Sounen no Gashuu. Back when he was still an official agent of the Shihou Reijukai, this was Gashuu's unwritten title, the young man being named as such due to the blue flames he wielded. Amongst spell casters, there were always varying levels of power. Blue was a color that made Narina think of water and ice, not searing heat, and yet that was what his spells delivered. Gashuu was a fire caster of the highest caliber- only the white flames of his sister could have overpowered him.
Orange flames were what flew from Jeene's hands. They were like the sunset- a beautiful thing which was seen each and every day. Logically, such a common level of strength provided little danger for whom the attack was intended for.
Narina understood this very well, and while her mind deemed it unnecessary to act, the young woman could not stop herself from listening to her heart instead.
Gathering up the water around her, she loosed her counter attack with protective vigor. Steam hissed in the air as the ball of flame was doused, the priestess stepping between the two fire casters with her arms spread wide. Tears stung her eyes as the vapors faded, leaving no barriers between the red haired woman and herself. Jeene kept both her fists clenched as she approached, an expression of anger and disappointment on her face.
"Please calm down, Jeene-san" the water caster implored.
The other woman stomped her foot down mere centimeters from where the priestess held her ground. "Get out of my way, Narina! That guy behind you deserves a beating!"
"Gashuu-san has just recovered from a serious injury and major blood loss" Narina tried to explain, her eyes moistening further. "Being violent with him is-"
The lavender haired woman was cut off as Jeene grabbed her by the shoulders. "What's the matter with you?!" the redhead demanded, shaking her. "Be angry with him, damn it! You were just as upset as any of us when he left! For months you couldn't go a day without crying over it!"
"I cry over everything…!" Narina countered weakly, her voice cracking.
The fire caster squeezed her shoulders tighter, her jaw clenched as she struggled to find some reply. "Th-that may be so, but…!" she trailed off awkwardly as the water caster let out a whimper. "Hey! Come on, don't…" sighing heavily, the redhead loosened her grip a little before shooting a glare at the young man who was still seated leisurely at the table. "Would you pay attention to the trouble you're causing?" she snapped.
Gashuu rolled his eyes. "She was fine before you got here"
"Wha- I could say the same thing to you!" Jeene shot back, only to be hugged by Narina, making her falter again.
"Please, stop!" the water caster begged, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I don't want anyone to fight!"
Again Jeene struggle with herself, wriggling in the tearful woman's grip for a moment before finally giving into her maternal instincts and patting her on the head. "Okay! It's okay, alright? No one's going to fight, so cheer up…!"
Silverus appeared at the room's entrance, his breathing slightly strained as he grasped the doorframe for support. "Are their any injuries?" he inquired, looking from his wife and the lavender haired woman to Gashuu.
"Everybody's just peachy" the white hair man replied sarcastically, putting his feet onto the table. "Except Narina. Jeene went and made her cry"
"Like I said" Jeene hissed spitefully. "That's your fault!"
Anger flashed in the eyes of her former partner. "And what the hell makes it my fault?"
"Want me to come over there and tell you?!" the redhead challenged, finally managing to free herself from Narina.
"Yeah, I do!" Gashuu agreed, getting to his feet in a standoffish manner.
Narina heard herself give a faint cry as Jeene shoved her aside in the most well-intentioned way possible. Scrambling to steady herself, the priestess threw a worried glance in Gashuu's direction and felt her concern spike upon noticing how carefully the man's hand was resting against his abdomen.
He isn't fully healed!
The words were stuck in her throat. Narina reached for Jeene, her outstretched hand failing to catch the other woman as she stumbled in her rush of footfalls. Again the water caster looked toward her injured companion, attempting to convey a silent plea for him to avoid the oncoming violence. Gashuu did not return her gaze, seemingly determined to avoid meeting her eyes. The priestess was about to try and intercept the two fire casters once more, but just as she began to move Narina's feet paused.
The lavender haired woman watched in surprise as Silverus did as she had intended, stepping into the space that remained between Jeene and Gashuu. Taking his wife's hand in his own, the High Priest put on his most calming smile for her.
"Please give yourself a moment for thought, Jeene" the pale haired man instructed gently. "You mustn't fight before the eyes of children"
As if on cue a six year old girl appeared at the entrance of the study, aquamarine eyes drifting about to room curiously before coming to rest on the figures of her parents. The pale haired child smiled happily and waved, and with her free hand Jeene waved back, a strained grin on her face.
"You brought her along just so I wouldn't do anything messy, didn't you?" the redhead whispered irritably to her husband.
