They left him alone in the room again after he'd done what Flameheart had asked. Majic rested against the stone surface beneath him, a thousand times more worried than he had been the last time he'd been left there.
It hadn't taken much energy to call the blood crystals. Flameheart had made the room into something of a pocket - where black magic could be used as well as white. He probably could have used either separately, but for this, it had to be a mix of the two - the unique blend they called red sorcery. So he'd spoken the words and used the power, and now all nine blood crystals were in Flameheart's hands.
And who knows what he plans to do with the Dragon.
He'd been winded for a moment afterward, and the white sorcerer had left before he could catch his breath - with the crystals. Orphen and Cleao had already been escorted out beforehand, so he didn’t see either of them again.
Orphen was likely with Flameheart. And who knew where Cleao was.
She might already be dead, despite the deal that had stated she would be spared.
Majic slid his head to the side, feeling numb. Oshou-sama could be summoning the Dragon by now… Or maybe he'd even finished already. Maybe he'd done it, and the Dragon had obliterated him. Or maybe Flameheart had killed him after he'd gotten what he wanted.
He could be on his way back to kill Majic, too.
I almost wish they'd do it already and hurry up.
Orphen had told him about summoning the Dragon, once… Majic tried to bring the memory back. It had to be done in a certain type of room; both the White Tower and the Black Tower had one. The crystals had to be arranged in a semicircle in front of the summoner - which was why he'd found the rounded table with the grooves built on top back in the Temple he and Cleao had walked into in their own world. The energy in the room had to be built slowly in order to prepare the crystals for the task they were to perform. And there was a chant that began when the power reached its peak. The words, he couldn't recall - except for the very end: 'I summon thee, Dragon of Dark'.
Or Light… if that were ever going to happen.
And then… well, you waited - and prayed.
I'll be grateful if Oshou-sama is all right… Majic swallowed hard, desperately worried. That's all. Just let him be safe. If that's the only thing that goes right, I don't care. He has to be all right!
It was the hardest thing in the world to just wait and see.
At least… Majic shut his eyes, feeling his heart pound against his chest. At least I got the chance… to tell him how I feel. Even if he didn't tell me the same. It wasn't necessarily the sort of thing Orphen would find easy to say to him… but…
But I think he does.
The door opened.
Done already? Majic felt his stomach churn. He opened his eyes, turned his head - and blinked. "Eris!"
The girl shut the door, again holding a tray - this one with a covered dish and water glass. She hurried over and set the tray down, nervously. "There's not really food on this… but I had to have an excuse to come in here in case someone saw me."
"Excuse?" Majic sucked in a sharp breath. "You mean…?"
Eris was already fumbling with the ties that held him down. "I don't want to see anyone lose their magic," she told him as she worked. "Sensei isn't right… what he's doing isn't right. Black sorcerers haven't done anything to hurt us."
One hand was freed. Majic brought it down, turning his wrist to loosen it. She's actually going to help me… It was almost too good to be true. "I didn't think you believed me."
Her cheeks flushed. "I… didn't at first," she admitted. "I didn't think that Sensei would really do that… I couldn't believe he'd go against the Elders. But I couldn't forget what you said. So I… I followed him."
The blond rubbed his newly freed wrist, watching as she moved to the tie holding his waist. "You heard him talking with Oshou-sama, didn't you?"
She bit her lip, stopping for a moment. "I wanted to go right to the Elders." Then she shook her head. "But it was taking too long to see them. And… I'm only an apprentice. He's a teacher. They'd never believe me." A determined look came over her face, and she attacked the binding with renewed purpose. "So I have to do something myself."
"Thank you." Majic found himself smiling. He could do something… he could try to stop them. "Eris," he said, sitting up as she freed his waist. "Is there any way you could create a barrier like Flameheart does, so I can use magic?"
"No… I'm not that advanced." She freed one foot. "Why?"
"Because if I can get the blood crystals away from Oshou-sama…" The possibility was a good one - and not just to prevent the summoning. "Then he wouldn't be able to call the Dragon," he finished, deciding to keep the idea that was building at the back of his mind to himself.
"If we can get inside the Temple Room, you'll be inside Sensei's barrier," Eris pointed out, and finished with the last binding. "Then you can summon them. You'd have to get away really fast, before he collapses it. All right?"
