Majic was habitually an early riser; when he wasn't too tired, sunrises were his favorite scene. One of the good things about life with the Everlastings had been the room they'd given him: it had a large window facing to the east, so he could watch the sun coming up when he was still in bed and only half asleep.
The room he shared with Orphen at the inn had no such window, but it did have one that faced south, so Majic eased out from under the covers, found and pulled on his boxer shorts, and went to lean out of it.
There was a satisfying sore feeling accompanying his movements, countered by a lethargic residual from the activities the night before. Mmm. Strangely, he didn't feel embarrassed or uncertain, and he hadn't woken up half-convinced that sleeping with Orphen had been a dream. This was real. And it felt right. He'd lost his virginity last night - he was led to believe it'd be a more awkward feeling. It was with Orphen, and I didn't feel awkward at all.
He was awake. Happy. Caught in the seductive, irresistible tangle of a first love, and not fighting at all to free himself. He loved the surly expression, the impatience, the lack of any class or tact… the laziness, the arrogance… They were all Orphen. It had to be dangerous, feeling so strongly for a single person.
But the risk is worth it, right?
He'd spent last night being the sole focus of Orphen's attention: the single object of his desire. It was worth it.
"Heh." The word was a mumbled exhalation - the only warning Majic got before he had a set of sun-darkened arms draped lazily around his upper body, just below his shoulders. "Most people don’t leave the bed this early when they wake up after their first time."
I don't remember telling him it was my first time… That was Orphen, though - if he didn't know something, he would assume it. And the part that could really be infuriating was that he was usually right. Majic smiled, relaxing in the sorcerer's hold. "I felt like watching the sun rise."
Orphen made a vaguely interested noise and turned so that he was facing Majic's side, raising one hand to brush his knuckles along the blond's jawline. The unexpected gesture of affection sent a warm shudder through the younger boy; he shut his eyes and leaned into the touch, content.
"It's a really nice morning, isn't it, Oshou-sama?"
Orphen was smirking; he could tell even without opening his eyes. "I can think of a way to make it nicer," he said, and leaned forward to replace his hand with his mouth.
"At the Tower already?" Cleao beamed at Orphen's map. "Really?"
"We should be there in time for supper," the dark-haired sorcerer told her - then added, "Thank god."
The girl didn't even take offense at that. "I can't wait to get there! I'll bet there's lots to see! You'll show us around, Orphen, right? Right?" She was almost up in his face. "Right?"
Orphen waved her off, irritably. "There's not much to see. Anyway, I'll have to talk with Hartia and Rai when we get there. Maybe when I'm done - if I feel like it." The look on his face wasn't a promising one.
"Geez! You're so grumpy!" Cleao crossed her arms, pouting.
"We've already come this far?" Majic picked up the map. "It doesn't seem like we've been traveling that long." He stared at the picture more closely. "The Tower is pretty close to the border between the Dark Lands and the Twilight Lands. Why is that?"
"Because of the Dragon Temple." Orphen pointed to a spot on the map. "The White Tower is right by their border, too. The Elders of our order and of theirs didn't trust each other, so they built the Towers as close to the Temple as possible. Neither wanted to be outdistanced by the other."
Majic nodded. He was looking forward to seeing the Tower. Firstly because anything related to sorcery was exciting to him, and secondly because it was where Orphen had grown up. And I want to learn more about him. Especially now.
It wasn't so bad keeping it from Cleao, either. That way, it was like something private between the two of them. Besides, if everything went the way Majic was hoping it would, then it wouldn't be a secret forever. Honestly, he couldn't even conceive of ever wanting to be with anyone but Orphen, and he didn't care who knew it.
Maybe it's stupid… but that doesn't matter.
And no matter what Cleao said, nothing was going to keep him from staying in this world.
"Enough of that." Orphen took the map from him, stuffing it back into the already crammed-full bag. "If we do want to get to the Tower by tonight, we'd better stop talking about it and get started."
"Yes, Oshou-sama." Majic rose to his feet, ready for another day of walking.
The Black Tower was actually a huge, ominous-looking fortress, surrounded by a thick wall and built entirely of solid grey stone. It had one high turret that caught the eye before anything else, rising like a beacon, up into the sky.
