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They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.
He dreamt of Bastion Fanfarinet again. He didn’t remember the context of Bastion in the dream, just the cherry blossom hair and creased blazers and tired brown eyes. By the time Turnus made it to the Castleteria with Ramsey and Orleans for breakfast, all thoughts on the dream dissipated.

Right after Monday classes ended, Turnus headed to the library and buried himself there. Several things happened.

Firstly, he managed to reply to Gabriel’s email, and they had enough of a back and forth exchange to properly set a time. He still had roughly ten days before he had to head off to his brother’s wedding, so they arranged for Thursday after-school.

“I know my behaviour was unhexpected,” Turnus sent in his email. “But I’m willing to talk.”

The second thing that Turnus did was finally get on the Deep MirrorNet. The key led to a forum in which people shared archives and archives of magical artefact bidding results, and images of some of the artefacts in question. In the comments of each item, people debated at length about history and purpose, and how dangerous some could be. One particular user was insistent that a lot of the artefacts were merely decoys - their magic disabled and they served instead to disguise large sums of money traded between wizards.

What a rabbithole this was. Unrelated to what Turnus had hoped, but it was intriguing.

He spent hours scouring through the financial documents, and the history of magical artefacts trade between collectors. In his mind, a narrative was forming.

But as a source, how reliable was this webpage? Barely. It was the Deep MirrorNet, anyone could put things on there. He had to cross reference and check, find things that matched with what he was seeing from official sources, and information that would be posted on the Surface MirrorNet.

The collection of magical artefacts that was prominent in the news were the von Schonwerth’s treasures, retrieved recently from an underwater cave. Mages from research institutions all over were purchasing these artefacts to study. Very few scientific papers had been published, and the items were put on display in their institution’s museums to attract tourists.

Either way, something shady seemed to be going on. It gave Turnus an idea for his first post.

Magical artefacts: definitely a money laundering scheme.

He worked on it until evening fell, and Ramsey sent him a concerned text-- “you weren’t at dinner? Are you okay????”.

“Wait, I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

Turnus read over his post one last time to check for grammatical errors, and hit publish.

~*~

How he missed the thrill of writing.

The next post he wrote was an opinion piece, one dissecting why “Author legacies” should still exist. Why was Johannes Kit Andersen still around, for instance? Was it imperative that the descendants of the Grimm Brothers ran the school, or could a scholar in their works do the same?

Ramsey tweeted a link to his “spicy take”, and it became a hit.

More importantly, however, by all the traffic driven to Turnus’ “spicy take”, people were stumbling upon his other article.

Conspiracy theorists at Ever After High are many. Conspiracy theorists that actually cite proper sources are few.

Well, if he had a brand to build, it couldn’t merely be “Untitled Blog”. Even a temporary title would be better than that. So Turnus named the blog ‘Veritas’, the Latin word for ‘truth’. He’d seen the word in many mottos of academic institutions, and it would serve as a fitting placeholder.

Turnus started work on his next article immediately, and published it within the day. From bringing a second notebook to classes to write in when spelletronics were banned, from using the gap walking in between classes to note ideas down on his phone, and bringing his lunch with him into the Lifairy to work, he managed. He wrote with a vigour - more energy than he had expended into a single piece of schoolwork… more energy than even his meticulously pre-planned Damsels and Dragons campaigns.

‘An investigation into mental health services for villain students, and the effects of intergenerational trauma’ was the title, and the inspiration was that one trip he had made previously to the dungeons.

Right after publishing it, comments overflowed in, like a magical bowl of porridge.

Too many statistics was the general consensus of the comments, and not enough talk with individual people. The readers wanted the human perspective, anecdotal proof… Turnus had never been regarded as a villain in his life, and that was something that merely academic papers and acute observations of other people could not provide. He needed to interview.

“Ablative, can you do me a favour?” he asked when he saw her at the Castleteria again.

And the prince made his way to the Dungeons. “Raider, I need, like, non-computer related help.”

The only time in which he could coordinate with the two was Thursday after school. That would interfere with his meeting with Gabriel.

He had never felt more alive at Ever After High, than when he was running this blog.

~*~


Dear Mr Fanfarinet,
Is it possible to push the meeting back a few days? Something came up. Apologies for the late warning.
Respectfully,

Turnus.

