Notes: And now for some melodrama.
II. The Meeting in Porre
They visited what remained of Lucca's home every year.
She had asked, the first anniversary; Magil had complied near-wordlessly, as he did with just about everything. The years after that she hadn't needed to say anything, and once she'd even completely failed to realize what their destination was until she found herself on the doorstep of the place she'd once considered her home.
Only the house and the people who had lived there had been destroyed. The apple tree they had hung the swing from was still there - though the rope was decaying, now, for not having been replaced in so long. There was still the patch of garden in the back, overtaken by weeds. And there was still the taste of the sea on the breeze. Enough was the same here that taking the last step off the land bridge felt as though one were literally crossing into a dream of a memory long past.
Magil never said anything and Kid could never tell what he was thinking. That was always the case on some level, granted, but somehow during those times he managed to make himself even blanker to the outside world than usual. Kid herself, on the other hand, had nothing to hide - the first year, she'd cried, and the following years after that, she'd raged.
This year she didn't quite do either. There was still the skeleton of the old house, and if she closed her eyes she could still feel the warmth of her old blankets and smell the waft of Lucca's breakfasts in from the kitchen. It defied all logic that any part of the building should still remain standing; she ran her hands over one of the banisters in something like wonder.
In her mind, she knew somehow that things would remain like this - frozen - until things had been settled with the man who'd destroyed everything. It was like an oath bound between her and the house - until then, they would force themselves to remain upright no matter what would happen. It was only then that they would allow themselves to break.
Magil gave her as much time as she needed. He always did, staying back, knowing that this had never been his place and his intrusion would almost be something of a violation onto what Kid considered sacred ground.
She said a few words to the site, to Lucca - ripped off some folks, but corrupt arseholes, you'd have laughed when you saw their faces when their precious trinkets were gone, sis. But don't you worry - I haven't sunk low enough to rob the people who actually need what they've got. Magil's as bloody thick as ever - did you really know him, sis? Another twelve months gone by and another nothing. Thirteen now, you see. I can almost handle myself in a fight, same way you always claimed to.
This year something would change - something would happen. Perhaps this is the year that the skeletons here would finally receive their answer. She felt it within her blood, stirring; her fingers wrapped loosely around the egg ornament hanging from her neck.
She crouched there for a few more minutes, head bowed, before standing and beginning to make her way back to the bridge, to the remainder of Truce. Magil rejoined her presently, neither of them speaking a word. It was, as usual, unnecessary between them.
Two years ago, she had point-blank demanded that Magil teach her how to fight.
He didn't answer her at first, settling for brooding and looking vaguely troubled. To anyone else he never broke his picture of stoicism-- but Kid had learned to read him over the years; interpreting that subtle tension in the shoulders and weighted silence as well as if he had begun screaming.
Kid sneered at him. "What now? I'm gonna end up goin' after that bastard some day or another, whether you like it or not, and you've known that from the beginning. Might as well teach me how not to get myself killed, 'cause it's gonna happen whether I know the ropes or not."
She meant every word, and they both knew it.
Magil had agreed after that, and Kid felt a vague twinge of something - regret, maybe, for putting him through something that obviously bothered him - but she'd shoved it aside and let it lay ignored for the remainder of her life. There wasn't a hell of a lot much that was higher on her priorities than avenging Lucca's death, and whatever feelings Magil might have had under that mask wasn't one of them.
A few days later he had armed her with a knife, emblems carved into the hilt--the mark of some old, forgotten legacy. She never bothered asking where he had gotten it. As soon as it had exchanged hands, she'd demanded they start. Magil seemed to have seen that coming. Kid watched him as he produced his own dagger, considerably less ornate than the first.
It was still in the cold season; the frigid metal of the hilt of the blade bit into her fingers even through the fabric of her gloves. There was tension waiting to explode in her limbs; the world seemed to shift, strangely--to focus in differing hues, facing an armed opponent with your own weapon.
She refused to blink, or to falter, or to give voice or acknowledgment to this unexpected and unwelcome mixture of feelings. This was what she'd been waiting for.
"Ha ha," Kid said, the laughter sounding more forced than she'd have liked. This was no time for a jolly bout of self analysis, either. "Apologizes in advance if I end up guttin' ya, mate." She flashed him a grin.
Magil shook his head, the picture of relaxation. "I'm afraid," he said, "that that possibility is the least of my concerns."
