He's wondering if Eraserhead is hiding when he runs into Shinsou and Eri returning from the fields. He waves them over and asks if they’ve seen Eraserhead.
“Not since he left the fields earlier. Why?”
“Ah, I may have upset him, but I want to talk to him?”
“Hm. Well, he usually goes to his room if he's upset. Though you should probably leave him alone.”
“I'll take my chances, thank you! Feel free to say you warned me later!”
Hizashi enters the home through the front door, making a beeline for the stairs. The magic door is still there, to his relief, although he worried it would be gone when- if- he came back down the squeaky step- didn’t Eraserhead say he could only see if because he was trusted? The long scratches on the wall make Hizashi’s unease grow. He can’t stop from asking himself: did Eraserhead leave them as a warning, or as a silent threat?
When Hizashi approaches Eraserhead’s room, he knocks on the door gently. A tired grumbling comes from inside the room.
“What do you want.” Eraserhead growls. If he wasn’t a deadly beast who was pissed with him, Hizashi would compare him to a brooding teenager.
“Have any of the kids talked to you about going outside?” Hizashi asks through the door . “The village, that is.”
Eraserhead sighs. “Shouto keeps asking to leave.”
“And every time, I tell him the same thing. The world is dangerous for people like him. People will misuse him and abuse him until he breaks. I won’t force him to stay, but I also won’t let him make rash decisions without thinking it through.”
“And when will it be safe enough for him to leave?” The blonde opens the door and steps inside, crossing his arms, brows furrowed. “Do you plan on keeping him here forever? People aren't going to change, the world won't magically stop being a bad place-”
“Is this your purpose here then? To take him away?”
“No! I don’t have a purpose- I just think you might have a twisted notion of how to protect someone-”
“He's still safe, isn't he?” Eraserhead growls. He gets up from his nest and stalks towards Hizashi as he talks. “He can grow up here. He can live without people forcing him to be something he's not!”
Hizashi takes a step back before holding his ground, forcing a deep breath so he can argue without shouting his head off.
“Okay, look. He's the one who asked me. If I leave alone it's no big deal. I've always been alone. But if I leave knowing he wants to go, and you won't let him, I'm going to wonder where your protection ends and your controlling begins.”
Eraserhead is definitely angry, but he seems to acknowledge Hizashi’s words.
“I'll think about it.” Eraserhead growls, he glares, paws scraping the floor at Hizashi’s feet, as if to say time to leave .
Hizashi closes the door quietly behind him, letting out a breath he didn't know he was holding. Eraserhead isn't a bad guy. He reminds Hizashi of a concerned parent, a little stuck in his ways, full of worry, and not ready to watch his kids go. But Hizashi also knows what happens when kids never leave the nest. They grow restless. Anxious. Rebellious.
If Shouto doesn’t leave now, he will another day… another day when Hizashi isn’t there as his guide.
He turns around and runs right into a mass of purple hair. Shinsou clenches his fists, arms shaking. His face is tight, shoulders tense as he says; “What did Todoroki ask?”
Hizashi is quick to answer. “Just to tag along with me if I leave for a bit! I'd bring him back though.”
Shinsou glares. “And what if something happens to him? There are people who are still looking for him… ”
Hizashi crouches, holding his hand out. “Eraserhead didn't say yes… and I'm not going to break someone out of a safe place. I don't know who’s after Shouto, but I do know a lot about evading the people looking for me.”
“People are looking for you?” Shinsou blinks, and the tense aura fades. “How do you evade them? And why?”
“The answer is the same; magic, to put it simply. Why don't I tell the story over dinner? I can eat with the group tonight, right?”
“Yeah, sure. You helped cook it all.”
“Shouto did a lot of it! He's handy with a flame --which reminds me. Has anyone ever taught him hearth magic?”
“Yeah, like for a fireplace. A hearth. It's mainly for protection spells in a home, but there's something called a hearth-stone he may be interested in. It allows the person to teleport back to their home, or ‘hearth’, as it were. If he's as strong as you say, I'm sure he could make one. It involves some fire magic to bake the clay, so he could use that as his focus.”
“Do you have one?”
Hizashi winces. “No.”
Shinsou seems sympathetic. “Unlike you, I won’t pry.” He nervously shoots Hizashi a grin.
Hizashi chuckles. “For your information I pry because I care.”
“I care!” Shinsou protests, throwing his hands out in exasperation.
“Don’t act so high and mighty. You were just prying about Todoroki.”
Shinsou lifts a finger to argue, then immediately puts it back down and closes his mouth. “True.”
“We all want answers to our questions. It’s human nature.” Hizashi assures him.
The Sphinx lingers on the other side of the door, frowning as he chews on his lip.
A human without a place to call home is slowly working his way into the hearts of the kids. First Todoroki asking to leave with him, now Shinsou- the one he trusts most with information- letting enough slip out for the bard to piece together stories…
Shinsou’s voice reaches his ears as Shinsou talks to Hizashi. “It’s odd Sensei hasn't kicked you out yet. People who ask too many questions never stay for long.”
Eraserhead sighs, hanging his head and leaning against his door. It appears the bard has managed to get under his skin too.
Perhaps Hizashi’s magic is built around that… He should be wary, but his heart and mind can’t agree.
“I think it's good though. Sensei doesn't have anyone.”
“Doesn't have anyone? But he has you, right? And Eri and Todoroki and all the other orphans?”
“Yeah, but that's not what I meant.”
“Seriously? You can solve his riddles but this confuses you? I meant he's the only adult here, except now you're here too. Even just for a little while.”
Shinsou sighs and turns to head downstairs.
“I think it's hard on him, being the only adult. Even if he is a sphinx.”
