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The Pathless Wood

Discussion in 'Creativity Surge' started by Late-Night Thinker, Nov 17, 2009.

  1. Late-Night Thinker Gems: 17/31
    Latest gem: Star Diopside

    Mar 30, 2003
    Likes Received:
    “The practitioner of the magical arts is never so much in danger as when he is within his own instincts, within his own innate talents…” Magister Lutzio paused in his slow, deliberate oration, his creased, rheumy eyes turned aside thoughtfully. Then raising his weathered hands to grip the rustic podium that stood before him, he cleared his throat and began again, “…when he is wielding magical energy unfettered by the limitations—by the friction, so to speak—that must be applied to redirect his energy into a casting not akin to his natural abilities. It is when he is most comfortable, that is when he is most in danger of losing control, of being consumed, of…lunacy and the abyss.” His geriatric voice, hoarse and still, barely filled the small, close classroom, its timber-framed walls clustered with shelves and its hard-packed floor covered with mats of woven rushes. Leather-bound tomes, etchings of arcane runes, and the instruments of their craft, alchemical as well as occult, spilled out of the shelves and cluttered the surrounding tables and desktops. Warm, bright light poured in through the open-shuttered windows perforating both sides of the rural, squat structure. Midday, the sun was high, and the air warm and textured, laden with the smells of sod and forest.

    “Magic, though a wondrous servant, is a most dreadful master. You must never forget this...never.” He registered his words by momentarily holding the gaze of each of his three apprentices, one after another, his countenance grave. The only sound was the indolent buzzing of a fly, circling throughout the timber joists supporting the thatch roof above. The trio of youths sat upon a cracked hardwood pew, unadorned and set directly before the lectern. Despite the pupils being all dressed alike in roughspun brown robes, their physical appearances were entirely dissimilar, and mistaking one for another was impossible, even for an old man with faltering vision and eyebrows so unruly they sometimes crept into his range of sight.

    On the left side of the pew sat Raelen, his eyes blue and shadowed. Handsome and urbane, Raelen’s chin was shaven and his dirty blond hair pulled back into a tight, short pony tail constrained by a black leather chord. The tails of the chord ran long and fell behind his shoulders, the ends lost in the folds of his unworn, hanging hood. He had broad cheekbones, large eyes, and a narrow, cleft chin. Evenly proportioned, he was of medium height and had a relaxed, lean, athletic build—completely unlike the round figure sitting to his right.

    Edwin, portly and short, sat in the middle. The knobbiness of his knees as well as the girth of his belly could be discerned beneath the wrinkles of his robe. His feet barely reached the floor. All head and trunk, his feeble limbs seemed insufficient for his rotund, plump figure. He had his hands clasped and resting on his midriff. His hair was bristly short, frizzy and kinked, tawny in color. His beady pale blue eyes were like two mischievous sapphires from which the rest of his blotchy face jiggled and hung, his cheeks fat and loose. He had thick, rubbery lips that drooped forward and were constantly smiling in an unconcerned, cheerful fashion. When Magister Lutzio’s swooping gaze fell upon him, he found the young man smiling back at him with that same usual blitheness. Magister Lutzio found it not in keeping with the gravity of the subject matter and frowned at him momentarily. Edwin, looking confused and self-consciousness, stopped smiling.

    Brune, sitting on the right side of the pew, was last in turn to receive Magister Lutzio’s attention. Lanky and gaunt, he was a full head taller than either of his two peers. Parted down the middle, Brune’s hair was brown, wavy, and long, coming to rest atop his shoulders in a forgotten, messy manner. He had a narrow, long face and a thick, hooking, beaklike nose. His sharp, protruding cheekbones lent his face a sparseness that coupled with his serious, determined brown eyes, made Magister Lutzio have to constantly remind himself of Brune’s actual age and maturity. It didn’t help that the young man had grown himself the beginnings of a fine beard and carried himself in an utter seriousness that brooked no idleness or self-pity. Looking into the wrinkled, sun-beaten face of his master, Brune suddenly became aware of the uncomfortable nature of the hardwood pew, and began to unconsciously shift, only finding a more pleasant sitting position as soon as Magister Lutzio returned to addressing the trio as a whole.

    “But what is magic…?” Magister Lutzio drew the question out rhetorically, giving his students time to consider the question. After a preparatory breath, Master Lutzio embraced his speech, positing forcefully, “That which exists, this place, this humid room, you, me, the impassable mountains and the low hills…even the air we breathe, are all changing—changing endlessly. There is nothing of this world that is permanent.” His conviction agitated his bulbous protuberance of a nose, and his cavernous nostrils flared noticeably. He swept a crusty paw, cracked and made bulky by a lifetime of toiling the earth, towards the expansive garden that made up much of the grounds of their woodland retreat, and proclaimed, “Each spring we must plant anew.” The scraggly, greyish mess that was his facial hair seemed even more tangled and animated than was custom, a few knots having gone completely astray. “Magic is change—miraculous change—hence there is nothing of this world that isn’t magical, even if some changes take longer than others…” Magister Lutzio reclaimed himself with a few quick strokes of his beard. An image of the old man sprung up in Brune’s mind, brought about by Magister Lutzio’s distracting nose as well as by his mention of their garden. It was of him snuffing a handful of herbs, testing the odors for maturity and health. It was a sight familiar to all three of the young men.

