He couldn't see.
"… how long… to last… worried?"
His eyes were open, but he couldn't see.
"… only temporary. He'll be… moments."
Why was it so white?
It felt like there was a fog that had been lingering in his head - now draining rapidly away. The voices he'd been only catching little snatches of were suddenly clear.
"Be quiet, you foolish girl! Get over there and see to him!"
Something broke the white, sliding into his line of vision. The face hovering above him was a girl's: wide, long-lashed eyes and slightly rounded cheeks set off by a softly pointed chin. Her hair was short and red-tinged, and she couldn't have been any older than he was. "Can you speak?" she asked, sounding concerned.
His throat felt dry, but he made the attempt. "Where am I?"
"This is the White Tower," she answered, smiling at him. "You don't need to worry; we aren't going to hurt you. Sensei only wants to talk to - "
"None of this is important, girl - just make sure he's fully conscious." The second speaker had a deep voice, laced heavily with cold self-importance. He sounded impatient, too. "When you've finished with that, I want you to send word to the Elders that we have the boy, and he's awake."
"Yes, Sensei." The girl bent over him again. "Are you thinking clearly? Nothing's fuzzy?"
Majic shook his head. Now that the heavy fog that had covered his mind seemed to have cleared, he could see that he was in a room with white-painted stone walls. There didn't seem to be much furniture, except for the solid, upraised surface he was lying on - was bound to, actually, which became apparent when he tried to move his arms and legs.
I'm a prisoner, then.
"He seems to be awake, Sensei," the girl reported.
A tall, thin man with smoothed-down blond hair cut in a straight line at jaw length stepped into Majic's line of vision. His robes were pure white, a contrast to the beige of the girl's. A white sorcerer, and a student? "On your way," the man said, making an imperious shooing motion.
The girl hurried from the room, shutting the door behind her.
"Useless," the man murmured. The he focussed on Majic again. "I'm called Flameheart," he introduced himself - more from that sense of importance, the boy guessed, than out of courtesy. "I am, as you may have noticed, a highly ranked white sorcerer. And this is the dungeon of the White Tower. Now." He smiled at Majic - not in a friendly way, but any stretch of the imagination. "I suppose you know why you're here."
Majic shook his head, wishing he could flinch back from the man. There was something strangely repulsive about him. "If you want the blood crystal, I don’t have it any more," he forced out, trying to be brave.
"Don't be foolish." The man waved his hand as if to swat an irritating fly away. "Why should we need a single blood crystal… when you can summon them all?"
"Summon?" Majic repeated, confused and more than a little frightened. "I-I don't know what - "
"Don't play stupid with me!" Flameheart scowled darkly. "I know the properties of red sorcery - and how it ties into the blood crystals. Do you honestly think I have time to waste by wandering the world searching for them? Not when you've been the key all along."
Majic had to turn his face away; there was something in those eyes that he didn't want to look at. "I really don't understand…" Red sorcery? But black and white were the only…
"Perhaps you're telling the truth." The admission came grudgingly; there was a deep resentment in the white sorcerer's tone. "I suppose I have the time to explain - after all, I can hardly expect even Krylancelo to cover this much distance so quickly." That held clear contempt. "It began, then, before the blood crystals were formed."
Majic shut his eyes, but he couldn't help listening.
"In those days, black and white sorcerers lived in fear of the Great Dragon, as it came without being summoned - according to its own will." The tone was lofty - that of a lecturer. "Then a white sorcerer came from a separate world, and fell in love with a woman from this world who had black magic in her. She had one child - a girl - and that girl possessed a talent that could only come from that sort of union." Flameheart's voice gained a note of triumph. "The talent we now call red sorcery.
"It's neither red nor black - it's both at once. And it was the power that forged the blood crystals and caused the voluntary confinement of the Dragon of Twilight. In that way, red sorcery is tied to the blood crystals - it can be used to summon them, no matter where they might be. But when the Dragon split in two, the sorcerers of that time never considered red magic a threat because of the unlikely circumstances under which it could be created."
He stopped talking for a moment. Majic turned his head back again, drawn by the words in spite of himself. "What does this have to do with me?"
"Don't you know?" The white sorcerer's expression was both scornful and mocking. "It's your history, boy… And it was my mother who discovered just where that man who had married one of our own had come from. They both knew it was doomed from the start - the fools." He smirked. "But your mother was silly enough to think she could hide you from us anyway - first in the Twilight Lands, and then" - at this, his eyes burned - "in the world your father had come from."
