Disclaimer: I do not own Sorcerous Stabber Orphen. All Orphen characters are owned by Yoshinobu Akita or their respective creators. I am making no money from this fic. It is a just-for-fun project. The only bit I own is my own characters and the way the words are put together.

Author's Note; 5th July 2008 – So much for putting up all the fics in reverse chronological order :-P Remember, edits may not quite appear as you remember them, as I'm hashing together the beta and the original uploads. I do not plan to come back and amend this work (if I start picking holes in it, I'll never stop XD)


With the Fishes

"What's taking him so long? Geez, that kid…" Orphen said to himself, thrusting some more kindling into the base of the fire he was building. Cleao turned away from Orphen sulkily, with just an indignant 'Hmph!' as a reply. She and Orphen had already fought that evening about who was cooking dinner. It had been universally voted that it was Majic's turn eventually, as it was the only way to bring peace back to camp.

Orphen raised his head as he dusted off his hands. He gazed into the sunset, watching as it's scarlet spilled into the blue.

It's a nice evening Orphen thought to himself. But he couldn't shake the feeling that something was…

Wrong.

He couldn't put his finger on it, couldn't exactly say what it was. But gut instinct was trying to warn him of something.

"Majic! Where have you been?! I'm turning into a waif!" Cleao wailed, patting her flat stomach. Majic smiled weakly as he walked into the clearing.

"I found some nuts, Osho-sama." Majic held up his knapsack.

Of course, it went totally unnoticed by Cleao, as she grabbed the bag from Majic and looked into it hungrily – but it didn't pass by Orphen's keen senses.

Majic was sweating. A small glow of beads patterned his forehead, and Orphen sensed something like panic in the boy. Aware, but not overtly wary, Orphen turned away and held his hand out to Cleao for the bag of nuts. She pouted.

"I spend a long time cooking, and it's not that bad! I still think I should cook tonight!"

"I'll cook tonight. And that's the end of it." Orphen's eyes glinted. His look was that of one not to be crossed; this was the look he reserved for battle. Cleao faltered.

"Well you don't have to get all snotty about it!" Cleao complained loudly, scowling as Orphen took the nuts and made a talking hand gesture over his shoulder.

Orphen kept one eye on Majic and one eye on the nuts and tinned food he was preparing. Majic had sat down by the fire, slowly lighting the wood with a strip of lit kindling. Almost imperceptibly, his arms were shaking.

Half an hour or so later, they had finished eating and were staring collectively up at the sky. Orphen glanced across at Majic, who had been almost silent throughout dinner. He was, undoubtedly, the quietest among them, but even this was quiet for him.

His eyes were telling the tales on him that his mouth wouldn't. His cerulean eyes were slightly glassy, but nonetheless nervous – he couldn't concentrate his eyes on anything.

"Look at that star up there, Majic. Can you name it?" Orphen pointed up to a large star, just north of their position.

"Um… Osho-sama… Which star? We-we haven't really done star-charts yet…"

"No, but if you'd listen when I'm talking to you, you'd know which one that is."

"S-sorry, Osho-sama…"

They were all silent for a while longer. Eventually, Majic turned and smiled, almost too falsely.

"Well, I think I will go to bed. Oyasumi, everyone."

"Oyasumi…" replied Cleao sleepily, already lying on her back with her eyes closed.

"Hmm." Was Orphen's answer.

Instead of standing, Majic got to his knees and crawled across to the blankets he had laid out for himself earlier. He climbed between them, almost awkwardly.

As the girl to his left dropped off to sleep, and the boy to his right tried, Orphen made himself comfortable and prodded the fire with a stick.

It was going to be a long night.

It was several hours before Orphen heard Majic stirring. He was pretty sure that his apprentice had been in and out of sleep every five minutes during what had passed so far of the night.

Orphen had found a tree to sit beneath, just out of sight of the glowing embers of the fire. His sharp, angular eyes missed nothing as he watched his apprentice stand unsteadily and glance over to the place where he, Orphen, should be sleeping.

He'd fluffed up his blankets and made good use of their empty bag as stuffing inside – but Majic appeared not to notice, too keen to accept that his master was asleep.

Stumbling slightly, and seeming to favour his left foot, Majic groped his way around the camp.

Orphen watched as he made his way down to the water's edge – they had camped not far from the lake, so as to be able to get fresh water in the morning. Majic was decidedly unsteady on his feet, and appeared to be propping himself up at any opportunity.

It was as Majic removed his boot that Orphen decided to take action. He got noiselessly to his feet and stalked down to the water's edge.

Majic didn't even notice him coming. This concerned Orphen, as normally, Majic's senses were pretty finely honed.

Majic took two steps and pushed his feet under the water. He hissed quietly and favoured his left foot again.

"You can't travel with an injured foot. And I'm not carrying you." Orphen said suddenly, making Majic jump so much that he landed on his backside in the water.

"Osho-sama!" he cried, instantly covering his mouth as his shout echoed around the forest. He looked up in Orphen's direction.

The light at the water's edge was good; the moon was waxing and it was a clear night. So, it startled Orphen to see Majic trying to settle his eyes on him – and failing.

Orphen crouched down beside Majic and asked,

"What did you do to your foot?"

"I-I…It's fine… It's not sore…" Majic forced, as Orphen pulled it out of the water and held it in better light.

"It looks like a bite…" Orphen frowned. "How did you get it?"

"When I was searching for food… I thought I'd cool down my feet in the lake…"

"And something bit you?"

"Yes… I…It was strange-looking… Small and silvery, but with big teeth. I had to…" Majic looked sick for a moment, "to pull it off my foot.

"It had…little pink fins-"

Suddenly, Orphen knew what it was that had been bugging him about Majic.

Bang.

It hit him like a sledgehammer.

