THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
~BOOK 1: VERSION 2.0~
Note: despite the title, this is definitely NOT a Harry Potter-esque AU, I just found the reference pathetically amusing
I EDITED IT SINCE THE 1ST EDITION IN 2008, IT'S BETTER NOW!
I'm also writing the epic SEQUEL, which is a lot better (which is why I 'improved' this one in the first place).
In MY head-canon, it now takes place after my other fic, One Last Night, although not in a direct narrative sense, so it's not necessary to read OLN first.
Phoenix's blanking-out vision flailed and grasped, just barely salvaging sentience as it hit the object of his sanity.
The rhythm of Maya's incarnations didn't waver a beat, but Phoenix suddenly felt a palm grasped around his.
Phoenix might have returned the squeeze of mutual affect, but he didn't have the energy. His hands didn't want to work anymore. In fact he'd even forgotten their existence before Maya's presence was detected in them.
He let forth a choking, silent scream and beat his pupils into focused recognition, somehow jarring his neck in the direction of his torture-partner.
Maya was coated in shards of ice, same as him, but for some reason by comparison her hands were hot as a candle. Even her shivering was in synchronisation.
Phoenix tried to recall what he was doing, but couldn't. His mouth let forth an un-silent scream.
The drain of this was apparently too much and he felt himself collapsing, a stab of insufferability as his face contacted... (he was too pained to tell, but it was actually a block of spiritual ice.)
Something - someone - was suddenly dragging him upward.
"Nick! NICK! Stay with me!"
His mouth opened, but no sound came out.
"Repeat the chant!"
"C-chant?" Or at least, his mind said that. A sort of cough came out.
"Say it with me! What number are you up to?"
Number? The world wavered spacily
"You're up to 5073! Keep going! Say it with me!"
Phoenix's brain was too frozen to register now, but as he recalled later, this was what was happening. He and Maya had arranged themselves in a meditatory position on blocks of spiritual ice, side by side, in such a position that some daggers of Hell known as a 'waterfall' continuously impaled them. (Though isn't Hell hot?) The air temperature was such that not only were they soaked to flattened pools of bedragglement, but the droplets of water tended to freeze.
His own spikes had warped and collapsed into a twisted, sodden, snowballed mess, and been augmented with new ones in jagged shards and icicles. How the waterfall's flow itself was kept just above freezing point Phoenix neither knew nor cared, not that cognitive thought continued at all once a few seconds of the 'training' had set in - the pain in his head was so great not much else could continue to register.
The blocks of ice they sat on didn't melt either. Apart from it not being warm enough, they'd been set with some spell - that was why it was 'spiritual ice'. Phoenix didn't pretend to understand Maya's earlier explanation. Maya's explanations of concept didn't tend to be in orderly, logical communication, anyway. And as for it being 'cold' - soon there was no distinction to Phoenix whether he was burning up or freezing to death or being able to regulate his body temperature or body in general at all. There was nothing but a sort of 'pain' of total and utter physiological distress from which one was not allowed to faint into blissful unconsciousness, but remain in conscious, unflappable will of focus whilst continuing to audibly chant the crucial incarnation - 10000 times. Sister Bikini had locked them in the Sacred Cavern, and would not under any circumstance let him out before that milestone was reached, not even if he dropped dead first, he'd feared.
No, Maya would make her let me out. So he'd given into her demands to do the Hazakurain Special Course. He always did give into her demands...
Right now Phoenix's imagination tried to amass the will to drag a picture of himself to the barred cavern doorway and puppet it to beg to be let out prematurely. Even maintaining the sequential narrative was almost beyond the force of his will, let alone to make his muscles manifest it in reality. He focused on his only beacon, the pressure of Maya's will on his hand.
"Don't give up, Nick! I'm here! I won't leave till you finish, either!"
So Phoenix's will finally manifested the capacity to sneak open his eyes and.. observe Maya.
As he worded the conceptual memory later, her face was a mask of composed serenity. Her hair (far from his own destruction) was elegantly swept in impeccable mutual flow with the course of the waterfall. Her chants were forceful and unwavering. Phoenix drowned in inautonomous awe, as if he should bow to this pinnacle of resilience and Master-y.
