Waking Up

That morning, it felt as if they both awoke from a strange, vivid dream. Hazel and the Ancient One were in the same bed, lying facing one another, and they jolted awake at the same time. The Ancient One sat up and looked around to gather her bearings. They were in the Ancient One's bedroom, which was as tidy as she'd left it. The digital clock on the bedside table was frozen and blinking, probably from an electrical malfunction. Had they lost power some time in the night? Hazel and the Ancient One were both wearing the white ribbon bindchain again. The Ancient One was wearing fresh pajamas, as well. Her skin was soft and clean, her head was freshly shaven, and she only felt as hungry or thirsty as she would any other morning.

It couldn't have been a dream.

The Ancient One looked blearily and uncertainly at Hazel, who seemed to share her feelings of confusion. How and when had they moved rooms? After breaking the trap, she remembered so little. There was a blurred line where dreams and reality had met that night...

Even if this was a false awakening, the two of them carried on and minded their own business. It would do no good to question things when neither of them were accountable. They slipped out of bed and made sure they were moderately presentable and headed downstairs into the master's dining room. At first, they were greeted by the master's voices and clattering of dishes. So it was breakfast time. Hazel and the Ancient One shared one last glance before entering the room, prepared for whatever nonsensical scene they'd walk in on.

It wasn't a spectacle of dopplegangers or monsters around the table—only the masters of Kamar-taj. One by one, each of them noticed their unexpected company, and for a moment they all fell still and silent and stared at each other. As if waiting. Then they were all thinking this: am I dreaming?

Hamir was the first to speak.

"Ancient One!" He got to his feet and crossed the room in a heartbeat. At first, he just stood before her, not sure if he should touch her or not. But thankfully, the Ancient One reached out to him. Her fingers grasped the fabric of his robe at his shoulders first. They looked each other in the eye, and at once they were both so grounded in reality that it felt odd they'd ever doubted. Then she wrapped her arms around him and he did the same to her, clinging and nearly crying with relief.

"Where have you been?" Mordo tried not to sound disrespectful. But surely none of them could be expected to be so rigid after the hellish 24 hours they'd had.

"I..." the Ancient One didn't know what to say for a moment. She knew it wasn't wise to rat Hazel out now right in front of her, lest Hazel spill the secrets she'd discovered. "How long was I gone?"

"A day," Hamir replied, pulling away from her. "You disappeared before the harvest celebration on the first. It's the third now."

"I see..." The Ancient One glanced at Hazel, who nodded in affirmation.

They all sat down again and resumed breakfast as if nothing happened. Of course, none of them were put at ease that easily; the masters couldn't take their eyes off the Ancient One, and she was busy thinking up what all she could say to and ask them without giving herself away completely. Maybe it was best Hazel was right there. Although she wished she could ask Hazel to leave without raising suspicions, the Ancient One admitted keeping her here kept her mindful.

"You're still in your pajamas," Wong noticed. "Did you return last night?"

"I did," the Ancient One nodded. Master Junzo raised his head and narrowed his eyes. The Ancient One straightened. He could tell she was lying, but how could he question someone of her station? She'd become well-known for telling little lies here and there about everything. He had no right to question her now, and if he did, she'd deal with him later. How far could the others be swayed, after all? They needed her in more ways they'd be willing to admit to themselves.

"I didn't know how long I'd be gone," she continued. That was the truth. "I was paying respects to the creature that lost his life on the sanctuary grounds. It was only polite."

"So you were in Oriishii's domain," Master Tashi spoke up.

She only nodded. "I'm sorry for worrying you all. It would be best for us now if we just forgot about this summer. All of it. We have other things that need our attention again, and we've neglected them for too long."

That shut them all up. Even Junzo let her be after that. After refocusing their attention on more important issues, they'd be catty to dwell on the events of yesterday. And luckily, Hazel was completely silent and no one took any notice of her at all.

Distance

Everything around Kamar-taj finally seemed to go back to normal. "Normal" of course meaning "how things were before Hazel Grace ever showed up." Some masters didn't even consciously realize it, but things between Hazel and the Ancient One weren't as they once were.