"Arrogant bastard, aren't ya?"
"Perhaps. Your stance is off - you have no chance of deflecting a blow properly with that grip. That second delay in having to flip your blade could be fatal."
She snorted, but adjusted her grip accordingly. Magil began walking in slow circles around her, taking her into consideration. After about three and a half rotations of this kind Kid had grown sick of it; what she'd thought was a surprise attack as Magil had stepped to her right turned out to be deflected easily; Magil's eyebrow quirked as the daggers clashed together, the metallic strike reverberating unnaturally to Kid's ears.
Her surprise at being shrugged off so easily cost her a quick, openhanded strike to her stomach - not enough to hurt, exactly, but enough to make her lose her balance; she stumbled back, barely remembering to keep her weapon up. Magil made no further move to attack. Stupid mistake, she thought to herself, completely forgot his other hand even existed--
Before she'd completely regained her composure, she swiped the knife upwards, against her face, recklessly - a part of her knew she might have cut him open, but in her frustration didn't care - but Magil simply tilted his head slightly in one direction, and not so much as a hair on his head disturbed. Another blow from his free hand against her wrist; the knife fell from her fingers onto the grass.
"You're far too open," he said, not quite looking disappointed at her sloppiness. "I could have broken through your guard at any time and deliver a fatal strike, if I was so inclined."
"Bully for you," she'd snarled, and lunged at him-- he sidestepped her without effort and in one motion had flipped her onto her back against the ground, doubled over and gasping for air.
"You see?" he asked, backing off to give her some space to regain her breath. The barest flicker of amusement in her voice filled her with just about enough righteous fury to disintegrate him with the power of her mind. Not quite having regaining her balance yet, she forced herself back onto her feet.
"We're goin' again," she snarled, tossing her hair out of her face.
Twenty seconds later, she again found herself unarmed and trying to regain her breath on the ground. It had taken Magil even less time to take her down than in the first round.
But she learned. As the days went by, she began to last longer in their sparring matches, and there was one time she actually managed to surprise him - her fist hadn't quite managed to connect with the side of his face, subverted by his forearm, but he'd been surprised, and that was what counted.
She knew that she'd never be able to defeat Magil, even disregarding his magic, if he ever took her seriously. There was simply something that separated the two of them from each other fundamentally, the sense and flavor of blood and combat and death that hung around Magil's past that any eleven year old girl couldn't bother to comprehend, much less try to match. Kid understood that. So that momentary surprise had been enough to keep her cheery and keep her mocking him for nearly two full weeks.
It had been so easy.
She figured it had been the woman's own fault-- walking out in public like that, her riches hanging off his body, for any-bloody-one to see! Kid's stomach had flipped, twisted, strangely, in something like nausea, upon seeing her-- it was grotesque, seeing these noblemen and their ladies in their pretty dresses parading around the streets for the beggars and the starving to awe. Their smug superiority was as tangible as the jewels hanging off of their bodies, rustling elegantly in the breeze as they passed.
She couldn't stand it. These people, who thought the world was their for the taking, that they were entitled to something. Aristocrats who swung their money and power around to move the world at their behest, to burn down poor orphanages and massacre children and pay nothing for it. Lost in her concentrated hatred towards this nameless target, her feet had practically begun to move on their own.
On the first pass, she'd managed to pocket the emerald brooch the one particularly snooty-looking lady had hanging off of her numerous scarves. A rush of blood had stormed her senses. It couldn't be this easy, and yet, she could see the reflections the small jewel cast off of the alley walls in the sunlight. She hadn't even noticed missing what so many commoners would have killed one another to possess. It was disgusting.
And suddenly, it wasn't enough. She had to do more.
On the second pass, she noticed the woman speaking to one of her sloppy guardsmen-- had she realized one of her gems had gone missing? --but no, she was making small talk about the weather, and the current state of politics between Zenan and Medina. The guard was nodding like a trained dog, looking for all the world like being on the receiving end of the broad's chatter was the exciting pinnacle he had been waiting for his entire life.
The weight of the dagger at her side felt unnaturally heavy. She didn't think twice about it. She was still small enough to evade the sudden, alarmed flailing the guardsmens' limbs, to slide under their grip-- was it possible for this kind of thing to come so naturally for a person? She felt lightheaded, like water and fire all at once; flashing intangibly amongst a bunch of dumber, baser creatures trying to storm their way through mud. The sensation of soft cloth between her fingertips almost grounded her again; she twirled away in an insane sort of dance, laughing uproariously at the guards trying to give chase.