He'd expelled the thought at the time as a symptom of physiological distress, but later events caused him to recall and reconsider.
It was a problem.
The spectre of Phoenix's new 'life' stretched purgatorily towards him. No more did his 'job' - life cause -take place in the open theatre of a courtroom.
No more could he count on the the police force's bumbling - though tacit - right of his protection in investigation -let alone that he only keep his suspicions against the dangerous obscured for maximum a few days before airing them in court.
That poker game he'd been roped into had been terrible, chance being the main victor. He watched the other people who ended up winner - how did they do that inscrutable-face thing? As for that and his life in general, it was all he could do to suppress his twitching pointer finger, not throw evidence and, well, shut up.
'Investigating' Kristoph Gavin was even worse. Phoenix spent much of their 'chats' sick with fear and warped with unbridled indignation. He improvised solution to part of the problem by gluing his hands in his pockets so he wouldn't gesticulate or let Gavin find out his palms were sweating.
Still, Gavin would be able to tell if he wet himself. He couldn't sleep at night due to ever-increasing paranoia. And anybody, even Gavin, could read faces, despite Gavin's fabled poker incompetence.
Phoenix castigated himself for not masking his emotions and fears as soon he would manifest his own nightmares - with a 'mistake' even stupider and more fatal than 'presenting forged diary pages'. The inability to do so inflated his paranoias further in a vicious cycle. Who knew who'd be the casualty this time - him, Maya, Trucy..?
I have to calm down! I have to relax! He endlessly repeated the mantra, clutching his pocketed Magatama being his only support. But when Phoenix flicked the switch off his personal fear and paranoia, it jerked straight to his usual outlet of the burning fires of expressed injustice.
It was the day he just barely suppressed verbalising an 'OBJECTION' at Kristoph... that Phoenix knew something had to be done.
"Cards? Nick, you still owe me that money from your spectacular loss last time!"
Phoenix said nothing, eyes just slightly hopeless.
"Oh..." Even Maya realised that was tactless. "I'm sorry! I mean, I..." That was more tactless.
Phoenix tried to avert collapse into the pit of now-painfully-framed swirls of memory (orange freaks, pigeon feed, and that evening of him and Maya. Together. In the l-law office...) as Maya's current apologetic eyes dragged him forward
"Y-you want to play cards? Of course!" she enthused encouragingly. "H-how about 'Revenge of Ami Fey'?"
"I w-was thinking poker."
"N-no reason, I j-"
"Why do you look so guilty? What did I tell you about gambling?"
"Nick, why did you sign up to a job playing poker?"
"You're hiding something! I can tell, 'cause you're doing that weird sweat-pouring thing again."
After Maya had beaten him for the 5th time in a row, Phoenix had to concede. How the heck did that emotion-spilling Maya of which he was so fond suddenly put on that, well, g-game face?
Well okay, it wasn't a 'game face'; he now remembered when he'd seen it before. Total serenity, j-just like she'd been sitting there unflappable during that Special Course torture where he'd barely even been able to retain consciousness, let alone facial resolve. That had been a different side of her he hadn't witnessed, one for which he'd formed a secretive respect.
Of course Maya was eager to help him. And so, during many of his semi-regular visits to Kurain, she would assist him in undergoing masochistic waterfall training with her.
At first Phoenix would practically collapse unconscious from the torture of the icy daggers, but over the years he built up resistance and even a masochistic affection for the brutal ritual. For Maya, (her powers of resilience clearly in another level), it was just a simple warm-up for her real training, but still, when faced with a tight spot masquerading with Kristoph, he could just retreat to the same place of inner resolve he entered while the waterfall torturously assaulted him outside . Even when Kristoph had finally been put away, and his innocence of forgery proven in court, Phoenix had grown accustomed to the ritual.
"Maya... I've been wondering. How do you use that Magatama to break black Psyche-Locks?"
"Black? Nick, Psyche-Locks are red. Except if..." Maya was thrown in minor confusion. She knew of the existence of the Black Psyche-Lock, but... "Are y-you sure it wasn't too dark or something?" Too much grape juice.
"Objection! That never stops me seeing red ones!"
"Okay! Sorry! There are black ones, I j-just didn't think you would see them with that magatama, but maybe my last charge was more powerful than I thought." For some reason Maya felt very insecure in this justification, her feet shuffling uneasily as she absently fingered her own Magatama.