"That's the original Tower," Orphen explained, as they approached the front gate. "The rest was built over time as they got more students. The area we call the dungeons is under the original Tower, and the library and classrooms are all above it. Most of the personal chambers are in the newer parts; only the highest level mages have rooms inside the older."
He paused for a moment, looking up. "Azalie's room was on the third level from the top." The strange note in his voice wasn't one that Majic could read. But that was more or less how it was when he talked about Azalie; apparently those feelings weren't among the few he cared to share.
Maybe one day… But I think it'll be a long time from now.
"Krylancelo!" There was a tall redhead standing at the top of the wall, dressed in black robes. He waved once in greeting, then disappeared to somewhere below. A moment later, the gate opened and he met them face to face. "Welcome back."
"Let the whole population know I'm back, why don't you?" Orphen spoiled the grumbling with a huge grin. "I managed to pick up another one, Hartia."
"I know." The redhead - Hartia - nodded. "Rai predicted that you'd be back tonight. He said you'd have two outsiders with you" - at that, he glanced over at Cleao and Majic - "who you're going to have to introduce before I take you to see him."
"Cleao" - Orphen pointed - "and Majic. And this is Hartia," he added, making a vague gesture toward his friend. "Does Rai have any idea where I'll find the next crystal?"
"I think so, but he hasn't said anything yet." Hartia shrugged. "Why don't you let your friends do some exploring, and I'll take you up to ask him yourself." He turned to lead the way.
The inside of the Tower was as utilitarian as the outside - a dull stone building, with plain windows and little color. The difference was with the grey-clad students who loitered in and scurried around the hallways, casting curious glances at the unusual little group - particularly Majic and Cleao. Even the dark-robed teachers and full mages seemed to take more than a little interest in them.
I guess it'd be the same thing if one of them came into our high school. Majic tugged at the straps of the bag on his shoulders, a little self-conscious under so much scrutiny.
"Here." Orphen gestured toward a door Hartia had just swung open. "This is Hartia's room. Not" - and this came with a sideways glance at the redhead - "that he uses it all that often."
His friend shrugged, offering a sheepish grin. "I can ask if one of my female students will let Cleao room with them - after we talk with Rai, that is," he added.
"Good." Orphen turned to look at Cleao and Majic. "You two might as well go sight-seeing now, if you really have to look around. Just stay away from the top floor, and don't get lost."
"Don't worry about us!" Cleao beamed. "We're fabulous explorers!"
Orphen gave her a skeptical look, but didn't comment. "All right. Let's go see Rai," he said to Hartia, and the two of them walked off further down the hallway.
Majic set down the bag just inside the door, and eyed Hartia's room. It wasn't a huge room by any stretch of the imagination, but the bed was big enough… Hmm. I hope Oshou-sama asks Hartia about that first.
"Well," Cleao said cheerfully, when he came back out. "Let's go."
He nodded. "Where are we going?"
"To the top floor, of course." She tossed her hair. "Where else?"
Majic felt he should've guessed that. "But Cleao!" he protested, weakly. "Oshou-sama told us - "
"Oh, who cares what he says?" Cleao waved a hand dismissively. "The top floor is probably where all the good stuff is. You do want to see some cool sorcerer stuff" - she glanced over at him slyly - "right, Majic?"
He bit his lip, wishing he weren't so easy to read. "Well… maybe…"
"Yay!" Cleao took that hesitation as agreement - and it might as well have been, considering what it meant to show weakness in front of her. "Let's go then," she said brightly, grabbing his wrist and pulling him after her.
It felt strange to be climbing the same stairs Orphen must have walked up to meet Azalie. Majic looked out the window - the sun was still shining, somewhat dimly, to the west. That was one difference: Orphen had gone up when it was fully dark. And he certainly hadn't had Cleao chattering away beside him.
"Look at this!" Cleao clapped her hands together when they got to the top floor. It was darker up there, not lit by the artificial lights like below - but the dust-free state of the walls suggested that the area was being cared for somehow. "It's just like that temple back in our world!" the girl raved, running her fingers over the carvings on the wall.
