After another arduous training regiment from Aren, Merlin went to the Head Maester’s personal room, which was stationed in the Hall of Institution. He went to the nearest elevator, pulling the lever next to the crown symbol. He took a right and walked all the way to the end of the corridor. Her room was right in front of him. He did the usual knock to indicate it was him. The door swung open and Gloria met him with a wide smile. She smelled the filth of exercise, immediately sending him to her bath. A fresh pair of clothes was prepared for him and the two sat on the dining table, eating their breakfast. It was a slice of freshly baked pumpkin pie with milk on the side. Pumpkin pie was his favorite, though it was weird for it to be served to him. He only ate this when he was feeling down. And so, he felt inclined to ask.

  “Um, Head Maester, why the pumpkin pie?”

  “Hmm? You don’t want to eat it today?”

  Merlin rubbed his pointer fingers together. “W-Well, it’s not that I don’t. I’m wondering what’s the occasion?”

  “Oh, there is none. Just spending quality time with my own son for once.” Gloria let out a sigh. “It’s strange, really. Ever since you devoted more into your studies of magecraft, we spend less and less time together.”

  “S-Sorry. I-I mean, yes, it’s because I want to be mage! O-O-Oh sorry-sorry, I mean sorry for—”

  “I understand. Of course, it wouldn’t be truthful to say that I didn’t contribute to your… ambitions.” Gloria lowered her utensils. “Is… there no way to convince you otherwise?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I fully support your endeavors, Merlin, I do. You are the hardest working young man out of everyone in the Academy, but…” Gloria got up and patted his head. “How long do you have to struggle for this? This path you’ve been trying to tread on can… consume you and others.”

  Merlin noticed her glancing at a small table near her living room velvet chair: a silver pearl necklace. Even when he was young, Gloria had a strong attachment to the accessory. He never dared to ask why as he thought himself too immature to ask. However, perhaps today was a good time and so, he asked as bluntly as possible. Her eyes became sullen and for some reason, she moved more slowly than usual. She picked up the necklace and came back to the table, sitting next to him.

  “Oh, this? Well, it has quite a history in it.” Gloria cleared her throat. “I… never really told you who was before I became the Head Maester of the Academy, right?”

  Merlin shook his head.

  “I see… This necklace, um, came from a time when I was your age. I was an aspiring young woman wanting to be the best mage in Damore. I was often being reckless, constantly throwing myself in dangers to prove my worth.” Gloria chuckled. “That was when I met someone who changed my life. A young man similar to my age, though was calm and collected. At the time, I think naught of him though he was there every time I took a misstep. He was the one who gave me this necklace, after all.”

  Merlin became silent, then spoke up after a moment. “Are… you talking about your real family?”

  Gloria nodded. “That man soon became my husband and together, we rose through the ranks of Damore, becoming the best mages in the kingdom. He soon birthed a son, who’s just like you. An aspiring mage, who too, wanted to be the best. Of course, ambitions could only bring you so far until it will crumble before your very feet.”

  Her eyes lowered. “Your mother was once a general in the Damore Army. There were five ranks and I was the lowest. Even so, each hold tremendous influence within the kingdom. Your foster father wanted something different: a simple and easy life where we all could live as a family. I ignored him and once again, I threw myself into dangers, making countless number of enemies. Then, it happened.”

  “What did?” Merlin said.

  “The Civil War. Ever since King Ulric died, a power struggle began to take place. Those who opposed the monarchy wrecked all who stood in their way. They… They were no exception. Your foster father and… my son.” Gloria’s eyes began to water. “I strove to become more powerful, only too late to realize the repercussions it had on those close to me. It made me heartless and cold, and eventually, removed me of my position. The previous Head Maester saw an opportunity to replace him for the spot, thinking it would be best to focus on enlightenment rather than suffering. Even still, the nightmare of seeing their cold, lifeless bodies stuck haunted me.”

  She kissed his forehead and held him tight. “Until that day when I saw you in the streets. Your smile melted away my cold heart. You becoming my son gave me the chance to become a mother again, who can smile and be with her child once more.”

  “Head Maester… it must have been hard for you.” Merlin hugged back. “I didn’t know it would be that saddening. I took our time for granted and…”

  Gloria shook her head. “It’s not your fault, but not that you understand, you see why I ask of you to not be a mage? Dangers out there in the world are too much to bear for old widows like me. Please, think about it.”

