The flame was beautiful. Dancing blue and white in the center of the stone table, it gave off no heat. That was not its purpose. The flame was meant to provide illumination, to the room that housed it and to the mind of the one who watched it burn.
Isis stared into it, garnering nothing save a slight headache. She removed her headdress, at least relieving her of the strain caused by the weight of the golden bird that decorated it, but she knew the real source of the pain was frustration. As the priestess who held the Sennen Torque, it was her duty to divine threats to the kingdom. True, she was very new to the position, but in the days since she had been given her magical Item, she had not had a single vision, had not been able to sense a thing.
Despite her failures, Isis was learned enough to know she couldn't force herself to see the future. Any vision that came of such an effort would be tainted. It would be a reflection of what she thought might happen and not a true prophesy. Rather than risking having a false vision, Isis decided she would retire for the night.
Walking along the palace gardens eased the tension in her head. The water flowed through the canal system with a soothing steadiness and the firelight from the torches set throughout the garden gave the reeds and flowers growing in the beds a comfortable glow. Isis settled herself near a patch of lotuses. The flowers had retreated into the water when the sun set, but their scent still lingered in the air. She ran her fingers in the water, causing the closed buds to move below the surface. She watched them shift languidly to and fro, finding them to be more calming than the flame had ever been.
They also proved distracting. Isis was a little embarrassed to look up and see a group of guards walking through the garden. Seers should not be so easy to sneak up on. The guards weren't searching for anything; they were simply on their way home after a long day's work of watching the palace. She half-listened to their conversations - idle chatter about the meals they would soon eat and the families waiting for their return. The latter brought an envious pang to Isis. Becoming one of the six chosen priests had required her to leave her hometown and come to the capital. She had been greeted warmly and treated well. She liked and respected her fellow priests. But it wasn't compensation for the past she shared with her parents and her brothers. It didn't replace the friends she left behind. And, as the talk of the guards turned towards their wives, it didn't alleviate the fact that when she went to bed tonight, she would be alone.
Not that she couldn't have her choice of men. The combination of her beauty, abilities and status made her desirable to most every man that saw her. There just wasn't anyone that she truly desired, a man she wanted by her side not for a night or two, but from now on. To be fair, this wasn't due to her new circumstances. None of the men back home had managed to hold her fascination for too long. Her family worried that her tastes were too particular and would cause her to end up alone. Isis was more concerned that she would end up with a man she didn't love.
If only the Torque could show her a vision of her true love. She knew the thought was foolish, childish. Worse, it was selfish. The power of the Items wasn't to be wasted on such frivolous things or for personal gain. Still, Isis wondered. She couldn't control what the Torque showed her, and though she was supposed to avoid doing that very thing, her thoughts could influence what she was shown. She hadn't received any visions yet. Would it really be so awful to practice with such a wish in mind?
The answer, she knew, was yes. Her personal desires were, ultimately, trivial. The Items were sacred, as was her duty to Egypt. As if to remind her of that duty, another of the seven holy priests entered the garden. It was Mahaado, returning to his own quarters in the palace after ensuring the changing of the guards for the night had gone smoothly. Such attention to detail might not actually be needed given how well he had trained them in the first place, but the security of the palace was Mahaado's responsibility. Few men took their responsibilities as seriously as he did.
Isis knew very little else about him. His position as the holder of the Sennen Ring kept him busy in pursuit of those who would hurt Egypt. He seldom spent time at the palace he so staunchly defended, resulting in few chances to speak with his fellow priests. What she did know had been gleaned second hand from those who had been at the palace longer than she. Mahaado was a skilled magician. He had been younger than Isis was now when he was named to priesthood. He had known the Pharaoh since childhood and remained close and thoroughly devoted to serving the young king. He also had an apprentice - a young girl whose wild energy seemed at odds with the stern manner Isis supposed Mahaado to have.
He was handsome too, an afterthought that caused Isis to look away as he approached. The impulse surprised Isis. She wasn't shy by nature. Neither, by nature, did she ever find herself listing everything she knew about a man when he happened to appear in the same place she was.
Isis smiled. Some signs didn't need much interpreting.
"A pleasant evening, isn't it?" he asked as a greeting.
"The gardens are very peaceful at night. It's very soothing compared to the busyness inside the palace." Her hand went reflexively to her temple where traces of her headache still lingered. "It's a welcome reprieve."
The movement of hand to head had been brief, but the gesture caused Mahaado to stay a while longer in the gardens. He did not know much of Isis either but he recognized the strain duty could place on a person, particularly one who has not had long enough to become used to them. Isis had his sympathy and more importantly, his empathy. The position of priest came with great glory, but as with all power, with sacrifice as well.
"It takes some time to become acquainted with the patterns of palace life," he said reassuringly, "even longer to become used to them."
"Then I have years of adapting ahead of me." She tried to make her tone light, but her belief in the bitter truth behind the words made her less than successful.
Mahaado was not as pessimistic. "Do not let yourself become daunted. You're having no more or no less trouble than any of us when we first took up our Items."
