Chapter 11: Forbidden Practice 


Grey didn’t die from blood loss but because of how he used the destructive spirit magic. Now, he wept and trembled as vitality surged through his body, marking his second return from death. This time, the agony was intensified, particularly since his left arm had been nothing but bones moments ago.

Nailed to a massive, spiraling tree just beyond the outskirts of Rosewood Forest, Grey found himself at the mercy of three tormentors who resembled wild beasts unshackled at last. The terror lay in the realization that there was no one to halt the relentless cycle of their repeated killings.

Christian, unveiling his face by removing his hood, shouted,  “Smoke can’t perform resurrections, so I’ll need your help.”

“Okay,” Briana replied. “Just hurry up with the first round. I have something to say to him.”

Grey noticed that Briana’s eyes were swollen, like she had been crying for some reason. He couldn’t understand why she would be over Christian’s house at such an hour and crying. He assumed they both had crushes on one another, but they were too young to have a serious relationship. Grey couldn’t understand what he was missing.  

The sun had dipped below the horizon, and the gusty winds tore through the leaves, muffling the forest’s howls in the encroaching darkness.

Grey looked down at his feet. There was a magical nail in each. The nails weren’t embedded into the tree but used gravity magic to keep him in place. The pain and chilling wind caused him to quake. But he didn’t have much time to focus on the pain because Christian started punching him, his fist enchanted with fire magic. 

Grey vomited blood after the first strike, but the barrage didn’t slow down. Christian struck time and time again until his world turned black. 


Just as soon as he was revived, Christian slashed Grey’s throat. 

Briana shouted, “Hey! I was supposed to get the next one.”

“Yeah, but I hate that stupid look in his eyes. It’s like he’s looking down on you or something.”


Grey’s mind had instantly broken. Three resurrections were far too much for him in such a short amount of time, and it was his fourth resurrection overall. 

Because of the resurrection magic, Grey had aged by a year and a half, making his face more mature. He didn’t look like a child anymore, but there was an imbalance in his features. Grey wasn’t growing naturally, so his arms were slightly longer than expected.

Between the growing pains and the fear of another resurrection, Grey pleaded with Briana as she charged her magic, but she didn’t listen. 

“You knew about my slave, didn’t you? Did you help her kill my father?” Briana blared while striking Grey with an electric whip. 

For a moment, Grey tried to recall the sound of that servant’s voice. He knew it would bring him comfort if he could remember it, but Grey couldn’t. His thoughts were scattered about the feeling after death, being torn from some dark void and brought back to hell was unbearable. 

Grey screamed, even without being struck by the lightning. He cried for his mother repeatedly. Briana was drawing out his death to see the pain, and Grey continued to suffer because of it. 

Just as his world faded to black, Grey caught a glimpse of a familiar sensation. It was a light that brought both warmth and illumination within its embrace. 

Grey cradled that feeling until he found himself on the other side of it, watching his mother. Candice was inside of Grey’s room. His baby brother’s bed was empty, but he could hear Boulder causing trouble in the living room. 

After so much time on Vale, Grey forgot his brother’s real name, but he remembered why they called him Boulder. That tubby baby was hefty and liked to smash into people. 

Grey rested his transparent hand on Boulder’s favorite stuffed bunny. The space was cramped and cluttered. The walls were decorated with a mix of posters showcasing his eclectic interests. Among them were images of girls with attractive figures, including Beyoncé, alongside a multitude of anime posters.

Grey sat by his mother who was crying on his unmade bed, holding his picture. 

“Oh, my gosh, Grey. You won’t believe this,” she sobbed. “I actually got a coaching job.”

She flipped through his notebook that he used to communicate with her. Then, she landed on an old page that said, “You’d be the first woman’s NBA coach if you left dad.”

Candice thumped Grey’s picture and said, “You’re probably right, but never talk about your dad that way. He has great qualities, you just have to be blind to see them.” 

Candice and Grey chuckled together before she returned the book to Grey’s dresser. 

Grey didn’t know if he could interact with his mother, but he had to try quickly. So, he rushed to her side and tried to press onto her hand. Instead, his hand ran through hers.

Trying something else, Grey used the spirit’s wind to move a box on his dresser. Candice heard a strange sound and stared at the box. She hadn’t noticed it before, but with some hesitation, she opened it. 

Inside were several gold chains that Grey had purchased. A note sat on top of the box, which read, “Sell in case of an emergency.”

Grey wanted to see how his mother would use the jewelry, but he was faced with a harsh reality.  


Grey screamed as his body was healed back on Vale, but not as loudly. The pain wasn’t as biting. 

What? Why am I here? Why am I back here?

He looked down at Smoke, who had moved in front of the others. Smoke wasn’t the type to torment his prey, so he stabbed his blade into Grey’s heart. 

Grey’s breaths slowed and he saw the light again. 