Like the intelligent man that he was, Silverus gave no reply to his wife's accusation.
Allowing herself a sigh of relief, Narina took several step towards the doorway where Jeene's daughter still stood. The priestess extended a hand towards the young child, smiling as the girl looked up at her with big round eyes.
"Won`t you come join us?" the lavender haired woman wanted to know.
The child nodded, taking hold of the hand in front of her. Narina led her over to the seating area, motioning for Silverus and Jeene to follow her as well. The little girl plopped herself into one of the chairs, and the water caster drew a breath of air as she thought of what needed to be said. "Silverus-sama, Jeene-san…" the priestess looked toward the pair tentatively. "There is something I must to discuss with you"
Husband and wife exchanged glances. "Is there some cause for concern?" the High Priest's inquiry said that he knew naught of what to expect.
Narina steeled herself for what she was about to say. "Q…quite a large amount, Silverus-sama. For…for that reason, I suppose I should start at the beginning…" her silver eyes drifted towards the white haired man she had taken a seat beside before refocusing on her audience. "As you are aware, Gashuu-san was gravely injured upon his arrival at the Mizu Ten. From what I have heard, he has done quite a bit of traveling since his departure seven years ago…and more recently, he even ventured to my home town of Eludina"
Once again, Silverus and Jeene looked towards one another briefly. It was a silent sort of conversation that only a married couple could partake in. They were likely trying to predict where the priestess was going with this conversation. Judging from the unenlightened expressions they still wore, they had yet to come up with an answer.
"I remember Eludina" Jeene piped. "It was placed under a death curse by the traitor Galeus. How've the townsfolk been since then?" the redhead gave Gashuu a curious look that was accompanied by ire.
"They're doing well" Narina answered in Gashuu's stead, a brief smile on her face. The woman's expression became downcast as she forced herself to continue. "But…"
Jeene knitted her brow. "But…what, Narina?"
The Protection Sage candidate bit her lip. Knowing the answer already pained her terribly, and so speaking of it would undoubtedly hurt all the more.
"I was attacked there"
Silverus, Jeene- even Narina- all three directed their attention to Gashuu, who had taken it upon himself to say what the timid priestess could not. This had been a common role for him in the past, but to hear the man reveal everything so carelessly was shocking.
"A group of mages were practicing Luciffis spells in a temple just outside the village" the way Gashuu spoke made it seem as though he were recalling fond memories. "They didn't like it when I accidentally caught them"
"Luciffis spells?" Jeene echoed in disbeleif. "You're kidding me!"
"It gets crazier" Gashuu promised her. "The ones performing the spells? They were water casters"
Narina couldn't stop herself from flinching. She already knew all of this, and yet she felt no less stricken by his words. Across from her, Silverus' expression changed from shocked to austere.
"That is a very serious accusation, Gashuu" the High Priest warned. "Are you certain of this?"
"Do you think I'd be sayin' it if I wasn't?"
After a long pause, Silverus let out a cool sigh. "No. I have faith in your judgment-" the man rose to his feet suddenly. "I need to inform our Priestess immediately"
"Oi, oi, wait just a second!" Gashuu got to his feet in a rush. "I didn't tell you this so you could go and blab to people about it!"
Narina grabbed onto the sleeve of his tunic, her eyes trained on his stomach. "Gashuu-san, you mustn't move so rapidly-"
Gashuu jerked his arm free. "Don't you get it? If he tells the head of the Mizu Ten, we'll lose any chance of sneaking up on those renegade Aquas!" looking back to Silverus, the fire caster's eyes narrowed critically. "You'd better understand that" he warned.
Silverus stared at him quietly for a moment, his aquamarine eyes meeting the man's ice blue ones unwaveringly. The silence in the room seemed to swell to unbearable proportions, squishing Narina's chest tight and making her feel lightheaded.
A dandling smile appeared on the High Priest's face. "Could it be that you're suspecting me, Gashuu?"
"Shouldn't I?" the fire caster wanted to know.
"I can't believe you!" Jeene joined the two men in standing, her anger rekindled. "To think you won't trust someone who's been on your side for so long-"
The red haired woman stopped short as Silverus placed a hand on her shoulder. "Gashuu isn't at fault, Jeene" he conceded, surprising the room's occupants. "I am a high-ranking member of the Mizu Ten, and undisputedly one of Shisei-sama's most trusted aides. If I wanted to, I could easily use my position to betray others"
"But…!" seeing his point, Jeene stopped herself there.