She had the advantage of agility, and the advantage of a crowded street, dotted with at least a dozen other girls with braided blonde hair and a dozen more with red coats. The guards shouted and clumsily fumbled their way through the barrier of humanity. She'd already escaped.
"You were lucky to leave there alive," he said, a note of genuine anger backing his words.
"Cry about it," she snapped back.
The scarf tore into two between them; the jewels embroidered into its seams scattered around them like a broken jar of buttons. They glared at each other, each bundling their strip of torn fabric in their fists--but Kid was the one who stooped first, breaking eye contact, to collect the valuables.
"They're idiots, Magil," she muttered, holding a sapphire against the sunlight. "It was like picking candy off a baby. It's not like they worked a day in their life for it, not like they'll miss 'em--what's your bloody problem?"
She already knew, though, and he understood that she knew without him having to verbally answer. Magil didn't give a whit about any poncy noblemen or their stupid valuables. It was her she was worried about. It had always been her. It was maddening.
Kid curled her fingers around the gem. "Look, mate, this is what I want. We get by, see the world… I pick up what I need when the time comes to take down Lynx."
The statement surprised even her, and they both reacted it in their own ways; Magil's fingers twitched, subtly, obscured under his cloak; Kid's head tilted to the side as she frowned, brow furrowed. The act of theft had been completely impulsive at the time, but mulling over it now, the thrill of it wasn't something she was bound to forget soon. She wanted more. She could argue necessity and practicality to herself and to Magil all she wanted, but that was what it was in the end.
And then there was Lynx. Of course it came down to Lynx. It always did.
"I won't stop you," Magil said, "But neither will I allow you to take further unnecessary risks on your own."
"Whatever makes you happy," she snorted, and tossed him the jewel in a gesture of unspoken contract.
They were the Radical Dreamers from that point on.
Kid had suggested the name, only half serious, joking over a tin of aging pork and a few scraps of egg. When Magil hadn't protested - or even reacted at all, really - all of a sudden that name began to spread like wildfire across the local populace, as though it had a life of its own.
She remembered weeks afterwards, through the haze of a half-formed, scattered dream, that Lucca had described her friend, once, as a radical dreamer - someone who bore the world's weight on his shoulder with a smile and a friendly shrug. Kid had theorized, with a wide-eyed childish sort of insight, that she'd been a little bit in love; Lucca had laughed her off and sent her back to her building blocks without a fuss.
It was sheer, maddening coincidence that they had been in the Porre region at all when they had started to hear the news. In the first few months, traveling together, through tantrums and arguments and one painfully memorable incident of physical restraint, Kid and Magil had come to an understanding that Regiorra was off limits as far as destination went. One half of Kid, a quieter, wiser half, understood, regretted that such measures had to be taken to keep herself from destroying everything Magil had fought so hard to protect.
But she was not accustomed to listening to that half, and it was only with a great deal of sullenness that she complied with their silent agreement. Magil let her decide most everything - their next targets, what they would spend their money on, where they would stay. He would raise quiet objections, always with his bloody logic and clear-headed rationalizing - but it did not take Kid long to discover that so long as she pushed hard enough, there was very little he wouldn't relent on in the end, albeit with varying degrees of exasperation.
The only real exception was that of Regiorra. It wasn't a city anymore - no one lived there, so much as existed there, except Lynx. The idea of the residents, people living in the streets and going about their business and being wholly ignorant of one of their aristocrats' work only a few years ago to murder a young women and the children she cared for - they were barely phantoms in her mind's eye.
Regiorra. Lynx. They were one and the same, and they were forbidden, at least for now-- that was the only real demand, besides staying alive, that Magil placed on her, and she resented it with everything she had.
But she'd been willing to obey. She liked to think herself as generally reasonable most of the time, whether it came to Regiorra or Porre or anywhere else. Magil often begged to differ, but it was one of many subjects upon which they were simply forced to agree to disagree. Loudly, on Kid's part.
But all of that went out the window when they had heard the news.
She'd thought the world had frozen for an instant when she processed what the village crier had announced--and realized afterwards her heart had simply jumped a few beats. The esteemed Lord Lynx of Regiorra would be arriving in Porre to negotiate trade sanctions between the two regions before the matter began to erupt into border skirmishes. That's what it was formally, at any rate. In reality most everyone knew a deal had already been struck between the governors of the two precincts and Lynx's arrival was a mere formality.