Understanding struck all at once, a rush of cold shock leaving Majic's head spinning. This was the explanation he'd been looking for. Why he'd felt so tired after Orphen had been teaching him… why his memories of the Dragon Temple were so strong… why he'd never felt at home in his own world - his father's world - but coming here had been so right…
"And she suffered for her treachery." Flameheart sneered. "My mother saw to that. Depriving the White Tower of the means to finally eliminate our opponents… she had no right to call herself a white mage."
Majic's fingers shook. Mama…
The white sorcerer must have noticed the movement. "Don't bother trying to use black magic inside the White Tower," he said, derisively. "Once we discovered how it was done, we had only to employ the same method in our own Tower room."
"You…" Majic sucked in a breath, feeling cold. "You forced one of your own sorcerers into a block of crystal?"
"No force was necessary." Flameheart smiled. "Our brother went willingly. He didn't even ask for the details of the exchange. After all, it is an honor to serve. No sacrifice can be too great for the advancement of our power."
The blond had to shut his eyes against a wave of nausea. These people are sick… "I'll never summon the blood crystals for you!" he declared, stubbornly.
His captor snickered. "Wait before you speak. I haven't given you the proper motivation yet." He turned from Majic as if speaking to himself. "I don’t believe anyone has bothered to inform Krylancelo that black sorcery is useless in the White Tower without our allowing it."
"But I imagine he'll find out when he arrives." Flameheart smiled again, looking back to the apprentice. "I'm looking forward to the moment of realization - aren't you?"
Majic turned his face away.
The white sorcerer laughed to himself, and his footsteps moved away from Majic's side. "Don't bother trying to use white magic, either," he added, over his shoulder. "The bindings are warded to confine it."
Then the door shut firmly behind him, leaving Majic alone with a sinking heart and unpleasant thoughts.
The bonds refused to break.
Majic's feet scraped against the surface of the upraised stone he was strapped to, arms and legs aching with the force he put into physically escaping his confinement. His ragged breathing was the only sound in the room besides the desperate scuffing, and it seemed unnaturally loud as he strained to break free of his bonds. There was very little give in the leather straps that held his wrists, ankles, and waist down, but if he could just break one…
After a moment of tugging frantically, Majic conceded defeat - for the moment - and lay still, trying to catch his breath.
He was afraid - Who wouldn't be? - but more than anything else, he felt hopeless. I'm not sure what I'd be more upset about… if Oshou-sama didn't come for me, or if he did.
Majic turned his face to the side, letting it rest against the cool stone. Out of everything Flameheart had revealed that morning - if it had been morning - the thing that had been gnawing at him the most was probably the most insignificant. His mother had given birth to him in this world - not the world he'd lived in for most of his life.
And that meant… Rai's prophecy…
Tells me I have to stay here, and not go back.
The part that killed him inside was that it was too late to reconcile with Orphen.
Stupid. Majic shut his eyes tightly. You're probably going to die. Flameheart's going to have the Dragon do what he wants, and that'll probably eliminate black magic too, somehow. Azalie's never going to be freed. And what are you thinking of? Your stupid feelings for someone who probably doesn't even return them!
That didn't stop it from hurting.
The door swung open to his side, drawing his attention away from that thought. Majic held his breath, expecting to see Flameheart come back inside to gloat over something else.
"It's only me." The girl from that morning stepped inside, pushing the door shut with one hand while balancing a tray on the other. "I brought some food. Are you hungry?"
The mention of food was enough to remind him that he hadn't had any breakfast. "I guess so," Majic conceded, sighing. They wouldn't poison him now, anyway - not when they still needed him to summon the blood crystals.
The white sorceress-in-training brought the tray over. "There's only bread and cheese," she said apologetically. "And water, of course. Sensei says you won't be a prisoner for long, anyway."
Those words were probably meant to be reassuring, but Majic shivered. If he said it… then it probably doesn't mean what she thinks it means.
The girl sat down and started cutting up a roll for him. She glanced up after a moment, found him watching her, and blushed. "M-My teacher tells me you're a red sorcerer," she said tentatively.
"That's what he told me, too," Majic admitted. "I guess it's true."
She looked away, biting her lip around a shy smile. "My name is Eris."
Well, there was no point in being unfriendly… "Mine is Majic."
"Majic." She seemed to be trying it out. "Sensei told me you came from another world," she continued, setting the roll aside and turning her attention to a block of cheese.
"I did. But I was born here." He forced a smile to keep his mind away from that. "I just didn't remember until I came." Now, maybe I should ask some questions. "Why does your Tower want to summon the Dragon, anyway? Just to get rid of black sorcery?"