"Majic, look at me."

"I-I am…aren't I?"

"No, Majic. Look at me." Orphen pulled Majic's face into the light and lifted his chin, so that he could see his eyes clearly. He didn't want to be right, in the name of God he didn't want to be right. But with a stab of pain to his chest, he realised that it couldn't be anything else.

Majic's eyes were dull and cloudy, as though he'd grown cataracts in only a few hours.

"Majic, tell me the truth. You can't see me much at all, can you?" For a moment, Majic's expression didn't change; then his face creased a little and tears filled the once-beautiful aqua orbs.

"N-no…" He shook his head.

"Majic, this little thing with the sharp teeth… Was it about the size of my fist? Small, sleek looking? Mouth on the bottom?"

Majic nodded. Orphen raised his eyes skywards.

"Why didn't you say anything when you got back to camp!?" he exclaimed, dragging Majic back to his feet. Majic closed his eyes frantically,

"I couldn't! I thought… I felt stupid! You'd all make fun of me for allowing myself to be bitten!"

"Baka! The stupid thing wasn't being bitten, it was not telling me!"

Majic stared at Orphen, his eyes wide and frightened.

"But…you can make it better, right? Osho-sama?"

Orphen couldn't bring himself to look into those greying, dead eyes.

"You can't cure poison with magic…" He replied. "And you just took on the most toxic thing in the ocean."

"But…what does that mean?" Majic asked tremulously. Orphen took his hand and strode back up the bank towards the campsite.

"It means you get back into your bed and you stay there and you don't move, and it means that me and Cleao are going to be up all night looking for the right herbs!" Orphen looked angry, but inside he was beside himself with anxiety.

He knew that the herbs for counter-acting the poison of that particular fish were rare – and in the terrain they were in, it was going to be almost impossible to procure them. But he also knew that they couldn't afford to lose any time – the poison was working fast. It had been in Majic's system less than 6 hours, but was already blinding him. All he could do was make sure that Majic didn't move too much – the less movement, the better. With any luck, the poison would move around much more slowly if he was still.

With that thought in mind, Orphen suddenly hoisted the boy from his feet and told him to hold onto his back. Majic looked very shocked – but didn't disagree. It was only a short walk back to camp – but Orphen had to buy as much time as he could.

Within half an hour, Orphen had put Majic to bed with strict instructions not to get up, and had given Cleao a rude awakening.

She pouted as they searched yet another bank of suspicious plants in near-darkness.

"I don't see why we have to do this now! Can't it wait until morning!?" she yelled, as she caught her finger on a particularly vicious-looking shrub.

"No!" Orphen yelled back, scowling. He was still livid with Majic for not telling him about the bite; he sure as heck wasn't going to put up with Cleao's whining right now.

Cleao yawned, and so did Leki.

"I think we should let Majic look for his own dirty shrubs, seeing as it was he who got bitten. Don't you think so Leki?"

"Ouuu!" Exclaimed Leki, his eyes half-lidded.

Orphen spun on his heels.

"You've got no clue, have you?" He hissed. "If we don't find this Gratalia plant, Majic will die. Do you want that on your conscience? Huh? Well, do you?!"

Cold shock threaded through Cleao's body.

"It's not like he wouldn't give you the clothes off his back, so get looking, damn you." Orphen muttered, getting back to his knees in the grasses.

"N-nobody said anything about dying…" Cleao stuttered.

"I just did, didn't I?" Was Orphen's curt reply. Letting Leki climb out of her arms, she got down to her knees as well, rubbing her eyes. She yawned, but tried not to make a performance of it – a rare occurrence.

Majic listened blindly to the sounds of the forest. He felt very vulnerable and alone as he lay on his back in the bed. He could hear the dying crackles of the fire – but couldn't see it. He sighed sadly. His foot was throbbing.

Osho-sama…

Orphen's head shot up, a harsh reprimand prepared on his lips for Majic as he looked around. But Majic wasn't there.

I hate this… I hate people relying on me. Sure, it was fun at first – I get someone to call me 'Master' and carry my bags. But I hate people relying on me.

I'm not the kind of person who likes the company of people who rely on him. Because soon enough, if someone relies on you, you end up relying on them.

Goddammit, whose idea was it for me to take on an apprentice anyway?

St. Mine.

As the sun rose in the sky, the two headed back to camp, empty-handed. From a short distance away, Orphen could see Majic hobbling around the camp. Bent over and rubbing his fingers together, as though calling a cat, he appeared to be talking to something that wasn't there. Orphen increased his speed and called out to Majic as they drew nearer.

"Osho-sama! It's Leki!" Majic cried, almost in tears. "He won't come to me, and I don't know why! He's here in the camp – I keep seeing him, but he won't come to me, no matter how hard I call!"

"Ouuu?" Leki blinked in confusion, putting his head to one side from Cleao's arms.

"Leki's been with us, Majic, he hasn't been in the camp to come to you." Orphen's face lowered into a scowl. Majic stopped for a second, breathing hard.

Instinct kicked in for Orphen. He walked forward and grabbed Majic's arms, pushing downwards and forcing him to sit on the floor.

"The more you panic, Majic, the more trouble you're getting yourself in."

"But he was here! I-I could hear him! I could hear him crying, so I called and he didn't come!" Tears were filling Majic's eyes again. Orphen still had his hands on Majic's arms, and it was only then that he realised how strong the heat was that ebbed through his shirt. Taking a hand off his arm, Orphen pressed his palm to Majic's forehead.

He was burning up. Majic searched Orphen's face with his unfocused eyes. They were now more grey than ever, and with a sinking feeling Orphen realised that they were even shorter on time than he'd thought. If Majic was already delirious with fever, then the next stages would come soon – too soon.

