On an upper story of the boarding house, in the otherwise empty clinic lay Morana by her lonesome. Curled into a ball on her side, she lay in a bed with only a pair of scrubs covering her as she shivered. She was not reacting to the cold, it was pleasantly warm inside, but the pain was still there. She'd fainted after Rot had brought her inside and the odd woman who gave off an aura of 'witch doctor' had somehow sewn a pair of new hands onto her wrist stumps. They were gradually conforming to her body even though she'd been so long without working fingers. She looked at them, too perfect to be from someone so long dead, not even Magnus could preserve body parts this well in his bogs.

The thought of his name invoked a new wave of panicked shivering as she began to fear his retribution. She'd abandoned her post and sought help from the sworn enemies of the Nails... but why was that such a crime? These people, they were not cruel. Rot, with all his hatred of Magnus and his ilk, could have ended her on the spot. Instead he gave her shelter and medical care and the promise of safety. Even the doctor who treated Alma's arrow wounds that day held no lasting grudge.

As for Alma, herself...

There came a gentle tap at the clinic door followed by a voice so soft and melodic Morana feared what possible malice could be camouflaged by such a voice. She rolled over to look at the door, helpless in her terror. "May I come in?" the voice asked, making the girl on the clinic bed shiver to the point that she could not even respond.

After a few seconds passed in silence, she finally got up the nerve to stutter out a fearful, "Y-Yes..." The clinic door eased open, slowly and agonizing to Morana, admitting the one person she dreaded meeting. She recognized those clawed hands, that flowing hair and mismatched blue and red eyes and sat up, feeling her stitches stretch with a new surge of pain as she scooted back, hands waving in front of her face.

"N-No, p-please, I'm s-s-sorry!! S-Sorry! Don't, don't hurt me!"

Alma watched as she entered the clinic, feeling her heart ache at the sight of this girl, scrawny, stitched together with indigo hair and white horns. She was terrified in a way no one else ever has been of her. The stitched girl kept moving back until she finally tumbled off the bed and hit the floor, head first and again curling into a ball from the fresh pain she felt.

Alma moved quickly to the other side of the bed, arms behind her back in her usual passive posture. She knelt near Morana and fought back the tears in her eyes. "I won't hurt you," she said softly to the shivering girl and she began to softly sing, the comforting lullaby she once sang to Rot and to Blaise.

Morana, who had covered her face with her new hands, took her time opening her eyes and peeking through her fingers. She'd expected rage, justified anger. Instead she was being sung to, a pathetic thing like her being granted a song. A kind smile from Alma as she sang to her attacker, calming her with every chorus. When the song finally came to an end, Morana was still on her side, but she'd uncovered her face and was staring up at Alma.

"Th-That was beautiful," she whispered with slight hesitation, unsure if she was allowed to speak.

Alma giggled softly and smiled again. "Thank you, but you shouldn't be on the floor for introductions. Here, I'll help you up."

After some convincing, Morana looped her arms loosely around Alma's neck as the clawed girl helped her to her feet and back onto the bed. It was a trying experience as the stitched girl kept anticipating the shoe to drop and be pulverized by a single one of those claw-handed punches. But the blow never came. Instead, Alma talked with Morana like they were old friends, introducing Om and even letting the new guest hold onto the new plushie Rot had made.

When a moment of silence finally ended Alma's pleasant ramblings, Morana looked down at the plush dragon in her lap and felt tears sting her eyes. She hugged the patchwork thing, so flawed and so much like herself. "Why are you being s-so nice to me?" she finally asked, pale blue eyes meeting Alma's.

The clawed girl's smile waned slightly but that only made it more sincere. "Because... you're my friend. Right?"

The word 'friend' made Morana's jaw drop slightly. "B-But what about... what about the arrows?"

Now the smile waned a little more but returned within seconds. "Because... I know what Magnus is like and what he does to people. You didn't attack me because you wanted to, you did because of him and I don't blame you for that. I know what it's like to be lonely... but some people can't be reached. I tried to reach my friend Halo when he was upset and he didn't respond in kind." She giggled softly then. "What I mean to say is that I forgave you on the day you attacked me. It wasn't your fault and I want to be friends."

Now the tears flowed down Morana's cheeks as she doubled over slightly, sobbing. Alma asked no questions, she only shifted closer so her new friend could cry on her shoulder. After a few minutes passed, the stitched girl took a deep breath and asked in a voice so soft, "Can we be friends?"

"Of course," Alma giggled as Om hopped from the top of Alma's head to Morana's and patted her with one little paw.

"Welcome to the Claw Arms."

End Morana's Ascent