After dinner, Hazel and the Ancient One went their own ways without having a chance to regroup and discuss things. Hazel went to her classes and did much better than she had in a while. The Ancient One on the other hand spent the morning until noon going from master to master getting updates and assuring them all that she was, in the flesh, back where they needed her and completely fine. After that, she retired to her room, meditated, re-balanced herself, wrote down an account of all that happened, and burnt it. After that, she was feeling much more herself and much more in tune with her sanctuary again. It left her a bit exhausted, though.

The Ancient One was seen again when she surveyed the last spellcasting class of the day. Hazel was overjoyed to see her there. As soon as class dismissed, Hazel approached her. Without considering herself, Hazel brazenly trotted up to the Sorcerer Supreme as if nothing was amiss.

"Giin," she chirped. "It's so good to see you—"

She froze in her tracks as the stones beneath her feet began to tremble in a wordless warning. Hazel stared at the tiles a moment before looking back up at the Ancient One. The woman glanced at the sanctuary carefully before waving Hazel closer. Hazel approached cautiously, as if she expected the temple to kill her on the spot if she laid a hand on the Ancient One. Once she was sure no one saw them, the Ancient One spoke quietly to Hazel.

"Keep your distance for a few days, Hazel," her voice was reserved but not aggressive. She indicated the bindchain on her wrist. "I'll be keeping an eye on you."

Hazel shrank back and nodded. "Okay."

The screaming of the cicadas in the trees faded for a brief moment, as if the bugs themselves were afraid to disturb them. It was only August, but Hazel was beginning to think she overstayed her welcome.

It Doesn't Mean Anything

Days passed in this fashion. Hazel dined with Reiko or Stephen or in her room away from everyone else. She shut herself away considerably, instead studying and practicing whatever she wanted on her own in the dregs of days she'd be allowed there. She wasn't sure exactly when she'd have to leave, but she could feel it coming soon. She just needed the catalyst.

The catalyst came soon enough. A few days after the Ancient One "returned," Hazel was startled awake at four in the morning to her phone ringing. She propped herself up on her elbow and checked the screen before taking the call.

"Mom?" She tried making it sound like she wasn't just asleep. "What's up? ... What do you mean? Yeah, sure, go ahead... I don't know I haven't spent anything this summer." She chuckled. "Yeah, I know. So what's going on?"

After a moment more, Hazel's face fell. "What do you mean?"

Hazel let out an exasperated sigh and glanced at the screen of her phone.

"Mom. Did Richard medicate them or not."

Hazel listened for another moment, then rolled her eyes with a muffled cuss.

"Yeah," she said curtly. "Yeah, I'll be there... I don't know, I'll need to finish things here and travel... Yes, important things. Look, you can take what you need from my account, and call Maria to help you. I'll be home as soon as I can... Alright, I'll see you then. Bye."

"She's up early."

The Ancient One followed Mordo's gaze as they passed the plaza. Hazel was already training, which was unlike her. Even though she'd never fallen far behind, she was notoriously lazy.

"She is," the Ancient One allowed. She wouldn't doubt Hazel was working out some frustrations over all that had happened this summer. Maybe she'd had another nightmare already. The Ancient One hoped otherwise. For all she'd done this summer, Hazel wasn't someone she'd wish that on again.

That afternoon, Hazel had the day off since she'd already done her chores that morning long before the rest of the sanctuary had roused. She didn't know what to do. She couldn't leave until nightfall, to ease suspicion over travel times. She wanted to at least pretend she needed to drive back home. She was restless until then, so she just stayed in her room.

Hazel knelt on the floor by the window. A sheet of paper was rolled out in front of her, and her hands were nearly black from the charcoal she was using. The drawing was now just a vague outline of a large grey wolf. Hazel's attention never left her work as she heard a knock at the door.

"Come in," she sighed.

"Hey, Hazel," Reiko greeted as she peeked her head in the room. Her face lit up when she saw what Hazel was working on. "Wow. Is that Fenris?"

Hazel didn't reply. You can't watch me while I work.

"Need something?" Hazel asked as politely as she could.

Reiko folded her arms and leaned against the door frame. "Dad's sending Stephen and me into town to get some things. Want to come along? The Ancient One said it was okay."

"Did she?" Hazel muttered. Reiko watched her for a moment, then glanced out the window.

Reiko moved closer and sat cross-legged beside Hazel.