“Oh. So you think he needs a friend his own age, is that it? Are you sure I'm old enough? Sphinx's are rumoured to live for ages!” Hizashi laughs at his own joke.
Shinsou sighs. “I’m pretty sure he’s thirty in human years, I may be wrong. Besides, it doesn’t matter how close in age you are, it’s different to be around an adult than a teen or a child.”
Shinsou takes a step down the stairs. “Dinner should be ready in a few minutes, if you’d like to come join us.” Shinsou looks up at Hizashi. “You mentioned a performance, right? You’ve been doing chores all day, so it’s alright if you’re too tired, but I know Eri’s excited for it.”
“Don’t worry, I haven't forgotten!” Hizashi says with a smile, “I’ll be right along!”
Shinsou nods, heading down the stairs. Hizashi waits until his footsteps fade away to speak again.
“You could hear us, couldn’t you?”
“You’re too loud to ignore,” Eraserhead says through the door . “How could I look the other way?”
“So, is Shinsou right?”
“I’m around 30, yes. It’s hard to tell; I stopped keeping track of time as much --”
“That wasn’t what I meant.” Hizashi cuts him off and folds his arms. The door between them makes Eraserhead sound like he’s speaking through water. “Is Shinsou right about you needing another adult?”
“People don't need anyone. They require the base amounts of nutrients, water, sleep and physical activity to survive. No one needs anyone. ” His voice is bitter, almost too low to hear.
Hizashi leans against the door. “Do you think the kids should be alone then? Being raised on their base needs and nothing else?”
“That isn’t what I was saying-”
“Then just you.
don’t need anyone.”
The sphinx gives a warning growl. “I believe Hitoshi is concerned because they have all developed friendships and bonds. I’m their teacher, a role model. At most, we have a parental bond. Friendship is a waste of energy. I have better uses for mine.”
He huffs. “Besides, friendship is a human notion. I’m a beast.”
“Sometimes it doesn't seem like it.” Hizashi says. Eraserhead opens and peeks out the door as Hizashi turns towards the stairs. He doesn't reply, just watching Hizashi walk away as he mulls over Hizashi's confusing words. He has amazing hearing, but can he really be sure Hizashi sounded sad when he said that?
Hizashi refuses to worry about Eraserhead as he grabs his pack and heads to the large bonfire outside for dinner, grinning as he waves at everyone. The food smells wonderful, people are smiling, and he can feel his ukulele pressing against his back from inside his magic bag. He won't let tonight end on a bad note.
Eri bounces up to him, holding something behind her back.
“Why hello Eri-chan! How was your day?”
Eri shuffles her feet shyly. “It was good.” She looks back at Shinsou, who nods in encouragement, before she turns back to Hizashi and shoves her gift into his hands. A red apple, and a crayon drawing of Hizashi and the sphinx. He has to stifle a laugh when he sees that he’s petting Eraserhead.
Eri nods, smiling at him. “Yeah!”
“Thank you! I’ll treasure this forever!”
“Really?” Eri’s eyes sparkled.
“Of course. No one’s ever drawn me before! It’s my first official portrait!”
“Shinsou says you might perform for us tonight!” Eri bounces onto the balls of her feet. “Will you? Please say you will!”
Hizashi holds up his ukulele. “Of course! Nothing but the best for my favorite artist!”
Hizashi glances around, waiting for everyone to settle before he gives a few experimental strums. “What type of tale would you like tonight, Eri-chan?”
The girl pauses mid-bite, eyes wide as she thought.
“A song about love!”
The blonde chuckles, lowering his head. His bangs fall over his eyes. “Is there anything else you would like to hear?”
She shakes her head.
Hizashi gives her the smallest of smiles. “I guess you could say I have my own little curse… I can’t sing about things I don’t know.”
Eri tilts her head. “But you can sing about other people-”
“Because people have told me about it! Love is hard to tell others about…”
“Oh… Then, can you sing about me?”
A few of the other kids laugh, enamored with how cute she is. Hizashi would wonder if it was magic if it wasn't for the fact that he can't sense any being used at all. She's just that adorable.
“Ah, a ballad about a maiden? I can certainly try!”
Hizashi nods as Shouto comes and puts a bowl of stew with a skewer by his feet with a large cup of water, but he's too distracted thinking up lyrics to say anything. Shouto returns the gesture before moving on.
“Oh, through my hard travels, with so much to see,
I met the young Eri, as sweet as can be~!”
“Her eyes sparkle and her silver hair gleams,
she's so amazing, sweet as a dream!”
“WAAAAAAHH!!!” Eri is clearly enjoying it, and the other kids seem to be half amused by her enthusiasm, half impressed by Hizashi’s skill.
He finishes the song and waves his hand in the air. “What next--” he stops talking as he stiffens, feeling a presence behind him.
“Relax,” Eraserhead says as he approaches the bonfire. “It’s just me.”
“Come to catch the rest of the performance?” Hizashi teases as he recovers himself. Eraserhead doesn't respond, making his way to the back of the group and sitting behind his students. Eri is quick to drag Eraserhead closer, sitting against his side as she tells him what he missed.
Hizashi’s eyes have a dull glow to them. “Well, Eri, what next?”
“A song about Sensei!”
Eraserhead stiffens, eyes going wide. “No, that's not necessary-”
Hizashi grins, eyes glowing brighter as his hair begins to float. “Eri’s in charge tonight, Eraser!”
All eyes are on him as he strums a note and clears his throat. The thrill of their attention runs through his veins, giving power to his words. His eyes stray to Eraserhead as he starts his new verse.