A light that brought both warmth and illumination within its embrace.

Grey wasn’t in his house anymore, but it was his mother’s room. He could tell because there were way too many pink pillows. She had moved somewhere. 

The decor was simple, bright, and thoughtfully arranged, with a comfortable bed taking center stage. The walls were adorned with tasteful artwork, and a small dresser stood against one side, displaying cherished personal items.

A photo of Grey, a precious keepsake, occupied a prominent place on the dresser. It sat on a Beyoncé CD. 

“I miss you,” Candice said while dabbing her eyes with tissue. Her hair was wrapped and she was ready for bed. 

She opened a page in his notebook that read, “I missed you more.”

“Let’s see. What’s new? Boulder is smart like you, but he doesn’t cause the same trouble. His teachers moved him into the big kids’ room a few months early. Your sisters ask me to visit your grave, which is strange, knowing how much you fought. I wanted to tell them I don’t think you’re dead, though.”

Candice tapped a response that read, “Why is that?”

“Remember I told you how I sometimes met ghosts in my sleep—my family members? Well, Uncle Rasheed passed away recently.” 

Tears swelled in Candice’s eyes as though she were struggling to overcome some grief.

“And like everyone else, I saw him,” she cried mournfully. “Rasheed said that he took his life because he couldn’t live with himself after changing you the way he did. And… I guess that’s not the point here. The point is, I never saw you once, and I don’t want to. But I miss you. And I love you.”

This time, Grey could feel the tug from the other world, but he could also feel an energy pulling him toward Candice. If he wanted, Grey could stay in this place. His soul could return to Earth, and maybe he could appear in Candice’s dreams, like Uncle Rasheed. 

He had to make a choice quickly because the energy pulling him back to Vale was closing. Grey knew he had another life left, meaning he could see his mother again, so he jumped back to the world where he was a tortured slave. 


“Send me back!” Grey snarled, his eyes wild and glowing. Blood leaked from his mouth as he bared his fangs. The wind, matching his intensity, tore through the field. 

Grey forcefully pulled his body away from the magical nails, causing him to smash face first into the ground. Then, he sat back against the tree and flung his blood into Christian’s face. 

His demeanor was nothing like the child they had nailed to the tree. Grey had lost his beauty and appeared more manly, though his face was hollowed. Despite being a foot taller, his weight was still around one hundred pounds. 

Grey tried repeating his words, but they wouldn’t come out. So, he tried to fling blood at Christian again, which was countered by an earth spell that dug a hole through Grey’s chest. 

There it is again.

A light that brought both warmth and illumination within its embrace.

Ah! Now, I remember. This is Trinity’s magic.

Grey appeared in the same room as before, but Candice was getting dressed for work. She opened a window and blared, “Get out of my room, Boulder. You stink!”

Boulder was bigger than life. He was twice as heavy as Grey in preschool. 

Candice looked at the time and panicked before kneeling in front of Grey’s picture. She opened her book on the ground and took a deep breath with her eyes closed. 

“I’m sorry it’s been so long since our last chat, but it took me a while to get myself together. But I found a guy, Grey. He’s a nerd and nothing like your father. He loves the kids and he lets me talk about you as much as I want.”

Candice paused as Grey’s sisters shouted at Boulder, telling him how badly his diaper stunk. They began arguing over who had to change it. 

“I don’t want to commit to him because I don’t know how you’d like this one. He’s such a square, which is nice. I guess.” After her rant, Candice clasped her hands and said, “I know you’re not dead, but I need that Grey vibe you ooze. Okay?”

She flipped the notebook open to a random page. 

“What do you think about me liking this guy?”

Grey noticed the first response on the page, which read, “Ugh.” 

Wind Spirit. Pick anything that lets my mom know that her happiness comes first. 

A breeze shot through the room and the pages flipped, startling Candice. Once the breeze died down, Candice was left with the last response Grey ever left her. 

“I just want you to be happy, but dad and I cause you grief.”

Candice slapped both hands over her mouth and she looked around the room as Grey humbly bowed to the wind spirit. 

With a smile, Grey returned to Vale where he vowed to die, instead of imparting a message in his mother’s dreams. He thought being a slave on Vale was better than crushing her spirit. He wanted Candice to keep whatever happiness it was that she had found. 


“We can’t bring him back after this one,” Briana announced. 

Christian snarled, looking up at the tree that Grey was leaning against. “We can’t kill him here either. All trees in this forest are World Trees. If you feed them mana, they absorb and shoot it out. The tree might resurrect him itself.”

Briana whistled in the violent wind, saying, “Just drag him back to the house and let him starve. Or sell him to a violent master. They love Zeroes.”

Before Christian could lift his victim from the ground, Grey jumped to his feet and pushed Christian away. Then, he lunged at Smoke, who was too surprised to react. 

