The bright morning sun streams through the window. Daniil rolls away from the light and squeezes his eyes tighter, trying in vain to block out the sun. The heavy, warm body lying close to his feet moves and a low chirp greets him. He groans and pulls his pillow over his head. He feels movement and then warmth against his back.
“Tanith, I’m sorry for waking you, but it’s too early to cuddle,” his muffled voice remarks.
“It’s never too early to cuddle, Daniil-li,” Kylii whispers close to Daniil’s pillow covered ear.
Daniil sits up, his pillow falling onto his lap. Kylii smiles at his brother from his position next to Daniil, already dressed for the day.
“Why are you in my bed?” Daniil demands.
“Why are you still asleep? It’s morning and there’s an entire tower to explore.”
“So go explore it. I’m still tired.” Daniil grabs his pillow and returns to his face covered position. “Take Tanith if you’re too afraid to go alone.”
Loud chirping argues against this suggestion as Tanith stretches her back. Kylii grabs the pillow from Daniil’s head and throws it to the floor. “Come on. We haven’t been outside of a cell for…well, forever.”
“Twenty-three years, not quite forever, Kylii-li. We also haven’t been allowed to sleep through an entire day and I would like to experience that once before I die.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead. Come on,” Kylii whines as he pulls on Daniil’s arm. “Or do you really want to trust me on my own?”
A moment of silence passes before Daniil sits up and glares at Kylii. “Fine. Let’s explore the tower.”
Smiling victoriously, Kylii leaps from the bed and grabs fresh clothes from a chest. He throws the light cloth at Daniil. “Hurry and change. I know where we’ll start.”
Reluctantly standing, Daniil changes as Kylii hurries out the door. Tanith moves to the warm spot on the bed and curls up, but she doesn’t get to rest long before Daniil taps her snout gently. “Oh no, if I have to go, so do you.”
Tanith lifts her head defiantly and huffs out a short breath.
“Sorry, but dealing with Kylii is part of the deal with any pact made with me.”
Grunting as she stands, Tanith rolls her eyes, an odd motion that involves her entire head moving. She hops to the floor and walks out the door.
Daniil finishes dressing and follows the two out. Kylii’s smile is so wide on his face Daniil is afraid it will split his brother’s entire head, but he recognizes the smile all the same. Kylii is excited about something and he won’t share it with Daniil until the last possible moment so he can enjoy Daniil’s full reaction. That smile has lead to many instances of Daniil nearly being killed or worse… nearly killing Kylii himself.
“This way!” The childlike tone to Kylii’s voice sends a shudder through Daniil.
The three venture to the stairwell at the end of the hallway and Kylii leads them down. They head down three floors before Kylii takes them down a long hallway with many doors. Voices can be heard coming from each room and Daniil catches the voices of children answering in unison.
Confusion fills him and he grabs his brother’s arm. “Where are we going, Kylii-li?”
“We’re almost there. Be patient.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that word before. I didn’t think you knew what it meant.”
Kylii pulls his arm free and fake laughs. “Funny.” He stops outside of a door and knocks. The voices that had been speaking on the other side stop and footsteps are heard.
The door opens and a man wearing the robes of a Seer appears. He meets Kylii with his dark eyes. “Kylii, back so soon?”
“I promised I would be back with a surprise for the children, Oswen.”
“Yes, I know, but I assumed you meant later. It hasn’t even been half an hour.”
Daniil pulls his brother away from the door. “Surprise for the children?”
The Seer, Oswen turns his attention to Daniil. “You must be Kylii’s brother. I can tell just by looking at you.”
“Being twins helps with that,” Daniil says. He leans close to Kylii. “Why did you drag me down here?”
“The kids wanted to meet the other half of the Lakeen brothers. I couldn’t say no. Plus, I thought they’d enjoy seeing Tanith, too.”
Oswen’s eyes move to Tanith, who sits patiently next to Daniil. Her white eyes watch the two brothers curiously and her tail sweeps across the floor. “Since you came down here, you might as well see the children. They haven’t been able to focus since you left, anyways,” Oswen comments, reentering the room.
Daniil shoots his brother and icy look and Kylii taps him on the cheek. “Come on, Daniil-li. Smiles for the children.” He follows Oswen into the room and excited voices echo out into the hallway.
“Hey! I said I’d be back!”
After taking a calming breath and pushing the thought of walking away out of his mind, Daniil enters the classroom. Tanith follows behind slowly. The room is filled with separate desks lined up in rows. Some children are still seated while the rest crowd around Kylii, who scruffs the hair of a boy with freckles covering his nose.
A small girl, standing back from the gathered group, turns and looks up at Daniil with dark, chocolate brown eyes. Her black hair is braided and hangs over her shoulder. She plays with the end of the braid with her small hands and squeezes it tightly when she spies Daniil behind her.