A formality, however, that involved the passing of the Frozen Flame, Porre's sacred treasure, onto Regiorra and therefore onto Lynx, as a gesture of friendship between the two.
Kid's reaction to this information was immediate, loud, and unfortunately, very public. They'd turned several heads and earned many stares by the time Magil had threatened to hit Kid with a silencing spell before she managed to get them both arrested. She clamped her mouth shut forcefully until they had retreated from the outskirt village, Magil half-dragging her.
The same words where spinning through her mind the entire time. Porre. Lynx. Flame. Lynx.
They all came out in a flurry of nonsense when Magil stooped down to start their evening campfire near the forest. She doubted Magil could actually understand what she was saying, rushed and garbled as her message was, but he seemed to catch enough of the gist of it anyway.
"Absolutely not," he said.
"Absolutely yes," she countered.
They went on like this for several minutes, until Magil threw up his hands in exasperation.
"Will you think this through?" His annoyance was coming through in his tone, hand still suspended upright in the air as though to physically ward off Kid's badgering. "To provoke not only Lynx's ire, but that of Porre's and most likely the visiting governors come to bear witness to the event - blacklisting would not begin to cover what would happen to us. The security will be airtight."
"I don't care," Kid snapped back. It was her standard retaliation against any of Magil's reasoning. "As long as I get at Lynx, none of that matters! For him to get his filthy hands on something Lucca treasured…!"
"I would imagine," Magil answered coolly, "That Lucca would have valued your safety over that of the Flame."
She scowled, not having an answer to that and hating herself and everything around her for it.
"I'm going," she said flatly. "With or without you, mate."
"Enough," he said, standing, and his demeanor changed in an instant - something jarred within Kid, her understanding of the world around her unable to cope with the change in her quiet shadow guardian - this was another person standing before her, black fury encompassing his expression. His patience had run out - it was the first time she had seen it in a long, long time.
"I won't hear any more of this."
She opened her mouth, but found her voice useless against the stranger before her. It flopped in a humiliating sort of way before she turned and fled through the woods, unable to stand the sight of this thing that had suddenly taken the shape of Magil or her own inability to stand up to it.
She'd nearly managed to run straight into a river before she caught herself, caught up in her own whirl of emotions, clashing furiously against each other and painting the world around her red. She flung herself against the ground, biting back a scream of frustration.
What was he good for, anyway, besides making with his usual posturing and worthless advice? As though he thought he were her mother!
Her rage against Magil turned deadly, as her fingers scrabbled uselessly against the dirt -- stupid, buggering, selfish fool he was -- what business of his was it, anyway, it wasn't as though he cared, some stray magician wandering in and taking her in as a pet charity case -- well, she would tell him where he could shove his charity, right enough--
And what a fool she was, for trusting him out of the blue, even in the midst of hysteria and grief. A masked rescuer, sweeping out of nowhere and converging with the shadows to tear her away from the only purpose she had left in life.
It was several hours later when she'd rejoined Magil, who hadn't moved off the spot, equipped with her anger but victorious in her struggle to contain it, briefly. He didn't raise his head, but began speaking immediately, cutting her off before she had even begun.
"I understand," Magil said, his words honed and bearing the weight of careful consideration, "Your desire for revenge. Likely more than you'll know in your lifetime."
There was a chill to his words, one that sent shivers down Kid's back. She kept listening.
"You can be sure that if I had intentions of stopping you from taking your vengeance, I would never have allowed you to take the steps you have towards preparing for it."
He looked at her now, the glow of the firelight glinting off of his mask.
"But I want you to understand something I had forgotten. I was consumed by it."
His gaze was firmly set on her. He was treading the line between those two worlds that had split him into two halves before, his voice possessed by neither and by both. Kid felt as though a hole were being seared through her under the force of it.
"I had… lost sight of what I wanted to protect."
They locked stares once again, both sides heavy with silence. It was the most horrible thing she had ever experienced, Kid thought; it was like being thrown screaming back into the fire again. It was weighted with the remembrance of death and the promise of regret, regret which she was more terrified of than death; regret that she had been fighting against her entire life. She felt herself being suffocated, as though coils were being wound around her throat.
