The day Ryuuzaki Umi accidentally discovered how to travel in time was - well. It was an accident of a day all around, really. Three years living in Cephiro wasn't enough to stop her feeling homesick for Tokyo - in face, all it did was make the homesickness bite more viciously than before.
She was on day five of the current round, feeling sulky and exhausted and like only half her twenty-six years had stuck. It didn't bode well for any lessons.
That it was a lesson with Clef was better and worse at the same time. She was going to loser her temper and yell at him - with Clef mixed in with her bad mood, it was inevitable - but at least that meant she would yell at someone who would snap back at her. If they were yelling, she probably wasn't going to burst into tears, and that was pretty much what she wanted.
Clef got to the practice room with about thirty seconds to spare, shoving the door open like it had personally offended him. "Morning," he muttered.
Snorting, Umi flopped back in her chair. "Morning," she agreed, somewhat flatly. There wasn't anything good about it.
He looked up at her then - and it still was up, because for all that she and Hikaru and Fuu hadn't actually aged as much as they should have in the past twelve years, Clef still hadn't aged at all. Which made the expression he made at her look all the more like a kid about to throw a tantrum. Any other morning, it might have got her to laugh.
"Why don't we just quit while we're ahead. I'll go back to bed, you can - go chop some targets up on the training fields or run the obstacle course or something," Clef said, and until the words came out of his mouth, there was nothing she'd have liked better.
Unfortunately, as soon as he said it, it became a suggestion, and she was in far too contrary a mood to be told what to do.
"No way. You promised to get me through my summoning exam, and it's in one week. You got another couple of hours free this week?"
Clef pulled a face, and slumped into the chair opposite her. "You weren't very forthcoming on what, exactly, you were finding difficult about it. I only promised to try."
"You taught us how to use our magic in about five seconds, through Mokona-the-omnipotent-telephone. I'm sure you can do something - you're good at summoning."
Waving a hand, Clef shook his head. "I basically just gave you access to a hammer, back then. It didn't take much finesse to just hit things with it - there are better summoners out there than me. Your actual teacher, for one."
Officially wincing, Umi rubbed a hand over her face. "She keeps looking like she's going to burst into tears because she can't work out where it's going wrong."
"Ascot, for another, somewhat more use to your - style of learning."
"He tried to work out how to explain it for a week, but couldn't put it into words. He does it all too instinctively."
Clef eyed her. "And you think I'm going to be able to help?"
Umi eyed him back. "You're the Master Mage, aren't you?"
"…Right." He pressed both hands to his face for a moment. "Okay. So, what is going wrong? In more detail than 'It doesn't work,' please."
Looking down, Umi stared at her hands, feeling her cheeks heat. "I can start up the spell okay, I just - I keep ending up calling Selece, instead. And he doesn't count, exam-wise." She looked up, and winced at Clef's stare. "I asked!"
"Of course he doesn't count! He's one of the Mashin, you couldn't support his existence in this plane if you wanted to - okay. Fine. Unexpected dragon god would be - an unusual issue, yes." He glanced about. "Would he even fit in here, or should we go outside?"
"I did say you didn't need to book a room," Umi told him, which was a close to an answer as he was going to get from her.
"You didn't tell me we were going to be summoning a dragon!" He thumped his head down on the table. "Okay! Right. Theory. We'll start by going over your understanding of the theory before we end up talking to Lord Selece. Repeatedly."
"I know the theory!" Umi threw her hands up in frustration, the jolting motion not actually enough to burn off any of the irritation bubbling up in her chest. "I've gone over the theory a hundred times! I even passed the exam on that bit!"
Clef shook his head, and the look in his eyes was one she remembered from - bad days, when the whole of Cephiro had been supported on his stubborn refusal to give way. "You knew a different kind of summoning first. If you're not very clear on every step, and the reasoning behind it, then your magic may be reverting to a spell it knows will meet your wish. It's a lot harder to learn something so closely related than it is to learn one wholly new, from scratch. So, theory. At least my tea might have kicked in by the time you drop a dragon on me."
