It was a feeling that almost made him mourn the century of his life spent in solitude, were it not for the fact that he knew it had taken these particular people and this specific wizard for him to find this kinship.
WHAT: Magic is gone! Or is it? Wizards Experiment! WHERE: Xhorhaus, Caleb’s room. WHEN: Early early morning, June 24th WARNINGS: A little angst and self-loathing like what you’d expect from these two, but otherwise ok. STATUS:Complete!
Normally when Essek woke up in the morning, it was a near automatic process. Yes, he had to sit up and stretch his arms and back to bring life into his muscles and limbs after around four hours of inactivity, but once his trance was broken, Essek was alert and ready to start the day. It was one of those perks of being a drow that he couldn't help but be thankful for, especially once he had evidence of the sleep needs of others upon moving into the Xhorhaus.
This morning was different. Essek woke in a state that could be called nothing other than groggy. He sat up a bit slower than usual, scowling to himself as he rubbed his eyes and found remnants of sleep in the corners of them. Brow furrowing slightly, his eyes adjusted to the darkness of his bedroom. It was impossible to truly know what time it was thanks to the ever present night sky that the Xhorhaus had borrowed from his home, but Essek couldn't help but feel that something was off. Though his darkvision allowed him to see well enough, he reached for the bit of phosphorus that always sat on his bedside table for this very purpose. The combination of words and the movements of his hands was more than second nature to him, Dancing Lights having been drilled into him long before he could actually remember.
Once the cantrip was cast, Essek paused a moment as he waited for his room to be bathed in the purple glow that he always chose for the four glowing orbs to emit. When nothing happened, he shook his head, assuming his tired state was the cause of a miscast, momentarily thankful that no one was there to have witnessed it. He sighed, turning in his bed to let his bare feet press to the cool wooden floor and cast the spell once more. Nothing happened.
Essek hesitated, confusion flooding his features. He realized in that moment that something felt… off. Vallo was a world of magic and he had felt that magic flowing through the very air, just as he could feel it back home. Now, though, the air felt strangely empty. He felt disconnected. As the realization started to form, his heart jumped in his chest.
With a jolt of movement, Essek stood and immediately cast the spell to allow himself to float. It was almost as second nature to him as the cantrip had been, as he had spent many of his years using it. Nothing happened, his feet staying firmly planted on the ground. Next, his gaze went to the corner where Malla spent most of her time during the night perched. He had dismissed her the evening prior, so he wasn't surprised to find the corner empty. He snapped his fingers once, the action normally enough to summon his familiar back to his side. Nothing happened.
Taking the few steps needed, Essek found where he had left his component pouch the night prior. Spell after spell, he found the proper materials, recited the correct lines, made the ingrained gestures. Nothing. He tried to open the pocket plane that held his spellbook and a handful of other possessions. Nothing.
Essek lost track of time and the number of spells he tried, but by the time he was done, his breaths were coming short. He was a man of logic, one that valued his intelligence and mind, and he could not deny what he was seeing. His magic -- the one thing that had been a constant, unwavering, and faithful companion to him over the last century -- was gone.
He stood there for a few moments, trying to calm himself as he looked at shaking fingers. He took in a long breath and then Essek was back in action, taking two steps out of his bedroom door before backtracking to grab a shirt on the off chance someone else was up and about in the house. Not that it did much to protect whatever modesty he was looking for as the shirt was only partially buttoned by the time he'd made it to the first floor of the house and into the library, his fingers fumbling in his haste. Normally he took great care in his appearance, especially when he knew he would be around Caleb, but he didn't have the wherewithal to worry that he was wearing pajamas or even consider stopping to look in a mirror to try to tame his sleep mussed hair. (Because, he now realized, that was why he had woken feeling so groggy. He had been asleep.)
Essek did hesitate when he reached Caleb's bedroom door, though, his hand raised to knock just inches from the wood. He had no idea what time it was and Caleb could very well still be asleep. Part of him hated the thought of disturbing him, but a bigger part of Essek knew that Caleb would probably want him to disturb him in a situation like this. He swallowed, then knocked twice on the door, then two more times after a shaky inhale. For good measure, he announced, "Caleb, it's Essek," grimacing at the slight waver to his voice.
