Volume 1: Amberfall by fyzu | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 11: Prodigal Son

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            In the shade of the setting sun, the silhouette of the Block is unmistakable: A single continuous block of ramshackle buildings all jumbled together, at least six stories high. Narrow alleyways and passages snake throughout; some leading up to the rooftops, others going down below. Rats and other vermin scuttle in the spaces between; parasites infesting a gaping wound in the prosperous city of Ambstalt.

            Home sweet home. 

            One of those vermin stands before the Block, gazing up at the towering, dilapidated buildings. Like one might look at an old scar, his eyes are filled with nostalgia shadowed by bitterness. Every step he takes towards the security point is a flashbang, bursts of memory plastering themselves on his eyelids. James glances at him occasionally, his eyebrows arched-- whether in concern or curiosity, Ben isn’t sure.

            “You good, Ben? I think this might be the most serious expression I’ve ever seen you make.” The words stop him in his tracks, head tilting to face the fighter. 

            “Just peachy, James.” Ben mutters. The butterflies in his stomach brawl furiously, riddled with anxiousness. His breaths are locked in his throat, contempt keeping them from escaping his body. He feels like a ticking bomb, set to explode at any moment-- a stark contrast from himself a few hours ago. The mere sight of the Block was more than enough to chase away any lingering pleasant feelings from his reunion with Freya.

            “If you say so.” James faces forward-- though in the corner of his eyes, Ben can see him glance at him every so often.


            The group comes to a stop at a security checkpoint; one of many lining the slums to make sure the rats stay holed up in their cage. Of course, if you were clever and nimble enough you could slip through, but those types sparsely populated the hamfisted majority of the Block’s inhabitants. Ben was lucky to be nimble in his youth, but cleverness… he left that to Charon and Freya.

            “State your names and business.” The gruff voice of one of the guards breaks a tense silence. Ben sizes him and his partner up; they’re dressed in heavy armor and wield strange mechanized crossbows, equipment he couldn’t recall ever seeing in his youth. It seems that in the time he was gone, security only got tighter. 

            Figures, what with those gangs roaming about now. He thought as he discreetly slipped the Golden Lance seal out of his pocket, flashing it to the guards. The lead gazed down at it, his eyes flickering back up to Ben’s with an unchanging expression. He simply gave the half-elf a nod, and moved out of the way, muttering two words:

            “Good luck.”

            With those words ringing in his ears, Ben takes his first steps back into Hell.

·    ·    ·

            “So, this is where you grew up, Ben? It is very… cluttered.”

            The group stands in the Stem, one of the main arteries of the Block, lined with establishments and ramshackle restaurants. Ben leans against a wall, his arms crossed as he raises an eyebrow to Joe’s comment, eyes narrowing.

            He lets out a scoff. “Don’t beat around the bush, baldy. It’s a shithole, I know. Why do you think I left?”

            “A-ah, that wasn’t what I intended to say…” Joe stutters out, shirking away from Ben’s glare. The half-elf continues, nodding to the residents who drift by with glazed over eyes.

            “Don’t bother trying to be ‘kind’ and ‘mindful’ of what you say about this place. Just look at the expression on everyone’s faces. You think they’ll get upset if you talk shit about the Block? Hah, if there’s a person who thinks of this place fondly, they’re probably lying in an alleyway with a knife between their ribs.” 

            The words spill out like a broken dam, a flood of bitterness surging forwards with a vengeance. They crash over Joe in gargantuan waves that quickly overwhelm the older man, before continuing forwards, seeking to claim the other three nearby. James shifts uncomfortably and Criollo glances away, while Willington winces.

            “Look. Let’s just hurry along. You said it yourself, right Ben? The less time we spend here, the better.” Criollo speaks up, causing Ben to click his tongue, kicking off the wall.

            “Yeah. Sorry about that.” He mutters, strolling ahead with his hands in his pockets.


