Author's note: No content warning.
The rest of the day was filled with Drexel moving through town, fulfilling odds and ends sort of tasks. He mended objects and fixed household problems, always kind and patient with the people of Northwick. No task seemed too small or mundane. Mira noticed the odd looks they would give him when they thought no one was watching. Some muttered under their breath. People in the town weren't always so kind. They told him to his face that he didn't belong, to which he smiled and thanked them.
At the end of the day, they bought a large portion of food with the coin Drexel had collected. Mira helped him carry it as they headed back up the gentle hill. Despite the day, Drexel seemed in a pleasant mood, neither cross nor irritated. His face held a soft sort of sadness, evident in the ways his eyes drooped, the corner of his mouth pushing towards a frown, and his eyebrows resting in a worried position.
"Mr. Drexel?" Mira asked, away from the Northwick, where only farmland interlaced trees surrounded them.
"Why don't they like you?"
"Magic is very foreign and very dangerous," Drexel answered.
"Why don't you move?"
"It follows me. I've done horrible things, Mira, and it's something I have to live with."
Mira looked down, uncertain of how to respond.
Drexel spoke, noticing her sudden silence, "You're very curious. That's good."
"I was told I ask too many questions," Mira mumbled.
"Nonsense. You should know who I am before you decide you want me as a teacher and magic has all sorts of ins and outs."
"I'm not sure I would call getting paid half of what you should free, nor doing mundane tasks while they whisper behind your back."
"They pay you half?"
"If they feel generous."
"I've been poor all my life," Mira said, shrugging. "How often do you go into town?"
"As little as possible. There's not enough work to stay busy all week," Drexel said, arriving at his cottage. Holding his barrel of fruits and salted meats, he reached down to the door handle, opening it. He led the way inside, setting his day's earnings on the counter. Mira followed.
He quickly and quietly put everything away, shooing Mira out of the way. She watched from the doorway as he bustled about.
"You don't have a bedroom?" Mira asked.
Drexel glanced up, "Do I need one?"
"Uh, I suppose not. You have a lot of books, have you read them all?" Mira asked, glancing to the piles of books that erupted from the bookshelves onto the floors, stacked neatly in tall piles with a thin covering of dust.
"I'm a hermit, what else am I going to do?"
"Cast fireballs at dragons?" Mira speculated.
Drexel snorted, putting the last of his haul away. He moved into the main room, sitting at his desk. A second chair had appeared, one Mira was sure wasn't there when they walked in. She sat across from him, watching as he pulled out a charcoal pencil and a few pieces of paper.
"What are you going to do?" Mira asked, leaning in as he began drawing.
"Make you a bedroom, you want one, right?" Drexel asked in a way that Mira was unsure if he was being sarcastic.
"Yes. You can do that? Just make a room?"
"Of course, it's my house."
She watched as he carefully drew out a few shapes, a thoughtful look on his face. His lips moved, as if about to speak, but no sound came out.
"I don't need much," Mira said.
"Define 'I don't need much,'" Drexel paused, blue eyes rolling up to her.
"Well, a bed, obviously. A nightstand with a basin to wash my face. I don't have much, so maybe a small trunk."
Drexel nodded, continuing his work. Mira couldn't recognize the shapes as the cottage or a room, just a bunch of symbols drawn in an odd fashion. He chewed his lip for a moment, then stood. Mira followed, noticing the door that appeared behind her. Drexel glanced at her as he turned the nob, opening it.
Mira hesitantly walked inside. It was spacious, more so than she expected. The walls had a dark blue paper on them with black silhouettes of birds taking flight. The bed, which sat in the corner, had a matching quilt, a giant bird blocked out in the patches of fabric. At the foot of the bed, a trunk sat, far bigger than she needed and a wardrobe stood taller than her against one wall. Against the other wall was a nightstand with a large basin and pitcher and a neat desk and chair, complete with pen, ink, and paper.
"You talk about freedom so much, I thought you'd enjoy birds," Drexel explained, leaning in the doorframe with his arms crossed.