It was early enough that Frumpkin had not returned through Caleb’s open window to deliver a prize gathered the night before, and the ginger wizard was still asleep. He left wards off of his room here in the Xhorhaus, if only because he trusted the inhabitants and because the outside grounds were sufficiently warded.
Which left him jerking upright in bed as soon as the knock came, fight or flight kicking in for a brief moment before he realized it was likely just one of his housemates. People he trusted.
It was still a difficult lesson to teach himself, and his only explanation for why his fire flared purple in the second it touched his fingertips and words were whispered, before he’d realized he was safe. A pang of a reminder that Molly and Fjord were no longer among them hit him swiftly, and he had to push it aside in favor of focusing on this point in time.
He was too tired to question it, and Caleb made his way to the door, shirtless and hair down around his shoulders, looking like he stayed up far too late reading a book. That… wasn’t wrong, either. But he didn’t look unhappy to see Essek, even as he was sure there was bags under his eyes, the smile that grew up to them was genuine. “Ah- good morning?”
Had Essek's reason for a too early visit been for literally anything other than what it was in that moment, a sleepy, shirtless Caleb would have normally been an adequate enough distraction to derail his purpose entirely. Even now, his eyes did stray -- just for a moment. He was only, well, not human, but he was certain he couldn't be blamed.
"Good morning." Essek held his hands out in front of him, looking at them for a brief second before lifting his gaze back up to Caleb's. "I -- I'm sorry for waking you. I just -- " He looked at his hands again as his words trailed off to silence. The part of him that was built almost entirely on pride and ego hesitated, not wanting to admit this sudden weakness to anyone. The rest of him, however, knew that if he could trust anyone with a vulnerability, it was Caleb. He worried lightly at his bottom lip, a nervous gesture that he didn't even realize he was capable of, before looking up once more to meet Caleb's eyes.
"Something is wrong with my -- my magic." The words were quiet, his expression pained. "I wasn't sure who else to turn to."
Still in the process of waking up, Caleb mostly missed the distraction in front of him - likely more because Essek was his own distraction and less the actual sleep, if Caleb was being honest. But he did hear the words, and his eyebrows creased together in worry.
“Uh-” Okay, maybe his brain was still catching up, but he took a step back and left the door open for the other wizard. “Come in. Please.” His room was farther away from the others than most, but there was still no point to standing there in the doorway, running the risk of having to go over it to everyone before Essek was comfortable.
“What do you mean? What is wrong?” Was this why the purple fire happened moments before?
As Essek entered the room, his hands came together in front of him, long fingers that had almost been designed for casting wringing together in another show of nerves. At Caleb's questioning, though, he turned and immediately let his hands move as he spoke the incantation for Disguise Self. It was a spell that he always kept prepared, just in case he needed to go somewhere in the city and didn't want to stick out as the lone drow. As expected, nothing changed in his appearance. He then spoke the words for Teleport. His feet stayed firmly where they were planted on the ground. Reaching into his pocket, he found the phosphorus that he'd stowed there from his nightstand and once more tried to cast Dancing Lights.
When the lights didn't come into being around him like they had thousands of times before, he let out a soft breath. "I should be able to do that one without even thinking," Essek said, a mix of frustration and panic leaking into his voice despite his very real efforts to stay calm. He felt his hands begin to shake once more and automatically pressed them to his torso to try and still them. "Nothing I cast is working. It is as though it is just -- it's gone."
Caleb watched each moment with question and fire in his eyes, roaming over Essek’s fingers and trying not to admire them as the drow worked. It was partially successful, only because he normally watched with such wonder and awe over how smooth Essek’s movements were, and how naturally the magic came to him.
But then there was none. Nothing remained but worry and anxiety and he could see that plain as day. Caleb wasn’t often one to touch people without their permission, as he hated it himself, but in this case, he reached out to lay a hand across Essek’s arm, in a comforting, but light motion. Easily pushed off, should the other wizard insist.
His voice was low and comforting, as Caleb leaned into Essek’s space to offer words that might help. “Calm. We will figure this out, I promise you, the magic of this place is often unpredictable. You came out of your trance like this?”