"Cleao, come here and look after Majic." For once, the wilful girl did as she was asked. Her own face had paled at Majic's strange behaviour, and she clutched Leki more tightly as she moved forwards.

"Oouuuuhhh…" Leki said sadly, squirming to be let down. Cleao relaxed her grip on him, and he leapt out of her arms.

"Leki?" Majic asked shakily, as the little blue dragon walked towards him. As Orphen was pressing Majic back to the bed, Leki licked Majic's hand.

"So, you're not mad at me? You didn't not-come because you were mad?" he smiled with relief, his eyes filling and refilling.

I can't move him when he's like this. I can't even get him to the nearest village, and that's easily half a day away! Orphen thought desperately.

We could search the wilderness all day and get nothing… His only chance is for me to get to the village quickly and hope that they have some dried Gratalia that I can make do with…

You're going to have to hang on for me, Majic…

You're going to have to hang on…

Leki was curling up in Majic's side, his face on Majic's waist. He looked pitifully up at his human companion and whined.

"I'm so glad you're not angry…" Majic wiped his eyes with a shaky arm.

Cleao had poured some water from one of the flasks into a bowl, and was currently searching for a cloth to dip in it. She knew that she had to try to bring Majic's fever down. Orphen handed her something, something red; she glanced up. Orphen's headband wasn't around his forehead anymore, it was in his hand; and he was offering it to her.

"Just until you find something better." He said, his eyes narrowed. She took it from his hand without uttering a word; she wasn't sure what to say.

It wasn't like he'd parted with it very often.

She soaked it in the water, and folded it over to form a pad. Gently, she pressed it to Majic's forehead. The stricken boy's face was flushed – a far cry from it's usual delicate pale.

Orphen walked away for a moment, then turned to pick up one of the full water cans.

"I have to go into the village. I'll-"

"But it's miles away!" Cleao interrupted, scowling. "How do you expect to get there and back?"

"I'll get there." Orphen scowled in return.

I have to. He thought to himself.

He turned to leave again.

"What are the next stages?" Cleao asked as he began to walk away. He halted.

"What stages?" he asked. Cleao scowled again.

"The next stages of the poison, stupid!"

If he hadn't had more important things to worry about, he'd have never let her get away with calling him stupid.

"Stupor, immobility…Death." He answered, not turning to face her.

"Again with the 'death and dying'!" Cleao complained, shivering. Orphen whirled on her again, as he had done in the forest the previous night.

"Fine. Do you want me to go into intimate detail? In fact, as I'm wasting time talking to you, the poison's working it's way around his body. First, his kidneys will be turned into goo by the poison. Then his liver; his only defence against it. Then, his respiratory system will start to fail. He won't be able to breathe, and then, when he thinks it can't get any worse, he'll have a heart attack and die . Is that what you wanted to hear? Huh!? Is that what you wanted to hear!?"

Cleao couldn't bring herself to answer that; she was busy trying to blink back tears.

"I'll be back as soon as I can." Orphen's voice was softer this time. He walked over to Majic and briefly leaned down, running his fingers lightly through his hair to get his attention.

"Majic, I'm going to get you some medicine. I shouldn't be too long. Hold on for me, okay?"

"Yes, Osho-sama… I will…

"I-I'm sorry…"

"It's okay." Orphen tried to put the smile in his voice, but couldn't put it on his face. "We won't worry about that now."

"I'm good; I'll wait… I-I'm very…patient…" Majic forced, a smile creeping across his face for a moment.

With that, Orphen turned and walked away, employing the fastest step he could muster.

He'd misjudged the distance to the nearest village. It was more like three quarters of a day's walk. The sun bore down hotly on him, but it was the latest of many long, hot days and it felt as though they ought to be in for a thunderstorm.

His eyes, ever searching for evidence of the herb, took in as much as they could of his surroundings all the time. Glancing up at the position of the sun in the sky, he quickened his pace.

It was gone three o'clock in the afternoon before he reached the village – Sanzengan. He'd followed the road, hoping to catch a ride – but no-one had passed him on his seven hour walk.

To make matters even worse, it had started to rain about half an hour previously and he was soaked to the skin. Water skimmed off his drenched hair as he walked through the village streets.

No-one was around to ask for directions – but it didn't matter too much. It wasn't a big village, and the market square was simple enough to find. At the centre of the market square stood a huge, old oak tree, in pride of place. If he'd had more time, Orphen might even had read the plaque placed grandly in front of it.

However, it was the least of his worries. He was soaked through, tired and hungry, and was his apprentice's only hope. As he caught sight of the Apothecary, his pace quickened.

Arriving at the door, he glanced through the windows, hoping to see movement inside. There was none. Moving slightly back, he finally saw the sign.

"Closed, due to family holiday"

"You have got to be kidding me." Orphen cursed under his breath.

Oh well. He didn't have time for niceties.

Glancing around to make sure that no-one was watching, he pulled up his collar, so as to hide his face. Then, with lighting quick reflexes, he smashed the glass in the door with his elbow.

Swearing to pay for the damage the next time they came through town, he smashed out the jagged edges of glass with his jacket covering his hands, and slipped his arm through the broken window. Feeling for the handle, he finally reached it, and got lucky. It was a pretty simple lock, and by flicking the switch in the centre, he was able to open the door wide.

"Yarrow, Mugwort, Borage…Doesn't this guy believe in alphabetical order..?" Orphen muttered to himself as he jumped over the counter to look through the storage jars on the shelves behind.

"Rhatany, Juniper, Mallow…C'mon, give me a break…

"Stoneroot, Sundew, Cardamom…Pennywort? Nobody uses that!"

Orphen was starting to lose patience when he finally found the jar with 'Gratalia' written on the side. A triumphant smile on his face, he reached for the glass vessel.

