Milo steps backwards as the werewolves claws swing downard. It cuts the hem of their cloak. Just a bit, nothing that can’t be repaired. Better than it hitting their chest. As their backfoot lands they spring forward, lashing out with their knives. It’s the wolfs turn to back away now, leaping away as Milo advances. It’s learned not to let them close, choosing instead to draw them away from their group and let the other two werewolves flank. It’s too dark for Milo to see clearly but they can hear the sounds of paws in the grass to their left. They cease their attack and begin backing away, daggers at their sides. The would be flankers advance on them now, but Milo is well out of their reach.
Henri pleads with Milo to pull back, but they can’t until the others are back in town. Henri won’t fight, but won’t be attacked. Alphonse hasn’t studied his grimoire yet, so he’s casting at a disadvantage while his book is out.
Milo leaps away from another claw, tumbling across the grass. Their breath returns to them as they stand, daggers ready, “I’ll cover their retreat if it kills me.”
Dinner is being served and the town is eating happily. Milo has just filled them in on their strategy for killing werewolves. Cadence says they shouldn’t kill the werewolves. That they used to be people. Milo frowns. “I don’t care. If a human was trying to hurt me or my family I’d kill them. Hell, if Roger, or Hugo, or anyone else in town tried to kill my family, I’d kill them. Nobody hurts my family. Least of all some shitty dog-people.”
Milo clutches their overgrown rat to their chest, the smell of soap on her fur. Maizy breathes softly, her nose tickling at their hand. This is the first market that Milo has brought her to since they found her almost a year ago now, and they’re glad they did. Henri was threatened by an elf. Apparently the elf wants to destroy humanity. Cadence is real mad now. They’re not good at reading expressions but they can tell that much. Cadence doesn’t threaten to kill as lightly as them, but she’s doing it now. Milo shivers and pulls Maizy closer.
Milo hears a call for help and they’re running before they realize it. Their gloves are on their hands, their knives are out. Hive Zombies. They pull their collar up over their nose and pull their hood down to their brow. The bodies aren’t dangerous, but the bees piloting them are. They sprint forward, knife at their side to cut the body as they pass under it’s wide swing. A small swarm spills out and pursues them in retaliation and they show it their back. As the bees begin to land on them they roll forward and squash them, or at least most of them. The body is still up, but Roger’s spear pierces it and it falls down. As more bees spill out there’s a call from deeper in the woods. Milo locks eyes with Roger through the swarm. They both rush into the woods.
Milo stands next to Leo as his nephew prattles on. The child seems to think that bandits are cool. They feel their heart race with anger. Stupid kid. Their mind flashes back to their first few months with their bandit crew, to all the cuts and scrapes and beatings and stab wounds and hardship and abuse and-
“Could you show him for me?” Leo’s voice interrupts. Milo looks at him in confusion and then at his nephew, holding Leo’s sword. Leo leans in and whispers, “Just knock it out of his hands.” Milo draws a knife and steps forward. They feel their hands aiming for his hip, something that will hurt but be easy enough to bandage. Probably put the kid off of his feet for the rest of the day so he has time to think about whether being a bandit is worth being stabbed or not. But they know Cadence wouldn’t approve. Cadence adopts children, she doesn’t stab them.
With a flash they knock the knife from the childs hand.
“Were you a bandit like my uncle?”
“Yeah, I was. But then I stopped and came here.”
“What do you do now?”
“I kill bandits.”
Milo withdraws their knife from some bandit’s ribcage. These ones are all crazy. They don’t speak, they don’t really listen, they just look for vulnerable targets to kill. Milo tried to give this one a chance like Cadence said, but the moment he saw Marinettes back he charged her. So now he was laying on the ground, bleeding out, while Milo stood over him. Bless her heart, Marinette was kneeling next to him and applying pressure to his wound. Milo began looking around, checking to see if Cadence needed any help with the one she was fighting, but of course she was fine. It was nice to have family that could take care of themse-
There’s a bloody scream near him as the bloody bandit catches his second wind. He starts swinging his weapons (why hadn’t milo thought to take those away from him?) at the girl trying to save his life. Milo kneels, traps the weapons with their first knife, and thrusts their other into his chest. One in the gut. One in the heart. Marinette gasps.