            The party drifts through the Stem, passing by the Tower, the tallest landmark in the Block. Stretching an additional six stories into the sky, it’s an area that has long been rife with gang activity. It seems that even those among the lowest rung of the social ladder are keen on ranking themselves above others.

            As they pass by, Ben remembers beating on Roses there, shortly before he skipped town. He grimaces, glancing away.

            They make their way to the Pit which, true to its name, is a depression about two stories deep, lined with haphazard bricking. A popular bazaar and rallying spot, the chatter of merchants selling their wares at makeshift stalls grates upon the party's ears. Ben gazes towards two major tunnels that run underground; one leads to the Subtreets, and the other the Undercity.

            “Alright, Ben, you’re our guide. Where we heading?”

            “If memory serves correct, Virgl should have set up shop in the Undercity.” He beckons the others towards a tunnel, entering a large hollowed-out area beneath the Block.

            Stepping through onto a walkway, beneath them is a descent four stories down into a large dark cavern. Lining the walls of the cavern are more buildings of the same design as above, dots of light glittering from their windows like stars in the night sky. Making their way to the bottom, they arrive in the center of the Undercity, at the Ring. A popular brawling location, there’s currently a Tiefling and Dwarf duking it out, watched by a gathering of spectators who cheer in makeshift stands. It’s brutish and crummy, yet brimming with nostalgia for Ben, who had found himself in that ring often as he grew up.

            He watches the two beat the snot out of one another with a small smile, envisioning himself and Virgl in that Ring, fighting one another, or together. They were unstoppable, when they worked in tandem at least. Drawing in a deep breath, his nose wrinkling at the all too familiar scent of blood and alcohol, Ben lifts his gaze, spotting a sign for a bar. Scarscale’s Tavern. 

            “Heh. Found him.” He nods to the party, and makes his way towards his second reunion of the day...


            “Welcome to Scarscale’s,” a gruff, yet all too familiar voice drones out. “Get shit-faced with the scar-faced. How may I--” The dragonborn behind the counter cracks a menacing grin, before downing a nearby shot of vodka.

            He stands up and rounds the bar, bronze scales glinting in the bar’s dim lighting, cracking his neck. Ben can vaguely make out the network of faded scars all over the Dragonborn, from his arms all the way up to his grinning maw, a pang of joy sounding in the boy’s soul. 

            “Yo, Virgl.” 

            “‘Yo’? All this time, and that’s all you’ve got to say?” Virgl stands before Ben now, a goliath gazing down at a lowly rat, his menacing smile unwavering.

            “What, were you expecting some grandiose entrance? Didn’t know you were into dramas, Virgl.”

            “...Eheheh… Ahahaha!” With a boisterous laugh, his fist comes crashing down, slamming right into Ben’s shoulder! “Glad you’ve still got that sass, mutt blood!”

            The impact of Virgl’s fist sends a shock throughout Ben’s body, but he holds his ground, gazing up at his old friend with a raised eyebrow. “...You’re still as weak as I remember, you sack of lard!”

            The flash of a telltale grin is all the warning the dragonborn gets before a fist buries itself deep within his gut, sending him back a step. His stomach churns, and he belches with a burst of flame. A moment passes between the two, and on Ben’s second blink, Virgl launches forwards, tackling him!

            The two sail across the bar, crashing into a nearby pile of chairs, shattering them into splinters. Tucking his knees in, Ben slams his heels into Virgl’s gut, pushing the hefty dragonborn onto his back, leaping onto his feet in the same motion.

            “Is that all you’ve got, you scaly bastard?!” Before he can recover, Ben leaps into the air, his elbow raised high! He slams it down onto his ribs, with hardly a reaction from his pal.

            “Are you trying to beat me or tickle me, ya mixed breed?!” Their gazes meet, a wild look shared between the two, only broken by Virgl throwing Ben off of him, the two to scrambling to their feet. They charge towards one another and swing their fists-- Virgl right and Ben left.