"Hey," she said. Hazel refused to look at her. "Is everything okay?"

Hazel shrugged. Reiko smirked ruefully and leaned back on her hands.

"You're not the most open of people when something's wrong," Reiko noted. Hazel shrugged again. Reiko put her hand on Hazel's. Hazel glanced at her uncertainly. "Come with me. You need a break from all this. You've been cooped up in the sanctuary for longer than everyone else. Some fresh surroundings will help you clear your head."

Hazel shrugged. "Why are you so nice to me?"

"Because the Ancient One asked me to shadow you when you came to Kamar-taj," she replied. "Here, that's basically asking someone to take care of you. I know that we've hit some obstacles, but you're my friend. Come on, let's go out together, just you, Stephen, and me."

It took a moment of convincing, but Hazel eventually, hesitantly agreed.

.

The Ancient One was leaning on the balcony railing, watching Hazel, Stephen, and Reiko cross the courtyard and head out to the streets of the city. The Ancient One gave a sigh of relief, then straightened when another master joined her.

"I trust you're well?" Mordo asked as he joined her at the balcony.

"I am, thank you," she nodded, before turning back to the courtyard absentmindedly.

"Are you worried about Hazel going out?" Mordo guessed.

"You could say that," the Ancient One sighed heavily again. She was glad to have her out for the moment, but she knew this was a temporary fix.

"Old habits," Mordo mimicked how she leaned on the railing. Then he peeked at her cautiously. "Ancient One, if I may... I haven't seen you and Hazel together recently. I would expect her to obit around you like the Earth to the sun after what just happened."

The Ancient One kept still.

"Yes, well," the Ancient One turned and leaned back against the railing to look up at the temple roof. "Hazel's been distancing herself lately. I suppose she's trying to limit her attachment to me."

"I don't think so," Mordo humbly argued. He stopped himself, then figured he had nothing to lose. "You didn't argue with Hazel before you left, did you?"

"What do you mean?"

Mordo remembered how bold Hazel was, and yet how truthful, when she spoke on the Ancient One's part.

"She... When you were gone, we held a meeting to deduce your whereabouts, and she said a few things that seemed... uncharacteristic."

"Oh? Uncharacteristic?"

Mordo elaborated. "She said she knew you wouldn't take her place. She said you didn't care about her."

A branch on the blue flowered tree in the courtyard below snapped so loudly it resonated through the sanctuary and made Mordo jump. The Ancient One forced herself not to roll her eyes.

"Did she?" she asked through clenched teeth. After all she'd done...

.

The three students were quieter when they returned. It could've been a content quiet, like the fatigue after an exhausting but fun day out, but Reiko and Stephen seemed grim and knowing. It was the kind of quiet you get the day after the death of a beloved pet. Hazel and Reiko hugged for a moment too long before parting ways for dinner.

That evening at dinner, Hazel and the Ancient One sat on opposite ends of the table. It was a recent development; if Hazel did dine with the masters, she wasn't anywhere near the Sorcerer Supreme. They still gave each other meaningful looks, but there was a tension between them that left the room in silence all through meals. That silence, however, was broken tonight.

Hazel couldn't eat any more past the lump in her throat. She set her chopsticks down on her plate.

"I'm leaving," she announced. Everyone looked up. No one said anything for a moment. "I'm going back home in the next couple days."

The others weren't really sure what to say. It was rare for any member of their order to just leave like that. Most people who turned their back on Kamar-Taj did just that, and sometimes masters and apprentices would transfer to a different division of the order, but that wasn't the same as leaving... Even if it had been the plan all along for Hazel to stay the summer and go home at the end of it, none of them had prepared for it.

"It's... a little early, isn't it?" Junzo asked.

"Yes," Hazel nodded seriously. "But some of our horses are sick, so my parents want me to come home to help out. And class starts in a couple weeks anyway, so... It's best if I just pack my stuff and go all at once."

Hazel shifted her gaze to the Ancient One, and several of the masters followed suit. The woman's face was unreadable, but it didn't take an expert to see she wasn't happy about this.

"I see," the Ancient One muttered, looking away dismissively.

"Oh, don't be mad," Hazel implored patiently. "I can't help that my family needs me."

The Ancient One hummed. "Well, I've always preferred taking students that have no prior commitments, so I suppose I'm the one to blame?"