The touch was unexpected, but not unwanted -- a new feeling for Essek. Touch had been something that he had avoided for so long that he hadn't realized he had been starved for it until it was reintroduced back to his life through the very people he now lived with. A hug from Jester, an innocent touch of hands as he adjusted Caleb's fingers while teaching a spell or a brush of shoulders as they studied together, the gentle warmth of Frumpkin hopping into his lap as he read. Of course, he hadn't been blind to how his mild appreciation had elevated to downright craving when it came to the human before him the very moment they had first added kissing into their list of acceptable uses of time spent together. This was different, though.
Essek still felt that now familiar tingle and warmth that he attributed to Caleb's touch, but there was comfort in the touch that he hadn't realized he had needed. Between the hand at his arm and Caleb's words, he did feel something akin to calm to start to replace the rising panic. It was a reminder that while he had been alone for so long, he wasn't anymore. He moved his free arm, letting his fingers rest on Caleb's to sandwich his hand between Essek's own and his arm.
Nodding, Essek concentrated on Caleb's question. "I -- yes. I believe so." Except, he realized, that wasn't entirely true. "Actually no, not technically. I woke and it was... odd. Different." He shook his head once, as though sleep was threatening to take him once more. "It must have gone in the night and I fell asleep."
For a conversation that was heavy, and did not offer a great deal of relief, Caleb was at least glad his touch helped, visibly, and that Essek only furthered the connection between them. He reached around to circle his fingers over Essek’s and held his hand.
“Sleep. Huh-” That was a thing he had almost forgotten, that a trance was different, somehow, and- well. It somewhat ruined a few fantasies in his head every time he remembered it, and Caleb tried to push those to the side. They weren’t important, especially right now, but Essek was. “Let us see, we can do tests. My magic was odd first thing, but I have not done much. Then after, we can check with Jester, and at the school. It may be Vallo-wide. And hopefully short lived. I cannot imagine anything else as an option.”
Essek felt himself clinging to Caleb's words, finding himself grounded by his familiar accent and his precise way of laying out a plan. Though his worries and panic were by no means erased, it was clear that coming to Caleb had been the right choice. Normally Essek was very good at remaining calm under stress and pressure, a byproduct of growing up as he had and years at court as Shadowhand. With this situation being odd, it felt almost natural to borrow Caleb's calm instead. That was a relatively new feeling as well, but Essek was starting to get used to all of the different new that the human inspired.
Though Essek felt an uptick of concern as it registered that Caleb had said his own magic had behaved oddly, it was followed quickly by relief that the other wizard at least still had it in some form. Perhaps were it another time, that relief would have been jealousy. Instead, he simply lifted their linked hands to brush chaste lips to Caleb's knuckles before letting them fall to press gently against Essek's chest. New.
"I am sure you're right," Essek said, his gaze dropping to Caleb's shoulder. "I hope you are. I don't know -- " His words trailed off once more, too many options of how to end that sentence forming in his mind. I don't know what I'll do if you aren't right. Or perhaps, I don't know who I am without my magic. Or maybe even, I don't know what I would do if you weren't here. Instead, he shook his head and met Caleb's eyes once more. "I am sorry for waking you."
Caleb, if anything, was sometimes good at distracting people from bigger things. It was a skill he’d honed and only brought out for the most special of occasions, and Essek going through a non-magic crisis seemed fitting enough for that. Caleb pulled his hand, tugging Essek a little closer, and brought his free hand up to brush along the drow’s jawline. “You have nothing to be sorry for, I am glad you did.”
With that, he directed Essek to his bed, for less fun reasons than what he would have liked, but still, Caleb’s warm hands settled on Essek’s shoulders and he gently nudged the other wizard to sit there. He leaned in to press a warm, quick kiss to Essek’s forehead before turning away to his table full of magical components and books. He moved around the other side on the purely selfish reason of wanting to look up at Essek while he started to puzzle this out.
“You woke up this way.” He scribbled quickly onto a blank page. “And you were knocked out of your trance. We will have to see if it is all of your more natural abilities, where it starts and begins. We may have to test with sunlight later, gently. Have you noticed any physical changes?”
Caleb wasn’t ashamed that his eyes stopped on Essek’s open shirt, and looked over the drow slowly. It was science, after all.