            Two tightly-clenched fists soar through the air and glance off one another, flying past. With a hefy impact, Ben’s fist slams into a scaly jaw, and Virgl’s smashes against a scruffy face! They stumble backwards, one feeling his nose ooze with blood, the other crunching on a fragment of his tooth.

            “You call that a cross-counter?! Pah, this is a correct right-hook, you drunk crone!” Taking advantage of Virgl’s daze, Ben cuts a hard right across his jaw, sending him careening over the bar, and right into a shelf! It collapses on him, but to his luck, there were hardly any bottles on it.

            “Alright, alright… that one’s on the house…” He rises slowly, dusting himself off, placing his hands on the bar. “...and so is THIS!” In a flair of tipsy acrobatics, Virgl vaults into the air and slams his feet into Ben, flooring the half-elf instantly.

            Gasping for air, he can’t help but hold his grin, pain and joy shooting through his body as he slowly forces himself to stand back up, facing Virgl. “Nice,” Ben wheezes out.

            “You got me good, but I’ve got one small trick up my sleeve.” Balling his right fist tightly, Ben takes an all too familiar stance…

            “First… comes…”

            “U-uh, Ben? Don’t you think that’s a bit-” Willington raises his voice in concern, finally broken from the haze the party found themselves in at his brawl with Virgl-- but it’s too little, too late.

“Rock!” A wild grin and blazing eyes speak of the blow before it even lands-- a solid hit, even if Ben was holding back. Before he knows it, Virgl is swept clean off his feet, the front of his bar rushing away as he flies backwards, slamming right into another door. The momentum doesn’t stop there, not until he takes the door right off its hinges and crumples into a heap in the storeroom, wheezing.

            “Oi! You good, mutton head?”

            “Yeah--” Virgl lets out a harsh cough, stumbling through the doorway, still grinning. “I’ll admit… I ain’t what I used to be. The Block’s been rough the years you’ve been off prancing about.”

            Ben takes a seat at a nearby table that managed to escape their brawl, his smile dropping slightly. “That’s what I came here to talk about, actually. It’s been a while, so I figured I’d meet up with you guys and see what’s changed.”

            “Lotta baaad shit’s been brewing ‘round ‘ere, Ben.” Virgl grabs a nearby broom and begins to sweep up the broken glass, shaking his head.

            “Them Blades’ been crackin’ down even harder. Riots ‘n robberies all abound.” He stops sweeping for a moment and flashes his left hand to Ben. “Some of ‘em even got a few more of my fingers.” It was something he hadn’t noticed in the blur of their roughhousing, but now that he had a closer look, Ben could see that Virgl’s pinky and ring fingers were missing beyond the bottom knuckle.

            Guilt and frustration crashes down over Ben like a sack of bricks, the young monk grimacing. “Fuckin’ hell…”

            A moment of tense silence passes between the two friends, filled only by the sound of Virgl’s broom.

            “What about gang activity? We’ve heard that Argent Rose has been ramping up their presence in the Block.” James enters the conversation, hoping to end the awkward silence.

            “Psh. The Rose’s just a response to what’s been goin’ on. But I ain’t the guy to come to if you want information about that. Far as I’m concerned, I don’t give a kobold’s wrinkly ass about what kinda vagabonds roam this place. Blades, Rose? Both are equally as shite.”

            Setting his broom down, Virgl returns to his place behind the bar, sitting down. His eyes fall on Ben, who’s biting his thumb, then to his companions, who eye one another wearily after his response.

            “So, are you lot gonna order anythin’, or did you just come for the show?”

            “...I met with Freya.” Before they could answer anything, Ben’s voice blurts out, glancing up at Virgl. His brow arches, eyes flashing with contempt.

            “Tch. That deserter? Did she tell ya she’s having a swell-ass time at her little perch in the clouds, without us there to drag her down?”