Hi Turnus,
Sure. How is late Sunday afternoon?
- Gabe
Dear Mr Fanfarinet,
Great. It works.
Sincerely, Turnus.
~*~

He published the interview early Friday morning.

It became Turnus’ most popular blog post instantly. He gauged that a lot of the interest for the article was mostly due to Ablative Charming’s charisma: how her well-spoken remarks made her points and experiences clear to the audience.

“I’ve never felt more cool in my life!” she hext-messaged Turnus.

“Do you think I could only just offer my services to fellow villains? They’re the ones without access to IT support…” was something Turnus got in response from Raider. “You’re still welcome to get your computer checked up, though!”

It was a theme that resonated and struck with a lot of people -- mental health, intergenerational trauma --, and through the eyes of villains, more poignantly highlighted.

The system perpetuates. That was the point of the post.

But why? Who benefits? was the natural step into the next post.

Turnus got researching. He found some articles published by actual (!!!) academics, and set to emailing them.

The theme of intergenerational trauma was weighing down on him like a millstone around his neck.

He thought of his father. How Dr Wyllt would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, how his father would wrestle like Gilgamesh with his internal clock, and how the pain could neither be slept off or fully magicked away.

They kept Turnus’ room on the opposite side of the house, but even so, the screams phased through the walls like malevolent spirits. When Turnus was young, Brutus would have been off at boarding school, and it was him in the house, him alone in his room, nightly terrors echoing.

It did result in cherished childhood memories. The three of them would gather in the living spaces, and cook up late-night early morning pancakes, or mahjouba, Algerian crepes. Turnus’ own circadian never seemed to get as messed up as his father’s would from this interrupted sleep.

This continued throughout his teenagehood, and he assumed - even with his parents empty-nested, it would still happen now. Older, he could only feel a deep sense of sympathy for his old man. Was this PTSD, and if so, what sort of things had he faced? Turnus could still remember how his father’s eyes always seemed to glow during those nights.

I wonder if I hexperienced intergenerational trauma in the same way as the villain students, he wondered, then shook his head and brushed the thought aside. He was busying himself with this blog post, and was set on redirecting his thoughts at it.

Still, with each new source he read, Turnus just felt his heart sinking. With each re-read of conversations from villainous students, with all the ample evidence that so much could be fixed with some money and compassion made one thing clear.

This was intentional.

Was Ever After High not the perfect place to brew villainy? Throw in disdain from peers, add a dash of lower amounts of academic support. The base of the potion was already the curse of being a teenager - being at your most emotionally vulnerable.

Trapping these kids in these cycles of terrible mental health, producing a direct track to their antagonistic futures… what was this all for? Futile, futile, all of this was futile. All these stories were written down, all these stories played out at least half-a-dozen times by now. People -- legacies and nonlegacies alike -- knew the rules. Don’t doubt the third son. Help out animals in need. Above all, be kind and industrious.

What was the system proving? It was preaching one thing, then practising another on literal children who had the malfortune of being born to villains (who had the malfortune of being born to villains -- how cyclic).

Literal children? Turnus was their age. He stepped out of his seat and started pacing the room. Villainous students were literal children. Before the children of villains knew the Periodic Fable, they knew that the world hexpected nothing good of them.

Cyclic-- this was all cyclic. With mental health an underdressed issue in the villain community, with hurt villain parents raising hurt villain children, with that hurt being perpetuated on and on, and the symptoms of it, such as children lashing out or engaging in illicit activities being used to demonise them even further...

This wasn’t just cyclic, it was spiral. Spiraling out: the original source of hurt was long gone, there’s no more sense of center. Spiraling in: it was feeling dense and escapable.

What is it… the greater purpose behind all of this? Why did the World of Ever After curse people to live out fairytales endlessly?

The fairytale world had enough kindness to offer everybody. Wasn’t that the fundamental rule? Be good, be altruistic, and your kindness will spread and be repaid tenfold. Live Happily Ever After. If that was the case, if fairytales were true, Earth would be pure utopia right now.

Earth was not utopia. Stories were being followed out to the last printed pixel on the page. Futile - the hexact definition of it. Generations of villainous students lost themselves, and what for? Only one purpose. It was to demonstrate a lesson to other students: don’t be like this, or else there is no Happily Ever After for you.

And Turnus… what about himself? How did he play into all this?