"I'll do it a purpose if you're not careful," Umi muttered back at him, but she settled herself into her seat and folded her hands primly in her lap. "Fine, then. You want to ask me questions, or should I just start spouting random facts?"
"Take it from the start of the process. Talk me through it. Like you're the one teaching me."
It was a reasonable plan. Unfortunately for both of them, Umi's theory - or at least her knowledge of it in this area - was also good, and an hour later they'd moved outside and Umi had managed to summon Selece three times in succession.
"How?" Clef hissed, throwing his hands up in the air and staring up at where Selece had been until a few moments before. "You're doing it right, you get halfway there, then - bam, dragon!"
"I know!" Umi snapped back, glaring at him. "That's why I asked you to help! You're the Master Mage, right? Work out how I master this!"
"I don't even - I think you're even worse than I was to start with." He flopped down on one of the low walls, still staring up in bewilderment. "It's a good thing Selece finds this amusing."
Selece did find it amusing - he was still laughing in the back of Umi's mind, not quite so loud now it wasn't vibrating the air about them. But Umi got stuck on the other part of that statement. "Worse than - you were?"
"What?" Clef snapped, a sudden flush on his cheeks. "We all have skills that don't come as readily to hand - it took a little more learning. But, as you are well aware, I did manage to learn it, and so will you."
"That sounded more like a threat than a promise," Umi muttered, flopping down on the ground. "Seriously, what am I doing wrong?"
Clef shook his head, summoning himself a chair to flop into in a slightly more dignified manner, closing his eyes. "Okay. Just - give me a minute here, you're breaking all the rules."
She sat there patiently for - well, she managed at least three minutes before she started fidgeting, and when that got her glared at she started staring up at the clouds and seeing what shapes she could make in them, instead. That didn't keep her entertained for too long, but she had a more-interesting subject to think about; Clef being bad at summoning. It was made even more amusing by the fact it was the first magic she'd ever seen - his dismissing Fyula.
Though that was probably more an anti-summoning than a summoning itself…
"I have an idea,"Clef announced, breaking through her snickering as she tried to imagine a younger Clef looking thoroughly disgruntled at his failings. (It was a sheering thought.) "You're going to summon Selece deliberately, then when he's here with us, you'll cast a normal summoning. You can't summon Selece twice - if we get the spell to follow the correct path at least once, it should be easier to repeat."
//That is a good plan.// Selece rumbled, in the back of Umi's mind - he had apparently been paying attention. //I do not mind spending some time in the gardens watching your magic lesson.//
"If you spot what's going wrong, you have to tell me," Umi muttered - ignoring Clef's request for her to speak a little louder as she hadn't been addressing him. She held out her hand, and pulled the sword from her glove. "So I should summon Selece like I normally do, not with a summoning spell? Not your kind of summoning spell, anyway. Right?"
"Yes," Clef nodded firmly. "We need to get the two forms separated in your subconscious."
"Fine," Umi told him, and sung her sword to the open sky with no further ado. "Selece!" she called, and even she could tell the flow of magic this time was more natural. It didn't itch, for one thing, but burst through her in a cool rush.
Selece lowered himself into physical reality, and settled regally at the edge of the garden, watching intently. It looked like Clef hadn't been expecting him to be an attentive audience from his expression, but he bowed stiffly and stepped up to Umi.
"Just remember to focus," he told her. "Concentrate on the none you wish to give form to."
"I think I know the drill now."
"If you did, we wouldn't be here," Clef snapped back. But his lips twitched as he said it; he couldn't be too mad.
Umi dismissed her sword, and held out bare hands, trying to think yes, this is different. Magic began to flow from her hands, glowing to trace a circle in the air - to trace the summoning seal, and this was about as far as she'd ever made it before Selece came to join in. It was hard going, too, holding the seal inn her head and her hands. Ascot made it look so quick and easy. But once every line was blazing light, she felt the connection snap into place between herself and the other side, the amorphous dimension where summoned creatures lived when they weren't taking an all-expenses-paid trip to this one courtesy of a Paru…
She'd met the one she meant to summon before - their teacher had held the spell and let each of them use it to forge a connection before they tried summoning for the first time. Now she had to reach out and call them, through that connection, invite them back through the spell…. she was walking herself through the steps like she'd taken Clef through the theory, but it was working.