            “Piss off, Virgl! She was presented with an opportunity to get the hell out of this shithole, and took it.” Annoyance joins the cacophony of emotions in Ben, rising up from his seat, glaring at the dragonborn. He returns Ben’s frown with one of his own, scoffing.

            “Piss off? After all the shit we’ve been through while you were off ‘adventuring’, and you tell me to piss off?! What happened to our family, Ben? We used to have a bond thicker than blood, ever since we were fishin’ for pickins out in the Bog. But nah, fuck the family. You skip town ‘cuz your old man told ya to. Shinji scampers off like the rat he is. Freya-- oh, precious, beautiful, pure Freya leaves us down in the dirt while she’s feastin’ on sweetmeats in the clouds. Even Charon’s gone off on her own thing!”

            Virgl slams his fist down on the bar, clenched tightly. Wetness glazes over his eyes, his teeth grit against one another.

            “Meanwhile, I’m stuck here as always, runnin’ my dingy-ass bar in the dingiest corner of this dingy city.” He pauses, taking a deep breath. “At least Charon stops by every once in a while, unlike you ungrateful pricks.”

            “You knew from the start, Virgl! You KNEW that I wasn’t going to be cooped up here for the rest of my life, so don’t jab fingers at me and act like I left for no reason! Everyone knew-- Shinji, Charon, Freya-- they all knew that one way or another, I was going to claw my way out of this hell; that I would hit the ground running and never look back.” The words spill out from the open wound in his heart, emotions rising to the surface in a great flood. Ben wanted to stop, to take a deep breath before he got carried away-- but once the ball dropped, there was no stopping it.

            “Fuckin’ ‘deserter’, that’s what you think of her? Freya’s been working her ass off ever since she got admitted to the academy, all so she can try to get us out of this Hell. Shinji ran off because you and Charon were sticking your noses into shit you weren’t supposed to be touching, so don’t even think about calling him a rat.”

            “Tch. Everyone runs off thinkin’ they’ll come back. It’s all empty words and hollow promises, shit that I’m getting sick and tired of hearing. Many a person comes down to my tavern only to end up a rotting fuckin’ skeleton a few days later. Be it by the hand of another, or their own.”

            Ben marches towards the bar, snatching Virgl’s empty shot glass. He smashes it against the surface, the shards cutting deep into his hand. Lifting it, he grabs the biggest one and runs it across his palm, slicing it open.

            “One way or another, Virgl, one way or another. I’m going to get the rest of you out of Hell, even if I have to drag you kicking and screaming through that fuckin’ security checkpoint.” He holds out his bloodied hand, but Virgl bats it away, snout crinkling in disgust.

            “Don’t waste your blood on promises you can’t keep, bastard. I don’t doubt that we’ll get out of this bucket of shit, but I doubt that it’ll be by your hand. You can only stomp your boot against someone’s head and force them to drink shit for so long.”

            With a sigh, Ben turns away, heading for the entrance to the bar. “I’m not going to waste your time if you don’t feel like believing me. Just tell me where I can find Charon, and I’ll be on my way.”

            “Charon… she was last seen down near the Keep.”

            The words make Ben’s blood run cold. Like a deer hearing the thwip of an arrow before it hits, he glances back with widened eyes, heart pounding with subtle panic.

            “...Why the hell would she be there, of all places?”

            “Guess she just wanted a better view.”

            “Doesn’t she realize that it’s suicide to try and break in?!”

            “How about you be the one to tell ‘er, then.”

            Ben cleans off his hand in a rush, taking some bandages out of his bag to wrap tightly around his wound, muttering strings of curses beneath his breath. Charon flashes in his mind-- his partner-in-crime. He recalls the days they’d spend stealing what they could to survive. She was quick, crafty, and headstrong… all traits that Ben wishes she didn’t have right now.

            Pushing open the door to the bar, he sees his friends sitting on the front steps, glancing back at him.

            “Something wrong, Ben?” Criollo is the first to notice the look in his eyes, arms crossing.

