"It was built before either of the Towers." Orphen frowned at the remains of the ruined Temple. "There were only a few caretakers - and they were all descendants of the original founder. Everyone was killed when the building was destroyed, though."
Cleao looked up from where she was poking around at a spot where the weeds were growing through red-brown stone. "Wouldn't the Dragon destroy the building every time it was summoned? If it was that big, it should, shouldn't it?"
Orphen shook his head. "The Dragon didn't destroy things unless it wanted to. Or unless you happened to be unlucky enough to stand where it comes up from the ground. It was usually best to stay out of the room when someone was summoning it."
Majic eyed the demolished building, only half listening. It gave him an eerie feeling to look at the ruins - almost a sense that he'd seen it before. "It must have wanted to destroy this." It was an obvious comment, but if he made it, Orphen would probably explain why.
His teacher didn't disappoint him. "It didn't like the request, so it's doing its best to see that what was demanded never has to be fulfilled. The Dragon can't refuse to do what's asked of it outright." Then he smirked. "It just killed anyone who asked it to do something it didn't like."
That wasn't a very cheery thought. Majic shivered a little. I wouldn't want to have to summon it! He remembered his words when he and Cleao had been walking into the ruins back in their own world. There's a red dragon, sure, but neither of us could ever deal with it.
The familiarity of the Dragon Temple was a little creepy, too. Majic was starting to wonder if there had been a similar ruin that he'd been to at some point when he was too young to remember clearly. Maybe with his mother…
Mother? Where had that thought come from?
"Orphen…" Cleao's voice interrupted Majic's thoughts. "You said before that if a black sorcerer summons it, the Dragon is Dark, and it destroys black magic, right?"
"Well, how are you going to summon it when you find all the crystals?" She seemed genuinely curious. "Won't it destroy your magic?"
Orphen's face clouded. "I haven't decided if that matters."
"Oh." Cleao seemed to know that she shouldn't say any more on that particular topic. "Can we see the inside?" she asked brightly, changing the subject.
Majic smiled. That was a nice recovery. "I don't think there is an inside," he commented. "The roof is gone and most of the walls are only half there." But it still looked nice in the early morning… bathed in red and gold…
Early morning? He blinked. The only time I've seen it is mid afternoon… right now.
"You just don't have any imagination!" Cleao accused. "Come on, Majic! It could still be the inside… I'll show you!" Grabbing his wrist, she pulled him along toward an opening that may or may not have been a door at one point.
"Ah… slow down, Cleao!"
"Ooh!" She wasn't even paying attention to him any more. "Just look! It's perfect, isn't it? Exactly how I pictured an old Temple!"
Majic looked. It did seem like something out of a book; clear remnants of intricate structures and tall, sweeping walls emerging as they made their way through the rubble. 'Weed-choked' had been the proper description for it: plants curved around and through the smooth stone as if they were trying to claim possession of them. It was sad and beautiful, like a scene from a movie.
And every corner - every inch - was achingly familiar, as if the image of it had been burned into Majic's brain before he'd ever seen it.
"It's supper time; you can't stay."
"Just another minute, Mama, please…"
Warm arms caught him, the feel of a familiar presence closing in around him. "No more, silly thing. We have to make sure you get some food in you."
"Heh." Orphen had followed them in. "I remember this area."
"Really?" Cleao bounded over. "How often did you come here?"
"We were only here once," Orphen admitted. "But I remember that Hartia and I came in to take a look, because this was where a lot of the children in the village liked to spend their time. Especially just past that wall" - He pointed - "in the - "
" - storage room," Majic finished absently, staring in that direction.
Orphen stared at him. "How did you know that?"
"Eh?" He blinked. That was weird… "I'm not sure. I just… did. I guess."
That didn't seem to convince the older man; he was still staring at Majic, and the expression on his face was one of mild frustration - as though he was thinking hard to come up with something but couldn't quite find what he was looking for.
Orphen shook his head. "Never mind. Let's get going."
But even as they moved to follow an excited Cleao, the look on his face told Majic that whatever he'd been thinking about continued to plague him.
"This is better than an inn!" Cleao swung her towel around as if to emphasize her point. "More space, and everything is much cozier. But" - and at this she stopped, as if the thought had never occurred to her - "how did you manage to rent a whole house?"
"I didn't rent it." Orphen sank down onto the couch, with a sigh. "It belongs to a friend of mine. She's away for the rest of the month, but I have a key and permission to use it if I need to."
Majic got up and tried to make an inconspicuous run for the bathroom while Cleao was distracted.
"That means we can stay longer, doesn't it?" The girl spotted her opportunity and pounced on it. "Can we? Please, Orphen? I want to go exploring some more."
Orphen made an annoyed sound, but seemed to be too preoccupied to argue with her. "I'll think about it," he conceded grudgingly. "We might have time."