Majic resisted the urge to tell her he had no intention of getting away. "We have to get Cleao first," he said out loud, standing. "I don't know where she is." His legs were a little shaky, but he managed to make it out the door.
Eris moved ahead of him. "I followed Sensei," she said. "So when he took your teacher to the Temple Room, I snuck into the office and got the keys and your friend's sword. I got her out before I came for you, so she's already waiting for us."
He let out a breath. "Oh, good." Cleao was safe then. "Thank you, Eris. I don't know what we would've done without you."
She blushed, turning her face away shyly. "M-Majic…"
"What are you doing, Eris!?"
Majic's gaze shot up, and he tensed. An older boy in beige robes stood directly in their path, eyes blazing as he watched them. "That's Sensei's prisoner!"
"W-Wait!" Eris held up her hands as he approached, eyes wide. "Let me explain, please…"
"Explain? You'll get expelled for this!" He roughly grabbed her arm, glaring. "Just wait until the Elders hear that you were sneaking out an - "
His words broke off in a grunt as he rocked forward from a sharp blow to the back of his head. For a brief instant, his eyes went wide - then they rolled back in his head as he keeled forward, unconscious.
"Gee!" A familiar blonde girl stood where the boy had been, the hilt of her sword still held up in one fist. "Good thing you have me along to get you out of trouble! Isn't that right, Majic?"
"Cleao!" A huge, relieved smile spread over his face all on its own. "Am I ever glad to see you!"
She beamed. "I know! And now…" She waved the sword with a flourish. "Time to go save Orphen as well!"
Eris moved ahead of them, still looking a little shaken by the encounter. "This way!" she urged. "Let's hurry!"
Cleao fell in beside Majic. "Hey… what exactly is going on, anyway?"
"It's a long story," he told her, ruefully. "Just… my mother came from this world. So I have a different type of magic, because my parents were sorcerers from different worlds. That's why Flameheart needed me - and now he has all the blood crystals, and he'll make Oshou-sama summon the Dragon of Dark for him."
"Then… black sorcery will…" Cleao got the point immediately. "How are we going to stop him?"
"As soon as Eris takes us to the Temple Room, I'm calling the blood crystals to me," Majic said, decisively. "Then Oshou-sama won't be able to summon it."
"O-kay!" Cleao grinned, waving the sword again. Then she stopped and looked back to him. "But… how do we stop that creepy guy from catching us again?"
"I… sort of have an idea." He frowned, thoughtful. "I'd have to do it really fast, before he can drop the barrier. But I should be able to do it! When I get the blood crystals, I'll - "
"Wait a minute, you two." Eris had stopped beside a door to one side of the hallway. "It's going to take a long time if we keep getting stopped," she explained. "This room is for storage; there are spare robes inside. I have Sensei's keys, so I can get one for each of you. That'd be easier, wouldn't it?"
"Good idea!" Cleao agreed, enthusiastically. "Entering in disguise… they'll never suspect! We'll defeat those idiots before they even realize what's happening!"
Majic waited until Eris had opened the door, then took the robes she passed him and turned to hand one back to his foster sister. "You'll have to hide your sword underneath," he pointed out, pulling the light beige material on and tying the belt.
"Yes, yes." She waved a hand, and pulled on her own robe. The sword was tucked down the back, with the belt holding it in place. "I can grab it quick," Cleao assured them, with a fierce grin.
"Let's go." Eris shut the door, and led them on again.
Majic lost track of the hallways they turned down and stairs they had to wind their way up. The White Tower didn't appear to be organized much like the Black Tower; it seemed more like a maze on the inside. He was impressed with Eris, who was somehow able to confidently move through doorways and take the right paths, leading them closer and closer to where Orphen was probably putting his life in danger at that very same moment.
I wish it wouldn't take so long!
"After all this trouble," Cleao huffed, beside him, "if you and Orphen don't work out your differences and have a happy ending, I'm going to kill you both! He mopes even worse than you do, you know."
"I know he cares about me…" Majic managed a smile for her, wishing he shared her optimism. Seeing Orphen's face when he was in danger had settled his worries about whether or not his feelings were returned…
But we might not live long enough to enjoy that!
