Palom walked alone by the waterside path, stopping whenever he found small stones to chuck them in the water. If Porom had been there, she'd have scolded him. What if you hit someone?
Sure enough, as he was watching the ripples spread and rebound from the pond's edge, a large blue frog surfaced to glare balefully at him.
"Sorry," Palom muttered, plunging into the bushes past the pond. He didn't feel like being around any full-fledged wizards right now, although he'd get a double lecture in manners from the Elder once whoever it was changed back and ratted on him.
Full-fledged wizards. Ignoring the twigs pulling at his clothes and catching in his brown hair, he went further in. Why couldn't she have waited? Black and White magic schools both did tests at midsummer. They could've taken their tests at the same time, gotten their robes and been initiated on the same day, in the same ceremony, like they'd been planning. Together. But Porom had gone ahead and taken the tests last week, at the spring equinox, when only the White Wizards were tested.
Palom reached a small clearing in the bushes. Surrounded by greenery, he sat down on the ground with a thump. A branch scraped along his arm, and he snapped it off.
Why couldn't she have waited?
He scowled. It's not like we do everything together, anyway. Not that he would've wanted that; he'd've gone mad if he couldn't get away from her at least some of the time. She tended towards bossiness sometimes, and she always managed to undercut his attempts at showing off and impressing the younger students.
He didn't want to do everything together. But they'd done everything important together, he thought angrily, breaking the branch in half with a snap. Their parents had brought them to Mysidia to be tested for magic when they were very young; and though everything else was vague, Palom remembered clearly standing side-by-side with Porom, holding hands for reassurance as a tall stranger muttered ominous words and made the air around them spark and prickle. They'd learned to read together. Even though their first day of proper school sent them to different magic classes, they'd rushed to meet each other afterwards, and cast their first spells for each other on a count of three. Together.
They'd invented spells together, spells that required a black and white wizard work together, perfectly synchronizing their individual parts. No one else had been able to do them, except him and Porom, working together.
Together they'd followed Cecil to Mt. Ordeals, witnessed his test to become a Paladin. And in Baron Castle, they'd turned themselves to stone to save the group - together.
The first thing he'd seen when the Elder changed them back had been his twin's face, her brown eyes blinking, and a grin rising to match his as she worked out what had happened.
His hand stung as he snapped a particularly fat bit of branch, and Palom looked down at the lapful of broken pieces. He flung them away, making the bush in front of him rustle. Two of the pieces didn't make it through the curtain of leaves, and fell to the ground before it, one atop the other.
Palom lumbered to his feet and stomped out of the clearing.
No one was in the main hall when he got home, and from the sound of things his sister was in the kitchen. Palom hurried to their room, to change and hide the evidence of his foliage-surrounded sulk.
A whiff of cedar greeted him as he opened the wardrobe. His clothes were all to the left side, but his hand brushed white cotton as he reached for one of his student robes. He snatched the robe off the hanger and slammed the door.
The dirty robe he shoved under his bed. Porom had a basket for her dirty clothes, but Palom preferred his method. They were dirty anyway; a little more dust wouldn't hurt. He made a circuit of the bed to make sure nothing showed, then sat down.
His eyes turned to the wardrobe again. The doors were decorated with a few parchments - an official scroll of "recognition for services rendered", with the Baron seal; a charcoal drawing of a tree Porom had made; and on a rather tattered sheet of paper, a homework assignment with the letter "F" scrawled across the top in red ink.
Palom smiled. Porom never understood why he was so proud of that essay, and the Elder had sentenced him to an early bedtime for a week for it, but he considered it one of his more stunning accomplishments. Every single sentence in it was meticulously worded, relevant to the topic, and, as the copious red ink indicated, utterly false. He'd spent a long time in the library to make certain of that. It took a lot of effort to get that thorough a failing grade from the Elder.
He toyed with the cuff of his sleeve. It was getting too short for him - both he and Porom were thirteen and sprouting up - but he hadn't complained yet. He was determined that his next new robes would be proper wizard's ones, not secondhand student's clothing.
Wizard's robes. Porom.
The smell of fresh bread and something brown and meaty, overpowering the cedar smell at last, saved him from another fit of the sulks. It was dinnertime.