“I met a man as sly as a cat,
Just as smart and just as fast,
His wit is sharp,
His claws are sharper,
Makes me glad I'm just a Harper!”
Eraserhead turns his head away in embarrassment. It only makes Hizashi’s stage smile grow. The other kids find it amusing as well, joking and prodding Eraserhead throughout the performance. Eraserhead eventually lifts his head, his cheeks red and a small, amused smile on his face.
Hizashi sings another three songs before he ends the performance. Eri is sweet, but she forgets that Hizashi needs food too. Shouto reheats his food as the younger kids leave the glowing bonfire for the comfort of their beds
“You find me witty?”
“I imagine all sphinxes must be, in order to come up with their riddles.” Hizashi says, tuning his ukulele. The instrument is old and well used -- it requires a tune before and after every performance, but Hizashi has too many good memories with it to trade it for a newer one.
“I’m afraid not -- we all keep books of riddles hidden in our lairs.” Eraserhead studies the claws on one hand as if he were a person studying their nails.
Hizashi freezes. “Did you just make a joke, Eraser?”
“Perhaps,” the corner of his mouth twitched into a smile.
Hizashi stares up at him from where he sits cross-legged on the ground. Hizashi’s green eyes are big and wide and his grin practically splits his face. His laughter is soft, something small and sweet as he closes his eyes, trying to calm the giddiness that was building up from seeing the other smile.
“You should joke more.”
The sphinx huffs, cheeks flushed but still smirking. “I'll leave that to you. My talents lie elsewhere.”
“You don't need to be talented to have fun.” Hizashi scolds. He finishes with his ukulele and carefully stores it in his magic pouch where it won't get damaged. Shouto brings the reheated food and Hizashi eats like a starving man.
“Shinsou, Eri, why don't you two head to bed?” Eraserhead asks in a quiet tone. Eri is already half asleep so Shinsou nods for the both of them. He picks her up and glances at Shouto lingering by the fire. Shouto doesn't move, his face impassive.
Once the others are out of earshot, Eraserhead sighs roughly.
“Shouto, I know you’ve been wanting to leave for awhile, and I know you already asked Mic if you could leave with him. I’ll let you, but there are a few things we need to discuss.”
“Ok.” Shouto’s voice is even, but his eyes betray his excitement.
“First,” the sphinx says, turning to Hizashi, “you said people were following you. Who are they, why are they following you, and are they dangerous?”
“They’re only dangerous if you don’t know how to deal with them.” Hizashi shifts his weight. “I have a complicated history with them.”
“Who are they?”
“Assassins.” Hizashi says. “They’re after me for… betraying my bloodline, I suppose.”
Hizashi glances at Shouto. “Perhaps this is a conversation for just you and I, Eraser.”
The thought of the children's perceptions of him changing… Their ideas of him as a carefree musician morphing into the prince he was… It makes his stomach roll. He worked hard to distance himself from it: the price of him being hunted and chased is worth it to be anonymous, to be free, to have his voice back.
“Eraser, would you like to go for a walk?”
The sphinx glances at Shouto. “Rest for now. We’ll continue this in the morning, Shouto.”
Shouto nods and gets up, dousing the bonfire and heading off to his house. Hizashi follows him until he reaches Eraserhead’s house, storing his bag in the front hallway before he follows Eraserhead outside into the cool night air. Hizashi doesn't have a place in mind, but Eraserhead seems to know where he's going.
He wants to talk, but something stops him. Maybe it's the cool breeze coming from the fields, or maybe its the view of the moon rising in the sky against a backdrop of stars, or maybe the lightning bugs that flicker through the canopy in the forest nearby.
Eraserhead finally stops next to a large log. He sits next to it and drapes his front paws across it as Hizashi sits and looks at the stars.
“You wanted to talk? Then talk.” Eraserhead snaps as his tail swishes impatiently.
“Straight to the point, as always.” Hizashi mutters under his breath, knowing Eraserhead could probably hear him. As if to confirm his suspicion, Eraserhead lifts an eyebrow.
“Fine.” Hizashi says, rolling his eyes as he tries to figure out what to say. He looks up at the stars again. No one treats him the same after he tells them he was a prince. They suddenly give him a respect stemming from fear, as if Hizashi has suddenly become cruel and punishing. He doesn’t want that. He wants to be seen for who he really is.
Eraserhead huffs, breaking Hizashi’s thoughts as the sphinx shifts himself into a more comfortable position. Hizashi glances at his face, surprised to see him watching Hizashi with an expression that was two parts worry and one part sympathy. When Eraserhead notices Hizashi looking back he quickly looks away, blushing.
Maybe Eraserhead will react differently.
“I grew up in a kingdom a long ways away from here.” Hizashi starts. He can’t say the name -- he refuses. It’s dead to him. “And I was born the son of the king.”
“That makes you a Prince.” Eraserhead doesn’t say it with admiration, but he doesn't say it with hatred either. Just pure fact.
Hizashi’s face contorts. “Don’t call me that.”
“For a Prince to become a Bard, traveling alone, chased by assassins, using magic to survive…” Eraserhead trails off. “A fascinating transformation.”
Hearing the word ‘Prince’ again gets his blood boiling, and his hand clutches at his chest, right over his heart. “It was nothing close to a ‘transformation.’ I never changed- I’ve always been me! I was never a prince, and I was never going to be.”
He lets out a few shaky breaths, closing his eyes as he tries to calm himself. “It was merely a change in title.”
His green eyes open slowly as he stares down at his hands.
“So don’t ever call me that. It has never rang true, and never will. You can call me bard, Mic, Yamada, I don’t care. As long as it’s not that.”