            “We’ve got to hurry. If we’re quick, we’ll still be able to find Charon.” He takes a moment to rub his eyes, taking a deep breath. “Things have really gone to shit since I left, fuckin’ hell…”

            “Woah, woah, wait up, Ben! What’s going on?” James leaps off the steps, keeping pace with the half-elf, brow furrowed.

            “I think my friend’s about to do something very, very stupid.”

            “And that is..?” Willington struggles to keep up, being pushed along by Criollo.

            “Knowing her track record? She might be planning to break into the Keep.”


            The party leaves the Undercity, returning to the Pit. The stars twinkle in the jet-black sky above, and Ben can only feel his worry worsen. They rush through the narrow streets as quickly as they can, running for the Stem’s eastern security checkpoint.

            Before long, the Keep comes into view-- the sector of the city that the party had initially entered Ambstalt from. Towering fortified walls topped with barbed wire and battlements lined with guards act as a buffer keeping the masses of the Block from spilling out of their confinement. The closer the party gets, the more people they pass by, until they’re forced to stop, blocked off by a large riot.

            “This does not look good in the slightest…” Joe mutters.

            “Fuckin’ hell!” Ben whirls around, searching for a way, any way, to try and get a good vantage point of the Block. He notices an alleyway nearby, scrambling towards it. With only starlight and Ben’s darkvision as their guide, they storm up uneven stairways, charging through ramshackle residences.

            The sound of disgruntled shouting and bewildered screams slowly fade into background noise as the party trample their way to the rooftops, Ben focusing solely on finding Charon as soon as he possibly can. After what feels like an eternity, they burst out onto the rooftops, panting…

            And that’s when he sees it. Standing on the side nearest the Keep is a group of five hooded figures, kitted out in light combat apparel. On each of their backs is emblazoned a silver rose.

            Argent Rose… just my fuckin’ luck.

            “You were never one for stealth, were you?”

            At that moment, Ben’s heart sunk to the depths of a bottomless pit, all of the color draining from his face. The wind gusted, and he felt like if it blew any harder, he might tip over and fall then and there, fall into the same pit his heart descended into. No… no, no, no no, NO!

            One of the five turns around, drawing their hood down. She bears the strikingly demonic, yet human visage of a Tiefling. Short black hair, tan skin with a slight red tinge. A look of simmering determination in her eyes. A stony face bearing the expression of someone who carried themselves with a discipline that Ben could never reach. No matter how much time could pass, no matter what changed, Ben would always recognize those features. He’d always recognize his friend, his fellow thief…

            “Hey, Charon.” 

            But just like Virgl, the time that did pass wasn’t kind to Charon. One of her horns seemed to have been snapped off, and her tail, the one that Ben had been walloped with more times than he could count, was partially severed. Half of her hair is shaved off on the side of the broken horn, revealing a latticework of scars. 

            This is… all my…

            It’s too much, all of it. It’s all too much for him to bear. The gravely rooftop digs into his knees, the world spinning all around him.

            “I’m sorry.” It’s all he can do to mutter those two words. It’s all my fault. His fists clench tightly, tighter than any fist he’s ever made. None of this would’ve happened if I had just stayed. His head hurts, more than it’s ever hurt before.

            “Don’t be. I don’t need your pity.” That quick, biting remark. Just like the Charon in his memories would have said. But this isn’t the Charon from his youth, this isn’t the one he remembers, the one he wishes was here right now. 

            She turns her gaze towards the keep-- and the mass of rioters churning at its gates. “This city and all the suffering it’s caused will soon be over.”

            “I’m sorry.” Ben feels like a broken record, stuck there in that moment, stuck on the same loop, trying so damn hard to move forward, jittering in place. Like a Rock to the gut, the weight of everything he’s experienced today-- Freya, Virgl, and now Charon-- slams into his mind.

            “I… can’t even bring myself to tell you to stop, to reconsider things, because I already know the answer. Because I already know it’s fully justified for you to lash out.”