    “As mages—and I consider you three to be counted amongst that group, for I have seen you all develop admirably over these last few years—we must be cognizant of the fact that we are…” He took one of his characteristic pauses, his bulky hands gripping upon the podium as he searched for the right words, “…we are, in the greater scheme of things, an imbalance. Though all living things move by the mystery of sentience, in a select few, that…tap, if you will…allows for the manipulation of forces outside the predominant order of nature. Though every man is to some degree linked with the irrational, infinite energy of which I speak, for us, that link is much closer, much more intimate. Our precarious imbalance with nature is both our gift and our curse. Being magi was not something that you chose, yet the responsibilities that follow as a consequence, you must embrace.”

    He paused again reflexively, sensing that his students needed a moment to digest and identify with what they had just heard. Magister Lutzio was a man entering his elderly years, and though his grey hair fell lank and sparse, it fell on shoulders that held much vigor, and a back that stooped only at the very end of the day. But looking into the eager, ambitious eyes of his apprentices, their expectations and hopes not formed from practice, but rather from self-wrought dreams largely untested, he couldn’t help but feel a burdening sense of responsibility that turned in the pit of his stomach and made his chin settle towards his chest.

    Of the three, which one would burn at the stake? Would more than one? All three? Their kind were constantly hunted, usually out of fear but sometimes out of greed. Magical powers were nothing compared to the cunning and guile of desperate men. Worse yet, which one would go mad or malignant, and then require a number of elders like himself—powerful, good-standing members of the Society—to band together and set out on a mission of merciless execution. That was his greatest fear. The possibility of that tragic outcome was why he never got tired or bored in his duty to these young men. It was why his heart always appeared closed and yet he never seemed dull or disinterested.

    His tone softened as he continued, “This energy, though physically felt by all that is corporeal, down to even the smallest of stones, is only truly understood in the terms of sentience.” Magister Lutzio’s eyes drifted, forgetting his audience, searching within himself. “It is the impetus that arises in the world as beauty...and as terror. It is the grasp of our emotions. It is our dreams…and our thoughts unsurfaced.” He rejoined the room, closed his mouth and swallowed slowly, searching his students’ faces.

    Brune had the impression that his master was somewhat uncomfortable. Magister Lutzio was a very reserved man, and it was certainly uncharacteristic for him to be referencing the private, bounded world of feelings. Brune held Magister Lutzio in the highest regard, and he knew that the iron-willed old gardener had an innate distrust of frivolity, so for him to be using such personal words as these, his need must have been great. Brune’s entire attention was riveted upon his master, and the rigors of the uncomfortable hardwood pew were completely forgotten.

    Magister Lutzio’s voice thickened as he continued, “Now these forces, those beyond the veil of our world, are to be respected, even as they are both revered as well as abhorred. There is no simple moral estimation for them, for just as the doe could not survive without the existence of fear, neither could the wolf survive without the existence of selfish malice. Would a doe be a doe without her timid distrust? Would the world be a more beautiful place without the skill and intelligence brought about by stalking predators?” He let the question hang in the room for a moment.

    “So it is important that we acknowledge the darker side of the energy we wield. It is part and parcel of us as well as our craft. And that is why a practitioner of magic is never more in peril than when he is using his powers in their most pure form…unfettered by the dampening effects of altering his natural gift into some other, more deliberate casting. It is the danger of hubris. Every man, magi and common alike, thinks his way is proper, given his circumstance and limitations. But we have an ability to tap into a power that can consume us—that can dehumanize us, and leave us as nothing more than a conduit for pure, unrestricted magical energy. And that energy can be of the form of naked malice…or some other impetus unbalanced by the soul of sentience. Even love, without balance, is deadly…perhaps the most deadly. We are an imbalance, and as such, if we ever forget the precarious nature of our being, we can visit horrific devastation upon ourselves as well as others.” He paused, and then in a grave voice, affirmed his sentiment by stating, “It is entirely reasonable for the common folk of the world to fear and, yes, revile us. Even the most illiterate understanding of history is replete with accounts of the domination and debasement the powerless common folk of the world have been subjected to in times past by certain wielders of magical energy. That is why the Society was formed, so that you could be given a chance to live a life free from prosecution, and the peoples of our land could be given a chance to live a life free from the devastation of unregulated magic use—though, of course, they still treat us as manifestations of pure evil, and a mage that does not keep his abilities a closely guarded secret will no doubt end up being burned alive for his foolishness.”