Hizashi has been avoiding Eraserhead’s eyes, his heart thudding hard in his chest. It feels like he’s suffocating on the fear and anxiety bubbling up from his stomach to his lungs. Will he look at him differently? Maybe he will be less rude, like everyone else. Suck up to him in hopes of getting some extra cash for the village and the kids? Will he ask for proof?
He squeezes his eyes shut tight, baring his teeth as he tries to stamp out the feelings.
“Well, that doesn't mean much to me.”
What? Hizashi looks up in surprise.
“It doesn't matter why you're being followed. The assassins won't stop until they have you, correct?”
“Er, I suppose. I managed to sing a few away, the same way I c harmed their benefactors .” Hizashi uses his fingers to put quotations around the word ‘charmed’ as he speaks.
Eraserhead blinks. Hizashi blinks.
“You're not being followed because you're a prince but because you're a criminal ?”
“Yes! I mean, no! It’s both! Usually both. As soon as I know someone is following me I lure them and trap them with a song. Make them feel guilty about what they're doing. I stopped asking them why a long time ago. You're right, though. It doesn't matter why I'm being followed, just that I'm being followed, right?”
“I'm not sure I'm comfortable entrusting a child with a criminal, especially one who has assassins tailing him.”
Hizashi winces. “New rule, you can't call me criminal either. Yes, I broke the law, but it was a stupid law. It allowed rich nobles to sit on their piles of gold and grow fat while someone within their own household works more in one day then they have in their entire life.”
Eraserhead sighs. “A lot of laws are dumb and allow nobles to get away with things, but what specifically did you do?”
“Oh. I charmed the nobles into feeling guilty and giving away their riches, which is technically stealing and illegal magic use, but I see it as ‘forced self reflection’.”
“That makes you Robin Hood,” Eraserhead chuckles. “Honestly, I’m glad somebody did it. It was long overdue.”
“If I’m Robin Hood, this must be Sherwood forest.” Hizashi glances at the sights of the village. “Speaking of...was this always a village? It’s so empty. What happened to its inhabitants?”
Eraserhead takes a deep breath. “That’s another story for another day,” he says.
“Hey!” The outburst is louder than he intended, leaving his ears ringing. “That’s not fair! You can’t waltz in, demand to know everything about me, then say you won’t do the same!”
“You waltzed in on your first day demanding answers as well. I only wanted to know why you were being hunted so I could protect everyone here.” He’s smirking though, his tone light- almost teasing.
“You were answering questions in hopes of being able to take Todoroki Shouto beyond the village. Not to get answers in return.” The sphinx stretches slowly, back arcing with an uncomfortable popping noise as he yawns.
“If you take him with you, I have a few requests of my own. Perhaps, if you succeed in completing them, I can give you answers.” His fangs are bared in a wide grin.
“Do not think they will be easy to complete, Present Mic. It will test you, your abilities and your loyalties. “
Hizashi gulps, but an electric thrill runs through his veins despite the nerves clenching his stomach. This is the kind of excitement he's looking for. The kind of excitement he lives for. Who would he be if he refused?
“That easily? You don't even know what they are.”
“That's fine. I want to impress you.”
“And what makes you think I’ll be impressed with you?” Eraserhead flicks his tail as he pins Hizashi with a look.
“Everything leading up to this conversation, to be honest. Starting with those first few riddles we exchanged.” Hizashi grins in return. “No one else has ever solved them so quickly, right?”
“I won’t say I’m not impressed with your intelligence, but I’m far more impressed by your compassion.” Eraserhead blushes a little, turning his head away.
“Besides,” Eraserhead continues, a devilish grin replacing his blush, “Maybe my test is a test of physical endurance.”
“You-!” Hizashi scoffs. “I’m more physically fit than the average person! Average people don’t climb houses and crawl out of wells!”
“You’re not as fit as most of the kids.”
“More like the kids aren’t as fit as me. Besides, most of the time, physical challenges can be prevented with the right mental endeavors.”
Eraserhead snorts. “How so?”
“Rather than having to run from bad guys, I’d put up traps ahead of time! Rather than climbing a waterfall, I’d navigate a way around. It’s all the same game, Eraser.”
“Then you’ll find my tasks...invigorating.” Eraserhead eyes him warily.
“As long as it isn’t more chores, I’m ready!”
“Not everything can be solved with your mind. “ The sphinx bares his fangs. “However, you’ll be plenty capable of what I need done. Above all else, you are to keep Todoroki safe. If he comes back with a single scratch, I won't hesitate to make you pay with your life.”
Eraserhead walks towards the village, leading Hizashi home.
“Prove me wrong about letting him wander from here. And help him find whatever it is that is drawing him out.”
“When it comes to wanderlust, finding the source may take years.” Hizashi says with a shrug. “But I can keep him safe. I have something to teach him, before we leave. Maybe you can help us with it?”
Hizashi explains his idea of the hearthstone to Eraserhead, grinning and gesturing as he describes the magic-heavy process. Eraserhead seems impressed. At least Hizashi thinks so.
“Alright, I'll help you make a hearthstone.” Eraserhead says. “If you don't mind, I'd like you to make one for yourself as well.”
Eraserhead gives him a sad look. “I don't want you left alone if you're in trouble. Besides, it will be easier for you to travel back, so it's just logical.”
Hizashi can't help but smile. It’s touching to have someone worry about him, even after he told them about his past.
“Two stones.” Hizashi agrees. “One for me, one for Shouto.”
“Where do you plan to take him?” Eraserhead digs his paw into the ground, leaving a small hole. Do Sphinx’s burrow their feet in the ground when they’re anxious? Or is the gesture special to Eraserhead?