            “...B-Ben?” Willington takes a step forward.

            He chuckles bitterly in response, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve. “I didn’t want to think it was true, I wanted so badly to believe that things wouldn’t end up like this, yet here we are.” Ben’s teeth clench tight in a frustrated snarl, gazing up at the night sky, as if trying to curse the Ennead. “This world always seemed to love giving us shit, huh?”

            Charon’s lips stifle something, gazing down at Ben with a twinge of pain in her eyes. “You could join us, Ben. Take back from the world, take back from the city that has taken so much from each of us.”

            Ben gazes back at her with dull eyes, his lips curling into a somber smile. “I think that… we both know my answer already.”


            A moment’s hesitation, no more than the beat of a heart, than the blink of an eye.

            “Ben… your old man, he was arrested a few years ago.” 


            “We both know the sort of condition he was in. I wouldn’t be surprised if… well…” 

            Stop, stop, just stop.

            “We haven’t heard from him since, is what I’m saying.” 

            It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault, it’s all my--

            “Please… stop.” Ben hunches over, his nails digging into his palms. Quiet sobs emanate from the boy as his figure trembles, the flood gates tearing themselves open, spilling forth with despair and anguish.

            “If I hadn’t left, things would’ve been different. If I hadn’t left, everyone would still be together, happy. If I hadn’t left--” A violent cry rips through the air, followed by the crunching of stone as Ben raises his fists, slamming them down against the rooftop. The surface buckles and cracks beneath his uncontrolled strength as the air shifts, becoming choked and stifled. 

            I want to disappear. I want to hide. I don’t want to be here.

            “Ben!” James shouts, a shiver running down his spine.

            “Shit.” Willington mutters, a memory of the Library running down his spine. Of Ben marching towards him, and the choking aura that emanated off of him.

            “While everyone was here, suffering, I was off doing whatever the hell I wanted. While my old man was rotting away in a cell… while you and Virgl were beaten and maimed… while Shinji ran off, with no one to come with him… while Freya left behind the only home she had ever known, the only friends she had ever had… where was I?” More sobs, more trembling. He feels like his entire body is unraveling itself. I shouldn’t have left. WHERE THE HELL WAS I?!

            A grizzly old man flashes in Ben’s mind, his rough, calloused hands, that weary, yet warm smile. “Dad…” The word feels strange to him, alien. After all, he was always just ‘Regis’ and ‘Old Man’. “What the hell should I do?!”

            The question rings out into the air, drifting in the wind with no one to answer it. No one to guide Ben, to help him along this path. No one but himself.

            “I know your pain, Ben, all too well. We all do.” Charon. She could help him, couldn’t she? She always seemed certain on her decisions; always confident in the goals she worked towards. Surely she had the answer, right?

            “After all this… are you sure you know your answer already?”

            “Charon…” He croaked out, flinching at her touch. “I should’ve been there, for you, for everyone. I’m sorry… I’m so sorry.”

            “Everyone loses their way when times are as rough as they are. I’ve found mine again after all my life’s struggle.” Her words drift into Ben’s ears, drawing sympathy from him, yet also uncertainty. “Argent Rose… they remember what made this city great. A true care for the downtrodden, for those who eke out a living in the dirt. Not for those who hide behind walls in their great amber towers.”

            Charon’s voice trembles with contempt, with spite, with anger. “They call us the terrorists, the murderers-- but the blood on their hands will never wash out.” 

