For a moment after Orphen finished speaking, the clearing was totally silent.
Predictably enough, Cleao was the first to break it. "So there is a beautiful girl trapped in a Tower," she said, snapping her fingers. "And a red dragon, too."
Orphen frowned at her. "Majic said the same thing earlier. Why does that mean anything?"
"Oh, it's just a conversation we had." Cleao waved a hand to dismiss it. "Majic had a couple of good guesses, that's all."
The dark-haired sorcerer turned to look at Majic.
"Eh… it wasn't anything, really." A little embarrassed at being the center of attention, the blond scratched his head nervously. "It just sounded right, that's all."
"It's probably not a big deal," Orphen agreed, standing up. "We already know you've got potential to be a sorcerer; maybe you have some ForeSight mixed in. You should talk to Rai - when we get to the Tower, that is."
"Sorcerer?" He'd almost forgotten about that. "Me?"
"You used magic, and I could sense it." Orphen walked over to where he was sitting. "I can't sense white magic, so we can safely assume you're a black sorcerer. You'll need training, though."
"But I can't be," Majic protested. He wanted to believe it… this whole thing felt wonderfully right. And being a sorcerer would be a fantasy brought to life. "I'm from…" He hesitated.
Orphen seemed to catch his meaning. "Believe it or not, you two aren't the first people to stumble in from your world. And they have just as much chance at being talented as anyone here - but it never seems to show itself until they make it through."
Majic stared at him. He was right, then; the evidence was there. He couldn't keep denying it when he'd gone and used magic in the middle of a fight, could he? "So… I am."
"Sorcery is hereditary," Orphen told him. "So one of your parents is a black sorcerer. They probably don't know it, since they live in your world, but one of them, at least, has to have the gift."
"Had," Majic corrected, and forced the rest out. "My parents are dead."
"Majic lives with my family now," Cleao added. "Since the accident last year."
"Ah." Thankfully, Orphen didn't comment. "Sorry for bringing it up. But, to get right down to it, the important thing is to get you trained. Running around with an unchecked raw talent is dangerous."
"So? Why don't you train him?" Cleao suggested.
"I could do that." Orphen turned his gaze on Majic again, and the younger boy felt suddenly nervous. "You'd have to do everything I say."
That made sense. "Okay."
"And…" The older man's mouth turned up in a smirk. "You have to call me 'Oshou-sama'."
"What!?" Cleao jumped to her feet, expression outraged. "Why should he? Just because you're teaching him doesn't mean he has to worship you!"
"You should be a little more respectful of the person who's looking after you." If anything, Orphen's smirk became more smug. "If he's going to be my apprentice, he's going to be a proper apprentice."
Majic sighed. What was the point of arguing? Anyway, he wanted to learn magic… and he especially wanted to learn it from Orphen. "Okay. Oshou-sama."
"Ma-jic!" Cleao seemed almost offended.
Orphen, on the other hand, looked pleased. "Good," he said, and set a hand on Majic's head almost affectionately. "We'll have the first lesson tomorrow, after we've covered some distance." He moved off toward his bag again. "I'll lend you a couple of blankets for tonight."
Cleao sank down beside Majic, looking sulky. "Don't think you've won just because you scored some points," she muttered. "I told you I'm not giving up."
Majic glanced at her wearily. "What are you talking about, Cleao?"
"Don't play dumb with me!" She set her lips stubbornly. "No matter what you're calling him, I'm going to win!"
And she stood, brushed off her jeans, and moved to pester Orphen, leaving Majic to stare after her in complete bafflement.
I don't think I've ever spent so much time walking. Majic let the heavy bag slide off his shoulders, sinking to the ground. His feet ached from the extra work, and his back was killing him. This is just too much!
They'd covered a lot of distance, though - he had to admit that. It had taken at least two hours to get free of the forest - after which they'd taken another break. The terrain now was an endless mess of rising and falling ground - grassy, peace-seeming hills. And beyond that, Majic could see the higher peaks of mountains - an area he was not looking forward to covering, despite Orphen's promise that there would be towns around it.
"Time for lunch," the dark-haired sorcerer announced. "Majic, get out the cooking gear."
Wearily, the blond reached out for the bag again, fumbling to undo the ties holding it shut. Anything that wasn't carried on Orphen's or Cleao's person, he had found, was his responsibility. If anything were lost or forgotten, he would be the one to answer for it. Clean-up was his problem; set-up was his problem. And he carried everything.