“Wherever he wants to go,” Hizashi leans into the breeze. “Wanderlust isn’t a destination; it’s a feeling.”
“Don’t let your feeling guide all your decisions.” Eraser’s tone darkens. Hizashi looks back, but the Sphinx has already wiped any expression from his face.
“Have you ever gotten over your wanderlust?” The Sphinx asks softly.
“I don't think it’s something you get over. “
“I never had the urge to wander, “ Eraserhead admits softly. “I don't know if I ever will.”
“Then what do you have an urge for?” The blonde walks closer, his voice almost a whisper.
“I don't know. I have responsibilities.”
“Have you ever let yourself wonder about it?” Hizashi steps ever closer as he asks, eyes trained on Eraserhead’s. The moonlight makes his eyes glow. It’s entrancing. Eraserhead stares back, ruffling his feathers as his wings unfurl from his back for the first time since they’ve met.
“I try not to. But maybe I can start.”
“Yeah?” Hizashi breathes out, his voice so quiet the breeze almost drowns it out. “What's the first thing that comes to mind?”
“You. Perhaps if you stayed...”
Hizashi laughs in surprise. His smile is crooked as he looks over Eraserhead’s face for any hint of a lie, but he finds none. Eraserhead’s wings give a nervous flap as he stares back, his paws shifting as if he wants to move away. Does he regret saying that?
A cold fear starts to bubble up within Hizashi, reminding him of why he doesn’t like to stay in one place for long or get attached to people, especially in the way he feels with the Sphinx. Romance is dangerous. Love brings pain. He tries to think of something to say, some way he could explain his apprehension, but a half-baked joke to ease the tension is tumbling from his lips before he can stop himself.
“Wait, you don’t mean you want to eat me, do you?”
Eraserhead looks like he wants to say something, but he shakes his head instead , a blush growing on his face.
“No, I don’t want you in the “kill and eat” sense.” Eraserhead mutters, flicking his tail and shifting himself so he’s facing away from Hizashi.
“Damn curse…” He mutters under his breath, the words so soft Hizashi almost thought he imagined them.
“The curse?” Hizashi tries to clear his mind, thankful for something else to focus on.
“You said something about the curse. Can’t you tell me more?” Hizashi asks, plaintive.
“Why would I do that?”
“I could help you solve it!”
Eraserhead ignores him, turning away.
“Alright, if you still won’t tell me, I’ll tell you my theory. You’re bound here by whatever is behind the door. And for some reason you aren’t capable of getting in there- or maybe, just maybe, you cursed yourself. I’m not sure yet.”
The Sphinx turns, his warning growl small and weak, like he’s tired of putting up a front.
“I’ll get it open so you can be free!”
Eraserhead bows his head, a sad smirk on his lips. “Sure.” Free as a Sphinx, but not as himself.
“Hey, I'll show you! People never doubt me for long.”
“I said sure.”
“Sounded pretty sarcastic to me!”
Eraserhead lets out a short laugh as he shakes his head. It’s cute. His hair goes everywhere, yet somehow doesn't tangle. Hizashi can see the braids from earlier clinging in there, his mind stuck on how open Eraserhead is being.
“Are you using magic on your hair?” He asks suddenly, surprising himself. Eraserhead blinks.
“I mean, it just- look, my braid is all frizzy now! And coming undone! But yours looks perfect! And you don't even have tangles yet she combed your hair hours ago.”
Eraserhead just looks confused by the conversation’s strange turn, his head tilting to the side as his eyebrows twist.
“I suppose. My body is inherently magical. I'm always using magic, in a sense. Can’t turn it off.”
“Interesting!” Eraserhead hums in agreement as they go back to looking up at the stars. The silence is uncomfortable. Hizashi should say something about earlier, but he isn't sure what. He looks over at Eraserhead, who is not-so-subtly watching Hizashi.
“About your, uh, desire.” Hizashi whispers, awkwardly trying to sound sweet again.
“Forget I said-”
“No! It's ok, I just-” Hizashi pauses as he gathers his words, “ It’s just… I…” Hizashi grimaces, wanting to explain himself fully but finding himself unable to talk about that aspect of his past. He instead chooses a different concern he has with a relationship between them and hopes Eraser will understand. “ You're a Sphinx and I'm a human. And while you're handsome and have an amazing personality-”
“I get it.” Eraserhead sounds surprisingly vulnerable. “I-I’m not upset with you.”
Hizashi watches as Eraserhead pulls his wings tight to himself, smoothing his feathers.
“I… Didn’t want to lead you on.” Hizashi says tentatively.
“You never were. You asked me a question, and I answered. I never expected anything in return.” He takes a few steps away from the bard, staring off.
Hizashi bites his lip, following. “Eraserhead... “
“I expect you both back within two weeks. Any later and I will have people out looking for you.”
It's a clear dismissal if Hizashi’s ever heard one. He sighs and nods in agreement, biting his tongue. Words won't help them now. He doesn't try to think about why he regrets his words now. He just focuses on returning to the house Eraserhead calls home.
“Two weeks it is.”
Hizashi is lying on the bare mattress, pretending to sleep, when Eraserhead finally returns. He can hear the faint sound of his paws against the wood and his soft breathing. Hizashi doesn't move even as his back prickles. He knows Eraserhead must be staring at him.
Eventually he hears the rustling of fabric and the prickling disappears. He slowly drifts off to sleep wondering about what-if’s and second chances.
Hizashi wakes up to an empty room, sound coming from the kitchen beneath him. He drags himself out of bed and wanders down the stairs. He pauses in front of the cursed door, deciding he needs a challenge to wake him up. A magical door should be a good one. Hizashi ignores the logical part of his mind as he approaches the door, ready to release his frustration.