Palom drifted along like an air current, following the tantalizing aroma with his eyes closed. After tripping over some unidentified piece of furniture and bumping into the doorframe a few times, he opened his eyes and stepped into the warmly lit kitchen.
He noticed immediately that the low table was only set for two. His sister Porom, an apron protecting her newly-won robes, was placing a basket of bread beside a pot of chunky brown stew.
"Where's the geezer?" Palom asked, reaching for a roll. "I'm starved."
She swatted his hand away. "The Elder is up in the Wishing Tower. We're not to wait for him." She untied the apron and crossed the room to hang it up. Palom had his mouth full of roll by the time she turned around.
"Palom! We're supposed to say grace first!"
"Whrrr? Hrzn rr." Palom swallowed, clearing his mouth. "Why? He's not here, how's he going to know?"
"I'll know." She sniffed primly and took her place at the table. "The Elder trusts us to do things properly, and I for one mean to live up to that trust."
Palom threw himself into the free chair. "Every since you got initiated, you've been nothing but a priss," he informed her without rancor, scooting the chair forward. She'd always been a bit of a bossy fussbudget, and he tried to be reassured that she still bothered to bother about it. "Those robes don't suddenly make you smarter than me." That came out a little more bitter than he'd intended, and he forced a smile.
Unnoticing, Porom sedately spread her napkin over her lap. "We both know you'll be twice the insufferable show-off you already are when you get yours."
When, not if. Palom felt a little better, and the grin he shot his twin was real. "They'll have to make the doorways bigger for my head to fit through." He reached for the bread again.
Porom rolled her eyes expressively. "Let's say grace, and then you can stuff your face with bread all you like."
"Unlike you White Mages, Black Mages aren't concerned with table manners," he informed her loftily, tossing a roll up in the air and catching it. "We concern ourselves with higher matters "
Porom snorted. "Higher matters. Like setting people's hair on fire?"
"Oh, that's definitely a higher matter. And don't forget freezing their bums off."
Porom tried to look scandalized, but failed, and Palom grinned impishly. Only a month ago she'd asked him to do just that to a particularly insufferable and flirtatious White Magic student. "Palom! Language!" she scolded instead.
"Porom. Food?" he reminded her, pointing at the savory-smelling stew before them.
"Grace, then food," she insisted, and he sighed with dramatic disappointment.
Porom ignored him, folding her hands and bowing her head. "One to be born from a dragon," she began.
Palom copied her actions and muttered the words along with her without really thinking. It was like school - every Black Magic class started with the teacher and students greeting each other, and ended the same way. After a while, it became automatic, everyone joining in the chorus of voices out of habit, reciting the words but hardly paying attention to what they meant.
Even Porom was falling into the mechanical, unthinking sort of recitation. "Hoisting the light and the dark, arises high up in the sky to the still land, veiling the moon with the light of eternity "
"It brings great justice to Mother Earth, with a bonnet and turkey."
"Palom, say it properly!" Porom had been paying more attention than he'd realized.
With an expressive sigh, he continued. "It brings great justice to Mother Earth, with a bounty and mercy."
" And?" Porom raised an eyebrow at her brother.
"And-the-moon-was-just-starting-to-seek-its-own-light," he recited, rolling his eyes. "Can we eat now?"
He'd finished his second helpings and settled back in his chair when Porom spoke up again.
"We're having some visitors soon," she said, speaking carefully, as if she were trying to pace her words so they wouldn't rush out. "I overheard the Elder."
Palom was tempted to tell her he didn't care - he could tell Porom was excited about something, and she'd gotten enough glory this month. But anything overheard from the Elder was bound to be interesting. "Anyone we know?" he finally asked, toying with a bread crust and trying to sound indifferent.
"One of them. Rydia."
Palom dropped the bread crust, knowing his eyes were as wide as a Floating Eye's, and not caring. "Rydia? Our Rydia?" Even though they'd only really met Rydia after Cecil had returned triumphant from the moon, it still felt like she was part of their group. She was famous and beautiful and used Black Magic. She'd let him ride on her Mist Dragon once.
Porom nodded. "I think she might be thinking of setting up a school for Callers here. I bet you'd like that," she added, smugly.
