha’s taunts, as she always did, but she couldn’t help but wish that things could simply go back to the way they once used to be between her and Glenn, when they were merely happy to be each others’ best friends – or perhaps a bit more.

*

With a twist of his cloak and a half-step across the cobbled street outside the bakery in Magnimar that he made a point to visit every time he was in town, Bill Voon disappeared as a vacuum of air rushed to fill the void where the rotund wizard once stood. Walking was such a chore, and even flying to his destination seemed more of an effort than it was worth when he could simply use magic to appear there instantaneously.

A moment later, the wizard’s single eye was assaulted with a barrage of light and colors as he appeared in the middle of the prayer hall of the Temple of Sarenrae. “I knew I should have waited until the sun had finished setting,” Bill muttered, more to himself than to anyone in particular as he squinted his eye. It was late in the day, and the sun was just finishing sinking below the horizon, its brilliant rays shining through the stained glass windows of the temple and filling the large, central chamber he had appeared in with an array of prismatic colors.

Oh!” came a voice from just behind him, and Bill turned to see a young girl with a mess of brown hair held away from her face by a handkerchief clutching a broom tightly, staring at him wide-eyed. “Oh!” she said again as she caught sight of his features, and he could tell she was staring at the brilliant white flower that was protruding from one of his eyesockets.

Hmm,” Bill mused, bending down slightly to stare at the girl; she shrank away from him slightly. He could tell, thanks to the flower embedded in his skull, which acted as a magical conduit that allowed him to sense the power and aptitude of a person or device, that she had a small amount of divine potential. “Another cleric in training?” he asked, pointing at the girl, and she took another step back from him. “Doesn’t she already have two? Osanna is breeding them like rabbits now.”

U-um,” the girl stammered, taking another step backward toward the front of the prayer hall, “I…I’ll go get the ma’am for you.” She dropped her broom, which clattered noisily on the floor in the otherwise empty stone chamber as the girl turned and scampered across the prayer hall toward the far corner. Set in the stone floor was a trap door, the cover currently open, that Bill knew lead to a crypt beneath the temple, which the girl scurried down into.

Bill chuckled to himself, straightening as he looked around the temple. It hadn’t changed much from the last time he had been here; golden braziers full of fire lined the walls and tapestries depicting Sarenrae and her angelic heralds hung from the ceilings. He didn’t have much time to look around, however, before a familiar voice sounded from the trap door. “Bill??”

He turned to face the entrance to the crypts as a purple-skinned tiefling pulled herself up through the trap door. “Hello, Osanna. Your temple is as garish as ever.”

My acolyte said a large man with a bushy beard and a flower sticking out of his eye had suddenly appeared in the middle of the prayer hall,” Osanna said, striding up to the wizard as a broad smile spread across her face, “but I would hardly have believed it was you if I hadn’t seen you with my own eyes. Come here!”

Osanna grabbed Bill around the shoulders, embracing him warmly, and the wizard huffed slightly, looking annoyed. “Yes, yes,” he sighed, managing to pat the tiefling on the back a couple of times before she pulled away. Bill could see two small faces – the girl he had encountered earlier, and a black-haired boy of similar age – peering cautiously over the edge of the trap-door behind the paladin.

Miracles never cease to amaze me,” Osanna quipped, taking a step back to study her companion, the smile still dancing on her lips. “You’re looking well. What brings you to Magnimar – and to my temple, of all places? Would you like something to eat?”

You know I’m not usually one to turn down free food,” Bill drolled, “but I’m actually not planning on staying long. I came because I heard Glenn is back in town, and that Samael arrested him.”

Ah,” Osanna said shortly, the smile disappearing from her face, “yes. The audacity of that man, I swear.” Bill wasn’t sure which one of them she was referring to – possibly both.

Is it true?” Bill inquired, arching the eyebrow of his single eye curiously. “Did Glenn really break into a councilman’s house and beat him nearly to death before kidnapping his fiance?”

The councilman in question was Mordecai Gallahad, the man whom Helena’s father betrothed her to,” Osanna started in exasperation, “and Helena herself is the one who Glenn ‘kidnapped’, because Gallahad was going to try to force her into a marriage she was uninterested in, which is why Glenn assaulted him – among other reasons.” She opened her mouth as if she was going to continue, then abruptly closed it, shaking her head.

Oh,” Bill said, blinking once. “Well, that makes a little more sense, then. Still, I suppose if anyone was going to arrest him, it’s best that it was Samael.”

They were supposed to be friends!” Osanna cried indignantly.

They are…as much as Samael can possibly be friends with anyone,” Bill droned on with a shrug. “If you were in trouble with the Order of the Nail, who would you want coming after you – Samael, or some random Hellknight maralictor?”

A random maralictor would have a difficult time convincing me to accompany them to the Bastion of the Nail without a very good reason,” Osanna muttered with an annoyed frown.

Exactly,” Bill reasoned, “which is probably why Samael decided to arrest Glenn himself. Speaking of the Bastion, is that where he is?”

“Yes,” Osanna replied, her frown turning anxious, “at least until tomorrow.”

“That’s when his trial is?”

They’ll either release him, or send him to the Hells,” Osanna said with a nod. “Are you going?”

“To the trial? Probably,” Bill said with another shrug, “but I was planning on going to visit him tonight, too.”

It’s getting late…I’m not sure that the Hellknights will let you in at this hour,” Osanna said, arching an eyebrow at the wizard.

It’s a good thing I don’t care about what the Hellknights think, then, isn’t it?” Bill snorted in reply before taking half a step sideways, disappearing with a small whoosh.