I wonder how his summoning went wrong? she though, with a brief snicker, the imagined image of his disgruntled face flashing involuntarily across her mind just as she reached out and tugged on the connection through the spell, and -
The seal blazed up, power being yanked from her hands so fas her chest ached, then the whole spell slammed back into her in a blinding, crackling rush that drowned out the cry she made, and the whole world vanished.
Umi took a deep breath, realised she could feel her body again, and took another, shaking. "What was that?" she hissed, hands patting the reassuring solidity of the ground beneath her.
Clef didn't answer.
Frowning, Umi opened her eyes, then shrieked as a booted food swung straight at her chest, and straight - straight through her?
Scrambling upright, she pushed away from the group of laughing people in apprentice mage robes who where making their way along the path she was lying on. None of them seemed to see her - she watched, with wide eyes, as one girl took three dancing steps to the side and ran straight through Umi's ankles with no sensation except the vaguest tingling. The girl moved on, still laughing, not even a pause to indicate she'd noticed anything.
"What?" Umi demanded, staring about.
Clef wasn't there, nor was Selece - in fact, her connection to Selece felt as distant and paper-thin as it did from Earth. If that was so, he wouldn't be able to hear or answer her, and…
Umi pulled her legs up, wrapping her arms about them and trying not to panic. Was she - was she a ghost? Had that been her power going into a backlash?
She didn't feel dead. She felt weird, but then her legs and arms seemed plenty solid and visible to her, but obviously weren't to anyone else…
"Hey, Clef!" someone shouted, and Umi's head shot up to meet the sharp stare of a pair of familiar blue yes, staring straight at her, from a… a not familiar face?
The man looking down at her looked like he was in his mid-twenties - well, he would have been on earth. He was slim and his pale hair cascaded about his face just the right way, but - "Clef?" Umi said, scrambling upright. "can you hear me?"
Her heart sank as he kept staring down at the grass she'd been sitting on, walking slowly with his shoulders slumped, and…
Were those apprentice robes?
"Wait up, Clef!" yelled the same voice again, and two other apprentices dodged through the trickle of people on the path to grab at Clef's arms and gasp for air. The woman who had shouted slapped his arm, far too gently to hurt. "Didn't we tell you to wait?" she scolded, curls flying about her face.
Her companion, a man with his hair drawn back in braids like a priest's, shook his head. "We said you're not going to go off and sulk about this all day. You've been poring through the theory books for weeks - you need a break."
"I need to work out where I'm going wrong!" Clef snapped, and oh, Umi thought, watching, he was just as hilarious grumpy as she could have imagined, all prickling edges and frown. "We have the exam in three days, and I still can't-"
"So maybe you aren't going to pass this one first go," the guy told him, rolling his eyes and shooting a laughing glance at the woman, which she returned. "It happens to everyone, you realise?"
"It's never happened to me," Clef bit out, voice small and grouching as he kicked the ground. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I know the theory back to front and - and sideways, but I still can't do it!"
"Master Dion told you you just need to to relax and let the spell take control," the woman told him, sounding firm. "You do not seem relaxed to us. So you're having the evening off, coming home with us, and we'll make sure you don't fret about it all night."
"Tomorrow you'll be nicely relaxed," the man said, grinning as he took Clef's hand and - his voice fairly purring. Umi flushed bright red as the words she'd overheard actually sank in, and the word before her was - fuzzy, was growing strange and static with the shock in her chest at people asking Clef to - to -
the last thing she made out was Clef looking up and shaking his head at both of them, but with a smile starting on his lips, and she heard his voice saying "You aren't that good" as the world fizzled away in a roar.
This time, Umi came back to herself to the reassuring sound of Clef shouting at her, his voice tight with worry. "Umi! Umi, are you okay? What did you do? You vanished, and Selece vanished, and - are you hurt?"