"Yay!" Cleao cheered, as if she had won the point already. "I'm going to go look around the town tomorrow… Hold it right there, Majic!"
The apprentice froze in place with his hand on the door handle.
Cleao spun to face him, a deceptively cheerful smile on her face. "I'm having a bath right now," she told him, enunciating each word so it was perfectly clear. "Step away from the door and move out of the way - slowly."
Majic backed off, both hands raised instinctively to ward off any sudden attacks.
"Thank you, Majic!" She breezed past him, into the bathroom. "I won't be long - but don't you dare try to come in!" The door shut firmly behind her.
Apparently the shower incident had not been completely forgotten, after all.
"Touchy, isn't she?" Orphen got up from the sofa again, stretching.
Majic couldn't help but let his eyes be caught on the lean lines of his teacher's body, and the sight made his heart start to pound. Just a few days ago, he could've walked over and joined the picture - now he was almost positive he'd be pushed away if he tried.
It still hurt. And it hurt badly.
"Mm, yeah." He smiled, and made an effort to sound normal despite the ache in his chest and throat. Some times it hit harder than others - but if he thought about something else, it would pass. At least, after his peace gesture, they could have normal conversations.
The trick was not to talk about it, ever.
And somehow he couldn't help but aggravate things. "Oshou-sama?"
Orphen broke off in mid-yawn, glancing over at him. "What?"
"About Cleao…" He clenched his fingers together in front of him, nervously. "Did you… I mean…" It was hard to get it out. Majic could feel his face going red, but he had to know. "Did you really… have… those feelings for… for her?"
The floor was suddenly an enthralling sight.
Orphen was quiet for a moment - then he moved toward where his apprentice stood, footsteps halting when that familiar presence stood right in front of the blond. "No," he admitted, without making some show of not knowing what Majic was talking about. "Not really." Then he snorted. "I can't imagine her ever shutting her mouth long enough for someone to plant their lips on her, anyway."
Majic smiled faintly, not feeling up to looking at him. "Why did you do it, then?" And why can't I shut up? Even asking was painful. "To hurt me?"
The sorcerer made a frustrated sound, but didn't back off. "Maybe. Partly. What does it matter?" His arms crossed almost defensively. "You're leaving no matter what, so why should what I do mean a damn thing?"
His tone was offhand, but his words were not. Majic's head shot up. "I never wanted to be leaving," he said, and was embarrassed to hear his voice rise in pitch, drawing closer to a whiny tone. "Why do I have to be punished for it?"
"You just do."
The words hung between them for a moment, while Majic stared in hopeless frustration and Orphen returned his gaze with a typically unreadable one. It was so unfair… Why does nothing ever turn out right for me? His mother had been taken from him, and then his father was taken from him, and now Orphen was being taken from him, too. Majic let out a long, defeated breath, all the force draining out of him. His gaze fell again, back to the floor. "Why can't I ever keep the things I care about?"
Orphen's arms uncrossed; he let out an irritated sigh. "It's not like you're the only one. This is how life works, from what I've seen. Learn to deal with it."
Wearily, the blond raised his head. "I love you," he blurted out, beyond caring. It was the first time he'd admitted it… but… What does it matter any more? I won't ever see him again. "Doesn't that count for anything?"
He seemed to have caught Orphen off-guard. "I don’t know about that…" The older man coughed, and let that trail off. Then he frowned, staring at Majic in what looked like bafflement. "Why do you bother? You were an idiot to fall for me in the first place - look how that turned out."
Majic shrugged, feeling awkward now that his feelings were out in the open. "I couldn't help it. Is that so different from why you… fell for me?" He stumbled over the last words. I don't know if he did fall for me…
Orphen didn’t appear to find the question strange - but it did seem to relax him. "I just liked your eyes," he admitted, and smirked.
"My eyes?" The apprentice lost his train of thought. "That's all?"
"Not really." The smirk didn't leave the sorcerer's face; he leaned forward. "But that was the first thing I noticed. After that…" He shrugged, looking as though he was starting to enjoy himself. "Your cheekbones."
"Ummm… my what?"
"I've got a complete list, but I'll keep it to myself." Orphen made a satisfied noise, setting one finger firmly on Majic's nose.
Majic swallowed hard, a familiar fluttery feeling starting in his stomach. He didn't know if his teacher was doing this on purpose or if the teasing were meant to lighten the mood, but when he looked up and their eyes met, the whole atmosphere seemed serious. Orphen's smirk faded, his finger trailing from its perched position to brush over the blond's lips - first the upper, and then the lower - as if it were tracing a specific path.
The younger boy's eyelids grew steadily heavier, shutting completely when he felt the ghost of the sorcerer's breath replacing his touch. And he wanted… he so badly wanted…
Orphen's breath hitched slightly, almost a grunt, and then he closed the remaining inch or two and pressed their lips together, applying just enough force to make it interesting without being too rough. The warm contact was something Majic had craved since they'd broken up, and it sent a pleasant, shivery ache through him that caused his hands to grab at Orphen's shoulders instinctively to keep himself standing.