"Mr. Drexel, it's…" Mira paused, in awe of the room, "it's very nice."
"I'm glad you like it."
"Will you teach me something?"
"Yes, please, anything," Mira asked enthusiastically.
Drexel shrugged. "I suppose."
Mira gladly followed him out of her room, to the table, sitting across from him. He sighed, chewing his lip in thought for a moment.
"What do you already know?" Drexel asked.
"I know when I think about fireballs they appear. I know when I get upset, things move."
"Yes, magic is tied to your being. Strong emotions, especially in powerful mages where signs and words aren't required, casting will occur. The easiest way to cast is with a hand sign." Drexel cupped his hands together, pulling them up and outwards. A bowl appeared on the table. "The next way to cast, a little harder but still do-able is to say the word, patera." Another bowl, of the same size and material appeared next to it. "And then there is of course, willing a bowl into existence." Another bowl appeared on the table.
"You said I don't need to use words or signs?" Mira said, picking up one of the bowls.
"Yes, but using a sign, then a word, will allow you to work up to willing something to appear. Bowls are basic, fairly easy. For bigger things or new things, you will want to ease into it."
"What about food?"
"Conjured food tastes awful and won't satisfy."
"How, uh, powerful am I?"
"Very," Drexel answered flatly. "And your magic is very unruly right now. Study with the wrong teacher, and you or others would get hurt."
"Are you really the most powerful mage of our time?"
Drexel shrugged. "I don't know. It doesn't matter to me one way or another."
Mira leaned forward. "You could be the most powerful person in the world, and you chose to be here, working for a town that pays pennies and gives you the stink eye?"
"I suppose so, yes."
"You suppose so?"
Drexel leaned on the table, meeting her curious gaze. "Mira, I destroyed half a city. A very large city in a single spell. No nobleman would hire me, even now. I am very dangerous. The only way Northwick let me live here is if I lived a mile out of town. Even that's generous."
"Would you work for a nobleman, if he was willing to hire you?" Mira chewed her lip, trying to keep steady eye contact with him.
"See, you don't want to be a servant to some rich dick," Mira put her finger on the table, pointing aggressively.
"I don't want to see people die, that's all it is. How do I win this war, how do I take out my brother so I get the throne. This life isn't great, but it isn't bad either."
Mira picked up one of the earthenware bowls, inspecting it. The brown clay with gentle marks looked as though it were thrown on a wheel with a clear glaze on top. "Then I choose this life."
Drexel sighed, leaning back in his chair. He crossed his arms against his chest, watching Mira examine his work.
"Would you ever hurt me?"
"No," Drexel answered flatly. Curiosity crossed his features, knowing that Mira had something else on her mind. Mira's dark eyes focused on the bowl.
"Even if I make you mad?"
"I am slow to anger, but no, I won't hurt you even if you make me mad," Drexel said, as Mira nodded. "Now, conjure me a bowl. Think on where you want to make it, think about the clay, the shape, the texture, then make the sign."
Mira set the bowl in her hands back on the table. She thought about the things Drexel had mentioned as she took a deep breath. She made the sign as another one appeared on the table.
It looked a little warped, as if the potter had lost focus while creating it. It leaned to one side and the glaze was uneven, with thick spots appearing as a milky white. She chewed her lip, eyebrows pushing together as she glanced up to Drexel. He uncrossed his arms, sitting up.
"You were unsure. Make the sign as if you've cast this a thousand times," He instructed, voice even and calm.
Mira nodded, picking an empty place on the table and casting again. She tried to imagine the confidence and familiarity of well-studied mage as she made the sign. Another bowl appeared, more well-formed and with a slightly more even glaze. Noticing her progress, the corner of lips pulled up, she glanced up to Drexel who appeared to notice as well.
"Think of a potter with well-worn hands, molding the wet clay into a bowl. Think of firing it in a hot kiln, then glazing with even brush strokes. Then try again."