"I'm fine," Umi said, blinking her eyes open and pushing up from the floor. Her vision was still a bit static, head fuzzy, but it was fading already; Selece's presence settled about her shoulders like a worried mantle, but at least he could sense she was okay enough to be quiet about it - or else he just thought Clef was being loud enough for the both of them.
"What did you do?" Clef repeated, dropping down beside her and grabbing hold of her arm like he was worried she would vanish again any moment, his face familiar, and worried, and -
"You were taller," Umi blurted, staring at him. "and - you went home with them?"
Clef stared at her. "…What?"
"You were taller! And in apprentice robes, and you couldn't summon because you were too tense - and -"
Flopping back onto the ground, Clef blinked. "You saw Savrin and Caris?" he asked, confusion in very word. "But - that's not possible, you weren't tapping my memories, I'd have felt that - you wouldn't have vanished -"
"I wasn't in you, I could see you!" Umi snapped. "I was there, but people couldn't see me - they walked through me, that was really, really weird."
"…No," Clef said. "Umi, you cannot have - have summoned yourself into the past! Summoning doesn't work like that, even if you do get distracted - why were you thinking about me when you should have been concentrating, anyway? You should have been focusing!"
"I was! It was only a second, then just - Whoosh!" Umi threw her hands up, shuddering a little as she remembered the spell washing over her.
"It's not possible," Clef insisted, rubbing his hands over his face, apparently far more disturbed by the a little time-travel than the fact Umi had seen him being propositioned. (By friends who had done that before, too, from the casual way they'd gone about it, and that thought had her blinking at Clef again.)
"Did you really sleep with them?" she asked, then flushed.
"What. Savrin and Caris? Sometimes." Clef frowned at her. "You've net their grandchild, you realise. At least one of them."
"…That kid who calls you 'Uncle Clef'?" Umi asked, voice wobbling. "I thought - I thought you were related, not that their grandparents used to drag you to bed!"
"Close enough," Clef said, with a shrug. "Isn't that how most people end up related? It's all sex or birth or taking care, and you generally have to have sex before you get a birth. And sex can be part of taking care of someone." He tilted his head at her. "…Why're you giving me that look?"
"Why do you keep saying sex?" Umi hissed. "I thought you weren't interested in that kind of -" she flailed her hands at him and his child form.
"I'm not interested when I look like this. It doesn't mean I can't be interested when I'm in a more appropriate form," he told her, and frowned. "And you're not distracting me from the fact you broke a summoning and went back in time! I'm cancelling your exam and you're not to try summoning without my permission and my presence. Understand?"
Umi paused. "… You can't do that, can you? You're not my teacher, you don't set my exams."
"I'm head of the entire guild. I can cancel anyone's exams if they're a danger to themselves and the public," he told her, flatly, and that hard tone made her stomach clench slightly. If he was that worried… "Just because you grew up with no notion what magic can do doesn't mean you should go about breaking all reasonable limits. And reality," he grumped, pushing himself to his feet. "Come on, you should eat something - I've no idea how much power that took, and we are not trying again today. You'll just have to miss your exam this time."
"Well, I guess it happens to everyone," Umi muttered, and Clef shot her a sideways glance. "…I don't even want to try again right now, who know what I'd see this time."
Sighing, Clef shooed her towards the castle. "Maybe if you took a child's form, you'd be able to concentrate better," he told her in return, and Umi couldn't help laughing - even though she flushed bright red.
"I'm not the one getting dragged to bed by my friends," she told him, and shot sideways before Clef could summon this staff to swing it at her, walking with him down a path she only now realised was the same it had been in that glimpse of a centuries-ago past. The castle might have changed - Clef might have changed. But he was still here, and some things hadn't changed at all.
His grumpy expression as he muttered about magic not behaving for one.
Umi bounced ahead of him, feeling better about everything than she had since she first failed to cast a summoning - and tucked away the idea of a taller interested Clef to examine later, when she was alone and ready to face that… and why it was more startling than accidental time-travel.