"Sort of," Majic agreed absently. It didn't feel quite the same. There were also shelves built into the walls - holding archaic mechanisms and items meant to hold power. All of it was useless, Orphen had told him. But it was interesting to see what people had thought would help with sorcery… He picked up a chunk of something that looked like it had been chipped from a block of dull red crystal.
"Just because it's ugly doesn't mean it isn't important, Majic."
He smiled a little, bringing the blood crystal out from his pocket. It seemed to be the same material, but the jaggedly cut crystal didn't have the same sense to it. I guess they picked up a sample to see if it had the same properties.
Majic blinked, staring more closely at the new chunk. He seemed to remember something… grey robes colored by the morning sun, and a tanned fist clamped tight around a chunk of the ugly red crystal.
Strange… He set down the rock, sliding the blood crystal back into his pocket. I wonder if we have this same kind of crystal back in our world. He shook his head to clear away the odd feeling, and turned to look at something else.
The sun was slipping into twilight by the time he looked up to see where Cleao had gotten to. Not surprisingly, the girl was gone. She'd probably grown bored - and it wasn't unlike her to move on without telling him.
Well, she probably won't have gone far.
The halls were bathed in soft reds and oranges as he made his way along. Must have been different for Oshou-sama, Majic thought, imagining the place drenched in moonlight instead. It would have been dark and mysterious; finding Azalie would have been that much creepier.
And she's probably still here, too.
Majic shivered a little. "Cleao?" There was no echo, but his voice sounded small and thin as it faded off in the dead silence around him. "Where did you go? Cleao!"
That didn't sound like Cleao at all. The blond took in a deep breath, not sure if he wanted to admit he'd heard it in the first place. It had a feeling of 'just in the mind', so he might even have imagined it. But something about the voice compelled him forward; he moved hesitantly for a few more steps, around the corner, and found himself facing a small staircase leading up into a room above him.
He licked his lips nervously. "Who…?" That feeling was back, the sense that he had to move on. Letting the question go unfinished, he climbed up the stairs, raising his gaze to find the source of that strange sensation.
It was a woman. Short dark hair, red-tinged eyes, and pristine pale skin… She moved as if her wavering form possessed nothing beyond boneless grace, a black robe wafting eerily despite the dead calm of the air in the room. The smile on her face was terrible and beautiful - and completely insane, a madness reflected in the eyes that stared at Majic from behind a smooth crystal wall.
He drew in a sharp breath, cold shock brushing his mind somewhere outside of the part that had been hopelessly captivated by that gaze. "Azalie…"
Her lips moved, and the word they formed echoed in his mind even as they did, though she didn't make a sound. "Majic."
Azalie was still speaking. Majic struggled to pull back, but found himself entranced by the easy motion of her body beneath the surface of that polished crystal. It was like a reflection, but too perfect - too real. He moved forward to press his hands against the surface in front of her, and could only manage to be mildly fascinated by the way his fingers slid easily past the barrier, moving inward to where Azalie's hands stretched to meet them. She was still speaking… saying something…
At once, the trance was broken, a firm arm wrapping around his waist, giving a tug that shoved the breath from him as it knocked him to the floor, assailant sprawling beside him with a grunt.
Majic gasped, pressing a hand to his stomach. That hurt… The full weight of his idiocy seemed to hit him all at once, and he scrambled back from the wall instinctively, horrified. "Wh-What was… I…?"
"Didn't I tell you to stay away from the top floor?"
He turned toward the angry voice, desperate for something to anchor him. The image of Azalie's floating form with its mad smile was a memory he was sure would haunt his nightmares for years to come. "O-Oshou-sama…?"
Orphen didn't seem to be in the mood to comfort him. "What were you thinking?" the older man snapped. "You could have been killed! Don't you have any idea how dangerous that is? You idiot!"
"But… she…" Majic buried his face in his hands, feeling near to hysteria. "Azalie…"
"Azalie has nothing to do with it!" Then Orphen sighed - more of a frustrated sound than an angry one. "She's insane," he said, flatly. "Totally mad. She'll lure you into the crystal if you give her the chance. All you have to do is look into her eyes." The tone of his voice was a definite bitter one. "I should know."