  Merlin nodded, seeing Gloria smile once last time before leaving to her work. He stared at the pumpkin pie, unable to gain the appetite to eat it. He placed it the fridge and continued to his classes. Even after several periods passed, he couldn’t help but think about her words. Him trying to be a mage reminded her of her old family, and how her own ambitions came at the cost of her life. However, if he could become strong enough to protect himself, what was stopping him from becoming one? In that way, she wouldn’t have to worry about him. With Aren as his teacher, he could reach places where he wouldn’t have before. Though, the thought of her past still troubled him, even as he relaxed with Archimedes.

  The old tortoise was reading the books Aren had given him, licking his clawed nail and turned the page. It caught wind of Merlin’s unsettled gaze. He closed the book and pecked his head, expressing his concern with puppy-like eyes.

  “Oh, it’s nothing Archie…”

  Archimedes gave him the look, unconvinced.

  “Okay, fine…”

  And so, Merlin explained the situation. Archimedes grumbled, placing his head on top of Merlin’s to think.

  “I want to show my gratefulness to the Head Maester, but when she tells me that, it’s as if I’m doing the opposite. Am I… doing this right? Will being a mage really make her happy?”

  Archimedes let out a chortle, perhaps implying he thought so. The tortoise lifted his head up, seeing a girl approaching them. She had light pink hair with fangs coming out from the top of her mouth. Her appearance made Merlin blush as he thought of her to be very pretty. Though she approached with confidence, there was a hint of nervousness by the way she walked. Still, she stood in front of the two and spoke to them.

  “Hey,” she said.

  Merlin and Archimedes looked at each other, and Merlin responded likewise. “Um… hello.”

  “That’s a really cute tortoise there. Is it your pet?”

  Archimedes seemed to be offended when he heard her said that. He let out an irritated snort and looked away.

  Merlin laughed nervously. “He’s not my pet. More of a friend. Oh, and he understands human speech, so…”

  “Oh, I didn’t mean to come out like that, Archimedes. That’s your name, right?”

  Archimedes raised his head and nodded. He lowered his neck to where she could pet him, and she, of course, did so. Merlin was puzzled for her to know his name, so he asked. She explained Aren had came by yesterday to talk about Bral. It puzzled him even more as to why his teacher would be interested in that bully, though his motivations were beyond his understanding. Though not intended, the girl noticed his perplexed look.

  “You’re Merlin, right? Knew it had to be you since that weirdo told me to come by when you’re around the tortoise. I don’t know anyone else who would hang around one, though having an animal who understands common language is pretty cool,” the pink-haired girl said.

  “Y-Yeah…” he put out his hand. “I’m Merlin, b-b-b-by the way!”

  “Haha, right. Alexa…” she took his hand. Instead of shaking it, she brought him close to her face, which made his cheeks turn bright red. Her nose perked up; her head hovered from the bottom from his fingertips to the top of his forearm. “Hmm, you have a distinctive smell.”

  “I-Is that a bad thing?”

  “How can I put this…? It’s weird and not weird at the same time.” She glanced at Merlin, expressing a smug look. “For a boring-looking guy, you have something under that belt.”

  “Under… my belt?” Merlin looked down and covered his private area with his hands. “Oh no! Is this what the Head Maester told me about?”

  Alexa let out a maniacal laugh. “Oho, it is! Soon, it will take over your body and turn you into… AN ADULT!”

  “No, I’m too young to be considered an adult! And taking over my body?! Oh gods, I’m a danger to everyone!” Merlin ran off, screaming at the top of his lungs. “A-A-A-AREN! IT’S TAKING OVER! HELP ME!”

  Alexa laughed at the sight of it. Never had she seen someone so afraid of puberty. She heard loud thumps and she felt stinging pain at the top of her head. Archimedes poked his beak and snorted in disappointed. He veered his head at the direction where Merlin ran. It took her a moment to see that he wanted her to apologize.

  “Seriously? Come on, it was funny!” Alexa said.

  Archimedes snorted, giving her the look. Alexa couldn’t believe she was being peer pressured by a giant tortoise, yet for some reason, it was working.

  “I—ugh, fine. Next time though!”

  Archimedes saw Alexa run off in the distance, shaking his head in disappointment. He went back to his usual spot, opening the book to read again. As much as he would want to chase her, he was too lazy to do so. Reading his former history through the eyes of another was too good to pass on.

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