"Put it down!" A voice called tremulously from the other side of the room. Orphen froze. He cast a glance over to where the voice had come from, and saw the barrel of a gun.

"You know, this isn't what it looks like." Orphen said, still not moving. He heard the gun cock and closed his eyes.

"Please, let me explain…"
"No! Why should I? You're in my house, my home… Y-you broke in…"

The voice belonged to a woman.

"Mommy!" He heard a frightened voice- it sounded like a child who couldn't be much older than four or five.

He turned his head fully to cast his angular eyes towards the two voices.

He saw a young woman – probably only in her late twenties or early thirties – clearly terrified. A small boy clutched at her skirts, looking at him through huge, watery-blue eyes. Orphen imagined for a moment that he looked exactly as Majic probably had at that age.

"Don't move!" The woman insisted, raising what Orphen could now see was a shotgun. The child whimpered and moved into his mother's skirts more.

"I promise, I'm not here to hurt anybody. If you let me explain – I'll even explain while you're holding the gun." Orphen offered, his arm starting to ache from being held up in the air on the jar.

The woman was silent; Orphen took it as wordless confirmation to continue.

"I'm a sorcerer-" Again, the gun was raised – "No! Don't take it like that. We're not all bad! I have an apprentice – he was bitten by a Dokufish. He needs to be given Gratalia to counter-act the poison; if not, he'll die. I looked everywhere for it in the wild, but couldn't find any, it's so rare. This was the nearest town; when I got here and found the Apothecary closed, I got desperate."

Orphen waited for a reply, or to be shot; one or the other. He heard the woman lower the gun.

"I had every intention of paying for the damage next time we came through town – probably over the next couple of days." He continued, his arm aching even more. "I just… We don't have the time."

The woman still didn't speak. The child released his hold on his mother's skirt slightly and walked forward – but his mother hurried him behind her skirts again.

"I won't hurt you, or your child. I promise." Orphen said, playing on her sudden response and renewed worry. She gazed into Orphen's eyes.

"You have the evil eyes." She replied, hefting the gun again. "How can I trust you?"

There was a sudden noise from upstairs – a baby's cry. She instantly raised her eyes to the ceiling, panic crossing her features.

"See to your baby. Take the gun if it makes you feel safer, and the boy. I'll still be here when you come back down." Orphen said, the pain from his arm starting to drive him crazy.

She took one more look at him.

"I'll be here." Orphen said. Finally, she turned, racing up the stairs and calling for the little boy – Malachi – to follow her.

Orphen breathed a sigh of relief and lowered his cramping arm.

"O-osho-sama…? Where did Osho-sama go to…?" Majic asked, his voice heavy with fever. He unconsciously clutched at the blanket he way laying under, kneading the material between his index finger and thumb. Cleao soaked the pad again and placed it back on Majic's forehead. Her face creased in concern.

"Don't you remember? He went to find you some of that herby stuff."

"No." Majic's voice was rapidly disappearing. His blinded eyes were half closed. He seemed senseless, lifeless almost.

She noticed suddenly that Majic's lips were dry.

"You need water…" She muttered, stretching out for a water can a few feet away. Pouring a small amount into the lid, she put two fingers into it and withdrew them again, dripping with water. She moved her hand over Majic's mouth, and waited as a droplet of water gathered quickly at the very tip of her fingers.

When the droplet fell, Majic didn't respond. The water was in danger of slipping away; Cleao had to encourage him to move his lips together, to allow the water to enter his mouth.

With a sudden jolt, Cleao remembered Orphen's words on the next stages of the poison:

Stupor, immobility…Death

"Hey, Majic! Majic!" Cleao tapped Majic's face smartly. His eyes slid to gaze blindly in her direction.

"Don't you dare… Don't you even think that I can let you sleep, or close your eyes or…anything…" Majic moved his head slightly, his mouth opening, as though to speak – but the words wouldn't come.

"C'mon… You have to take the water…" Cleao said, trying her best to smile encouragingly. She dipped her fingers once again and held them a centimetre or so above Majic's mouth. This time he responded with more speed – only a little, but nonetheless more.

"Ouuu…" Leki licked his nose fondly. He smiled a very weak smile.

C'mon Majic… Don't lose any more consciousness – you haven't got much more to lose…

It hadn't passed Cleao's notice that the sun was beginning to drift out of the sky. Slowly, it reddened and moved downwards, pulled by an invisible magnet.

Orphen! Where are you!? Your apprentice needs you… Please, be quick…

Orphen was sitting on the counter when he heard footsteps on the stairs. He didn't move; the jar of Gratalia was back on the shelf, where he had been forced to put it. The woman came back into the room. When she saw Orphen, a look of surprise crossed her face.

"I expected you to be gone with half the store when I came back down." she confided. Orphen's smile was thin.

"I said I'd be here."

"So… can I trust the other things you said? Is there really a boy somewhere who'll die if you don't get this Gratalia to him?" she asked. Orphen noted that the gun was now held in one hand, at her side. He glanced out at the sun, which was beginning to set and closed his eyes.

"Yes.

"And if I don't get to him soon, the Gratalia won't make any difference anyway."

"Is… Is he really so ill?" the woman asked. Orphen didn't have to pretend to her. He didn't mince his words, just as he wouldn't for anyone else.

"He's dying."

She pulled up the chair behind the counter and sat, the gun across her legs. Orphen noticed that her son wasn't with her.

"Your little boy has croup, by the way."

"She's a girl, and I know."

They were silent. Orphen knew that he didn't have too much time. He opened his mouth to speak, when the woman suddenly said,

"How old is the boy?"

"Who, Majic? Fourteen. And a half, don't forget the half." Orphen corrected himself.