Hizashi tries knocking politely, since sometimes magic requires simple answers. When nothing happens, he wiggles the handle, not surprised to see it is still locked. Hizashi remembers what Shinsou said about his attempts at opening the door, and decides to try a different method. Hizashi gathers a bit of magic in the back of his throat.
“Open up!” Hizashi orders, letting his magic work as his lockpick. The runes on the sides of the door begin to glow, and before Hizashi can do anything, he is blasted backwards into the wall, sparks flying everywhere as his head grows heavy.
As Hizashi groans in pain, he hears footsteps getting closer.
Shinsou is by his side in a moment, eyes wide with concern. Then he’s grinning, covering his mouth as he tries to keep silent. Eri pops up behind him, giggling as she catches sight of the bard. Eraserhead is close behind.
Hizashi sits up with a frown- “What are you two laughing at-”
Eraserhead’s laugh is booming, echoing. The Sphinx can’t take his eyes off the human. “Weren’t you warned about touching the door?” His manic grin is all sharp teeth.
Hizashi pats himself down quick, eyes wide, “What happened- I’m not making weird noises, I’m still me-” Eri points at her own head, to signal he should check his.
He reaches up to his neck, frowning when he doesn’t feel anything. He pats his way up until he touches his hair, finding it standing on end as if he were electrocuted- hell, maybe he had been.
“You know mirrors exist.” Shinsou says with a smirk. Hizashi sticks out his tongue and stumbles to the bathroom as the onlookers trail behind him. He freezes when he sees his reflection, dumbfounded at the sight.
His hair. His hair sticks up like a cockatoo’s. It looks ridiculous. He turns on the water and soaks it, ignoring how his clothes are getting wet in the process. But it's no use. As soon as he stands, hair, face and clothes dripping wet, his hair pops back up, spraying water everywhere.
At least everyone else gets sprayed too.
Hizashi can’t stop himself from bursting into laughter. He turns to face everyone and his hair smacks Shinsou in the face, which only makes him laugh harder.
“I’m sorry, Shinsou,” Hizashi manages to say in between his laughs, “I didn’t mean to!”
Shinsou shrugs, wearing a smug grin . “It’s alright. Besides, you’re the one who’s gonna have to deal with that all day.”
Hizashi chuckles. “Well hey, it’s not the worst look to be caused by magic, is it? I can totally pull this off!”
Eraserhead has his back to them as his whole body shakes with laughter. His feathers are all puffed up. It’s cute. Hizashi grins. “There are worse curses out there.” He gives Shinsou a wink before shaking his head once more. “Anyway, could I get a towel?”
Shinsou and Eri nod, leaving to find him one.
The bard walks over to Eraserhead with a big grin. “It isn’t that funny.” He puffs his chest out, head held high. “I think it’s quite becoming.”
That only makes the Sphinx burst into another bout of laughter. For all his beastly qualities, it sounds completely human.
“If you're becoming a laughingstock, sure.”
“It's worth it if I get to hear your laughter!” He grins. Eraserhead’s mood immediately shifts as he blushes and frowns, turning to head back to the dining room. Hizashi’s stomach clenches as he remembers what he said the night before. Damn.
Shinsou and Eri return with a towel, though only Shinsou notices the change in mood.
“Where did Sensei go?” Eri asks with a smile. Hizashi starts drying off so he can have something to focus on.
“Probably back to eating, like we should.” Shinsou says. “There's still food left. We’ll save some for you, so take your time washing up.”
Hizashi can read the hidden message in Shinsou’s tone. Don't rush. Give Eraserhead time. Hizashi sighs and locks himself in. If he's going to wait, he may as well bathe and let his clothes dry.
Hizashi steps out of the bathroom, bathed, dried, and hair still standing on end. It drags against the top of the doorway, an odd sensation he never thought about before. A quick meal will be best before a day of forging magical objects. It takes a lot of energy to create a hearthstone. Hizashi, with his magic stemming from his voice, is better suited to air-based magic, which is awful when working with fire and earth based enchantments.
Hizashi walks into the kitchen and immediately meets the gaze of mismatched eyes. Shouto raises an eyebrow at Hizashi’s hair, but says nothing. Shinsou, who is sitting across from the half redheaded boy, must have told him. Shinsou tries to make quiet conversation, but they both end up staring at Hizashi as he makes himself breakfast.
“So what do we have to do to make a hearthstone?” Shouto asks when Hizashi sits down, staring above Hizashi’s head.
Hizashi ignores the look. “We need to gather clay from here- no one else can touch it, so you gather yours and I’ll gather mine. Then we bake it and create our own sigils, binding ourselves to this place.”
He rubs his chin as he thinks, eyes on the ceiling. “It will wipe us of our energy - myself more than you. The conditions are not favorable for my flavour of magic.” He turns to Shouto, grinning. “So we’ll have to do our best and be prepared for the exhaustion afterwards.”
“You can use your flames to bake the clay, and something else to create your own sigil- create something unique to you, not something easily copied. This is a direct link to you and your village , meaning people can abuse it if it’s something easy.”
Shouto nods as he listens. Shinsou, despite his bored expression, listens too.
“And one last thing, though it isn't necessary. You can have someone else here act as another anchor. If they have magic talent, it can help your return trip be less draining, since using it will drain you too. Though it's mainly the difference between, say, passing out when you arrive and being able to sleepily ask for a pillow before you pass out. In my experience it's worth it.”
“Okay. Would Sensei be able to do it?”
“I don't see why not. He has magic, after all. You can ask him- though I don't know where he went.”
“What about you?” Shinsou asks. “Don’t you need an anchor?”