Basically, he was a pack horse and personal servant in one.
"I'll cook!" Cleao volunteered, bouncing over. "Let me!" The amount of energy she still had was enviable. "You're so slow, Majic," she complained, waiting as he dug the utensils and food out for her. "Don't tell me you're worn out already."
"Why don't you try carrying the bag?" he offered, frowning as he handed over what she needed.
"Orphen's not teaching me magic!" she replied, and flounced off to build a fire.
"If you can't handle it, maybe I should leave you at the Tower when we get there." Orphen sat down beside him, tucking his hands behind his head as he leaned against a rock. "It's soft living there, even if the lessons are hard."
That stung. "I'm fine," Majic insisted stubbornly. He wasn't about to be left behind! Orphen was the first person he'd met in almost a year that he'd really felt he had a connection with; he couldn't get pushed away from him now.
"Relax," the older man told him, catching Majic's gaze. "I wasn't serious. You'll get used it. Anyway, learning from me will be worth the trouble." He smirked.
Majic turned his face away, smiling a little. "I just hope I'm not a disappointment." Because I want to do this… just like him. Funny, he'd struggled all through grade school and junior high with Career Prep and the increasingly anxious question of what he wanted to do when he finished his schooling… And now he'd been in this world for less than a day, and the answer was perfectly clear.
I don't think my teachers would take it well if I put 'sorcerer' as my future occupation on those surveys…
"Everyone has trouble with they start." Orphen shrugged. "I can hit pretty hard if I think you're not paying attention, though, so you'd better not think I'll let you slack off." He leaned back and stretched his legs out in front of him, comfortably.
"I won't slack off," Majic promised. He watched Cleao earnestly stirring something in a large pot, and couldn't help chuckling. "I don't think she even knows how to cook."
Orphen glanced over at Cleao briefly, then made a dismissive noise and shut his eyes as if to block her out. "She'd better be good for something, or I'm not going to be responsible for my actions. All she ever does is talk and whine and get on my nerves."
"Eh… yeah, she does that." Majic rubbed the back of his neck nervously, glancing over to make sure his foster sister hadn't caught that admission. "But Cleao's a good person. And she's pretty, too." He watched out of the corner of his eyes for Orphen's reaction.
The older man didn't even look up. "I don't know how you can look past her mouth to tell."
Majic turned his gaze up to the sky and smiled some more.
"How long have you had to put up with her for, anyway?"
"You mean how long have I lived with her family?" He sat forward again, looking back down at the ground. "About a year. My father died in a car accident last summer."
Orphen actually opened an eye to look at him. "What about your mother?"
Majic shrugged, threading his fingers into the grass. "She died when I was little. I don't remember much about her, except that she had long hair and her eyes looked just like mine."
The taller man had opened both eyes by then, and was watching him almost curiously. "When you woke up, I thought you looked familiar," he noted, making it sound like it didn't matter. "Talking about eyes… that's what it is."
Majic blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I mean it's your eyes that look familiar." Orphen sat up again. His gaze was penetrating. "I just can't remember where I've seen them before."
The younger boy shifted uneasily. Something about the way the sorcerer looked at him… "Lots of people have blue eyes. Cleao has blue eyes too, you know. It's not like they're uncommon."
Orphen didn't seem convinced, but he didn't press the issue. "We'll have to be careful practicing," he said, changing the subject. "Until we get past those mountains, we're in what people in the three major regions call the Outlands. They don't like sorcerers much around here."
"I can be careful." The new conversation came as a relief. Majic brought his knees up, hugging them to his chest. He wanted to talk about something unimportant or obvious - or maybe not even talk at all. Being able to sit down after walking for so long felt great. Sitting with the secure warmth of Orphen's presence beside him was even better. He wanted to focus on that.
At least until we find a way to send us back.
The thought of going back was not appealing at all. More time floating around in a semi-dream with the Everlastings could hardly even compare to training with Orphen to be a sorcerer.
"What the hell is that stink?" Orphen interrupted his thoughts, looking up with narrowing eyes. "What's that girl cooking? It smells like an open cesspool!"
Majic inhaled deeply - and instantly regretted it. "U-Ugh!" He broke off into a fit of coughing. "That's disgusting! I didn't know Cleao was that bad…"
From the source of the smell came the inevitable, fateful call. "Lunch is re-e-e-eady!"