But Nick was still eyeing her expectantly, so she flailed through her store of knowledge in attempt to answer his earlier question.
Maya did know a lot about Psyche-Locks. Since becoming Master she'd studied up on them, since the Magatama and charms invested in it were her main means to look after poor Nick remotely.
"Where d..." Nah, she didn't need to be told. Nick was so torn up about that Gavin jerk, she didn't want to necroscopy that topic.
Normal Psyche-Locks occurred when at some subconscious level the interrogated subject felt remorse or regret over what they were hiding, hence the fact they might be 'broken down' by somebody with Nick and all his evidence and arguing. Black Psyche-Locks occurred when the target felt no subconcious remorse or unease, but total inherent entitlement, concealing the secrets only out of spite or arrogance. That did sound like Kristoph Gavin.
"Y-you can't." Some immense amount of spirit power might hypothetically be able to break such locks, but it sure wasn't the kind your average person ever got in a charged Magatama. I'd never be able to do it myself. "But it means you can SEE they're hiding something, they just think they're too justified to admit it with guilt or whatever..." 'You can see?' Maya had trouble spitting the words out, and it wasn't just because she didn't like disappointing Nick. In fact, by that evening it still produced a lingering unease she couldn't quite place.
The ongoing concern led her to the Kurain Master's Library, a mass of priceless ancient esoteric texts dating back hundreds upon hundreds of years of Feys.
Again picking up 'Secrets of the Psyche Lock' (compiled by a Great-Great Grandmother Fey), Maya re-read the passages on 'unbreakable locks' and 'use of charged Magatamas by spiritually devoid people.'
Maya was afraid she'd misread, so she rubbed her eyes and pored over the pages again. But the wording was explicit. "Spiritually charged Magatamas allow the spiritual-power impaired to view breakable, red Psyche-Locks, but unbreakable Locks are not visible to the spiritually untalented, one of the severe limitations of this technique. Spiritually talented women, however, can view unbreakable Psyche-Locks in a black hue."
After a moment, Maya sighed in relief at reasonable explanation. Maybe the charge Pearl had put on the Magatama she gave Phoenix was more powerful than the ones invented by the time the book was written. Pearl was studious and dedicated, after all.
She'd better double-check to make sure.
Pearl's answer was slightly disconcerting.
"No, I just put the regular charge on it, like in 'Secrets of the Psyche Lock.' I don't think it is possible to make unbreakable Locks visible to ordinary people. Unless you figured out how, Mystic Maya?"
"No… I was just asking, that's all," stammered Maya.
And as the new year dawned after Phoenix finally cleared his name, he had returned to Maya vowing to be 'partners' after some years of their 'not-quite-committed' relationship. His future lying with with Maya he was sure, as for other aspects of his life (Should he take the Bar Exam again? Should he do something else?) it was definitely time to do some deep soul-searching in the relative peace of Kurain.
'Soul' searching. Oh ha ha ha. His poker-cynicism face dropped an inner sarcastic smirk.
I can't just walk into the Bar exam anyway, the damn thing has probably changed so much since then... Not that I want that Justice kid knowing! Kurain was looking better all the time, even if he revived the law career.
Trucy, now 16, was gaining independence, and spent the weeks with Apollo and her newfound mother Thalassa, visiting Kurain on weekends. (Phoenix had felt obliged to tell Trucy about her mother, despite Thalassa's protests, and though Thalassa had insisted it remain secret from Apollo, Phoenix had hinted to him that he and Trucy "might be related.")
The other residents of Kurain –many of them old Mystics with varying levels of spiritual power – regarded Phoenix with curiosity but incredulity. Most of them hadn't thought much of him when he was considered a forger, and even when proven innocent, they didn't seem to be that enamoured with him. However, Phoenix assumed this was simply the typical lot of males in Kurain.
Well, a few of the residents had taken a shine to him, such as old Mystic Maudred, who had just dropped by to chat yet again, though Phoenix got the disturbing impression it was only under the impression he was imminently going to impregnate Maya with a female child as heir.
"I'm so sorry, Nick," Maya had apologised the previous occasion. "It's not you, it's just that in Kurain tradition, that's all males are good for. They only respect people with spiritual powers, you see. I'm trying to change things, but it will take a while..."