"But he's so stupid!" Cleao crossed her arms. "I don't know why you put up with him, Majic! He's rude and grouchy and not romantic at all. He's hopeless when it comes to a relationship - you probably know that more than me. I wouldn't put up with it!"
Yeah… but he's also kind in his own way. And he's determined and brave, and you always feel safe with him. "We're different, I guess," he said out loud, and smiled again.
"Majic." Eris had stopped, holding out a hand as she looked around the corner in front of them. "We're here," she reported, then bit her lip. "But…"
He joined her. "What's the matter?"
"The door is guarded," she said. "I was afraid it would be. You can't lock that door, so Sensei had to have a way of keeping people from interrupting. We won't be allowed in; they'll have orders to keep everyone out."
Majic looked. The two guards were young sorcerers in white robes - probably full sorcerers with lower rank than Flameheart. "Are you sure you can't tell them that Flameheart needs something from us?"
Eris shook her head. "It won't work. The most we could get them to do is go inside and ask him if we're supposed to be here - and even that is unlikely. They probably have orders to keep that door shut, no matter what."
"They won't move, hm?" Cleao's eyes narrowed.
The red sorcerer frowned. "In that case, we'll have to - ah! Cleao!"
Ignoring her foster brother's warning, the girl continued forward stubbornly, marching around the corner and right up to the guards. "Move aside right now," she ordered them.
"Eh…?" The guards seemed taken aback.
Majic slapped a hand to his face. "Cleao…"
"Didn't you hear me? I said move aside!" Cleao put her hands on her hips. "Quickly, quickly! I have to go inside!"
One of the guards seemed to recover from his surprise, and frowned down at the girl. "No one is allowed in there. Master Flameheart doesn't want to be interrupted."
"Especially not by an apprentice," the other sneered.
"Is that so?" There was a dangerous gleam in Cleao's eyes.
"Yeah." The second guard straightened. "That's so. So move along, little girl."
"Then…" Cleao squared her shoulders, fixed a determined stare on the obnoxiously guard… and proceeded to kick him solidly in the groin.
The man's eyes rolled up in his head, and he keeled over like a freshly-felled tree, twitching.
A-Ah… Majic winced.
"Hey!" The first guard reached for the girl, but was brought up short when she ducked under and charged, catching him in the stomach with her shoulder.
"Majic!" she called out, drawing her sword and pointing to the two guards on the floor. "Get into that room! There's nothing in the way now!"
He started forward, then hesitated. "But… Cleao…"
"I'll take care of these two!" Her eyes held fierce excitement; she flashed him a victorious grin. "Get in there, and save Orphen!" She knocked the guard who was starting to struggle upward right across the side of his head with her knee, effectively felling him again.
"Okay!" He ran past her, Eris on his heels. I'm here, Oshou-sama… please don't be dead… And then he flung open the door, and rushed inside.
The buzzing of Flameheart's barrier was strong - but even stronger was the feel of black magic at work. The spell being set in motion was a heavy one; the aura of it almost bowled Majic over, and he had to stop for a moment to collect himself before he could do anything else.
"Power of black wings…" That was Orphen's voice. "Channel through me…"
Majic looked up, and his breath caught in his throat. His teacher stood behind the same sort of rounded stone table he'd seen back in that Temple room he and Cleao had entered, with the blood crystals arranged in front of him on its surface. They flickered without the help of the torches that kept the room illuminated, and the air around them was thick with power. Orphen appeared to be in a trance, hands raised over and to the sides of the arranged crystals. And near him, Flameheart hovered, face set with triumph. Neither of them had noticed the new arrivals.
Beside Majic, Eris gasped.
Wait. The blond apprentice pulled in a long breath, trying to calm himself. He didn't know the words to the chant Orphen was intoning, but he recognized the feel of the sorcery being transferred into the crystals. It seemed to have a rhythm he instinctively knew.
"Majic!" Eris grabbed his arm. "What are you waiting for? Call the crystals! Stop him! Majic!"
"Majic, what are you doing!?" Cleao hurried to his side, abandoning the guards, who were gaping at the sight. "I thought you said you could get the crystals away! Hurry up!"