            The words swirl in Ben’s mind, whirling in the tornado of emotion. He thinks of his past, of the way they were treated, the way they had to survive off filth, year after year. He thinks of his present, of the party he’s made, the idiotic, ridiculous, yet lovable group of adventurers. Adventurers that he’s bled with, that he’s brawled with, the ones he wants to know better. His mind turns to that outpost, and what they saw there, of Amber Fall’s methods. Vaerill flashes in his mind, the young teen led astray, and the promise he had made to her…

            “I… I can’t. I can’t fight them, Charon. I can’t break the promise that I’ve made, I can’t turn my back on yet another group of friends. But… I refuse to hurt you and everyone else more than I already have.” The clashing ideals make the mental tempest worsen, his brain threatening to split in half. He reaches out, clutching Charon’s waist, sobbing into her lap. “I don’t… I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. I can’t choose one over the other… I can’t--”

            A cold hand pushes him away in his hour of need, leaving him sitting back, hurt splitting his heart in two.

            “Ben, I’m sorry, I really am, but this is about more than just you and I. This is about everyone in the Block, and everyone else this accursed city has mistreated.” Her gaze lacks the warmth he seeks, lacks the small glimmer of friendship Ben had remembered. What are you… why won’t you..?

            “If despite it all, you still don’t have the heart to side with us…” 

            Charon, what are you doing? 

            “Well… I’ll try to do you the courtesy of avoiding you. But if we are to meet on the battlefield someday, then… I’m sorry.”

             Suddenly, a loud explosion rocks the area, the building shaking as dust and debris flies up into the air above the Keep. With that, Charon runs to the edge of the building, leaping down to the Keep below with her four fellow gang members, leaving behind a shellshocked Ben. Her words slowly register in his brain, that cold gaze, so full of resolve, plastered in his eyelids. If we meet on the battlefield… you’re sorry? If I don’t have the heart to side with you…

            He rises, sitting on his knees once more, fists still clenched. His eyes are glued to where Charon leapt down, a single emotion rising up within him, one that’s all too familiar to Ben. Is that what I am now? Just another enemy, just another faceless foe, just someone that’ll get in your way. Pained laughter leaves Ben’s lips, sick and twisted, his body beginning to shake uncontrollably. After everything we’ve been through. After I came back. After I tried to make amends, after I tried to fix my mistakes.

            “So… that’s how things are. But that’s how it’s always been, hasn’t it? If I’m not with someone, I’m against them. If I don’t side with someone, I’m no different from the thing they hate with every last fuckin’ fiber.” The emotions collide and meld, spilling over, cracking the container, leaking out…

            The rooftop shakes and buckles, the cracks becoming bigger as a violent, angry cry tears itself free from Ben’s throat. His fists slam into the roof again, and again, and again, over and over, until it threatens to collapse in on itself. As he slowly stands up, his party cowers, a crimson wildfire blazing around Ben.

            The air is choked by his aura of rage made manifest, and no one dares to make a move.

            “...What the hell am I doing?” Ben gazes down at his bloodied hands, his knuckles torn and bruised. “What the fuck am I crying for?” I should have never come back. “I said it to Virgl, didn’t I? That I was going to claw my way out of Hell, one way or another.”

            “Ben…” Willington mutters, and he registers the presence of the others again, slowly turning to face them.

            His lips are pulled into an animalistic snarl, eyes bloodshot and red, brimming with unbridled rage that threatens to swallow everything whole.

            “We have our orders, don’t we? To quell this rebellion, no matter what.”

            “Ben, listen to us, please.” Joe tries to get through to him, but he shakes his head, taking a step towards the edge of the rooftop.

            “Charon and Virgl made it clear. I’m not welcome here, not after what I did. I abandoned them, and there’s nothing I can do to fix that. So… I don’t care what happens anymore. I don’t care if I’m marching into my own grave.” I can’t bring back the past. “I started this, from the moment I left the Block.” All I’ve done is make things worse. “It’s my mess, and I’ll clean it up myself.” So why should I keep trying?

            He feels hands reach out for him, hears shouts and pleas, but it all fades in the screaming wind as Ben leaps from the building, aiming for the hole torn in the Keep's wall that his former friend had entered. For that single moment as he soars through the sky, he feels freer than he had ever been. That in that moment, he could leave behind his worries and stress and fly far away from here, from everything. 

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