“Milo…. You killed him.” Her eyes are wide. Is that shock? Disgust? Fear? Milo was never good at reading expressions.
“If anyone tries to hurt me or my family, I’ll kill them.” They respond, “He tried, so I killed him… I’m sorry.”
Milo is sitting just outside their cabin relaxing with Maizy in their hood when they hear someone say Marinette is being attacked. They’re off like a shot, slipping their gloves on and drawing their knives as they cross the bridge. Two big green things with huge weapons. Are these trolls? Marinette stands behind one, trying to back away without going too far. Milo can hear footfalls on the bridge behind them and Roger’s voice say “You get Marinette, I’ll distract the monster.” Milo chafes at being told what to do for only a moment before sprinting at the troll and tumbling past it. Roger engages the toll with his spear as Milo checks up on Marinette. No injuries, thankfully.
Marinette manages to make it back to town and Milo and Roger together are able to take down the troll, though it’s a tough fight. Luckily other people had arrived to deal with the other one, because fighting two at once would’ve been a hassle. Milo notes the swords it was wielding. One looked like sharp trash, but the other seemed pretty nice. Fabron would probably like those. Milo lifts them and hands them off to Hadrien as they hear soft squeaking come from their hood.
“Maizy! Oh no, I forgot you were there!” they exclaim, reaching a hand behind their head to feel her tucked into his hood. Her claws are dug into their mantle, but she managed to hang on throughout all their tumbles and cartwheels. Milo smiles, purse lipped and worried. There’s another troll in the woods, and the others will probably need Milo’s help. “We’ll have to make this work. Hold on, okay?”
Milo curls up on the forest floor, thankful for their cloak that blends into the night around them. They can still feel the last whisps of Magic as it adjusts their thoughts, rewiring their beliefs. Alphonse has explained this spell to them before, they think. It binds the recipient to a promise. In this case one that Milo is angry at themself for making. Could they keep it? Are they willing to accept the magically encouraged mental anguish that would come with breaking it? They wish tears would come, but they don’t. The shock doesn’t fade to despair, but to a stark resolution. Milo sits up and takes a breath.
“I’ll kill anyone who threatens my family. Even myself.”
Milo sits against a wall, surrounded by rats and spiders in the depths of what they’re quickly beginning to suspect is one of Chiropolers body cavities. The multicolored lights have faded. Only the dull glow of ghostly light remains. A voice comes to them. It’s their father. The one they didn’t get to choose. Milo can’t bear to listen, but sits quietly while he lists off their sins and ridicules their worst traits. They wish they could deny them, but they can’t. Instead they do what they know. They stand, they cuss, but for some reason they don’t joke. Perhaps the jokes have been beaten out of them.
“Fuck off, old man. That old bitch killed herself. I’m learning how to fix my mistakes. S’More than you ever did.”
The light fades. They’re alone again. Until the fucking bone spider shows up.
Milo walks back into the woods as the Market comes to an end. They have so much studying to do, their head was already starting to hurt. Their report on the Leshen is finished finally, but now they have even more to work on. Bog Ghasts to start. Then those Bee Corpses. They also want to get a report on that Rocheaux ghost, but they’ll need to collect more information on it first. A large sigh escapes them as the weight of it settles. A year ago they were a dirt poor, near naked, shit-headed bandit wandering into town. Now they are considerably less poor, and much more clothed… But they still feel like a shit-head bandit. One that was way out of their depth.
Maybe that’s okay, though. Maybe part of growing is just looking at things way above your head and reaching until you get there, then finding the next thing. Maybe you’re supposed to always feel a little out of your depth. A little weary, a little battered. Maybe sometimes it’s more than a little. Maybe so long as Milo has the family they chose for themself, they can ascend to the station required of them. And maybe they can help their family do the same.