Orphen and Majic looked at each other.
"You go," the sorcerer said, firmly, and got up to walk in the opposite direction.
Cleao looked beyond sulky as she took the last bite of her sandwich. "I don't know why you wasted all my efforts!" she fumed, chewing fiercely on the morsel. "That soup was perfectly good!"
Orphen snorted. "If it was so good, why didn't you eat it?"
"I made it for you!"
"You made it to poison us! Admit it!"
"You're ungrateful! I did all that work…"
"That soup could've melted rocks!"
Cleao jumped to her feet, hands balled into fists. "Stop being such a jerk!"
"You stop being such a brat!" Orphen faced her down.
Majic finished his own sandwich, but continued to sit where he was, letting his companions argue without interruption. Orphen had chosen to demonstrate how to aim an attack - using the toxic mixture Cleao had called soup as target practice.
Predictably enough, Cleao had not been pleased.
"That does it!" Orphen pointed imperiously, at a point away from their temporary camp. "I'm not looking after you any more! Get lost!"
"Oshou-sama!" Majic interjected.
"Shut up!" Orphen thrust the finger in Cleao's face instead. "If you don't like following me around, then nothing's forcing you to stay!"
"Fine!" Cleao whirled and faced Majic, who instinctively stood and stumbled back a step. "Come on, Majic, we're going!"
"You can't force him to go along with your idiocy." Orphen scowled darkly. "He's still my apprentice!"
"He was my brother first! Right, Majic?"
"He made a promise to do what I say, and I say that he stays here!" Orphen turned to glare at the younger boy as well. "Isn't that right, Majic?"
Majic backed off another step, thoroughly alarmed. "Eh… um… well…" He raised his hands, palms facing outward, as if to ward the two of them off. "I…"
"Oh, see if I care what you do!" Cleao waved her arms angrily, hands still in fists. "Go ahead and stay with that jerk! But I'm leaving!" And she stalked past the remains of her fire and stormed over the hill they'd camped out by.
Orphen stood in the same spot for a moment, then turned and stalked back to where he'd been sitting, dropping back down sharply. "That idiot," he grumbled.
Majic couldn't help but smile. "So we'll stay here for tonight?"
That was answer enough.
"Hey." When he glanced up in response to that, Majic found Orphen giving him a smirk. "Since we're finished eating…" He tilted his head to the side, eyes boring into the younger boy's face. "Why don't I give you your first lesson right now?"
He was tired, but it was a satisfied tired. Majic kept his eyes closed, with the blanket bunched under his head like a pillow. He was supposed to be sleeping, but there were a number of reasons he couldn't, despite his exhaustion.
They'd cooked and eaten supper - still just the two of them. The fire was still going, and there was a small portion of the food set aside. Neither of them had said anything about that; it was more or less by mutual consent.
She'll come back when she gets hungry.
Beside him, Orphen was sitting up. Majic couldn't see his face because his back was to the sorcerer, but he expected that the older man's gaze would be anywhere other than the hill that Cleao had disappeared over.
Probably looking for a distraction.
That may have been the reason for the lesson, too, but Orphen had been anything but distracted when he was teaching him. Majic could recall every word, every demonstration, every small feat he'd been allowed to try himself - they played through his mind even without any conscious attempt on his part to bring them back up. It was the remembered excitement that kept him awake - the thrill of success when he performed well. He could make magic happen. And Orphen's reluctantly given praise, added as almost an offhand thing, was still enough to give him a warm glowing feeling. He could go through everything the older man had said to him; feel his skin tingle at every remembered touch. The combination of everything from the lesson had been dizzying.
He couldn't wait for the next one!
Because I want to have time where all of his attention is on me.
That wasn't too selfish… was it?
Majic's thoughts did a complete turn-around. 'Back'? Did that mean…?
Cleoa made a 'hmph' sound, like she did when she was annoyed. "I can't just leave Majic in your hands." A moment of silence. Then… "Is that supper?"
"You're just lucky I wasn't that hungry," Orphen said irritably. "But that was probably because I still had the memory of your weed-killer soup fresh in my mind."
"What did you say!?"
Majic pulled the blanket tighter under his chin, let the increasing volume of Orphen's and Cleao's voices flow over him, and smiled.