From his perch on Caleb's bed, Essek began to run through a mental tally of any other natural abilities that were linked to his magic that he ought to be concerned about. Given the importance, it should have been easier to fixate on, but instead he caught that slow look that he was on the receiving end of. Just a hint of a smile started at the corner of Essek's mouth; it was nice to be appreciated.
But Essek couldn't let his thoughts linger on the merits of showing up at Caleb's door in a similar state in the future right now. He shifted on the bed, forcing his thoughts to refocus as he leaned forward, his elbows coming to rest on his knees as his hands came together. It was a position reserved for deep contemplation or puzzling through a particularly difficult aspect of a spell, his posture normally almost harshly straight.
"I haven't noticed anything strictly physical. My vision wasn't changed," Essek started, remembering that much from when he woke in his dark room. "That feels more evolutionary than magical, however. As for it breaking my trance, I can sleep if I choose to, but we cannot be put to sleep by magical means. It is almost as though the opposite happened, with the absence of magic triggering the transition from trance to sleep." He paused for a moment, making connections before he continued, "We are generally more resistant to being magically charmed by others, as well. Either of those could be compromised."
Caleb scribbled down a few more notes and stopped mid-sentence to look up at Essek, a smile playing at the corner of his lips. Jester was in the back of his mind, making a little ooooooh noise at Essek’s comment about being magically charmed. “That is a shame. I’ll have to be persistent, then.” Now wasn’t the time to be making jokes of a flirtatious nature, but if Caleb had learned anything from his friends, it was that there was no time until you made it.
He reached forward and pinched a little phosphorous from a shallow bowl on his table and said the words to cast dancing lights. The magic itself worked - Caleb could feel it flow through him - but the lights themselves sparkled in the middle of the room, creating a harmless firework-like effect before fizzling out to a magical glowing puddle on the floor.
Caleb made a little noise, and wrote down the observation, before looking back over at Essek. “Well. That could have been worse.”
There were many things that Essek had come to like and appreciate about Caleb. Having the pleasure to watch him do magic was one of the first that he had realized, all of the way back when Caleb had first shown Essek just a hint of his full capabilities in front of the Xhorhaus in its proper resting place in Rosohna. Even now, knowing that his own magic seemed to be compromised, he felt his expression softening, the warmth at his cheeks and ears from the flirty remark fading as he watched Caleb cast the cantrip he was so familiar with. Essek's eyes darted across the other wizard's form as he straightened up once more from where he sat on the bed.
"Interesting." Essek looked at the remnants of the magic, considering it for a silent moment. "You said before that it had behaved oddly first thing, yes? I wonder if it is every spell or just certain ones. I also wonder why, if this is something happening across the island, it might be different from person to person." He paused, arching an eyebrow and giving Caleb a smirk. "And I also wonder if we will ever get used to this world's magic and its penchant toward stirring up chaos right away in the morning."
Caleb was staring off where the dancing lights had sparked. He leaned forward with both hands on the table, staring intently. A year before, and he might have had a little breakdown over his magic puttering out. It didn’t stop the flashbacks from when he was younger, and magic failing was a sign of weakness.
Now, it was just chaos. He still glanced down at his scarred forearm, all of his scars currently uncovered with the abrupt morning awakening, but Caleb didn’t find that it bothered him as far as Essek was concerned.
That was new.
Caleb flexed his fist, but let it fall back to the table. “My fire, it was a different color. We will have to use a more controlled space for a great deal of my other magic, I think. But,-” With a snap of his fingers, Caleb summoned Frumpkin forward. The fey familiar had left him as a cat, and … well, should have still been a cat. But instead what ran across the floor and towards Essek’s legs was a tiny, pink mammoth. “Oh.”
"Oh," Essek repeated, almost in tandem with Caleb as it sunk into his mind who the pink creature was. As Frumpkin skittered across the floor toward him, he immediately slid off the bed and to the floor himself, kneeling as he held out comforting hands to stroke the tiny mammoth's fur. He didn't know if suddenly being in a different form would be jarring for the familiar; at least when he was normally changed there was a ritual involved, so there was some shade of warning.