In desperation, she broke it forcefully, the pebble flew from her hands against the side of Magil's head with a thunk. He barely reacted, but the spell had been broken.
She breathed again.
"Well, great," Kid said, exhaling deeply. It took her a few seconds to remember what Magil had actually said. She sat down on the other side of the campfire. "That's a nice little story, Magil, but I'll fill you in on something in case you've missed it: I haven't got anything left to protect."
Magil was silent.
See, Kid thought vindictively, even you haven't got anything to say to that.
But by the time she had begun to lay down, he had spoken up again.
"I thought the same thing," he said, "For a long time. That very conviction was what led to my mistake when the time came."
When the time came?
"Look," she said, uneasily, extending a hand in his direction. "We'll make a compromise. We go to Porre, we break up this poncy-ass ceremony, but for one reason--gettin' the Flame out of Lynx's hands. Nevermind takin' his life, at least at this juncture. There's always tomorrow for that." It felt like bile being spewed out of her mouth. "But the idea of Lucca's treasure fallin' into his dirty hands… I can't take that thought, Magil. You can understand that much, can't ya?"
Magil's head turned slightly; he was considering her words.
"Just the Flame, then?" he repeated.
"Just the Flame." To emphasize, she clapped her hand over her chest. It wasn't quite an oath.
Magil hesitated, then nodded. What Kid felt then wasn't exactly happiness, or even relief - it was a sort of wild vindictiveness that nearly frightened her.
"The ceremony takes place in two days," he said, suddenly sounding very weary. "We'll plan our course of action tomorrow, when we secure lodgings in Porre."
Despite the opportunity she had secured in the face of Magil's overbearing tyranny, as she tried to lull herself to sleep, she found it was surprisingly difficult to hold onto that sense of giddy triumph. It kept sliding from her mind's grasp to make way for recollections of Magil's somber warning and the rare allusion to a bloody past.
That very conviction was what led to my mistake, he had said.
Kid rolled over, pulling the blankets over her eyes. Magil had no idea what he was talking about.
She had nothing.
Porre, where the mingled scent of oil and freshly-baked bread was never far away; it was a hell of a contrast to the sleepy village of Truce. Porre was the industrial center of Zenan - something was always happening there. Taking action in Porre always meant setting off an unpredictable chain reaction, with no one having any idea who you would anger or ruin in the end.
They were there fairly often; lots of business meant lots of interested aristocrats, and lots of aristocrats meant a lot of priceless valuables to swipe. Their familiarity with the area meant it was relatively easy to find a decent inn to crash at for the next few nights.
This plan was risky for them, and nigh impossible for anyone else--they were walking into this with little to no intelligence as far as the proceedings of the ceremony or even the layout of the mansion it was taking place in, which was practically unheard of for such a high-end operation.
The key was Magil - she had never bothered to question how it was he was able to wield magic. A few nights, faced against the darkened sky above her, she supposed she'd idly theorized that there might have been a Mystic somewhere in his bloodline. It was really the only plausible explanation - other magic-wielding humans were known to pop up, now and then, always a rarity and a source of stigma for the ordinary folks around them, and it always came back to their ancestry.
But she knew, somehow, that Magil had nothing to do with any of that. It wasn't something she could explain, exactly - it was simply a dead certainty, a settled feeling deep in her gut. Magil was Magil, and his communal with the shadows of the world simply were. It was strange to imagine him having any kind of family at all, much less going to the extent of talking about family trees or any of that rubbish.
Whatever the reasons and the history behind him, Magil ensured that the Radical Dreamers' success - where an escape route would have been blocked and under watchful eyes for anyone else, it was a matter of a few bored, enchanted words from him and they could have danced in front of the watchmen without a worry. (Kid had tried this once, actually, but Magil had rather forcefully stopped her before it could go particularly far.) There were very few guards that existed in the world who knew how to deal with a masked man who happened to know how to throw fireballs.
The Frozen Flame was a treasure of Porre - perhaps the most precious treasure. There'd been countless thieves who had tries to break in and steal it, though it seemed a foolish notion to do so - any attempts to make profit on it would be discovered on the spot - and it went without saying that most, if not all, of them had met rather painful, bloody ends.
But they didn't have Magil.
Kid smiled, rolling up her sleeves as she gazed at the ceiling. It was time to get to work.
Notes: Next episode, the third half of the Radical Dreamers makes his dramatic debut. Whackiness, as you may imagine, ensues.