"What, did you forget our arrangement already?" Hazel faked shock. "My 'special case'? Or do you truly want me here after all that's happened? Really?"

"Daargein ni vodah tol," the Ancient One muttered, getting to her feet and walking towards the doorway dismissively.

Hazel slammed her palms on the table. "Don't walk away from me!"

The other masters would've been startled at Hazel's outburst, but what was even more shocking to them is that the Ancient One froze. The Sorcerer Supreme never hesitated for anyone after she decided to dismiss them. She was above it, in a way. Hazel Grace shouldn't have had this power over her.

After a moment of internal debate, the Ancient One turned back to the table and crossed her arms.

"Your commitments are none of my concern. If you're leaving, then leave."

"That's all you're going to say?" Hazel murmured.

"I don't know what you want me to say," the Ancient One said as patiently as she could. "And you have no power over me."

"Giinta," Hazel argued.

The Ancient One grasped the fabric of her sleeves until her knuckled turned white and trembled. She looked calm, but the masters knew she was furious. She turned her back to them.

"When can I expect you gone?" her voice was disjointed, suspended above her anger for a moment.

Hazel looked away dismissively. "Tomorrow night. Of course."

The Ancient One left suddenly as if an invisible chain keeping her there disappeared. Then Hazel left before the masters could scold her for anything she said or did.

Outlawed

The exchange between Hazel and the Ancient One greatly disturbed all the masters who'd seen it. However, Mordo and Junzo in particular just couldn't let it be. The other masters were willing to dismiss it as anything—raised tension over prematurely missing one another, most likely—but the other two needed to make sure nothing was amiss. They wanted to investigate, but the Ancient One had hidden herself away for the evening and was not taking visitors without good reason, (good reason of the "the sanctuary is on fire/Kaecilius is attacking the sanctums" variety). However, that didn't stop them from conducting their research that evening.

The pair had tried rallying other masters, but Hamir and Tashi had no interest in digging further into the Ancient One's affairs. It hardly mattered since Hazel was leaving anyway, they said, and if it was truly a concern, the Ancient One would be doing something about it. Mordo and Junzo had other thoughts on the matter. Something just felt wrong.

When they reached the library late in the night, it was empty and Wong was thankfully unoccupied.

"It's getting late," Wong greeted. "I doubt you're both here for some light reading?"

Mordo and Junzo exchanged a look.

"It's about what happened this evening," Mordo explained. "Between Hazel and the Ancient One."

Wong blinked and raised his head a little, but didn't seem completely adverse to discussing the situation like the other masters.

"Do you think it's a concern?" he asked.

"Why wouldn't it be?"

Wong gave a dubious look. He was ready to dismiss it just as the other masters had.

"She stopped the Ancient One in her tracks," Junzo stated, emphasizing every word to convey how bizarre the whole thing was. "Something happened between them recently. Something's been off between them since the Ancient One disappeared. It could've happened that night, it could've..."

"What could've happened?" Wong challenged. "Hazel has only helped the Ancient One up to this point. The Ancient One could've stopped because she felt obliged to after how much Hazel has done for her."

Mordo was willing to believe that, but Wong could tell the two sorcerers wouldn't be entirely convinced until they'd heard as much from Hazel or the Ancient One.

"Besides, the other masters are right. If it was a concern, the Ancient One would be acting on it."

"What if she can't?" Junzo proposed. Wong raised his eyebrows. "If Hazel truly did something to her and has power over her..."

Wong interrupted. "Do you honestly think Hazel is capable of that?"

"Emotionally? Not really," Junzo shook his head. "But physically? You've seen her mystical prowess. She'd done things I've only known the Ancient One to do. And even then, the Ancient One encourages that. What if she took it too far?"

"The Ancient One nurtured her, but she never would've allowed Hazel to practice forbidden arts here."

"The point still stands," Mordo argued. "Hazel Grace may be young in her practice, but she has the ability to become a formidable sorcerer. Not only that, but she has experience in practices none of us would dare dabble in."

"You're here to research those practices," Wong realized.

"Yes," Junzo nodded. "You know all she's read this summer. It's the best starting point we have."

Wong narrowed his eyes. "And what has the Ancient One said about this?"