Her eyes snapped up. "We don't want to summon the Dragon!" The idea seemed to shock her. "It's the black sorcerers who want to summon it, not us! We're trying to stop them so that white sorcery isn't eliminated!"
Not the way Flameheart said it… Majic decided to keep that thought to himself until after he'd been fed. "But the black sorcerers weren't trying to summon the Dragon until after your Elder killed Childman and stole the crystal from them," he said, after she'd let him have a few bites. "And then it was only to get Azalie back out of the crystal."
Eris stared at him, the remainder of the roll hovering just over his face. "B-But that can't be!" she stammered out. "Sensei told the other Elders that his mother had been killed because she was interfering with their plan to summon the Dragon!"
Then… the rest of them don't know. The knowledge that the Elder who Azalie had killed was Flameheart's mother seemed to make everything fall into place in Majic's mind. It was the two of them - they were in it together, and they deceived their own Tower! "Flameheart said my mother was killed because she kept the means to eliminate black sorcery from the White Tower," he said, cautiously.
The girl rocked back as if she'd been slapped. "That's impossible!" she blurted out. "We never wanted to eliminate black sorcery! The White Tower wouldn't do such a thing!"
"Maybe it's not the Tower." Majic decided to be bold, staring earnestly at the girl as he explained his theory. "Maybe it's Flameheart and his mother, and they've fooled you all along!"
Eris stood abruptly, knocking over the tray and backing up. Her eyes were a bit wild, but there was an uncertainty in them. "I… I have to go!" she stammered, and bolted from the room.
"Wait… Eris!" It was too late, though; the door had already clicked firmly shut behind her.
Neither the white sorcerer nor the girl returned any time soon after that. Majic made a few more attempts to break free of his bonds, but evidently that was an exercise in futility. All he had left to do was wait.
After some time spent envisioning worst-case scenarios, Majic managed to fall into an uneasy sleep.
He suspected he didn't sleep long, because he was still tired when he woke up. It was hard to get comfortable while strapped down, and the unending white of the walls didn't help with relaxing. His limbs were starting to get stiff.
I'd give a lot to be able to stretch right about now…
The door opened again.
Do I want to see who it is? It could be Eris… but on the other hand, it could also be Flameheart. Majic's stomach turned at the thought, and he swallowed hard, keeping his face turned away. I don't want to see.
"If this is how you greet all your rescuers, I'm not surprised that no one else has beaten me to you."
That brought his head around quickly. "Oshou-sama!" For a moment, he could only manage to be elated, despite the danger. Orphen had come for him, after all. "You - "
Orphen stuck a hand over his mouth, flashing his trademark smirk. "Nice of them to conveniently tie you down for me," he commented, looking the blond up and down.
Majic's face went beat red; for a moment, he forgot what he'd been about to say.
"Couldn't resist that one," Orphen admitted, and took his hand back to work at the bindings.
"Y-You shouldn't be here!" Majic regained his composure quickly, rising alarm taking over. "This is a trap!"
"Trap?" Orphen paused, frowning. "What do they want with me?"
"Not you." Majic shook his head frantically. "They want to force me to - "
The door slammed open before he could finish, and Flameheart stepped into the room, a familiar sword held firmly in one hand. Its owner, a struggling blonde girl, was being held against him by his second arm - which was wrapped around her throat.
"Or… phen…" She let out a strangled gasp, both hands trying to dislodge the man's hold.
"Cleao!" Orphen started forward.
"Don’t move, Krylancelo." The white sorcerer tossed his prisoner to the floor, bracing one foot on her neck. He was close enough by that point to extend his arm and set the sword against Majic's throat. "A physical attack at this point might just cause my hand or my foot to slip."
"You…" Orphen's expression was furious; his voice held tightly contained rage.
Flameheart smirked at him. "Don't bother to try sorcery, either; black magic isn't permitted inside the Tower unless I allow it. So, then… this is an interesting situation, isn't it?" He glanced at Majic. "If you don't do what I say, I'll kill Krylancelo and the girl." Then he looked back at Orphen. "And if you don't, I'll kill the boy."
Orphen was clearly struggling to control his anger. "What do you want?" he ground out.
"The blood crystals first - which the boy will summon for me in a few moments." Flameheart appeared to be amused by the way the black sorcerer's eyes widened at that. "And afterwards…"
His gaze turned exultant. "Afterwards, you will summon the Dragon of Dark."