I love you. It was so simple to think - simple to say. And he meant it, too: every inch of him was desperately, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with Orphen. I don’t want to go… I want to stay, because I love you.
They broke apart slowly, almost reluctantly, the combined breathing audible in the silence that followed. For a moment, it felt normal. For a moment, Majic could pretend…
"What are we doing?" Orphen pulled away, giving the blond a hard look as if it had been his fault. "Wasting time?" He made another frustrated noise and turned away, heading sharply for the door. "You're not even staying."
Then he was through the door into the next room, without another word.
It was hard to get to sleep. Majic turned over, trying to find a more comfortable position on the mattress he'd spread out on the floor for himself. The guest room in the house had two beds, but he hadn't felt like sleeping in the same room as his former lover, so he'd made up a half-hearted excuse about not wanting to walk downstairs to get to the bathroom, and camped out in the sitting room instead.
And then he'd somehow woken up before dawn, and couldn't get back to sleep.
I might as well give up. Majic sat up with a sigh. It'd probably start getting light in about a half hour, and then he could watch the sun rise. Maybe I'll feel less groggy if I go for a walk.
Pulling on his shirt and pants, the blond left the house, carefully shutting the door behind him so he wouldn’t wake his companions.
It's a bit cold… Majic rubbed his hands together in front of him. For mid-Spring, this kind of weather was probably normal - especially before the sun rose. But still… If I just keep moving, I'll probably feel warmer. It wasn't so cold that he could see his breath, so once he got used to it, he'd be fine.
It was better than trying to sleep while being mercilessly haunted by the memory of Orphen's kiss.
Majic shivered again, not from the cold this time. Stop thinking about it! He wasn't doing himself any good by dwelling on the matter; it had happened, it couldn't unhappen, and now he had to deal with it. And I'm better off not thinking about him at all.
The house they were staying in was on the outskirts of town, so Majic could take a path that went around the rows of houses, without going inside. He hadn't thought about where he was going, but there was really only one choice anyway. So, turning down the path they'd traveled up that afternoon, he headed for the Dragon Temple.
Maybe I'll be able to figure out why it looks so familiar.
It wasn’t just the familiarity, though… Every time he looked at it, he saw his mother's face… felt her arms around him, soft blonde hair spilling over her shoulders and brushing his skin. Only his own mother, he felt, could make him feel so safe and loved in just one hug.
But why am I remembering her now? I never have before…
Majic stopped for a moment, staring up at the Temple. It was directly in his path by then, a huge red-brown mess of wrecked glory. It was too early for a sunrise, but by the way the night was gradually giving way to dim morning light, he wouldn’t have to wait too long…
He was running down the path, hoping Mama wouldn’t notice he was gone. They had to leave that morning - she was scared, and they had to leave. But he wanted to go stand in his spot again. Just once more. And he could watch the sun rise…
Slowly - he was afraid to move fast because of the disturbing intensity of the memory - he veered off the path, around the Temple. Every movement was familiar - the sight and the feel of his surroundings were like sirens going off in his head.
I've been here before.
Not just once, either. Many times. In the early morning, late at night, during the day… He remembered running… walking… hiding from other children… This had been the place to be. And my spot…
He walked around another corner, and there it was.
The ground ended abruptly just a short ways from the ruin - and the cliff face jutted out and upward slightly, over a small lake that - at the moment - was still bathed in soft moonlight. They'd seen it in the afternoon, but somehow, in the darkness…
I remember this.
Majic turned away from the Temple entirely, walking out to the highest part of the ground, just over the lake. How many times had he stood there, hoping Mama wouldn't catch him? He was waiting for sunrise - to see the lake turn to molten silver, reflecting back the colors of early morning. It was like magic. And he couldn't help but stare at it now, entranced by the memory.
"If red can be this pretty, how come the rocks are so ugly?"
And she'd laughed, and held up a chunk of red crystal, and said…
It was light.
Majic blinked again, still dazed, staring at the brightening white glow in front of him. It was too early; a moment ago it had been dark. And it shouldn't be white… It shouldn't be reaching out for him…
It was an older boy - a boy with dark brown hair, and tanned skin, dressed all in strange grey robes. He was trying to glare, but the sun was in his eyes, and his squinting spoiled it. There was a chunk of red crystal clutched tight in one fist. And he felt safe… somehow…
Majic smiled. "Hi."
"Hi," he echoed, without the smile this time, staring down at Orphen as if he were in a trance. That was what I said to him, the first time we met. And then Mama came…
"You…" Orphen's eyes went wide. "That was you…"
Then his expression went rigid with alarm. "Majic!"
The white light enfolded him, and the world was gone.