"You're being kind," Isis said. She couldn't imagine Mahaado having the difficulties she was having. The way he carried himself, it was as if he had been born for the priesthood.
"I'm being truthful. Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, but if you could tell me what is troubling you, perhaps I could show you how common your troubles really are."
She accepted the offer - out of responsibility to her duties, she told herself - and let Mahaado lead them back to his quarters. He called out for his apprentice, Mana, when they arrived, but there was no response. He shook his head in disappointment, explaining to Isis that it was not because his apprentice was out loose on the palace grounds when she was supposed to be studying but because he should have known better than to expect her to be here in the first place.
She smiled at his not-so-quiet and not-so-harsh exasperation. Clearly this Mana was given a lot of leeway and then a lot of forgiveness when she used it. It made Isis wonder how stern Mahaado truly was underneath, if he extended such consideration to everyone or only a special few.
He motioned for her to sit down on the floor. "Divination requires a great deal of concentration, does it not?" Isis nodded. "Magic," he continued, "is not so different. The ability to meditate, to still all other thoughts in your mind and control all movement of your body, is very crucial. Magicians over time have developed many techniques for this."
"And these are the same techniques you teach to this apprentice of yours?" Isis boldly teased.
"These are the techniques I try to teach her," he corrected with a laugh. "Sometimes a little knowledge seeps through, at other times..."
"She's very fortunate to have a dedicated teacher. My tutors were not so lenient."
"Oh?" He arched a brow. "Were you a difficult student? I had not pictured that about you."
"Me? No," she said. Though made in jest, Isis didn't want Mahaado's accusation to stand. She wanted him to know she was as dedicated as he. "I was referring to my little brother. He has quite the rebellious spirit. I was always an excellent student."
He seemed moved by her earnestness and resumed a more respectful tone. Isis wasn't sure if that was the response she'd wanted.
"Then I should have little trouble helping you," he said. He settled in front of her, facing her on his knees. He told her to assume a similar position. When she did, her body was closer to him than she'd thought it would be and her eyes were just below his. All she needed to do to meet them was tilt her head upwards slightly. As she did this, she felt his breath and immediately looked down.
He talked her through various breathing exercises, taught her tricks to clear her mind. At some point, the missing Mana returned, but neither teacher nor his new student took much note of her. Lax in her studies as she was, Mana knew enough to know to creep silently back to her bed, a wicked grin upon her face as she thought of questions to ask her teacher tomorrow.
Isis and Mahaado's session only came to an end when the need for sleep made itself known. It was late, far closer to dawn than last evening's dusk, but Isis was barely aware of how much time had passed. She felt as if she studied and learned more in the few hours she'd spent with Mahaado than she'd had in years with her old tutors.
And Mahaado was determined to have her prove it. He stood and moved back towards the wall, between the two torches mounted there and into the shadows they cast. Isis would have nothing to focus on except for her Item and her gift.
She would use the both of them. She was sure of this. She stared into the space between the ruddy flames of the torches and let her vision blur until the colors shifted to the blue and white of the palace flame.
And she saw...
She saw herself here, in this same place, only daylight filtered through the windows. Mahaado stood before her, his headdress cast aside. In his hand, a piece of fruit. He held a slice of it to her and she felt the juice, sweet and cool upon her lips.
She saw herself walking through the palace gardens. The fragrance of the flowers filled her senses and she heard the crisp snap of a stem, felt the stickiness of nectar as she plucked one to hand to the man beside her. Mahaado smiled and his mouth moved in a whisper she could only hear in her heart.
She saw herself here again, her bare skin rising in bumps against the cool night air as she traced her way back to the bedchamber and the warmth that awaited her there. She carried a cup of water, a drink meant to quench thirst but when she offered it to Mahaado, the only things he wished to taste were the curve of her neck, the mounds of her breasts...
The visions faded. Mahaado was before her again, but only as her fellow priest.
"You saw something, didn't you?"
A small mutter escaped her lips. The visions were still fresh in her mind, clouding her thoughts between the future and the present. She could still feel Mahaado's touch upon her, yet there he was, still against the wall, asking her to tell him what she had seen.
She had no answer for him. To know the future was to be given the chance to change it. As she studied Mahaado, she caught a glimmer of concern that went deeper than his stoic dealings with the other priests. In one evening, she'd gone from colleague to something more.
And if her visions were correct, she would go further still.
"Don't be worried," she assured him. "Your techniques worked."
But even the sternest of men can succumb to curiosity and Mahaado, though he would not give into it entirely, was no exception. "Your vision then, it truly felt like something that would come to pass?"
Recalling the visions, Isis smiled to herself.
"It is my sincerest hope that they do."
Author's Note: Found this on my hard drive and finally finished it, thus also ending my time in the fandom. It's been over two years since I had any real interest in it at all, but some characters stick with you and I wanted to complete all the stories I'd started for Mahaado. Still ship him with Mana but the Isis vibes the anime threw out were too much to resist.