A moment later, Bill appeared in a dark space – dark enough that he couldn’t see, having not cast Darkvision on himself earlier that evening. He glanced around, turning a slow circle in an attempt to gain his bearings, when he heard a shuffling next to him, followed by an alarmed voice that he recognized. “What the hell!? Who’s there?”

Ah,” Bill said, turning in the direction of the voice, “at least I got the right cell.” He muttered a quick incantation, and a moment later, a small ball of light appeared in the palm of his hand, illuminating the chamber around him. It was a small, cramped space, devoid of furnishings except for a plank of wood bolted to the wall and covered with a single pillow and blanket.

Seated upon the wooden cot was a figure Bill recognized, although he looked different from the last time Bill had seen him. “You look terrible, Glenn,” the wizard said flatly, staring down at his friend. He was even skinnier than Bill remembered. “It’s a good thing I bought an extra cupcake at the bakery tonight.”

Bill??” Glenn stammered, shielding his eyes with an arm and wincing slightly in the sudden light. “How – what are you doing here?”

I came to see you,” Bill stated, sitting down on the plank next to Glenn. The wood creaked slightly under the wizard’s girth. “I heard you got yourself in a bit of trouble. Again.”

Glenn stared at him for a moment, lowering his arm as his eyes adjusted to the light. “I don’t supposed you asked the Hellknights before just teleporting in here,” he commented.

It was a dimension door, and no, why would I do that?” Bill replied, looking amused. “It’s not like they’ll ever know.”

They usually keep a guard at the entrance to the prison ward,” Glenn cautioned, glancing toward the barred gate to his cell.

Eh,” Bill said with a shrug. “What’s the worst they can do, kick me out? I’ll just dimension door again.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Want me to bring you with me?”

What!?” Glenn cried. “No!”

Oh, good,” Bill said indifferently. “I didn’t really want to be bothered with pissing off the Hellknights that badly, anyway.” Glenn sighed and rubbed his forehead with his hand, and Bill clapped him on the shoulder. “So, your trial is tomorrow, right? Got a good defense all laid out?”

I dunno,” Glenn muttered, dropping his head into both of his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. “I guess Osanna is showing up to do whatever it is she’s going to do. I plead guilty to all of the charges already.”

You always were an idiot,” Bill groaned. Glenn snorted quietly. “But if Osanna is coming, you should be okay. She can usually bully people into doing what she wants.”

You’re right about that,” Glenn snapped. There was a tense edge to his voice, and Bill arched his one good eye at his friend.

It’s unlike you to agree with me on something like that,” the wizard said slowly. He paused, then added, “You don’t want her help?”

I–” Glenn started. He hesitated, glancing up and looking mildly annoyed. “I never asked for it.”

She doesn’t need asking, she does what she wants most of the time anyway,” Bill replied, raising his eyebrow even further. This seemed to annoy Glenn even more, so Bill continued, “Would you really rather sit in some smelly hole than let her help you?”

I did a terrible thing,” Glenn muttered, still frowning at the wall across the room. “I’m not sure that I should be accepting her help.”

Bill didn’t respond right away, instead reaching into his robes to pull out a matching pair of small, neatly wrapped boxes. “Here,” he said, offering one to his companion.

Glenn turned slightly to accept the offering, setting it in his lap as Bill popped his own box open. “Vanilla,” he announced, pulling out a large, yellow cupcake crowned with white frosting, “my favorite.” He took a bite of the pastry, giving Glenn an expectant look as he wiped a bit of the frosting away from the corner of his mouth.

Glenn hesitated, then opened his own box, revealing a similar variety of sweet inside. “Have you ever tasted vanilla extract by itself?” Bill asked as Glenn swiped his finger through the frosting, sampling it.

I don’t think so,” Glenn admitted, licking the sweet confection off his finger.

It tastes horrible!” Bill proclaimed, taking another bite of his cupcake and chewing thoroughly before continuing. “It’s very bitter and overpowering on its own. But when you mix it with a bunch of other ingredients and bake them all together, it turns into something quite delightful, doesn’t it?”

Glenn stared at him for a moment. “What are you–”

Do you remember when you attacked me last year?” Bill asked suddenly. “Up at the cabin along the Kazaron River.”

Glenn’s face went pale, his cupcake all but forgotten in the box in his lap. “How could I forget?” he murmured, looking away from the wizard in shame.

That was pretty terrible, too. At least, you think so, don’t you?” Bill eyed his companion thoughtfully through his one good, narrowed eye. “But, we all knew that wasn’t you. Not really. Osanna helped you back then, too, and we went on to save Varisia from one of the most powerful wizards to have ever lived.”

There was a pause as Glenn stared down at his cupcake. “Second most powerful,” he muttered finally, glancing up at his friend.

I knew I liked you for a reason,” Bill remarked with a grin. He took another bite of his cupcake, the frosting turning his brown mustache white. People are a bit like cupcakes,” the wizard continued after a moment. “A bunch of lumpy ingredients until you put everything together. Some are overly sweet, some salty, some bitter,” the wizard paused to give Glenn a pointed look, and Glenn frowned slightly, “but they wouldn’t be cupcakes if they didn’t have all of those components, would they?”

Bill wiped the frosting off of his mustache, licking it off of his finger. “Don’t let a little too much vanilla extract ruin your cupcake, Glenn.”

Footsteps echoing from outside the barred gate caused both of them to turn suddenly. “Whoops,” Bill whispered, standing, his cupcake still in hand, “sounds like someone’s coming – that’s my cue to go.” He closed his hand around the small ball of light he hand been holding, extinguishing it, leaving the cell in darkness again. “See you tomorrow, Glenn, after Osanna gets you get of here.”

With that, the wizard paused for just a moment to take another bite of his cupcake before turning one final time, disappearing once again.

 

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