"We've been over this," Junzo started impatiently. "Will you help us, or not?"

Wong gave the two of them a level stare, but gave in. He led them to the master's section and collected a selection of books Hazel had borrowed and a few others that she didn't borrow because she knew as much of it as she needed to already—binding magic and blood magic and pagan rituals, all recorded in black ink. In the end, Wong figured if Junzo and Mordo were worried over nothing, they'd find nothing. And it couldn't hurt to let them look.

Bindchain

"For I dearly love a good harp, said she."

Hazel stared at the page a moment longer before closing the book and leaning back against the blue-flowered tree.

"Well, that's it," she sighed. "We're done."

It took a whole summer, but she was glad she could get at least one thing right before she left Kamar-Taj. She expected the tree to be melancholy, of course. It was such a moody familiar; the news of her leaving was sure to upset it. And now that they'd finished the book, there was no real commitment binding Hazel to the tree anymore.

Hazel felt and heard the rush of air through the courtyard. The limbs of the tree creaked and thrashed. Hazel didn't think to move until it was too late. She felt the branches wind around her and pull her back into the tree. The bark behind her opened, and she felt herself sliding back into the dark...

"Hazel. Hazel."

Hazel stirred and opened her eyes. She was still under the tree in the courtyard, but the tree was still and she was still here. Master Mordo and Master Junzo stood over her. They were the ones who woke her up. Hazel sat up and rubbed her eyes.

"Masters," Hazel nodded politely and stood up. "Did you need me for something?"

"No," Mordo shook his head. "We only had some questions about your... practice."

"Oh?" Hazel chuckled. "Sure."

Junzo looked at the white ribbon on her wrist. "Have you ever practiced binding magic?"

"Yes, of course," Hazel said. "Well, the Tangahshii was binding, technically, but I didn't know that when I performed the ritual."

"And since then...?"

Hazel tilted her head. She tried to keep her tone level when she replied.

"Why are you asking me this?"

"We have some concerns," Mordo crossed his arms. His confidence in her was plummeting. "About you and the Ancient One."

Hazel's blood ran cold. "So talk to the Ancient One. I don't have to—"

Junzo blocked her way as she tried to flee. "Miss Grace, if you don't answer our questions, we'll be forced to assume your guilt—"

"That's bullshit!" Hazel snapped. "Do you even have an evidence against me?"

"We do," Junzo insisted. "The Ancient One has favored you all summer; it would be easy for you to bind her with an object."

Hazel narrowed her eyes and took a step back. How much had they considered this?

"She returned from Oriishii's domain—or wherever she truly was—because you bound her. And now you're abusing that power."

"What did I bind her with?!" Hazel demanded. Junzo snatched her wrist and held it up—the white ribbon was plain to see.

"This!"

Hazel yanked her hand out of his grasp and stared at the ground for a second as she tried taking a breath to calm herself. Shit. When she looked up again, the two masters were looking at her severely. She was caught. There was no way out of this.

"It's not what it looks like," Hazel shook her head slowly. "Just listen. I didn't do this to hurt her."

"What does it matter if you did or not?" Mordo whispered incredulously. Then his voice raised to a shout. "You broke our rules! You bound the Sorcerer Supreme, and you knew better. You had no place, and you have no right."

Hazel averted her eyes.

"I've warned you of your arrogance. I warned you not to challenge the Ancient One and you've taken her over. And I can no longer say how merciful she'll be to you."

Hazel was pale as she took another step back. For the first time since they gained each other's trust, Hazel was afraid of them, and rightfully so.

"Just wait a minute," she tried to caution them, but Junzo had already taken her by the sleeve and was dragging her back inside and down the hall towards the Ancient One's rooms. "Just wait a minute! This isn't what it looks like, just let me explain!"

Power

The Ancient One was startled when two masters suddenly barged into her study dragging a reluctant Hazel Grace with them. Junzo all but threw Hazel on the ground. Hazel stayed on the floor in a kneeling, bowed position, trembling and averting her gaze from anyone else in the room.

"What is this about?" the Ancient One's voice was almost feeble.

"Hazel has a confession to make," Junzo informed her. The Ancient One's gaze settled uncertainly on Hazel. What had she gotten them into this time?