Mira gave another nod, concentrating on the process of creating a bowl, how long the potter must take to learn to throw, how hot the kiln must be to harden the clay, the gentle wash of a glaze to seal everything. She moved her hands in the upward motion, yet another member joining the party.
"Do I have to think about that much every time?" Mira asked.
"It gets easier," Drexel explained. "It takes much less thought, so little that you may cast accidentally."
"That sounds dangerous."
"It can be," Drexel acknowledged. "Close your eyes, think about your magic, the very essence that run through you. Feel yourself breathing, in and out, in and out. Feel your heart, blood rushing through your veins and that tinge of energy. Take hold of it, imagine yourself being able to grab it and put it in a box. It won't stay there forever, just for a while." Drexel's tenor voice sounded soft and soothing as Mira followed his instructions.
Mira kept her eyes closed for a moment, working hard to imagine placing that energy in a box. She felt relief but also tired. Not in the sense that her eyelids felt heavy, just that her essence had been drained. She opened her eyes, looking to Drexel for an answer of a question she couldn't phrase.
"I cast a sealing spell on you this morning, it keeps your magic in check. It should wear off tonight and you won't feel so tired in the morning," Drexel explained.
"And the blue glow, won't it come back?"
"It will, it can. But remember this and it should subside. Casting will expel extra energy and keep it from manifesting."
"Can we make more bowls tomorrow?" Mira asked, perking up.
"I intended on it," he said.
"Mr. Drexel," Mira said, suddenly becoming shy. "You're very nice."
He tilted his chin down, gazing at her in subtle confusion. "Why would you say that?"
"You're patient with me. Even when the first bowl looked like crap. And when the people call you names, you just said 'thank you,'"
"Even my first bowl looked awful. If I'm mean back, everything is just worse."
"You're very nice," Mira repeated.
"I'm very dangerous. I'm an old hermit and it's better that way."
"Pft, you couldn't hurt a fly," Mira chuckled.
Drexel stood, "Come with me."
He led the way through the kitchen, out the back door. The sun set behind the gentle hills, leaving a gray-blue haze over everything as the last light struggled to remain. The area behind Drexel's house had been cleared, leaving a large yard with no trees. There were patches of grass, but the large area consisted mainly of dirt.
"Stay here," Drexel instructed as he placed three fingers to her forehead. "And don't move, no matter what."
Mira nodded, standing still in the middle of the yard. She watched Drexel step ten feet back. He raised a hand at her. Bright, brilliant blue flames shot forth, enveloping her before she could step back. The heat pushed through her hair, warming her cheeks, but nothing touched her, as if an invisible shield protected her. Despite the cloudless day, she heard the rumble of thunder, a bolt of lightning striking her shield. Electricity sizzled around her, sparks jumping into the blue flames. The earth rumbled beneath her feet, wrapping around her and stopping the flames. There was only darkness for a moment, then the earth crumbled around her, leaving bits of dust in her hair and on her dress. After the earth completely crumbled, Drexel had closed the distance between them, a dark look in his eye.
"Dangerous," Drexel reiterated.
"You aren't winded," Mira noticed. More than one little fireball would have her panting like she ran a marathon.
"I'm very powerful and very well learned," Drexel replied.
Mira examined his face, placing the dark look that filled his features. It was self-loathing. Drexel hated his power and his ability. He hated both what he had done and what he could do. Mira stepped forward, wrapping her arms around his torso and holding him in a tight hug. Drexel raised his arms, face twisting in confusion.
"What are you doing?" He asked.
"You needed a hug," Mira said, turning her head away from his chest. She stood a head shorter than him, eye level with his sternum.
"Any one of those spells could have killed you and you're hugging me?"
"I bet you haven't been hugged in a long time," Mira said. A moment passed and she felt Drexel's hands gently lower to her shoulders, resting there with uncertainty. She stayed a moment, feeling his chest expand and fall as he drew breath. Despite his show of power, she felt safe, safer than she had been in a long time. She pulled away. "You're very thin."
"So I've been told," Drexel said. "We should, uh, go back inside."