Still on the floor, Essek's hands busied themselves with Frumpkin and he murmured a few comforting words in Undercommon -- not that the fey would necessarily understand them, but it was instinct. After a moment, his head tipped up and he looked to Caleb. For as unexpected and panic inducing as all of this was for Essek, he knew that the other wizard had been through more than him in the past handful of weeks. Essek liked both Fjord and Molly a great deal, of course, but he understood that their disappearances were felt differently for him than the others in the house.
Essek's expression schooled into one of concern as he carefully scooped up Frumpkin, something that was much stranger in the form of a tiny mammoth than his normal cat shape. He walked across the room, stepping in just close enough to let his shoulder press to the other man's, before Essek echoed Caleb's previous words. "We'll figure this out."
Caleb blew out a long breath and attempted at a wry smile in Essek’s direction. It faltered, slightly, but even he had to laugh just a little at Frumpkin trumpeting much like his aunt Jester had done when she was a mammoth. Only in this case, it was a much, much, smaller scale. It was as cute as it was when Jester had done it, though at the time he hadn’t been able to appreciate it.
He reached out to pet his familiar, a scarred hand smoothing over the tiny mammoth’s hair before he allowed himself to look up at Essek. So close now, which was something Caleb had become more and more accustomed to as of late. It was a good feeling, settled a warmth in his chest that he had figured out only recently that it was attributed to very few people.
It was so, so easy to get distracted by Essek, and Caleb moved his hand from Frumpkin to rest a hand along Essek’s side, leaning in just a little more. “Ja, I know. And do you know what might help us do that?”
Essek's own gaze lifted from Frumpkin to meet blue eyes, a tingly warmth spreading from where Caleb's hand had come to rest at his side. There had been a time when he had thought himself above the sort of feelings, both innocent and not at all, that Caleb Widogast inspired within Essek, but that had been before the other wizard had come into his life. The logical part of his brain that normally ruled was still grappling with what was happening with their magic, while the much larger part, at least in this moment, was relishing in the distraction before him. Half a year ago, Essek would have scoffed at the thought.
Now, he instead let himself be distracted, at least for now. He gave a small smile to Caleb and let his head list to the side, as though considering his question. Their difference in height was more pronounced this close; even with Essek floating less and less, he was still getting used to standing at his natural height, rather than the elevated one that his magic gave him.
Careful to keep one arm steady to continue to support Frumpkin, Essek lifted his other to gently tuck a stray lock of red hair behind a rounded ear. "If it has something to do with you putting on a shirt, I don't want to hear it." Immediately, Essek's mouth split into a teasing grin -- a sight all but unseen back in Rosohna.
That joke caught him by surprise, and Caleb laughed before he could stop himself. He closed his eyes in surrender, but smiled in an unguarded way at Essek. “You have been around Jester far too much.” But he knew that feeling - that desire to say something amusing, or the effect she had on people around her. It was a true testament that perhaps, the Mighty Nein really was a good influence on Essek.
Caleb knew what that felt like. How it was to have these people. This family, make him feel as if he had self-worth again.
He could consider Essek a part of that now, as well. And that furthered his smile, “I was going to suggest kissing. I do not know if a shirt is required for that or not?”
There was something about hearing that laugh from Caleb, seeing that smile on his face and knowing he of all people had been the cause of it, that he had made him happy enough to react as he had, that felt like a victory rivaled with the first time Essek had worn his Shadowhand mantle. It was a feeling that almost made him mourn the century of his life spent in solitude, were it not for the fact that he knew it had taken these particular people and this specific wizard for him to find this kinship. Essek knew plenty of people in Rosohna and at court and disliked more or less all of them -- but none of them were the Mighty Nein.
"Hmm." The sound would have been convincingly thoughtful, were it not for that grin still lingering on Essek's face. He moved back just far enough to set Frumpkin down gently, then immediately allowed his now free arms to circle around Caleb. "You know, I'm not sure. It might call for some experimentation, do you agree?"
“Ja” Caleb breathed out the reply, ghosting his free hand over Frumpkin’s mini mammoth self before settling it on Essek to join his other. Before he could overthink it, as he did everything, Caleb took a chance and pushed into Essek’s personal space, mouth seeking the other wizard’s as if it was meant to be there all along.