Hazel was shaking like a leaf. Her voice came out in a mere whisper. "I'm sorry."

Junzo stepped forward and took the bindchain off of Hazel's wrist and offered it on the table in front of the Ancient One. She struggled to maintain a neutral face for a second.

"This girl has admitted to binding you, Master," Junzo said gravely.

The Ancient One's eyes widened just slightly. She turned on Hazel, who was still grovelling on the floor. Hazel gave her a dejected look. The Ancient One waved a hand dismissively at the masters.

"Thank you, Masters. I wish to handle this privately."

The two men bowed and left, closing the door behind them. Hazel remained doubled over for another moment, hands pressed to the floor, and from her hands, a sound-proof ward spread to surround them. Now that they were alone, Hazel no longer trembled, and she and the Ancient One just stared at each other.

"Well done," the Ancient One snapped. "How did they find out about this?"

"I don't know," Hazel said monotonously. "We freaked them out last night during our argument. They noticed the bindchain and connected the dots."

"They're wrong about it, though," the Ancient One argued. "Last night had nothing to do with this."

She all but yanked the ribbon off her wrist and paired it with the other. Hazel shrugged.

"So? We're fortunate that's all they found out. They're just drawing from what they saw when you got back."

"When I got back," the Ancient One seethed. "You're right. If they learned what you truly did—"

"Then maybe you should keep your fucking followers on a tighter leash," Hazel got to her feet. "We're lucky they jumped to conclusions, because now I'm taking shit for something you did!"

"I did this to protect you," the Ancient One glared at her. "If it wasn't for this bindchain, you would be dead."

"So would you!" Hazel yelled. Then she heaved a sigh. She knew she had no place yelling at her at a time like this. "Look, just punish me as harshly as you can and say it's over the binding, and we can count it for the... incident."

"Don't be barbaric," the Ancient One turned her back and looked at the bindchain on the table. Hazel Grace would go the way she would go, regardless of the Ancient One's treatment of her. And the Ancient One couldn't prevent that no matter how hard she tried. It was a hard lesson she'd had to learn again and again. It was the same for all her students. Now, the Ancient One had to just give it her all and see where it got her.

She heaved a sigh and turned back to Hazel. Her posture was regal again, and sterile in a way. Hazel unconsciously followed suit, sitting up a little straighter.

"Address me," the Ancient One invited. "Like you were my equal. We'll sort this like what we are."

Hazel felt a rush of relief on top of a wave of shaky confidence. But she agreed.

"Giin," she addressed. The Ancient One almost let herself smile and knelt on the floor in front of Hazel.

This was a dragon's game. Speaking back and forth about their future arrangements. It was mature from Hazel; up until now, she'd only been a student and a subject. To assume equality with someone as powerful as the Ancient One, she'd need to prove herself in that power. It made her feel uncertain the entire time, and she worried everything she'd done until now had been for nothing, but the Ancient One didn't regret having faith in her.

Hazel had never held up alongside a powerful being. She'd only been a servant, a favorite, a haalaan through and through. But she knew the old ways and knew how to carry herself in theory. The Ancient One expected a lot from her in this moment, but she knew that even if Hazel did succeed in holding the conversation as long as she needed to, she'd be worn thin by the end of it.

Words held power. True named held power. And as they held their counsil, the two of them exhausted such power with every word. That was how dragontongue truly worked.

Hazel would leave, they decided as much. And the sorcerers of Kamar-taj would never call on her as one of their own. As for the Ancient One, she'd remain as she always did and try to salvage what she had with her order. About the trap seal incident, they spoke objectively, and it was done. Hazel promised to never assert herself above the Ancient One again.

Their conversation lasted hours, and it was dark and past meal time when they finally finished. Perhaps going to bed without dinner after all that was salt in the wound at this point, but the Ancient One helped Hazel to her room for the evening. Her stuff was already packed, the Ancient One noticed.

After taking Hazel back to her room and ensuring she was feeling well enough to be left alone again, the Ancient One returned to her rooms and found Mordo and Junzo standing outside the door where she'd left them.

"Did you tell anyone else?" the Ancient One asked.

"No, of course not," Mordo's voice was quiet. He figured she hadn't taken it lightly.

"Good. I've handled the situation. I would appreciate it if you both forget any of this happened."