He turned to the woman to find her staring at him. A new expression on her face, Orphen wondered what he'd said. He hadn't forgotten that there was a gun in her lap.

"He's not from Totokanta, is he?" she asked, lowering the gun to the floor.

"Yes…" Orphen confirmed. She shook her head.

"Majic Lin from Totokanta. Son of Bagup. Only son."

"Yes… How do you know?" Orphen asked, taken aback at the fact that this strange woman knew so much about Majic.

She looked strangely sad.

"He once helped my husband. He fell ill one night when we were travelling through Totokanta. Bagup and his son took good care of us, although Majic couldn't have been more than ten at the time. He seemed such a good-natured child."

Orphen couldn't resist the grin that crossed his face.

"Sounds like him." He agreed.

"Malachi was only a baby when we stayed at the inn in Totokanta. Kristabella is only nine months now, about the age Malachi was then. We've been here only six months; the Apothecary is a good friend of my brothers and he agreed to let us stay at a reduced rate in the rooms above after my husband died. He's on vacation at the moment, with his wife and daughter."

She sighed.

"I'd like to pay Bagup back for what he did for us.

"Please, take the Gratalia."

Orphen felt the tension loosen from around his chest for a moment.

"Thank you." He replied and stood, walking to the counter as she reached for the jar.

"There's not much in it." She said, apologetically. "I hope it's enough."

Orphen's heart sank as he noticed that she was right.

"It'll have to be."

Orphen looked out of the window and despair wound it's sneaky tendrils around his heart.

He was going to be too late.

He moved towards the door, nevertheless going to try his damned hardest, even if he had to run and teleport all the way there.

"Wait!" The woman called behind him. He turned as she stood.

"Malachi! Malachi, come here!" She called, turning towards the staircase. There was silence as they waited for a response. Orphen was irritated at the delay- she knew he had no time, why was she holding him up? He turned towards the door again.

"Wait I said!" she frowned and yelled again. "I'm going to send Malachi for my brother – he owns a stallion.

"It's important that Majic gets that medicine."

Orphen was stunned at her sudden kindness. Whatever Bagup and his son had done, it had clearly left a lasting impression on this woman.

"Malachi! It's safe now, you can come down!"

A small, round face appeared at the stairwell beyond the half-door. Malachi blinked at Orphen. Orphen smiled, strained, in return.

The little boy tottered down the stairs, running for the safety of his mother's skirts and gazing out at Orphen still. He became uncomfortable with the child's stare and looked away.

"Malachi, I want you to run and get Uncle. I'll watch you, you'll be all right. Get Uncle to bring his bag and Caspar."

Little Malachi nodded hesitantly, and took one more glance at Orphen before he swung open the heavy front door with difficulty, and ran across the lane and down a twisting road. He was just visible as he stopped to knock on a door.

The door opened, and the little boy was admitted inside.

"He'll be back soon." The woman said, glancing at Orphen.

She could see that he was impatient to go. He was fidgety, and his eyes darted along the street, waiting for the little boy to return. His hands clenched and unclenched, the contents of the Gratalia jar now tucked in a paper wrapper in his inside jacket pocket.

"What's your name?" she asked, trying to break the tension a little.

"Orphen."the man replied, not taking his eyes off the window.

"Well, Orphen, do we have anything else that's of use to you? Anything you need that we can provide?" she offered, turning her own gaze to him once more.

"What do you mean?" Orphen turned to look at her, his eyes flaring.

"Well, is there anything else that Majic needs?" she asked. Orphen turned his eyes back to the window.

"Just time." He said quietly.

A few minutes later, he heard the sound of hoof beats close by. He opened the door, surprised as he hadn't heard the horse approach. A tall man sat on the back of the horse, with little Malachi cradled in front of him, his hands under the reins. He gazed down at Orphen.

"So, Sister – what's going on? Why does this man need my horse so badly?"

"It's hard to explain right now, Jared, but I'll tell you all about it later. This is Orphen, and his assistant-"

"-Apprentice-" Orphen corrected.

"-Apprentice is gravely ill." The woman continued. "Malachi and I owe the boy a favour. I'll explain it all when you get back, but you have to go now, quickly. Go with him Give me Malachi." The woman held up her arms and Jared carefully lowered the little boy into them. Orphen immediately leapt up behind the man on the horse. Normally he would have insisted on taking the reins, but right now he was just thankful for the stallion beneath him.

"Jared is the town doctor." The woman smiled encouragingly. "He'll go with you, he may be of use."

Orphen thanked any and all deities that were listening. His luck was changing.

"Who, should I tell Bagup, helped his only son in his hour of need?" Orphen asked the woman, as Jared pulled the horse around by the reins.

"Just tell him that Rosetta from Sanzengan sends her regards, and that we're even."

Orphen smiled down at her just before Jared 'yah'ed the horse into a run.

"Majic?" Cleao asked gently, hoping against hope that she might get a response from her charge. He didn't respond. He was conscious, but only just, his breaths coming in difficult little gulps.

"Is there any pain, Majic?" Cleao asked, soaking the pad for his forehead yet again, as she had done repeatedly over the last hours. She hadn't even eaten herself that day, and for once wasn't hungry.

"Majic?" Cleao asked again, pulling Majic's face towards her. He smiled at the touch.

"N-no… No pain… Can't…really feel anything…" he replied, his voice a mere shadow of it's former strength.

Stupor, immobility…Death

The words shot through Cleao's mind like a flaming arrow.

"Majic, can you move your fingers for me?" Cleao asked, trying to keep the shaking out of her voice.

Although she watched intently, she saw nothing move even a fraction of an inch. Majic tried for her, but it was no use. He panted, as though the effort had been too much for him.

"Can't…" he said simply. His tired eyes drifted from side to side before he closed them.