"Although I understand your thinking, I must say I am a bit hurt, Gashuu" Silverus told the shorter man, chuckling as he took his seat once more. "I will hold my silence for now"
"Good" Gashuu grunted.
Glancing from the white haired man beside her to her superior, Narina tried to smile, and failed. Although it seemed as though there would be no more fighting this evening, she could not place a happy expression on her face. "S…Silverus-sama…" she started hesitantly, watching as the man turned his aquamarine eyes on her. "I understand your feelings of wanting to tell our Priestess quickly…but I…like Gashuu-san, I feel there would be too much risk. Even though I say that, something should still be done…perhaps investigation, or…"
Emotional strength lacking, Narina let her words fade. She was not in such a grand position as to be telling the High Priest of her order how to handle internal affairs.
"I agree" Silverus said almost immediately. "I'm sure you're aware of the provisions team being sent to the Jidelia territory in two days time. How would you like to join them?"
Narina was aware of it, having checked over the record stones earlier that day. Jidelia territory had always been plagued by monster attacks, and the Reijukai often sent teams from varying factions to give aide to the townsfolk. "If you think I can be of assistance, then I would gladly participate…but…"
"It serves a purpose" the pale haired man explained, sensing the woman's confusion. "Once the mission in Jidelia is complete, you should then part from your team and head to Eludina, where you may investigate as you see fit"
"I see…" Narina touched her lips thoughtfully. "Would it really be alright for me to part from the others like that? Although I do want to investigate, I would hate to concern-"
The lavender haired woman flinched when Gashuu flicked the side of her head. "You moron. No one would have a problem with the candidate for Protection Sage paying a visit to her hometown" he pointed out. "Even if they did, s'not like they'd say anything to Narina-sama"
"That's right!" Jeene gave a carefree wave as she agreed with the other fire caster for the first time that evening, completely without her notice. "Don't worry about it!"
"I will make note of your plans to the coordinators" Silverus offered.
Narina nodded to him gratefully. "Then I will go to Jidelia and assist the people there…and then to Eludina"
"Will any of those traitors even be in Eludina still?" Jeene wondered. "They could have fled the temple by now"
"Eludina is the only option we have" her husband admitted. "If nothing else, we may be able to find a trace of where they could have gone. It will also provide us with a chance to study the spell markings within the temple. If we can discern what sort of spells they have been attempting to perform, then it may reveal their purpose"
"I'm going too" Gashuu said to the two water casters, not as an offer, but a demand.
Narina smiled kindly. "Of course, Gashuu-san"
"Since your supervisor is joining the provision team, your participation in the mission is already mandatory" Silverus reminded him.
The fire caster stiffened with displeasure, having forgotten all about being under probation. "Fuck!" he spat.
Jeene raised a brow curiously. "Supervisor? What's that about?"
"The Shihou Reijukai decided earlier this day that Gashuu was to be placed under a probationary period to asses whether his skills and loyalty as an agent have decreased since his departure" Silverus explained, much to Gashuu's chagrin. "Narina was chosen as the one to oversee him"
The redhead snorted, laughter catching in her throat. "Probation? Serves you right!"
Jeene's daughter laughed giddily along with her mother, completely blissful and unaware of the grave things the adults around her had tentatively finished speaking of.
The water had not been touched. By its lonesome it sat on the bedside table, full and waiting patiently to be drunk. Moonlight filtered through the smoothly cut glass, making the gleaming surface wink at him as if to mock his failure.
Aurus stepped closer to where the crystalline glass rested, his eyes trailing over the abandoned bed slowly. The sheets were a mess, and the blanket had been tossed away with such carelessness that it now threatened to slide off onto the floor. Blood dappled everything. The patient who had been laying here mere hours ago was nowhere to be seen, and they hadn't even given been courteous enough to drink the cup of water that was brought for him.
Had he known that it was poisoned?
The man took hold of the cup lightly and lifted up for inspection. Surely they did not suspect anything. He would have been caught by now, if that were the case. The tainted water hadn't been touched, but only because of the intended target's own uninterested in the beverage, Aurus was certain. The water caster's green eyes reflected in the crystal glass as he assured himself of this fact.
If a white haired fire caster should come seeking treatment from the Mizu Ten, you must kill him.
These were the instructions Aurus had received from his superiors two moon ago. As a water caster, Aurus found taking another's life to be a difficult task, but if it was for a greater good he knew he could not hesitate. No more than a day after he had received the order, a man barged into the temple. His hair was white and his ears were pointed, and the only color that showed on his face was the sickly sheen of sweat.