“I’ll be fine.” Hizashi reassures him. “As long as I'm not out of energy I can do it.”
Shinsou chews his lip and stares at the floor. Before he can say anything, Shouto speaks.
“Didn’t you just say it was worth it to have an anchor?”
Hizashi sighs. “It’s fine. I’m not accepting any of you kids as an anchor anyways.”
“Why don’t you ask Sensei to do it?”
“I wouldn’t want to drain Eraser’s energy.” Hizashi shakes his head. The spike of hair rustles with each movement. “Besides, anchors need strong bonds to each other. He’d be better suited for you, Shouto.”
Shouto raises an eyebrow. Shinsou rolls his eyes. Neither buy his story, but the truth is far more complicated. Hizashi knows his bond with Eraserhead is strong enough by now , but to ask Eraserhead to be his anchor would be salt in an open wound.
“I can be your anchor --” Shinsou starts.
“Absolutely not.” Hizashi cuts him off with a wave of his hand. “I’m not draining you. I’m an experienced adult; I can make it on my own.”
They both finally accept his answer, but he can tell they still want to say something. It doesn’t matter. Getting this done matters more.
The clay ends up being procured from the well- Hizashi is just glad it's safe enough for Shouto to climb down too. Eraserhead has wandered over by the time they climb out with a small pouch of clay each. Eraserhead snickers at his hair again, but he smiles, not wanting to set Eraserhead off.
“Sensei.” Shouto steps forward with his lump of clay, showing it off. “He says you could be my anchor here, to make it safer for me to use.”
Eraserhead blinks, looking between them with a contemplative expression. It looks like he wants to ask something, but he keeps his mouth shut and nods.
“I will be your anchor. Are you doing the spell now?”
“Are you ready, Shouto?” Climbing in and out of a well is a tiring task, and Hizashi knows he wouldn’t mind resting for a moment before casting the spell.
Shouto considers it. “How much of my energy will this drain?”
“The first part will hardly drain you, since you’re skilled with flame magic. However when you create the sigil, it purposefully drains your magic. All magic is unique, and this is half the reason why hearthstones are so strong.”
Hizashi thinks for a moment. “ Typically you should still have a good chunk of energy left afterwards, maybe a little less after you bond it with your anchor.” Hizashi looks up at Eraserhead. “I’m not sure how much energy it’ll take to bond it to you, I’ve never bonded a hearthstone to anyone who wasn’t human.”
Shouto thinks about it for a moment. “What about you? You said it would take more energy from you, right?”
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll just have a deep sleep tonight.”
“If you pass out, I’m not carrying you back.” Eraserhead sniffs in disdain.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Hizashi snorts. “I’ll be fine.” Is this what they’ve come to? Ignoring the elephant in the room by tossing out jokes and insults? Hizashi knows humor is a coping mechanism, but the tension doesn’t dispel with their laughter.
“How many hearthstones have you made?” Shouto asks.
Hizashi hesitates, rolling his clay back and forth between his hands. “Not many,” he admits. “There aren’t many places I’ve visited worth returning to. Only a few.”
“But I know enough to teach you to make them safely,” Hizashi finishes quickly. “No one's been hurt yet .” Eraserhead raises a brow, unimpressed.
Eraserhead glances at Shouto, watching him shape his clay. “No need to rush it.” The Sphinx paces slowly around them, watching like a hawk. “Is it the places you haven't found worth visiting again? Or the people? Have you ever anchored with someone before?”
Hizashi thinks quietly as he shapes his clay into a rounded disc, like a large, flat pebble. He isn't sure how to answer that. Honesty seems like the best choice. He already shared so much with Eraserhead the night before.
“I anchored with my mother, when she first taught me this spell. I got my magic from her.”
Shouto perks up, listening intently as he struggles to copy the shape of Hizashi’s clay. Hizashi has to remind himself that only Eraserhead knows he used to be royalty. He needs to keep it vague.
“Father didn't like it much, but he wanted me to be safe so he turned a blind eye. She’s dead now, and I broke that stone anyways, so...”
“Ah.” Eraserhead flicks his tail as he turns his head. “Sorry to hear that.”
“It's no big deal. I've had my time to mourn.”
They stay quiet for a moment, working in silence. Eventually, Shouto speaks.
“Do I have to shape the clay in any particular way? I figured it was best to shape it like yours.”
“Shaping it like mine is fine, although you can shape it however you want. The shape isn’t that important, what matters is that the surface is completely smooth. I usually flatten mine as much as I can by hand and then use magic to remove any fingerprints. Some people find it easier to do this in water, but it’s easier for me like this.”
Shouto looks at the clay and nods. “What happens if it’s not completely smooth?”
“Magical items always use less energy when more time and care is spent making them. It’s not that big of a difference, so you don’t have to if you would prefer not to.”
“The more you tell me about magic, the more tiring it seems.” Shouto says. Hizashi can’t tell if he means it as a joke or not.
“When I was young, my mom would always tell me magic was exhausting so that we wouldn’t use it to fix all our problems.” Hizashi works his clay smooth as he speaks. “The last thing we want is a lonely magician casting love spells on everyone they meet, or a lazy farmer stealing rain to take care of his crops, or a crooked merchant sending the economy into shambles when he makes money magically appear.”
“And being tired solves all that?”
“Not all of it,” Hizashi admits. “But it can help. If you’re too tired to do anything with your new lover, then what’s the point --”
“Mic,” Eraserhead swishes his tail in warning.
“Ah, right.” Sometimes Hizashi forgets how young even the oldest of the children are. “I guess you wouldn't understand that.”
Shouto stares at his feet. “Can you stop people from loving someone?” His face is neutral, but his eyes are dead serious.