"Majic!" called Cleao worriedly. Majic opened his eyes again, although there was pain in them. He looked as though he would cry.

"Majic… You can't sleep, you know." Cleao said gently, smiling softly. She brushed Majic's forehead as she removed the pad again. Her fingers were wrinkled and white, but there were more important things for her to worry about at that moment. She wet the cloth again, and all the while his expression didn't change.

"You said there was no pain. Is there?" Cleao asked, a frown sliding into place. Majic didn't answer straight away. Instead, his eyes filled with tears.

"There is pain, isn't there?" Cleao said sadly.

"Yes…" Whispered Majic. He closed his eyes again.

"Why didn't you tell me? When I asked you?" asked Cleao, slightly exasperated.

"I…I lied." Majic forced, breathing heavily again, as though even to speak was an unbearable burden. "It's…not as though…you can do anything… Right?"

Cleao looked away, unable to confirm what they both knew. That in fact, no matter what she tried, she wouldn't be able to take away pain.

"God Orphen, where are you?" Cleao cursed under her breath. Looking back to Majic, she plastered a smile on her face and stroked his forehead again.

"Orphen will come through for you, Majic. I know he will."

"I have…every faith…in…Osho-sama…" Majic even managed a smile. It fell suddenly.

"I-I…wish I could…see you…properly…" he whispered. Cleao shifted, and leaned forward to massage his temples with her fingertips.

"Don't worry. You'll be able to see me tomorrow, no doubt."

"Really?" Majic smiled again, a small, exhausted smile. Cleao smiled again in return.

"Yes. Really."

"It's okay. I know what I'm doing." Orphen shouted over the wind that whistled past the two men as they rode. "Once we get there, you can go back."

"If you're sure." Jared answered.

It was getting dark quickly. Orphen could only see the very top edge of the sun now, as it slid into it's dark, night-black bedcovers. They'd been riding the horse into the ground, as Orphen's backside was grumpily telling him. The stallion's nostrils were flared, and sweat coated his flanks, dampening Orphen's trousers. They'd been travelling for an hour or more, and had covered at least the distance of a six hour walk for Orphen.

Wait for me, Majic. I'll be there soon. Orphen thought to himself, a stabbing pain in his chest reminding him – as if he needed it – how important it was for him to get to his apprentice.

"You said it was a Dokufish bite?" Jared called back to Orphen.

"Yes!" Orphen shouted back. His voice was almost hoarse from shouting back and forth, but he'd grudgingly accepted that the doctor was trying to help.

"You know that's fatal within thirty-six hours, don't you?"

There was a stilted silence.

"Yes." Orphen didn't bother to shout this time.

Cleao turned suddenly, as she heard hoof beats approaching over the soft earth. The repeated 'thud-thud' was unmistakeable. Curious, she left Majic's side for only a moment as she sheltered her eyes from the gaze of the bright moon, nearly full now. She was looking for the horse for only moments before she set eyes on it.

As the beautiful silver-grey stallion came into view, she noted two male figures seated on it's back. The man at the front she didn't recognise, but…

"Orphen!" Cleao yelled, throwing her arms into the air. "Yes!!"

Orphen leapt down from the back of the horse before it had even stopped.

"How's Majic?" he asked, glancing over at the boy who was now whiter than white.

"He's not good. Where have you been?!" Cleao chastened.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Orphen shook his head. He walked towards the ailing boy, without even bothering to introduce Cleao to his company.

"Hey, Majic…" Orphen knelt beside his apprentice and placed a hand on his forehead instinctively. Opening the eyes he had closed so that they might rest, he slid them blindly across to the direction of the voice. Majic's face lit up, and Orphen couldn't turn down the smile that plied his features.

"Osho…sama…" he said, tears in his eyes. Orphen wiped them quickly away with finger and thumb.

"Stupid boy… What're those for?" Orphen chided gently.

"Here…" It was Jared's voice, and Orphen turned to see him proffering him a mortar and pestle.

"Thanks." Orphen replied cooly. He made himself comfortable beside Majic, and dug around in his pocket for the Gratalia. Moving as quickly as he could without wasting any of the already minimal herb, he crushed it into as fine a powder as the mortar and pestle would allow.

"You're going to need this, too." Jared's voice again, and as Orphen looked up, annoyed and about to tell Jared he could handle it, he saw the man proffering a long tube.

"What for?" he asked angrily.

"That boy won't be able to swallow that on his own; he's too weak."

It took Orphen a moment or two to realise what Jared was saying.

"You mean, force-feed him?"

"Do you have a choice?"

Orphen glanced across at the boy who, for the past two years, had accompanied him everywhere. On second thought, Orphen realised that Jared was right. Majic wouldn't be able to swallow on his own; he'd choke himself half to death. He sighed.

Of course, what it did mean was more discomfort for Majic.

Orphen, grunting instead of actually giving consent, returned to the Gratalia, adding some water carefully from the water can nearby - which was nearly empty.

"Cleao, get some water."

"But-"

"No buts, get some water."

Normally Cleao would have continued to argue – but the stress in Orphan's voice was clear, and she didn't want to antagonise him in such a situation; he might really explode.

"Majic? You can't swallow properly, can you?" Orphen asked gently. Majic whispered,

"No."

"Try for me." Orphen insisted. Majic's face slid into an 'I want to please you, but I just can't' expression.

For God's sake, Majic, you're dying and you're still thinking of other people. Orphen thought to himself, with just a hint of anger.

"Because you can't swallow, Majic, Jared over there thinks I need to stick a tube down your throat. That okay with you?" Orphen said, casually. Majic smiled a tiny smile and replied,

"If…If it will make me…feel better…"

"Well, not at first it won't, but afterwards it will." Orphen said, standing.