Phoenix listened politely to Mystic Maudred, recalling how poor Maya had secretly admitted she never, ever wanted children at all, she was sick of the generations of intra-Clan warfare dividing cousins and siblings, and that as far as she cared Pearl's future children could inherit the Master position by default.
He got the feeling Maya lacked the confidence to impart this information to Mystic Maudred, however. But whilst he was thinking this, the Mystic's incessant monologue suddenly took a turn for the interesting.
"Boys have no powers, so we don't really have much use for them. They just eat, and take up space. Why, this is hush-hush, but once Mystic Morgan had a boy! We never got to see him though - she got rid of it straight away, before she'd ever finished labour. She told me to throw it in the river, but one of the other Mystics knew the phone number of the father, so I told him to come and collect it."
"And.. did he?" gulped Phoenix apprehensively.
"I think so. He was kind of drunk, and extremely resentful. I'm not sure what happened to him. Morgan refused to mention either of them ever again. She threatened to have me banished if I said anything."
She paused to glance at Phoenix. "Don't look so shocked. Why, one of the young acolytes had a boy around the same time. Mystic Morgan made her get rid of it too. I managed to take him to the orphanage, I'm not sure if they could contact the father… Hey, did you know, back in the day, Master Mary channelled a CAT ghost, but..." Mystic Maudred trailed off into a spiel of unrelated memories, obviously no longer enjoying the subject.
Phoenix's feet scrambled for foothold agianst the treacherous stones, his eyes fixed upward.
"Um, Maya?" he queried, as the waterfall platform pricked into view, far, far up the cliff face path. "D-does Pearl have a missing half-brother?"
"No. Why?" Maya's eyes bulged interest.
"Well, Mystic Maudred was telling me that Morgan once had a boy, but she got rid of it as soon as it was born."
"I hope not," sighed Maya. "But Mystic Maudred is a bit,um, 'delusional' sometimes. I bet it's just some kind of imaginary vision she had in one of her trances - I sure never heard of it before." Maya paused. "Got rid of. Did she... kill him?"
"Mystic Maudred said that Morgan told her to, but instead she called the father to take him away."
"I don't think it's true. We'd have heard from him by now, right? We did find Iris and Dahlia, after all…"
"Can people channel cats?"
"Huh? I d-don't think so..."
Both were lost in thought as they arrived at the waterfalls.
Usually Phoenix and Maya meditated side by side in solidarity, Maya devoting 90% of her powers to her meditation whilst 10% kept a slight watch for potential troubles from Phoenix. He'd come along well from the days when she'd had to devote the entirety of her attention to preventing him from passing out.
Today, however, Maya remained on high alert. When Phoenix began to enter his outwardly numbed, trance-like state, she slipped out from her position under the spray and crawled onto the rock platform an inch in front of him.
That confusion over the black Psyche-Locks was both irritating and tantalising. It was definitely past time to clear it up.
Young girls in Kurain with latent spiritual powers could be coaxed into displaying them with a few 'simple' exercises. She doubted he'd display any, but this could finally rule out this tantilising confusion.
"Nick?" she said aloud, projecting to his trance-like state. "Can you hear me?"
Phoenix mumbled something incoherent. He was already clutching the Magatama, as he always did during waterfall training, akin to security blanket.
Most people could only see the charged power emanating from the Magatama as a greenish glow. However, spiritually talented people like Maya could also feel it, detecting the radiating power with something like a sixth sense. For highly trained and powerful mediums, the main issue was screening out unwanted signals to focus on those of interest, but to untrained and less talented acolytes, the key was managing to detect the signals in the first place.
"Nick..?" She leaned forward.
He twitched slightly. She took it as a sign.
"I want you to concentrate on the Magatama for me."
His fingers gripped it tighter.
"You know there's power radiating off the Magatama, right? Well, I want you to feel it. Try and pick up the signals with your mind."
"Can't…no spiritual power.." mumbled Phoenix objectionably.
"Since it's charged, ordinary people can detect it too," lied Maya, not wanting him too demoralised to try. "I want you to concentrate. Try and detect the signals."
Phoenix appeared to be trying, but only achieved an expression as if in physical pain. Maybe this was a lost cause.