Palom ignored her attitude. "What's wrong with wherever she came from? Mist?"
"I don't know, I'm just guessing." His sister shrugged. "I'd actually heard about this last week, but I'd misunderstood it and there wasn't a good time to tell you anyway, I was so busy studying." She took a deep breath. "And I didn't think you'd care about Queen Rosa."
"Queen Rosa was going to come, too?" She'd been another one they hadn't really met until after things were over. She'd been rather boring, Palom'd always thought, being all mushy with Cecil, and she'd gotten upset when, bored, he'd turned her into a toad. But Porom practically worshipped her.
"Er, no." Porom reddened. "I misheard the first time. I thought she was the one coming. And I thought " She bent her head, fidgeting with her napkin. "I thought she might be coming for the tests. To oversee them, or give them, or that sort of thing."
"Oh." Palom scratched his head. "Oh." He could feel a broad grin growing across his face as realization dawned and relief coursed through him. Porom wasn't trying to pull apart after all. "So that's why you jumped on your schoolbooks like a rabid zombie."
Porom was practically scarlet. "Yes. I'm sorry, I would've waited until summer otherwise, and I hadn't been preparing so I was afraid I wouldn't pass this time. And zombies can't be rabid; they're undead."
"Rabid chocobo, then," Palom said dismissively, but it was hard to keep from grinning. "You know, you've inspired me with your seat-of-the-pants passing feat. I think I'm going to try to fail the tests with flying colors this summer."
That earned him her familiar exasperated sigh. "Honestly, Palom Anyway, we've got to clear the dishes." Porom stacked the wooden plates, cups, and bread bowl. "I'll take these, if you get the others."
Palom made a face at the stewpot. It looked heavy. "Can I warp them to the kitchen?"
"Can you mend it if you break it?"
"Uh, no?" Palom dumped the utensils in the pot, and lifted it. With an exaggerated stagger, he made his way to the kitchen, almost bumping into Porom a few times for good measure.
Dishwashing was a chore they'd long had, and they'd gotten good at it. It was often a race, frequently disorderly, and even after years they'd never really developed a method. Instead they'd learned to dance along the edge of disaster without tripping.
This evening was no different. Porom scalded herself on too-hot washwater, jumping backwards with a shriek. Palom caught her as she slipped on tiles wet from his own battle scouring the stewpot. "Careful!"
Soon he was behind, as Porom moved on to drying plates, and he redoubled his scrubbing efforts, grimacing with effort behind a storm of water and soapsuds. She was awfully slow about it - taunting him with her lead, or giving him a chance to catch up? No time to wonder! Recklessly, he dumped everything into the basin at once - utensils, bowl, stewpot - dousing the front of his robes and the floor beneath as it overflowed.
A cry of dismay rose from Porom as her dishes were splashed, undoing her work. She tried to rescue them, but knocked into Porom, and the whole basin upended with a clatter and deluge.
The nature of the game changed instantly, needing no more than a shared nod to acknowledge the new rules. Now it was a race of the two of them against time. If they didn't finish before the Elder came down
They rushed through the dishes first, choking back laugher, the urgency somehow making everything hilarious. The floor and counters were still awash, and they mopped and dried them, rushing about haphazardly, shrieking and giggling. Despite much skidding and slipping on the wet tiles, they never crashed into each other - somehow Porom always managed to dodge, or Palom to adjust his trajectory at the last minute.
Beyond reason, the kitchen was finally dried. Slightly light-headed, Palom let himself slide to the floor to catch his breath.
Porom joined him with a thump and leaned her head on his shoulder. "Whew, I'm beat."
Palom just sighed again to show his agreement and stared down dazedly. His sister's new robes clung to her skinny knees, just as sodden as his. "I bet the Elder'll pitch a fit when he sees us," he remarked, still gasping a bit. "Convinced we get pneumonia at a drop of a hat."
The Elder was certainly dismayed to see his charges looking like unwrung laundry, and let them know it, threatening them with bedrest instead of the Wishing assembly the next morning if he heard so much as a sneeze. But Palom grinned all the way through the scolding; there were more important things to share than fussy ceremonies.
All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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