The journey back to the witch's hovel was something of a blur. I don't exactly remember how we got around the obstacle of the river now without a bridge, but it was not for me to worry about. We seemed to get there a lot quicker than it had taken to leave, and once we were safely under a roof I fell asleep mere moments after falling into a large chair. Never before had I been thankful just to have some place moderately comfortable to settle in, minus any expectations. As far as I was concerned this was over, the world was safe and that meant I was happy. If only life was ever that simple.

"Good morning. How does it feel to be a hero for humanity?"

I woke up later that same day. Quite a bit later actually, it was practically evening. To answer her question, I felt like hell. Is there such a thing as a full body bruise? Nothing seemed to be broken,(Except maybe parts of my brain.) but everything still hurt. I made a very weak attempt to move before giving up.

"Like Hell froze." I answered just as the witch shoved one of her concoctions into my hands in a large mug.

I sniffed the contents and made a face, not sure if I could choke anything down right now without choking it back up. Besides, there were other things on my mind. I took the moment to peer about the cottage, but found it disappointingly...empty. Almost immediately my mind began to race toward the worst possibilities. The word 'failure' came up repeatedly.

"Where is-" I began only to be interrupted.

"He's outside." the witch answered before a question was even asked. "I thought the fresh air would do him some good."

At hearing these words I became so happy I could hardly contain it. Just the fact that I had managed to save him took an enormous weight off my shoulders. But as I looked more closely at the witch's expression I could tell that there was something wrong. The corners of her mouth were curved downward slightly in a worried frown.

"Something wrong?" I asked.

"Perhaps you should see for yourself."

And here I was just getting comfortable. Reluctantly I hauled myself to my feet. (Much to the dismay of the rest of me, which was arguing firmly to stay where it was.) I went to the door with some hesitation and she moved aside to let me pass. I pushed the door open and walked out into the light of the day.

Justin was sitting in the grass a few feet away from the hut. He made no sign of noticing when I stepped out, which I thought was a little bit rude. I had only saved his life after all, there was a 'thank you', or at least an 'I owe you one' in order here. I was mildly bitter about this until I realized that he was unresponsive to just about everything around him. When I walked around to face him all he did was stare right through me, a look of mortification frozen on his face.

At least he was no longer sporting an infectious looking bite wound on his arm.

"Justin?" I said while kneeling down to his level and snapping my fingers in front of his eyes, to no effect. "Wake up man, it's your old pal here, bet you never thought you'd hear that from me did you?"

He stared. I scowled.

Getting annoyed, I rapped my knuckles on his forehead a few times. (I swear it made a hollow noise.)

"Let him be. It won't work." The witch had stepped out as well. Her look of worry had not diminished, and when a witch is worried you know things are screwed.

I stood again and backed up a few steps. "What's wrong with him?" I asked.

She sighed. "The boy was brought mere inches from death." She explained in an ominous tone worthy of a recently deceased gardener. "He came close enough to the gate to see that which the living are not supposed to. It is easy to bring the body back, but the mind..." She hesitated. "Who knows what he has been through? Some people simply cannot handle coming back from death. No less a cursed death."

What the hell? So I had just gone through hell to keep Justin from going to hell only to come back and find out that he was still in hell? Here he was staring as though something terrifying lay directly in front of his eyes. Unmoving and quieter than he had ever been. I was almost surprised at how much I missed the old, energetic, obnoxious Justin. Now that was a sad thought.

"Will he get better?" I asked.

The witch shrugged. "Who can say? Most likely no, although," Her eyes shifted toward me. "I've been proven wrong before. Now then." She stretched her arms and cracked her knuckles. "I believe we have our own business to attend to."

"What?" I was feeling a little dense.

"Our deal." She reminded me. "You completed the task for me and therefore have earned the wish of your choosing. I told you that you could have a voice, a permanent one, and I mean to keep my word."