The brown eyes widen as they jump to Tanith standing next to Daniil. She slowly moves her eyes back to Daniil. “Is she friendly?”
Daniil remains silent, unsure of what to say. He gazes at Kylii who is lifting some of the children up on his arm. They laugh, completely oblivious to anything else. Those sitting at their desks watch Daniil and the little girl curiously.
Kneeling to the floor, Daniil meets the girl’s eyes. “What’s your name?”
He places a hand on Tanith’s back. She steps forward, closer to the girl. Asha hesitantly takes a step back, but Daniil holds his other hand up. “Don’t be afraid, Asha.” He turns his head to Tanith. “Tanith, this is Asha. She wants to know if you’re friendly.”
Tanith lowers her head and cautiously steps closer to the girl. She lies down at Asha’s feet and chirps. She nudges the girl’s leg softly. Asha takes a shaky breath. One of her hands releases the braid of hair and hovers down to Tanith’s scaled head. She gently runs her hand through the brown mane and a small smile breaks on her face.
“She’s warm and her hair is soft,” Asha says. Tanith lifts her head and licks Asha’s hand, releasing a short squeal of laughter. “That tickles!”
“Hey, hey. What’s going on over here?” Kylii asks. He walks with children hanging from his arms and eyes fill with wonder at the sight of Daniil and Tanith.
Daniil stands and locks eyes with his brother. “I could ask the same to you. What are those growths on your arms?”
Kylii looks at each child hanging from his arms and beams. “These? I don’t know. They just kind of appeared, but I think I’ll keep them.” He swings the children and they erupt into laughter.
Oswen claps his hand and the children fall silent, facing their teacher. “All right, back to your seats. We will do introductions and be a little more civilized before complete chaos takes over.”
The children reluctantly return to their desks, but Daniil notices Asha simply sit next to Tanith to continue stroking her. Oswen doesn’t seem to mind and walks to a stool in the corner of the room.
“Well, you all know me already,” Kylii begins. The children nod, excitedly. “This is my other half, my brother Daniil Lakeen the ice mage. And that adorable animal there is Tanith, a legendary beast known as a Khorgoi.”
A nudge from Kylii shoves Daniil closer to the children. He waves his hands, encouraging Daniil to speak. “Right, I’m Daniil. Kylii’s twin brother. Older twin brother.”
“By two minutes.”
Kylii rolls his eyes and makes a face at Daniil, causing many in the room to laugh.
“As Kylii said, I’m an ice mage. I guess that means he’s already explained that he’s a fire mage.”
A hand waving vigorously in the back catches his attention and Daniil nods at the girl. She stands and crosses her arms in front of her. “If your twins, why are your eyes different colors? Everything else is the same.”
The brothers look at each other and back to the girl. “Magic,” they answer together.
The children mumble at this answer, confused. Oswen claps his hands for silence. “As you will learn in your further studies, children, there are still many things we as humans do not yet understand about magic. Especially in our fair city where the only magic we are exposed to regularly is our Seer magic, there is still much to learn. Some magic does affect the body in unexplainable ways.”
“Basically, what Ossie is saying, kids, is my eyes reflect my fire magic and Daniil’s eyes reflect his ice magic. For some their magic can be reflected in their eyes or through other means,” Kylii says.
“Ossie?” Oswen’s voice sounds slightly irritated, but Kylii ignores him.
“What Kylii is trying to say is sometimes magic affects people, sometimes it doesn’t. But a common place is the eyes,” Daniil explains, elbowing his brother in the stomach. “Though in his case, I think it’s also affected his brain.”
“What’d I do?”
“Um,” Asha’s soft voice catches everyone’s attention. “Do Khorgoi’s know magic? I’ve heard some animals are capable of using magic.”
Kylii nudges Daniil with his elbow. “Yeah, Daniil. Do Khorgois know magic?”
Shooting his brother an angry look, Daniil answers, “From what I’ve come to understand, Khorgois can use bonding magic. They can make a bond or pact with another living being. These bonds may last for hours or they can last for years. With a bond comes communication and a connection.”
“So you can talk to her?”
“Well, anyone can talk to her. She understands human language, but I can hear her voice in my head.”
Sounds of amazement fill the room and hands shoot into the air. Most ask if they can pet Tanith and soon the children crowd around her. After each one has a chance to pet her, they return to their seats and ask questions about the Arena. Daniil and Kylii retell their time in the Arena and even act out some of their favorite fights, being sure to keep graphic details to a minimum.
Asha stays on the floor next to Tanith, having grown fond of the Khorgoi. Tanith doesn’t move away or show any sign of annoyance. Instead, she lays her head on the young girl’s lap and watches Daniil and Kylii with her white eyes filled with as much amazement as the children as she listens to their stories.