~*~

Two hours later, he got a response.

He scanned through the response - well-reasoned, sources cited, and otherwise credible. But after the pacing he did around the room, after the repetition of thoughts that swirled in his head, he could only feel sick, looking at this email on the topic that he infused into himself like tea from a strainer.

What did pique his interest though, was how soon all of this was thrown together. What sort of professor with a PhD had time for a sixteen-year-old, and enough time to compile all this information?

Turnus made a throwaway Little Redditing Hood account, and posted in a few academic subreddits on how long he should hexpect academics to respond to his emails. Would it be reasonable for replies to be sent within the day?

None of the responses were remotely close to two hours. Two hours, on a Friday night.

Then, he messaged Airmid.

“Depends. Funny enough, if I send it from my highschool email, I usually get a reply quicker than from my university email? Professors are strange.”

Well, that was enough of a peculiarity to look into.

He decided to put the point of why roles perpetuate aside, and worked instead digging into education in the fairytale world.

~*~

“I’m worried about you.”

On Saturday morning, Orleans was blocking the door to their room, stopping Turnus from grabbing all his belongings to head off to bury himself in the Lifairy.

“I’m really, really worried.”

“Orleans, I don’t have time for this. Let me pass.”

“No,” the other prince’s voice was firm. “Not until you spend time with your friends, okay? You can’t just hole yourself up in a room of books forever! Do you know what Vitamin D is?”

“The sun activates it and it stops me from having rickets. Next question.”

Orleans had a look of perpetual exasperation on his face.

“I’m proud of these blogs,” Turnus said, hoping that Orleans would be moved by a statement of his own happiness. “I want to work on them more.”

“But sometimes, you sound like… I don’t know, even Sage Idason! You used to have so much chill, where’s all of it now?”

“I am, like, living my best life.”

“Not with this much stress! Please come out and hang with us, alright?” Orleans looked up at his roommate with a set of doe-like eyes. No person could have refused.

Turnus did. “No. Not after this,” he said. “I can’t believe it -- you’re really keeping me from the Lifairy?”

“I’m looking out for you! You can’t just bury yourself in the books all day! When was the last time you went outside?”

“Fine. Let’s go outside.”

Orleans beamed like the golden sun, and pulled onto Turnus’ arm to make their way to the sports field. The King of the Gold Mines had no intention of actually doing sports, it was just a common area that he liked to study in.

And as soon as they were outside, Turnus spun around sharply, and broke into a sprint, retreating back into the castle. As he ran, he heard Orleans’ exasperated sigh, but no sound of footsteps. Still, he didn’t slow down, until he got back to his room and locked the door.

Once back at the dorm, Turnus quickly glanced out of their shared dorm room window at the grassy plains below. Orleans was still standing there. He hadn’t even tried to chase after him. His roommate, dejected, shook his head at the castle, and walked off into the fields.

Neat, thought Turnus. And he got reading.

One of Orleans’ comments did stick in his mind, though. Like Sage.

Turnus spent the rest of the afternoon giving himself a refresher on all the content the senior had ever produced, and spent the evening in silent, quiet contemplation. Sage Idason only got into the “conspiracy theory” thing at the beginning of the year. Before, the theatre kid was known for only theatre.

After scouring through the blog, Turnus turned off all his devices, sprinkled salt over his window frame, and had his biweekly breakdown in the shower. For good measure, he decided that he would buy aluminium foil tomorrow.

When Orleans returned to the dorm at ten, Turnus was in the middle of rearranging the furniture.

“What…” said his roommate. “Turnus… why?”

“See, if I place the drawer here, then signals from the nearest phone tower won’t have a direct path to my bed,” Turnus shrugged. “I’m kidding. That’s just modern Feng Shui which is pseudoscience. No, I’m just rearranging this for fun.”

“If you say so,” said Orleans, who wasn’t very convinced.

“It’s the only way I feel like I can have control over my life.”

~*~

Speak of the sun, and he will appear. Or rather, speak of the Idason.

Turnus was spending Sunday at the Lifairy again. He was entering his school email into another database to access more data until--

“Hey Wyllt,” said a voice.

“ASAFLDKLHH,” went Turnus, who flailed sideways and fell out of his seat.

“Shh,” said the source of the voice, who turned out to be Sage hiding behind a curtain. “You don’t want the Authors to hear, right? We should talk.”