Majic wasn't in the mood to feel awkward or sympathetic at the obvious reference to something that had happened in Orphen's past. "She said my name," he choked out, still with his face in his hands. "She knew my name… How did she know my name?"
Silence from Orphen. Then… "She what?"
"She said 'Majic'." He lowered his hands, but kept his eyes fixed on Orphen, not wanting to catch a glimpse of the spectral figure beyond the crystal. "I heard it even when I was outside the room, looking for Cleao. And she said…"
Orphen gripped his arms, gaze intense. "What did she say?"
Majic forced his breathing to calm, coming less rapidly. "She said 'Go and talk to the Seer'."
Rai was taller than Orphen and Hartia, and he had a hank of thick hair obscuring part of his face. He didn't seem surprised to see Orphen lead Majic into his room, though the redhead beside him sat up quickly, tearing back the arm he'd had tucked around the other man's shoulders.
"Back already?" the Seer asked, calmly.
"That's really irritating," Orphen commented, frowning at him. "You were expecting me to bring Majic back here to see you, weren't you?"
Hartia blinked, and glanced at his companion. "Rai?"
"I didn't know his name, but I knew he'd be coming." Rai sighed. "It's important, and it's nothing to do with either of you right at this point. Hartia, why don't you take Orphen outside and I'll talk to Majic alone."
The redhead looked ready to protest. "But - "
"Oh, calm down." Orphen cut him off. "Majic isn't going to hurt your precious lover. Even if he could, he wouldn't. But I want to know why you can't say this in front of us." The last he directed at Rai.
"It's Majic's personal business." Rai looked over and met the blond's gaze. "I'll leave it up to him to decide whether or not he wants to tell you about it."
Somehow, that gaze made him feel more at ease. "I'll only be a minute, Oshou-sama," Majic said earnestly. "I'd like to know what he wants to tell me before I know if I want to share it."
Orphen didn't seem convinced. "Can you at least tell me why Azalie's talking now when she wasn't before?"
"Azalie's talking?" Hartia repeated, incredulously.
"She called Majic by name." Orphen fixed Rai with a glare. "I want to know what's going on. How does Azalie know Majic? They've never met before."
Rai sighed. "Because she needed him for something." He smiled wryly at their expressions. "Azalie's reach is farther than I can trace, but I can tell you almost for certain that she was the one to open a gateway briefly in order to bring those two to this world."
Majic sucked in a surprised breath. Orphen's eyes widened - then narrowed again as he stared at Rai. "Why would she do that?" His voice was dangerously calm.
The Seer shook his head. "I don't know. She doesn't want me to See her reasons."
That hung in the air for a moment.
"She's rational." Orphen broke the silence, not surprisingly. His voice was flat.
Hartia grimaced. "Krylancelo…"
"Not entirely." Rai met the dark-haired man's gaze squarely. "The spell she cast allows her consciousness to work toward accomplishing a purpose. That doesn't mean she's in her right mind. I don't believe that she is, actually," he admitted. "Her physical manifestation doesn't show any signs of it."
Orphen backed off, the expression on his face tightly controlled. Majic could see his eyes flashing, and winced. Oshou-sama… "All right," the sorcerer said, after a moment. "Tell him whatever you want. I'll be waiting outside." He turned and stalked back out, without another word.
With a concerned glance back at Rai, Hartia followed.
"I'm sorry." The Seer offered a small smile, shifting his gaze back to meet Majic's.
"Ah… it's ok." Majic smiled back. "I'm used to his temper by now. Anyway, I can't possibly understand how he feels… I have to hope I can help just by being there."
"Probably the best way to deal with Krylancelo," Rai acknowledged. "He doesn't appreciate prying." He coughed, and changed the subject. "You're thinking of staying here in this world?"
That was unexpected. Majic blinked. "Well… yes, actually…"
"You can't consider it a choice," Rai said, giving him that unnerving stare again. "You're quite a bit more important than you think you are, and when this is all over, I know for certain that you're going to have a responsibility to the world you were born in."
Majic felt as if a bucket of icy cold water had been poured over him. "Wh-What?"
The look on Rai's face was sympathetic. "I'm sorry, Majic… but it looks like you're going to have to return, whether you want to or not."