It felt like ages since that deal had been made. In the deep of things I had pretty much forgotten all about it. The thought that I could leave this place with the ability to finally be able to say anything I wanted was...was... I glanced back at Justin, still sitting in his traumatized state.

I sat down and hugged my knees close to myself. What was I thinking? It was clear what I had to do and yet it was so very hard to accept.

"I was thinking," I said, already regretting this.

"Yes?" The witch asked quickly.

"Having a voice," I began as I tried to silence the objections rising in my thoughts. "is kind of overrated. I mean, most people just end up using theirs to say a lot of useless things anyway."

The witch twirled a few strands of hair around one of her long fingers as she watched me intently. "That's true," She agreed "but you would be able to speak for yourself for once. Instead of always letting decisions be made for you by others, you would have your own say, your own choice."

"Maybe." Mentally I cringed a little, but then a thought occurred to me. "But maybe..." Prepare yourselves people. I'm about to have an epiphany moment. If things get too preachy here just skip to the end, all the exciting bits are over anyway. "Maybe it isn't what we say," I stated "but the actions that we take that define us for who we are. People can say a lot, but it doesn't mean that that's who they are, and me...I don't need a loud voice to tell people who I am. I know who I am, and that's enough."

I cannot describe the look she gave me because no one had ever given it to me before. She seemed surprised, but not in a bad way.

"You've made your decision then?" She asked.

I nodded. "Yes."

The sound of horse hooves on gravel echoed down the dusty trail as the carriage bearing myself and Lord Justin carried us in the direction of home.

"I don't think I care for the country that much." Justin stated after a yawn. Never mind the fact that he had just had his head sticking out the window for the last ten minutes or so shouting every single time we passed a cow. "With all this space and air you would think there would be more to do. It's a shame about uncle Edgar though."

I shifted in my seat somewhat. Ahh yes, your dear uncle Ed who suffered...Heart failure. Don't we all in the end? Justin remembered our stay quite a bit different than I did. To him it had been a normal outing to the country. His memory held some of it while imagination filled in the parts that the witch had wiped from his mind. He remembered nothing of his near fatal encounter with curses, witches or death. Things were practically normal.

"Oh my.." His voice became worried and I looked where he was to see that we were passing the town of Woodwyn, or what was left of the village. The assault made on it had not treated it very well. Parts of it were singed and other parts were torn apart as though a cyclone had run through it.

"Do you think they had an outbreak?" Justin asked. "They do that, don't they? Evacuate and demolish the towns to prevent the spread?"

I shrugged. If the red death had appeared in Woodwyn then we would see no village standing. It would have been burned to the ground, no bits and pieces of it intact. But if that was what he needed to make sense of it then there would be no objection from me.

Justin removed his gave from the window and focused more on the interior. "You know," He began in an oddly inquisitive tone. "I don't know what it is. The fact that you haven't scowled once this whole trip or that you didn't even try to kick that bird that landed by your foot earlier, but you seem different for some reason."

"Different?"

"Yes, you-" Justin stopped mid sentence. His mouth hung slightly agape as he struggled to comprehend the fact that the servant he had known for years now and had never said a word, had actually talked back.

Of course the witch gave me my voice. She said that a lesson learned is a reward earned, and that In most instances in life we must choose between one thing or the other, and it isn't fair. But in some instances we are dealt a better hand, one that allows us to have what we want and more. It isn't often, because if there was not more bad to be dealt than good..well, then the good wouldn't be as important. In my case, I suppose I had finally been dealt my winning hand.

"..You..you.." Justin was still trying to find the right words to use in this unprecedented situation. "But, you never-"

"Justin."

"What?"

"Shut up."

We really are the best of friends.

The end.

A/N So that's it. A thousand thanks to anyone who has read all of this. This is actually the first story of any kind that I've actually managed to finish, so for me it's kind of a big deal even though it is by no means great literature. Everything put up has been basically a first draft. So I give another thousand thanks to all the people who left me reviews that have helped me a great deal with my grammar issues and stuff like that. It's been really helpful. :)