“We’re in the Lifairy, right now.”

“Well, not in the quiet area,” Sage lowered his voice even more. “There’s an anarcho-syndicalist bookstore cafe in a secluded area of BookEnd. Fantastic WiFairy.”

At the anarcho-syndicalist bookstore cafe with Fantastic WiFairy, in the secluded area of BookEnd, Turnus ordered a chai latte and sat down opposite to Sage Idason.

Sage Idason was the son of Little Ida, and as with any legacy from a Hans Christian Andersen story, prone to dramatics, literally. The boy was in his senior year, and the vice-president of one of the drama clubs at Ever After High. When not on stage, he was known for one thing: his conspiracy theories.

“I don’t know why you approached me,” Turnus said. “I’ve only been blogging for like, a week.”

“And I’ve only been in the conspiracy theory game for-- what? Not even a year. There are people, in years below me, that have been doing this before even Freedom Year,” Sage had his gasmask lowered down to his neck, so that his voice wasn’t muffled. “I think they know what they’re doing, better than I am. Sometimes, I wish they hextended a hand and helped a poor kid out, so that’s what I’m going to do now, for you.”

“Thanks?”

“How are you documenting? How is everything getting recorded?” he pulled out a manila folder he had on hand, and laid it spread on the table. “Here’s how I do it. Colour-coded, markers and highlighters in my pockets always, in case I ever need to jot something down. Every piece is important - every piece connects to the larger puzzle.”

“I… it’s all digital. I have a Sword document with notes and citations.”

“Digital?” and Sage’s face lit up with concern. “I mean, I have everything digitally backed up - and my harddrives are labelled. But without physical copies of things, I would worry so much! Besides, how do you keep messy notes? Scraps from journals?”

“I don’t really have any. This blog isn’t that personal,” Turnus said. “I’m not even like… searching for government secrets or… I wouldn’t even call what I do conspiracy. I just look at evidence, I see trends, and I comment on them and guess why they might occur.”

“Isn’t that what we all do?”

“Don’t you write about Narrator Theory? And Author Theory, which is probably even more out-there than Narrator Theory,” Turnus commented. “That said, you’re surprisingly a lot calmer than how you usually appear on your Mirror Blog.”

Sage Idason paused, and seemed rather startled. “I feel called out.”

At that moment, the cafe worker arrived with their coffee orders, placing them down on the table. In the mugs, was latte art. Sage’s had a little cloud, while Turnus’ was a newborn chick in an egg.

“You know what I usually talk about on that blog of mine. It’s Author Theory. Authors are everywhere, they’re listening in, they’re plotting things... how much of takes -- which are, I admit, controversial -- can I pass off as theatre kid dramatics? Or teenage kid angst, or-- I don’t know. I’m only seventeen, I might out-grow it,” Sage continued, then sighed. “Do people even remember who I was before the conspiracies? I sang, I danced, I acted-- I wrote plays, did anyone care about those?”

It was a ramble if Turnus ever saw one.

“I blame the summer between Legacy and Classics Year, personally. The dreams were getting more vivid, even when I nap…” he took a sip from his coffee, and eyed a distant corner of the cafe. “If I sound too serious about what I say, if people can’t write off what I do as ‘ironic’...”

“Uhhh.”

“I’ll let you in on one thing. Your first blog post,” Sage lowered his voice. “The one of the von Schonwerth’s treasures.”

“The money laundering scheme?”

“For fairytale authors, in fact, which is exactly what you commented on in your second. Did you ever hear about the one iconic investigative journalist? Tate Marie.”

“She wrote on those, didn’t she?”

“And found dead in the well of her house, did you know about that? She was making breakthroughs! My best guess? An authoritative plan to stop her from revealing things and stopping us from even considering that higher-ups are there to ruin us--”

Turnus found his hands gripping around the mug of chai latte more tightly.

“These things terrify me,” confessed the senior.

“Do they surprise you?”

“No, not really. And I told you, I dream vividly. I’ve lived nightmares. So why should I pull the curtain on everything-- on all that people call ‘conspiracies’, just because they’re scary? I know I’ve faced scary things like they’re real life. I think I’m almost indebted to people, that I have to get the word out.”