No one could understand how Grey had the energy to attack or why his mind wasn’t broken. Killing a slave meant killing their egos. Taking one down to zero often meant they were perfect for manual labor. Every slave that picked grapes on Ward Farm was a Zero or a spirit broken by Selene’s charm. 

How could he still fight?

All three vampires shared the same sentiment. 

Grey reached for Smoke’s gun, showing more power than Smoke thought was possible for a human. 

Smoke could still recall the initial mention of Grey, embedded in a letter penned by Christian. It was dismissed as yet another ploy to hasten Joseph’s return. 

Smoke routinely read and summarized Christian’s monthly letters, often skipping over what he perceived as insignificant details. Joseph preferred these brief summaries and rarely looked up from his paper to acknowledge his son’s desperate pleas for attention.

And what was Grey? A child. A human. Fodder working inside of their house. So what? Knowing Selene, the child was handsome and would grow into another bedside companion. She preferred boys who looked like girls and struggled to find them, so Smoke knew Grey’s general appearance without meeting him. 

Grey’s existence remained so unimportant that Smoke didn’t bother acknowledging him. Month after month. Year in. Year out. Nothing changed except Christian’s rage. 

Then, a letter arrived from the school, compelling Smoke to break his silence. The headmaster described a fodder capable of defeating a dozen others, a notion Smoke found incredulous. Humans, in his understanding, lacked the capacity for such feats, their minds and bodies succumbing to overwhelming force, rendering them ideal slaves.

However, the report detailed the headmaster’s reminder of Joseph’s stance on fodder—human children served as prime hosts for demon spirits. When arriving on Vale, they were capable of obtaining unexplainable powers. 

A chilling example of the potential lay in an event that occurred only fifty years ago. In Central Amana, a well-known wine competitor was entirely wiped out by a fodder resurrected eight times. The demon, originally miles from Galves, was inexorably drawn to Rosewood like a magnet, leaving a trail of destruction on his way to the forest, claiming the lives of countless vampires.

Motivated by this threat, Joseph collaborated with politicians in an attempt to legislate human children as fodder in Galves. While Smoke couldn’t comprehend the extreme measures taken against simple children, Grey managed to alter his perspective. 

Grey’s fate was even simplified by Joseph. He wasn’t returning home because of this fodder’s assault on the school campus. Joseph was already on his way to Galves after hearing that Trinity had made a mysterious recovery and was attending school. The plan was to behead the fodder, so there was nothing to fret. A simple donation to the school would silence the headmaster and Joseph could remove a few beasts from the forest to remind neighboring plantations about his power. It was supposed to be a routine visit.  

But the intensive push and pull between Grey and Smoke transformed Smoke’s perception. 

Charles “Smoke” Grimes was Joseph Ward’s right-hand man. He boasted seven cores and likened his strength to that of a pack of lesser wolves. But somehow, Grey’s inexplicable resilience had begun to gnaw at him—a seemingly frail and small teenager altering the calculus of Smoke’s strength.

What was happening? 


Grey held the barrel.

Things were moving too fast. 

“Let go of my gun!”

Naturally, Smoke wrapped his finger around the trigger. He couldn’t shoot. He knew that he could be beheaded for killing a slave for an eighth time. That thought was at the forefront of his mind, but things were moving way too fast. Before Smoke knew it, the gun was practically in Grey’s mouth. 

Who pulled the trigger? Who aimed the barrel into Grey’s mouth? Why was the boy dead? 

No one knew. It all happened in a flash.

Grey’s head was leaning against the tree’s roots. 

“Get him away from the tree!” Smoke shouted while tucking the gun into his holster. 

Briana and Christian worked to pull Grey away to no avail. His body felt like it was a part of the tree. 

“Cut the tree down with magic,” Briana stammered. 

“Are you insane?” Christian growled. “We have to burn the fields to stop their saplings from growing. Nothing can cut a World Tree.” 

The clouds turned black and the earth began to rumble. Lightning struck the field dozens of times. Each time, a new fire sparked. Soon, they were surrounded by fire and a powerful wind that threatened to consume them and Grey.

Without saying a word, the three began to run away, knowing that they would be caught in the chaos. 

Once they were out of the way, Briana’s servant appeared beside Grey as though she moved with the wind. She wasn’t dressed like a servant, but a ninja. Her clothes were dark and flowing, tightly fitting but shielding her skin with leather made of orc skin. 

Portrait of Zora surrounded by fire in a dynamic pose

The servant knelt beside Grey and said, “On Vale, it’s taboo to resurrect eight times. Most people stay dead, but you chose to come back.”

 She smiled mildly and sat beside Grey as the flames crawled closer. 

“Let me know when you’re healed, and we can go.” 

Though her heels began to burn, the young woman never budged. But the moment the tree stopped glowing, she and Grey’s bodies vanished into the wind. All that remained in the field was a gentle rain.

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