Long Ago and Yesterday
It seemed that everything in this land was burned by the sun. The stones, colors dimmed by its light, the flowers, the weaker ones wilting in the heat, and their skin. His own felt bronzed by the harsh light, and while logically he knew that it was simply due to the return to his original form… Disregarding the clothing and jewelry, he looked just as he did while possessing aibou, only darkened. The sensation made this form both familiar and strange to him; though truthfully, he couldn't claim to have ever been fully comfortable in aibou's form either. Not as a spirit, inevitably stealing time from him.
Sitting on the paved ledge of the artificial pond, he trailed a hand through the water and watched Mana. She was flitting about like a bird, exploring the garden with all the excitement of one seeing something for the first time and all the familiarity of one who has seen it for years. She would often turn back to him, waving or, if he was close enough, asking for his opinion on something.
He would need to consider this World of Memory soon, but for now he allowed himself to simply enjoy the company of a friend. It was the kind of idle companionship which he had before only experienced with aibou, where all other purposes fell away.
Mana returned, carrying an armful of flowers which had caught her eye, and sat down next to him. "Ouji is relaxing again! It's good to see you not working so hard for once!"
"I've been working too hard, have I?"
"Yes! I understand that you've become Pharaoh, but even Pharaohs need to take breaks." Mana's voice was still light and happy, but there was a small hint of…not quite scolding, but close, to her tone.
He smiled. "You're right, Mana. But I'm taking a break now, aren't I?"
"Yes, and you're better than O-shishou-sama at this, too. If I could get him to come at all he'd spend the whole time worrying about what work he had to do next!"
Though he lacked any memories with which to judge such a statement, from what he had seen of Mahaado that sounded about right. "He would, wouldn't he? But if anyone could effectively distract him it would be you." Mahaado certainly had been affected by Mana's presence earlier, meeting with far less success in trying to maintain a strictly professional persona. "You must be good at it."
"I hope so…" Mana giggled. "The real trick is to get O-shishou-sama talking about his work, rather than doing his work. I've been doing it ever since I was little, bringing up magical techniques he doesn't like. That way O-shishou-sama will lecture on those and how ineffective they are. It's his way of relaxing, I guess?"
"Like the way he lectured at you earlier?"
"Exactly! Well, except that I didn't make that mistake on purpose…" Mana sighed, her breath a gust of wind blowing across his cheek.
He placed his hand on top of hers, still strewn amidst the flowers in her lap. "Your spell worked correctly- all you needed to do was plan things out better."
"It was stupid of me to freeze those guards, wasn't it? Sometimes I forget…" A strange expression came over Mana's face for a moment, and he was hit by the lack of memory sharply. Once, long ago now, he would have known Mana's meaning, known what led to this reaction. The moment ended as quickly as Mana had rushed about earlier, with her shaking her head. "Anyway, Ouji is right. I'll do better next time, I promise!"
Mana smiled brightly at him, and it seemed inevitable that he smiled back.
"I'm doing better with my protection spells, though! Wards don't make such a big mess when they don't work right. Though O-shishou-sama keeps reminding me that no one likes being stuck in a barrier they can't get out of…" Mana giggled.
"Is it always Mahaado you experiment on?"
"Only with barriers. I want to become best at protecting O-shishou-sama!" Suddenly, Mana jumped. "Oh, hi, O-shishou-sama!"
Mahaado finished his approach and nodded. "Mana." He bowed next. "Pharaoh."
"O-shishou-sama! We're in private; that sort of thing isn't necessary!"
Mahaado looked at her sternly. "And here you can never remember to stand on proper decorum. I might as well occupy the opposite extreme."
"Eh? That isn't fair!"
"Well, it's not fair to Ouji! Right, Ouji?"
They both looked to him expectantly, and he froze, put on the spot. "Ah… Well…"
He glanced at Mana. She called him 'Ouji', but not as if she was using a title- it came out sounding like a name from her lips. And Mahaado had used it the same way when he had slipped up before. They might not know his name within this limited world of his memories, and they might not be willing to use it even if they did, but the intention behind what they called him was more important. He might not remember them yet, but they remembered him as the friend they had grown up with.
He smiled. "Mana is right, Mahaado. We've known each other too long for formality to be necessary in private."
Mahaado inclined his head, probably more in acquiescence than actual agreement. Catching his hint, Mahaado sat down with them, and at Mana's prompting, conversation resumed.
These were friends he had grown up with, and he was beginning to feel that bond more strongly. Being here was making his desire for his memories less nebulous- now, he wanted to remember those times they had spent together so long ago.