Both Eraserhead and Mic freeze, looking the boy over.
“There are some things people shouldn’t meddle with.” The blonde’s voice is soft, the clay cupped tight in his hand. “Emotions are one of them. “
Hizashi speaks from experience. He specializes in manipulation; playing with others emotions- and trust is a big factor. He can’t stop himself from thinking of his parent’s relationship- the way the other would strike with silver tongues as sharp as knives when the other trusted them not to, twisting the other’s emotions to their advantage. Hurting each other the way they did- it was something Hizashi swore he’d never even allow himself the chance to do.
“But is it possible?” Shouto presses.
“Probably,” Hizashi sighs. Eraserhead growls in warning, but Hizashi presses on. “But it would cause more damage than would be worth it. And since it’s emotional, the damage wouldn't be apparent at first. But it would be there, hidden inside them. Messy business.”
“How about you change the subject to the task at hand.” Eraserhead scolds. Hizashi and Shouto both look guilty as they cringe.
“Ok, are you ready to bake it?” Hizashi asked. Shouto nods in confirmation. “Bake it anyway you like, as long as magic is involved and as long as it doesn’t crack it should be fine!”
Shouto presses his lips together in concentration, lighting his hands aflame as he began the baking process. With a little concentration and humming, Hizashi manages bake his clay too, using heated air instead of fire. While fire would be preferable, it takes more energy for Hizashi to maintain.
“That should be enough for you!” Hizashi still has to bake his a little more, but that doesn’t mean he can’t guide Shouto. “Make sure it isn’t cracked, and then start creating your sigil. It’s better if you do it faster, and you need to make sure your sigil is unique!”
Hizashi turns his attention back to his stone. It should be ready. He stops baking it, immediately turning the stone over to search for cracks, finding none. He grabs his knife and begins to hum another tune. This is going to be the draining part.
A sigil….what kind of sigil should he create? Hizashi has never been great at creating sigils. Visual art isn't one of his specialties.
He settles on something easy to remember. He draws the rough outline of a sphinx, then crosses an X out over it. “An X?” Eraserhead asks as he flicks his tail.
“For the curse.” Hizashi explains. “I like my sigils to tell a story. People won’t guess what they look like if they don’t know the meaning behind them.”
He takes a glance at Shouto’s design. “Are you sure that’s complex enough?”
Shouto has etched a pillar of fire with a snowflake in the middle. Shouto eyes it warily before adding another snowflake at the top of the flame. “I’m like you,” Shouto says. “Mine will tell my story.”
“It's much easier to remember that way! Though once it’s on the stone and fused with our return destination, we technically don't need to remember it. We already know where to go. But the sigil makes activating the spell much quicker.”
“Okay. I'm done.”
Shouto holds up his stone with the sigil carved into it. Their pictures are crude, but they work.
“Alright. Now, we have to set the spell to our anchoring location. Beside the well can work. Much safer than trying to do it inside and appearing on top of a new table someone moved in.”
Shouto cracks a smile at the mental image. Eraserhead just looks bored. Maybe too bored. Is he faking?
After walking over to the plush grass beside the well, Hizashi stops. “Alrighty! So we wanna redraw our sigils with the strongest physical manifestation of our magic possible. Shouto, you're also going to want to have physical contact with Eraserhead, that way the stone is bound to him as well.”
Shouto nods as he listens. “Is that it?”
“Yep! Make sure your magic is evenly spread across the symbol, otherwise it won't be efficient.”
Shouto leans against Eraserhead’s side and begins drawing his symbol. Fire and ice appear in the air, strong and even.
Hizashi lets out a low whistle. He’d figured Shouto’s magic must be strong, or else Eraserhead’s training would mean nothing, but watching him in action... maybe Shouto can be as much use to him as he is to Shouto.
“So, fire and ice.” Hizashi says. “Which one do you use most often?”
“Does it matter?” The venom in Shouto’s voice takes him aback. It isn’t rare to find people ashamed of their magic, but Shouto’s is pure rage.
His reply takes a minute; Hizashi is too shaken to respond immediately. “If we need to use magic on the road, I’d like to know what to expect from you.”
“Oh.” Shouto relaxes. “I use my ice more often. I rarely train my fire.”
“It's dangerous.” Shouto says quietly. Hizashi nods, keeping his mind focused on Shouto’s magical output.
“Fair enough. Keep your magic steady- and think about the positive things that make you want to return. Your sensei. Your friends. The cool water and tasty food cooking on the fire, the smells of the fields and forests- yes, I can feel it working!”
Shouto closes his eyes and wobbles a little as the magic flows into the hearthstone, wreathed in fire and steam. Eraserhead lets Shouto lean on him as the magic aura slowly fades and Shouto collapses against him, barely conscious.
“It… I can feel it.” Shouto says, voice tired and amazed as he stares at the stone in his hand. Hizashi smiles, sharing a proud look with Eraserhead.
Eraser’s expression changes from proud to something mischievous. “Don’t you have to create yours, Mic?”
Hizashi sighs. “I hope this grass is as soft as it looks.”
“I won’t let you fall.” Eraserhead mutters.
“You’re probably going to want to leave for now.” Hizashi watches him back up a bit, then turns away from them and begins to hum, letting his magic flow out of him freely. Unfortunately, his magic amplifies his voice to the point where his sounds can be seen, meaning it’s very loud. The houses around him shake as Hizashi focuses on creating his sigil as quickly as possible, silently praying nothing collapses.
When he completes his sigil, the edges of his vision begin to fade to black. His head is spinning, and he’s reminded of why he hates making hearthstones. He collapses, but something big and soft is there to cushion his fall.