They looked troubled like they wanted to question her, but the Ancient One continued to reassure them.

"She didn't do it maliciously," she murmured. "Her heart was in the right place, even if her actions were mistaken. She won't do it again."

Mordo looked exasperated. "How many more mistakes are we going to allow her? She's only getting bolder and bolder. She's getting dangerous."

"She's a bad enemy to make, Mordo." The Ancient One gazed at him intently. "And her arrogance has little to do with it. Her morality is unconventional, but she's governed by ancient rules. As long as she's willing to lean from her mistakes, I'll keep her. So it's better to just leave it for now."

Have I Found You?

The Ancient One woke in the middle of the night for the last time that summer. She didn't know what she woke up for, and she didn't question it as she donned her robe and wandered the sanctuary purposefully. She was drawn outside, and under the full moonlight, the Ancient One could plainly see Hazel sitting on the roof staring at the moon. The Ancient One joined her, sitting a couple feet from Hazel and appreciating the calm night.

Hazel's voice was thin and weak when she spoke, as if she'd just woken up from a deep sleep.

"I don't think I'm very well, Hrairoo."

The Ancient One turned her head. In Hazel's place, a large black and grey dragon lied across the tiles of the roof. She saw very little of the dragon save for it's folded paws and its long, narrow head. Beautiful golden eyes. The Ancient One took Hazel's head and put it in her lap, and just like that, the dragon form was gone. Hazel was human again, curled up on her side with her head in the Ancient One's lap.

"I really don't want to go back yet," Hazel whispered.

"I know."

A moment of silence. Crickets chirped in the brush.

"Giin?"

"Yes, Hazel?"

"Can I come back? Would you please allow me to come back?"

The Ancient One considered it. She spoke clearly and emphatically, but not sternly.

"Keep your promise, and you can do as you please. The masters may no take you in classes any odd day, but if you ever need sanctuary, Kamar-taj is always open to you."

Hazel sighed with relief. She curled her fingers in the Ancient One's robes, even when the fabric was soaked with her tears. It was the first time she cried since she released the Ancient One.

"I'm sorry..."

The Ancient One stroked her hair soothingly. "I forgive you, Hazel."

"Why?"

"Because I have to, and you're willing. There's no point in staying angry with you. Forgiveness is the most powerful truth we have..."

Hazel sat up and wiped away her tears to look at the other earnestly. The Ancient One shared her gaze.

"Thank you for taking the fall for me. About the bindchain."

Hazel half-smiled. "No, genuinely, I get it. Besides, what does it matter to me if you draw power from the Dark Dimension? I bound myself in blood to a demon. Who am I to judge? You have to do these things for the greater good, and you can't tell anyone because they'd take away your power to do just that."

The Ancient One scrutinized her for a long moment before looking at the moon again.

"We're a lot alike, you and I," she said.

"How so?"

"In our practices, our habits, our histories... I'm glad things worked out like they did, in the end."

Hazel sighed thoughtfully and slouched against the other. The two sorcerers stared at the moon again.

"This was a long fucking summer," Hazel murmured.

"Indeed," the Ancient One finally felt like she could breathe for a moment. "But it never ends. One crisis is resolved, one enemy overcome, but there's always another."

"Of course," Hazel said. "What would life be without that?"

The Ancient One didn't reply. She wanted to say that life would finally be over, but she feared sounding disingenuous given she would die soon. And even then, she didn't want to put that on Hazel. The Ancient One tilted her head, resting the side of her face against the top of Hazel's head.

"I hope I'll see you again before next spring, my love."

Hazel let a smirk tug at her lips. She turned her head to press her forehead against the other's temple, and for a moment, the Ancient One thought Hazel was going to kiss her. But they just remained there until Hazel let out a husky murmur.

"I'll see what I can do."

And then, as soon as she'd done so before, Hazel took the form of a dragon once more and lunged off the tiled roof, and the Ancient One followed suit. The two wingless dragons interacted in an unpredictable but clearly deliberate pattern. They followed and chased one another before breaking away and rejoining later on. Their game continued as they made their way over the city as if this was the only thing either of them wanted in this one moment. And if anyone had been out that night and had looked at the sky, they would've seen the two great dragons furthering their dance to the edge of the city before parting ways for good.