And then the man he was meant to kill made a demand for the current candidate for Protection Sage, master water caster Narina herself.
"Tell that crybaby Narina to get her ass out here!"
He barked his words so clearly that Aurus wondered if the man even knew how rude he was being, to call upon a woman as respectable as her in such a way. Narina. Not Narina-sama, not Protection Sage candidate Narina, not even Narina-san. Who was he to say her name with such informality?
Who was he to Narina-sama?
That thought made Aurus falter. There was no one else in the hall other than the two of them. He could have thrown him off the ledge of the temple's floating enclave and no one would have been the wiser. Instead he rushed to the Temple of Instruction, interrupting the Protection Sage candidate's lecture with the students so he could inform her that a man he was supposed to kill wanted to see her.
He should have known that just glancing upon his face would have been enough for the lavender haired woman to see what he was injured. She worked tirelessly throughout the night in an attempt to stave off death, pouring every ounce of strength she had into her healing magic. Aurus forced himself to stand just outside the doorway and listen to her cries, enduring the ache of guilt in his chest as he prayed for her to fail.
For Narina-sama, Gashuu Noun was a precious person. It was truly unfortunate that he needed to die, and even more unfortunate that he had not taken the poison. Killing him now would upset her so much more.
"Curse it all…" finished with his thoughts, Aurus turned toward the door, mumbling as he went. "What a mess…should have just killed him...how will I explain it…?" reaching for the handle, he noticed that the glass was still in hand. "I need to get rid of this…"
But then door opened far too suddenly. Aurus jumped backwards, poisoned water rippling dangerously in its confines as Protection Sage candidate Narina stepped through the threshold.
"Aurus-san!" Narina said sweetly upon sighting him. "How fortunate to it is to meet you here. I need to inform you that I will be accompanying the provisions team on their trip to Jidelia territory. I know the notice is short, but would you be able to join me?"
"Of course, Narina-sama" Aurus replied, only momentarily stunned. "For whatever you require of me"
The lavender haired woman clasped her hands together cheerily. "Wonderful!" she chirped, looking back over her shoulder. "You see, Gashuu-san? You will be without tasks to the point of boredom, I'm sure. Aurus-san is always very helpful, after all"
Aurus had to keep himself from glowering at the man whom the priestess was speaking to, his hair stark white and eyes an icy blue. The target's pallor was quite healthy now- distressingly so.
"Gashuu, was it?" the blonde man tried to smile as the High Priest might. "I'm relieved that you are well at last"
"That makes one of us" the fire caster said flatly.
Silence intruded. Glancing at the two of them quietly for a moment, Narina took it upon herself to step further into the room. She went to the edge of the bed, where the patient's belongings had been placed the night before.
"Here are your things, Gashuu-san" she began, picking up the bundle of items carefully. "I'm afraid I had to cut away your clothes, so if you wish to change then you'll have to borrow them"
"Sure thing, boss"
She handed the fire caster her burden with an odd little frown, and then turned to her aide. "Aurus-san?"
He jerked at the sound of his name, looking at the lavender haired woman speaking to him with nervous green eyes. "Yes?" he breathed.
"Gashuu-san will be staying at the temple for the time being. If he has any troubles, can I ask that you assist him?"
This time, the blonde's smile was sincere. "Gladly, Narina-sama"
Thank you for granting me such an opportunity, he wanted to tell her, but the thought remained a thought. She could not know of his intentions- at least not for now.
Silver eyes fell on the crystal glass in his hand, making Aurus' hear stop.
"Were you taking that away?" the woman wanted to know.
"Ah- yes, Narina-sama. It is lukewarm, so no one will enjoy it now, I'm sure"
Narina suddenly looked hopeful, and thirsty. "May I have it? Although it has warmed, the glass I was drinking from earlier was spilt, and my throat is quite dry now. Just a sip to moisten it would be-" she reached for the cup, stopping short when it was jerked away by her assistant.
Aurus' eyes were wide with fear for the woman's life, and for the suspicious look that formed on Gashuu's face as water splashed on the floor.
"I will fetch you a fresh glass" he said quickly.
The priestess laughed at his words. "Don't be silly, Aurus-san. There is no need for you to do something so trivial-"
Again, the beverage was pulled out of her reach, and more water hit the floor. The crystal-cut glass was close to half-empty now, and Narina's brow knitted together in response to her assistance unusual behavior.