Taking up his position at Majic's head, Orphen gently lifted and then cradled his apprentice's head. Jared approached with the tube, wide at one end and narrow at the other. He took the narrow end in both hands and said to Majic,

"This may hurt a little. Okay?"

"Mmm." Was Majic's reply.

In fact, it hurt a lot. It took Jared several tries to get the tube successfully down Majic's throat, once irritating Orphen so much that he nearly knocked Jared's head off.

He could see Majic's pained expression, hear the gurgled choking on the tube as it slid uncomfortably down his throat. It made Orphen want to break something.

Finally, when the tube was in place, Jared picked up the mortar and tipped it's contents down the tube. Majic cried out as the tube jabbed at his stomach, Jared moving it slightly as he emptied the last of the Gratalia mix down Majic's throat. Orphen unwittingly rubbed at Majic's temples with his thumbs as he cradled his head, trying to distract him from the discomfort.

"Okay, that's it. Out it comes." Jared said gently, pulling at the end of the tube. He dragged three feet of tubing from Majic's throat slowly, making him gag more than once. Finally, the end came free, and the exhausted Majic coughed and coughed.

"Cleao! Where the Hell is that water!?" Orphen yelled at the top of his voice.

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Shouted Cleao from about ten feet away. "It takes a little while to get to the lake, you know!?"

Orphen growled and snatched one of the water cans from her. They stared angrily at each other for a moment, and then Orphen opened the can.

Shit… We should have done this when he had the tube in… Orphen thought to himself as he poured a little of the water into his hand and closed his fist, allowing the water to drip onto Majic's lips.

"Not much we can do now but wait." Orphen looked into the face of his apprentice from directly above. He forced a smile and then stood, walking across to Jared, who was packing implements his doctor's bag.

"You don't need me anymore, right?" Jared said as Orphen approached, his lips caught in a sly smile. Orphen looked away.

"Thank you."

"I'm sorry?" Jared's head whipped around.

"…Thank you." Orphen repeated. He looked directly at Jared, keeping him trapped with his steely gaze. "If you hadn't brought me here, Majic would have died."

"He's not out of the woods yet." Jared replied, tying his bag tightly onto the back of the horse.

"I know." Orphen replied. He looked down again.

"You'll know in the next two hours or so." Jared said, as he mounted the horse. He looked down at Orphen for a moment. Orphen looked up suddenly, using his index and middle fingers for a light salute.

"Thank you."

"Sure." Jared replied, a smile on his face as he turned the horse and galloped away in the direction from which they had come.

Orphen watched him leave.

"Time for bed, Cleao. You're tired." He said, without turning around. Cleao sputtered.

"No I'm not!"

"Yes. You are."

"No, I'm not!"

"I want to speak to Majic." Orphen had still not turned around. Cleao, who was standing behind him, fists clenched, relaxed suddenly.

"Why didn't you just say?" she answered, walking back towards Majic and the camp. Orphen rolled his eyes.

"Say goodnight to Majic." He said, seemingly out of the blue. Cleao frowned and shouted,

"Of course I will!"

Cleao said an affectionate goodnight to Majic, telling his that she hoped he would feel better in the morning, and slowly retired to her bed.

Orphen hadn't moved from his spot during this time. He still stood like a statue, his hands in his pockets, gazing out across the night.

Eventually, when he felt sure that Cleao should at least be semi-conscious, if not asleep, Orphen turned and walked back towards Majic.

As Orphen made himself comfortable beside his apprentice, Majic asked softly,

"Can I…go to sleep, now?"

"You probably can… But I'd rather you didn't." Orphen replied. Majic sighed.

"I'm…so tired."

"I know."

It was then, right then at that moment, that Orphen accepted the truth, the inevitable truth.

His apprentice was going to die.

He felt that stab to his chest again, like he'd felt on the horse.

Despite his best efforts, Majic was going to die.

Never mind that he, Orphen, had spent all day trying to get him the precious, valuable medicine. Never mind that he'd nearly been shot at, gotten saddle-sore and nearly beheaded a doctor.

Majic was going to die.

"D'you think… That I'll be okay, Osho-sama…?" Majic asked after a little while, his voice hidden by sharp, small intakes of breath.

Orphen didn't look at him when he replied,

"Sure."

"That's… That's good…" Majic smiled slightly, relaxing.

Orphen didn't speak for a long time; he just gazed into the fire.

He noted dimly that Majic's breathing was getting harsher. He wondered if the boy himself knew.

"O-Osho…sama…?"

"Hmm?" Orphen responded.

"You… You lied to me… Didn't you…? About…me getting better…"

There was a long pause.

"Yes." Orphen said eventually.

Another pause.

"I…thought so." Majic whispered sadly. "And…you tried so hard."

"Doesn't matter if it doesn't work., does it?" Orphen looked down at his boots and tapped his leg with his fingertips. He despised feeling helpless – and he'd only once before felt so very, very helpless.

"I…I'm glad… that I was your apprentice.." Majic said softly. "E-even those times – "he tried to laugh and found that he couldn't "Where we got…beaten up."

"You mean, when I beat you up." Orphen corrected him, glancing up at his apprentice. He saw tears streaking the side of his face.

"Y-yes… That's it…" he smiled.

"You were a good apprentice." Orphen admitted. "I should have praised you a little more."

"T-that means a lot… O-osho-sama…" Majic closed his eyes. His face registered discomfort for a moment.

"The fire's…too hot…"

"Do you want me to move you?" Orphen offered, getting to his feet.

"N-not if it's…too much trouble." Majic fretted.

"It's not." Orphen assured him. He gently wrapped the boy up in the blankets he was laying on and lifted him into the air. He carried him a few feet from the fire and made to lay him back to the ground when Majic cried out weakly.

"What is it, Majic?" Orphen asked, his voice strange.