Not yet… Majic drew in another deep breath, and shut his eyes. He would need a lot of power as well - and a good deal of that would come from him, not his surroundings. He focussed on Orphen's words and built the energy around him to prepare for what he had to do.
"What's he doing!?" Cleao demanded.
"I don't know…" Eris sounded awed. "But… I don't think we should get in the way of it, whatever it is."
The chant seemed to be reaching its peak. Just about…
"I summon thee," Orphen announced, in a clear voice, "Dragon of - "
"I call thee, stones born of my blood!"
Orphen's demand broke off, and he slumped forward, eyes suddenly clearing. The alter in front of him was empty. Beside him, Flameheart appeared shocked… and both of them instinctively looked around for the intruder.
Majic held his hands apart, the blood crystals suspended in a perfect semi-circle in front of him. His mind was fuzzy; all he could sense clearly was the power already built into the stones. They reflected false light back at him, waiting for the conclusion of the spell that was their purpose.
"I summon thee," he said, voice loud in the silence that followed, "Dragon of Twilight!"
The crystals went out for a moment, their flickering light dying. then they blazed like a new sun, red light filling the Temple Room completely.
"Impossible!" Flameheart's eyes were bright with insane rage. He started across the room, charging toward Majic from the front. "Impossible! I'll kill you, boy!" he screamed, hands reaching out threateningly as he came closer to being directly in front of the blond.
There was a noise like a huge bird shrieking… the ground trembled… And then an enormous red-scaled dragon exploded up through the floor, directly through the spot where the white sorcerer had been standing.
Flameheart vanished in a curtain of the red fire that accompanied the Great Dragon's emergence.
The beast spread its wings, and the room seemed to swell even as it did, to accommodate its size. The sense of its presence was overwhelming; Cleao, Eris, and Orphen were all knocked aside as the thing opened wicked green eyes and focussed on Majic.
"I am summoned by the contract." Its great mouth didn't move, but the words echoed across the room, a sense of fire and pain etched in each one. "What would the summoner have me do?"
Majic had to will his badly trembling lips to work. "Free those who are encased in crystal in the Towers of Black and White," he told it, trying to keep the shaking in his voice minimal. "Please."
The Dragon's eyes held his gaze. "Done." Nothing more.
Majic's teeth were chattering; he forced them apart, and continued. "Create a passage back to the place we came from in Cleao's world, from the crystal room in the Black Tower - please."
The green-eyed gaze didn't waver. "Such a portal must remain open for no less than ten days, or both worlds would stand in peril."
He was swaying on his feet… "All right," he agreed weakly, straining to remain upright.
One more request… Majic kept himself on his feet, gritting his teeth. "Please be whole again," he managed to get out, stammering a little. "No matter who does the summoning - black or white sorcerer - be the Dragon of Twilight always. And let both black and white magic continue to exist."
There was no movement from the great beast, but Majic felt that the creature might smile in some form if it could. "The request is desirable for this world," it said. "Done, and balance is maintained."
"Thank you." Majic could feel his exhaustion slowly winning him over. "Th-That's all," he gasped out. "Y-You can… go back."
Wicked green eyes regarded him for a moment more - only a moment - and then they closed, and the giant form of the Dragon of Twilight slid back through the floor, leaving the Temple Room fully intact.
Flameheart, however, had disappeared.
The blood crystals hit the floor, released from Majic's hold - and half a second later, the boy himself followed. His bones felt like they'd been turned into water.
"Majic!" Across the room, Orphen scrambled to his feet, running over to ensure the well-being of his apprentice. "Majic," he said, less harshly, carefully lifting the blond from the floor. He turned the boy over, looking directly into his face as he held him.
"Mm?" Majic couldn't help smiling. "I did it…"
Orphen seemed on the verge of saying any number of things, but what came out of his mouth was a simple flat statement. "That was stupid."
Majic shrugged, the corners of his mouth edging up a little more. "I learned from the best."
"You - " Orphen didn’t finish that, shifting his hold to Majic's shoulders and pulling him up to his own level. He shook his head instead, leaned forward, and kissed him thoroughly.
It was like being weightless. Majic relaxed, bracing his hands on his teacher's arms. This was what it had all been for - and this, right here, was where he wanted to be. It's worth it… every second…
Because he and Orphen were okay now, and the feeling was as sweet as coming home.