"Are you…alright, Aurus-san?" she wondered, placing her outstretched hand on his arm. This time, he took care to not pull away. "You're so unsteady"
"I-" for a moment, Aurus glanced at the woman's companion, his green eyes touching the man's icy blue ones. Blinking away the chill, the water caster looked to the woman before him. "I admit, I am feeling rather ill, Narina-sama" he tried.
Concern welled in Narina's eyes, her lower lip trembling until she took it between her teeth. Before he could react she touched his hand- the one holding the glass of poison water, and pressed it to him gently. "I am so sorry" she apologized. "You are much more in need of water than I am. Please take this with you and go rest in your chambers"
"Y…yes, Narina-sama" he squeezed the glass hard as her fingers left him. "Thank you"
The priestess smile up at him sadly. "Take care"
Nodding, Aurus turned to the entrance and froze almost immediately, caught in Gashuu Noun's ice cold gaze. The two men started at each other silently, and Aurus was certain the poisoned water in his hand would freeze as well if the fire caster continued to stare him down any longer.
He knows! Cried a terrified voice in Aurus' mind. He knows!
Aurus clenched his jaw, the fingers of his free hand curling into a fist. If his relations to the outside faction were to be revealed, then his orders must first be completed. Narina-sama…he only would have liked to have explained everything to her first-
His regretful thoughts came to a halt unexpectedly. Gashuu stepped to the side, his back pressing against the doorframe as he waited for the water caster to pass him by. "Take care" he said, mocking the priestess with his mimicry.
Aurus did not dare to breathe as he walked past the threshold.
They walked through the corridors with their footsteps out of sync. When she stepped with her left foot, his right one came forward. The priestess wore a faint smile, glancing at the man beside her as they moved. Nowadays she always found herself walking swift and strong, and for one as timid as her, it was exhausting. There was no need for such airs with Gashuu, though. At his side, Narina was free to humbly shuffle her feet to her heart's content- and she needed contentment.
Gashuu needed contentment as well, but how she was meant to provide him with it, the priestess did not know. For now, all she had to offer was the spare room located across from hers in the temple's residency.
"My room is just up here, at the end of the hall" the lavender haired woman told him as they neared their destination. "Yours is across from it"
"There's no lock on this one" the man noted as they stopped at their assigned rooms.
"That room has been empty for some time, that is why" Narina explained. "I can ask for a lock and key to be made for you, if you like. You can store your valuables in my room until then"
"The only thing of value I've got right now is my life" Gashuu told her. "Can I stay in your room?"
The water caster couldn't tell if he was joking or not, and decided to shake her head in response to the ambiguous question.
"Lame!" he grumbled childishly.
Narina did laugh a little at that point. Joking or not, there was no place for him in her room, unless he wanted to share her bed. That would be humorous indeed, the two of them squeezing into the space meant for just one person. Why, he'd nearly have to lie on top of-
She stopped thinking. "I'm sure you will be safe" Narina promised him. "Furniture and the like has already been added, but if there is anything else you need then don't hesitate to ask"
"Yeah, yeah…" Gashuu sighed loudly when the door to his room opened with ease, the hinges recently oiled. 'S'been a while since I've slept somewhere this nice" he commented on the interior of the darkened room.
Narina gave his words a halfhearted smile before she turned to her own room and withdrew a key from her robes. Metal clattered against metal as she pushed it into the keyhole, a familiar clicking noise following the twisting motion of her wrist that told her the door was now unlocked. Tucking the key back into her clothes, she grasped the doorhandel and started to push.
"Ah-" the priestess paused in opening her door. "I almost forgot!"
Gashuu looked over his shoulder at her. "What now?"
Narina turned to him, her eyes full of weariness and wistful thoughts. It had been nearly two moons since their reunion, and yet only now was the water caster remembering to do something so important. Smiling with all the kindness she knew, Narina spoke to him from her heart.
"Welcome back, Gashuu-san"
H…happy one-year anniversary, To The Hereafter? Seriously, for me to not update in over a year, that's just…well, I did warn people that updates were likely to take forever, but I never thought my words would end up being so literal…and just when it seemed like I was getting more readers, too…! Everyone has probably forgotten all about this one, now…waha, it's all my fault T.T! I'm sorry, readers! I'm sorry, Narina! I'm sorry, Phantom Wizard!
At least this was a fairly long chapter…
Anyways…I hope anyone reading this enjoyed it…and next time…next time, it definitely won't take me a year to update! So even though I don't deserve it…maybe someone will look forward to it…