"M-my…chest…feel's so…tight…" Majic's breath came in short, sharp gulps, his face screwed in pain. Orphen took a deep breath and cradled the boy just off the ground, knowing what was coming, and yet dreading it like a child on train tracks.

Majic's eyes slid back into his head, and as Orphen held him, his body started to convulse. e he said

"Be calm, Majic. It'll all be over soon." Orphen said gently, as the boy in his arms fitted, every controllable ligament of his body struggling against the inevitable.

"It'll be over very soon…"

Suddenly, Majic's eyes slid forward again – his frightened, frantic eyes. Orphen felt a shiver run down his spine – he'd been sure Majic couldn't see. The wide-open orbs locked onto Orphen's face, and he couldn't pull away.

"You've been so brave, Majic... Let go, now…" Orphen said softly, looking Majic in the eye and trying to smile encouragingly, all the while trying to hold him even still.

Orphen heard Majic's breath catch in his throat – and he caught his, too. Over what seemed like forever, Majic's body gently relaxed. Orphen watched his throat work noisily, trying to trap what wasn't there, watched his eyes as they finally fixed on a point above Orphen's own forehead. Slowly, so slowly, the breathing stopped completely.

Orphen lowered his apprentice back to the ground, placing his hand on Majic's head.

"Good boy. You did so well.

"That's a death nobody could be ashamed of."

He looked away, brushing tears from his face. Taking a deep breath, he smiled.

"So… You beat me to the other side, huh? Well, you'd better save a place for me there, 'cos you ain't ever getting away from your Osho-sama now." His face clouded.

"I'd… better make sure you get a decent burial."

Cleao opened her eyes gently, the early-morning sun already warm and bright. She groaned, and moved to rub her eyes. When she had done so, she found herself looking straight at Orphen; sitting by the fire, poking it silently. He was hunched over, and as he finished stirring the flames, he sat back slightly. He held the wood he'd been using as a poker loosely in both hands.

Glancing around, Cleao saw no sign of Majic.

"Majic? Where's Majic?" Cleao asked, sitting up. Leki yawned and crept to her side. "Is he better? Getting water? Is he…?"

Orphen didn't move. Not one inch.

"Orphen!" Cleao exclaimed, scowling. She immediately put her hands on her hips and opened her mouth to let forth a torrent of words, but Orphen turned his gaze to her – and her words suffocated.

It was unreadable. It said many things, and yet fixed on no emotion at all. It said 'I failed; I'm sorry'. It said 'I'm in pain, please help me bear this pain'. It said 'I'm angry, and I can't understand myself.' But mostly it said 'I couldn't save him'.

"M…Majic…?" Cleo asked, her blood cold in her veins.

"Ouu?" Asked Leki sadly, patting at Cleao's lap to get her attention. But her attention was firmly on Orphen.

Finally, he spoke.

"He died. He fought well, but he died. I buried him. Early this morning."

The silence that followed Orphen's voice was tangible. He turned back to the fire.

"He… You… You buried him…? He died? You didn't…he…"

Cleao couldn't seem to form what she wanted to say.

"Majic's dead?"

"Yes." Orphen poked the fire again, not taking his eyes off it.

"You…but, you…! You… You buried him…without me?! You buried him without me there to say goodbye?! I didn't get to say goodbye!"

"You wouldn't have wanted to see him like that." Orphen replied, still with his eyes firmly fixed to the fire.

"You didn't give me the choice!" Cleao cried, her voice ringing around the forest. Her eyes filling with tears, she leapt up from her blankets and ran; running to be anywhere but there, to be anywhere but with Orphen. She was closely followed by Leki, crying after her as he ran.

Orphen finally lowered the gaze he'd been trying to lose in the fire.

"I didn't ask for it to be this way." He threw the poker to the ground and ran his hands through his hair.

I didn't want my apprentice to die.

For God's sake, it's not like it's the highlight of my life.

The way she acts, you'd think I was glad to cradle Majic to death…

Actually, it's one of the most God-damned painful things I've ever done...

It was at least an hour or so later when Cleao came back to camp, her eyes red raw from crying.

"Will you show me where you buried him?" she asked Orphen wetly. He still sat by the fire, starting into it as though it were the all-powerful oracle, as thought it could give him a reason for Majic's young death.

"Sure." He replied hoarsely, standing.

The two made their way, followed by Leki, towards a small, pretty clearing in the forest. There was freshly disturbed earth by a nearby tree; a tall, strong looking tree that was clearly one of the tallest in the forest. Cleao smiled slightly as she saw the most spectacular hand-carved headstone she'd ever seen.

The truth was that after Majic's death, Orphen hadn't felt much like sleep. So he'd put every effort into making sure that Majic got that 'decent burial' that he'd promised him.

The inscription was simple, but effective.

'Majic Lin – beloved son, friend and apprentice. Requiem in Pace'

As Orphen felt that it was appropriate, the same was also written in sorcerers runes for the benefit of all those who would wonder what 'Majic Lin' had been an apprentice of.

"Come on. We have to get camp packed up." Orphen said to Cleao, in much gentler tones than normal. She was kneeling next to Majic's grave, gathering nearby flowers. She looked up at him quizzically.

"We have to get back to Totokanta. I have to tell Bagup about his son. It's not the kind of thing you can say in a letter." Orphen said, not taking his eyes from the grave.

Cleao nodded and sniffed, placing the flowers gently on top of the fresh, brown earth. She stood and wandered back to camp, Leki's sad wails clearly audible even as she walked further and further away.

Orphen looked down at the grave he had dug, with his hands in his pockets.

"Catch you later, Majic. Don't forget that place you're saving for me."

-fini-

Thank you for reading my story! I hope it gave you some enjoyment :)