Though Maya was seized with lingering remembrance that some girls in Kurain possessed the sixth sense, but could never learn to access its feedback consciously.
Maya blinked and rubbed her eyes. Was the Magatama glowing brighter, or was she just imagining things?
"Can't..." muttered Phoenix.
"Come on, Nick!" commanded Maya, sadly aware that no matter how much she willed something to be true, it wouldn't make it so. Her desires sent the sum total of her supportive thoughts in his direction, her mind still acutely aware this was not one of her spiritual powers and it would not have much effect.
But in this concentration on him, she detected something else. Was that… the weakest radiation of untrained spiritual power?
Maybe it was just wishful thinking.
"Concentrate on the powers coming from the Magatama. It's like a sixth sense," she repeated again. "You can do it! I believe in you."
But he seemed about to pass out. Maya clasped her hand to his, ready to catch him and wake him up, furious with herself for subjecting him to this dangerous charade for her own selfish curiosity...Then she froze, enraptured.
The pulsating glow of the Magatama was indeed increasing before her eyes, and the green was morphing into a blue-ish tinge…
Nick's face then turned a pale shade of grey.
"Nick! Nick! Wake up!" she cried frantically, grabbing him in her arms to support him so he wouldn't smash into the rocks resurfacing from his trance.
She dragged his dazed form from under the tumultuous spray, upon which his exhausted eyes drooped into an uneasy doze. When he awoke a few minutes later, he had no recollection whatsoever that the events of this training session were any different than usual.
Usually after a waterfall session, Phoenix felt exhausted and drained, but somehow rejuvenated. This time, however, he felt hideous. His head exploded in pain, he felt nauseated, and every cell of his body seemed on the verge of collapse.
"I.. kinda feel awful," he admitted, unable to resist collapsing onto a nearby boulder.
Maya felt horrible. Any usage of spiritual power was excessively exacting to the untrained beginner – she vaguely recalled how awful her initial sessions had been as a young child. In her own enthrallment and disbelief she had probably forced too much from him.
She perched concernedly next to him. Phoenix had taken on an alarming pallor and was shivering gently.
"I'm sorry, Maya," he gasped in response to the supportive clutch of her palm. "I guess with no powers I'm not exactly cut out for your training. I just get in the way of what you have to do as Master."
"Not at all!" enthused Maya desperately, fearing he'd quit. "I like having you here. And you're actually extremely talented at this!"
"Thanks," he muttered disbelievingly, "but I know you're just trying to make me feel better."
"No. It's true," she stated firmly. "You're unusually talented. Today, when you were in the waterfall's trance… well, you showed you do have some kind of spiritual powers!"
Still incredulous, Phoenix vaguely wondered if it was April Fools Day or something. He cracked open his eyes, but Maya's face was resolutely serious.
"I...really think I should try giving you some beginners' training," she went on.
"But I thought the Kurain Channelling Technique was only possible for women?"
"It is. But there are other spiritual powers. I think you're a member of, um, the Order of the Phoenix."
Maya was delirious at the prospect of Phoenix having spiritual powers. Besides, if he had the power level she suspected, the more narrow-minded residents of Kurain would be forced to stop infuriating her and finally give her Phoenix the respect he deserved.
Maya usually delegated most actual training of new acolytes out to other Mystics, but of course Nick became her pet personal project. The other Mystics scoffed at her, but Maya was determined. Soon 'Mystic Phoenix' would outrank even them in spiritual power!
...Though she soon found she had to improvise with 'Mystic Nick' and throw the training manuals out the window. Nick's powers seemed to be different to the usual Kurainian ones, and didn't seem to include actually channelling spirits. Oh well. They'd both always been a bit iconoclastic.
Successfully invoking a lot of hispowers was based on trial and error. For example, what was she to make of rememberings like "Maya? I once dreamed that I brought some evidence from the future into an investigation in the past… but maybe I wasn't dreaming? " But Maya was determined.
They hadn't exactly found much practical application for his powers yet, but she felt it was important he got some awareness of his potential so he could decide if and how he wanted to use them. Though he'd got more cynical and jaded over the years, he was still a lovely guy at heart, and he'd probably want to use his powers to help people or better humanity or somesuch.