Turnus genuinely wasn’t understanding the flow of the conversation. Sage Idason’s thoughts seemed scattered, a completely different persona to the actor, the theatre kid, the playwright. “I’m lost,” he said. “Why am I even here in the first place?”

“The Authors.”

And Turnus mentally groaned. He didn’t want to fixate on an idea that was barely provable by empirical evidence.

“You seem like the kind of person who cares a lot about dreams.”

“Do I?” Turnus said. “I mean, I’m like any ordinary person. I dream. I’ve been remembering more of my dreams this week. Then I’ll probably forget them next week.”

“Magic can induce dreams.”

“I don’t really think magic is in question, right now.”

“I wasn’t finished. Magic can induce dreams, that’s why people buy dream spells. Without those spells, we’d still dream. Even you, who claims he’s not magical, dreams. There’s definitely something intrinsically human about dreams.”

“There is this quote about them. Humans love stories so much that even when we sleep, we dream to tell stories?”

“That, and speaking as Ida’s son, I think there’s a lot of truth in them. Are you writing them off as just human thoughts, because they can be more than that.”

Turnus shrugged, and downed the rest of his chai latte. “I really don’t know how any of this advances what I’m doing. Like, I still don’t know my takeaway from this conversation.”

“Maybe it’s just for the purpose of the Authors. Maybe they just want a conversation between us, for their own benefit.”

~*~

Unsurprisingly, “Ever After High and its monopolisation of fairytale education” was not as much of a hit. It didn’t strike the same chord as his previous two blogs did with the students, and he got a fair few nasty comments on it on “of course things run in the family - that’s how you quality ensure” and “this seems like just an hexcuse to complain, I was hoping for more hot villain prince interviews”.

Most people praised the research and the lengths he would go to cite the points he made. “Among cryptid sightings and senseless gossip, I really do think Turnus Wyllt’s writings really stand out! And no alias! No persona! Only Veritas. Only truth.”

The conversation with Sage, like the dreams, was dissipating from his head. The Authors, what a concept. Sure, it wasn’t something you could disprove, but it felt wrong to fixate on something seemingly on a different, abstract dimension altogether when real people were trapping other real people in horrid cycles.

~*~

The cyclic, futile question still taunted him.

Villainous students served the system as another cog in the engine, rotating endlessly to keep the world of fairytale legacies upfloat.

What about love interests?

What was Turnus meant to do, other than show up at the end, and get married to the princess that had endured so much? Take his role out of the Princess Mayblosom, and the story proceeds anyway. This wasn’t a mere case of being from an “obscure” tale either. Take the most famous fairytale in Ever After, Snow White. It’s the same formula: the prince at the end is a prize for the princess who had suffered.

He knew all this. He’d complained about this before, and would only stay quiet because the Ever After High name was prestigious, because being the first legacy in his family meant that he “should be grateful”.

This was like what was hexpected of the villains. He had no true, ultimate purpose to serve. There was no point to his presence and participation in a story that had been told for centuries on end. What lesson was so important to learn, that the world had to tell the Princess Mayblossom over and over?

Be born lucky into a good family, and if you suffer, you deserve to be rewarded. And make that reward a human being.

To be a trophy husband was bad enough. To be a trophy husband in this sort of entitled system--

It disgusted him to his core.

~*~


Hi,
Gladiolus. I'm breaking up with you.
I'm sorry. There's no way of putting this lightly. I'm not apologising for breaking up with you - it's not in any way my fault for doing this, and it is not yours, either. It's for the better of both of us, so there's no point in saying sorry for something meant to happen.
I'm saying sorry because this is a terrible and an impersonal way to break up. You definitely deserve something nicer than a letter - even if this is handwritten and scented and all nicely made up.
I'm saying sorry because I didn't have the guts to do it properly, to your face, in person. I'm saying sorry because this is no better than a hext message or a phone call.
I hope we can still be friends! Really. You're a great guy. I love you and all your sci-fi nerd nerdery! We just don't go well as a couple.
Best wishes,

Turnus

His phone beeped, signalling to him that he should make his leave for Gabriel Fanfarinet. For the rest of his life, Turnus Wyllt had to worry about how the World of Ever After would endlessly degrade him. For now, he had a consultation meeting to worry about.

Turnus tucked the letter into the envelope, but left the rest of his writing supplies on his desk. He tore off the wax paper at the mouth of the envelope, sealing it adhesively.

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