    “But regardless…” His voice lost some of its sternness. “That is why we spend so much of our time practicing exercises that cleanse our minds of distractions and desires. In that critical moment, in the full flux of magical energy, when the flow threatens to overtake and consume you, only a mage fully self-aware will recognize the impending disaster. Remember—and I know I have hammered upon this point so many times that you could all probably recite it backwards—though it may now feel as if you are pulling the energy out of yourself, as you increase in conduciveness, eventually, after many repeated exposures, that energy will develop a push of its own, and in time, the entire nature of your relationship with it will change. Where once the will to draw it out seemed paramount, you will one day find that energy self-propelled, and only your own self-awareness will allow you to remain in control. Paradoxically, the older and more practiced we become, the more perilous our relationship with our craft. It is why we cannot risk senility, and why I will one day commit ritual suicide in the company of my friends and brethren.” The matter-of-fact tone of this last statement fell flat upon the room, and detecting this himself, in a softened voice, he quickly added, “I hope you will all be there with me when my time arrives, one day, hopefully far from now...”

    It was not the first time he had mentioned his eventual suicide, but still, the solemn nature of his request filled Brune’s chest. Without glancing sideways, he could feel that Raelen and Edwin were equally stilled. Brune found himself thinking about his own eventual suicide, and he imagined his fellows were thinking the same. Nevardean tea…one day. It was supposedly painless, but Brune wondered how anyone could possibly know if that was true.

    “So, my young apprentices, learn of thyself. I can offer no greater advice.” The momentum of Magister Lutzio’s oration was slowing to an end, and all present felt it to be so. He cleared his throat, his beard quivered, and he gave the podium a gentle pat with both hands.

    (This is only the beginning of my short story--I hope you enjoyed it thus far! There is plenty more already written, and even more than that to still write--so stay tuned!)
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2009
  2. Late-Night Thinker Gems: 17/31
    Latest gem: Star Diopside

    Mar 30, 2003
    Likes Received:
    (This is the next couple pages of my story. I welcome any and all comments, criticisms, suggestions, praise, or edicts informing me that I must quit at once... Let me know what you think!)

    “Alright, that concludes our lecture for today.” Magister Lutzio considered something for a moment, and then, in a conciliatory tone, said, “I know that we have been especially focused on our meditations and exercises lately, so perhaps it is time we changed pace a bit and learned a new trick.” All three of the young men piqued up eagerly. Magister Lutzio silently hoped that his impulsive decision to teach them an unfamiliar spell didn’t fill them all with such surprised glee that their quick-turning minds would completely forget all that he had just told them.

    “Let’s not get too excited now—it’s only going to be a minor cantrip. I assure you though, the day will soon enough come where we can delve into more powerful incantations.” They absorbed his words and settled back against the pew, their exuberance tempered.

    “Now…I must retire to my study for a turn or two and prepare for the instruction. Please take this time to prepare yourselves.”

    “Raelen, may I suggest you practice your breathing exercises. I realize your voices can surprise and distract you, but you must learn to be more distant and controlled during their visits. Having a portion of your thoughts concentrating upon your own breathing will make you less apt to be swept up in their clamor. But I know you know this…” Raelen absorbed his advice stiffly, his gaze held distant.

    He then turned to Brune. “Brune, I suggest you practice your momentum exercises. They are an excellent means for you to become more skilled at controlling the flux. With the nature of your gifts, that is especially important for you. But again, I know you know this too.” Brune nodded in reply.

    Lastly he addressed Edwin. Staring down over his bulbous nose, he gave Edwin a long, hard look before saying, “Edwin…” Magister Lutzio’s voice was resigned and somewhat reproachful, “…Edwin, I would prefer that you did not render images of women, but if you must, will you at least not subject us all to such immodesty. It genuinely unnerves me to know that you are so enraptured by such unchaste characters.” Then, a moment later, his bushy, unkempt eyebrows suddenly furrowing down, he reiterated, “I mean it Edwin.” Edwin blinked and nodded, blank-faced.

    He looked them all over for a moment as he stroked his grey beard ponderously, and then announced, “I will be back shortly.” He turned and slowly walked towards the door of his study, his small frame carried away by his gnarled, sandaled feet that were just visible beneath the hem of his dun colored robe. He opened the door, stepped through, and then shut it behind him in his usual benign manner, the sound of the door closing quieter than the small sound of the latching that immediately followed it.

    Only a few breaths passed before a swirling vortex of color formed upon the surface of the now-closed door, filling most of the frame. Brune glanced toward Edwin and saw his face pinched in concentration. Edwin’s pudgy lips were pressed together tightly, and his fat, rubbery cheeks were drawn close with effort. His eyelids were squinted shut, but just as Brune started to glance back towards the spectacle, he saw them crack open, mischief glowing within. The whirlpool circled rapidly, the hues blending and changing faster than he could register, when suddenly it broke out of its pattern and coalesced into a sight that danced upon the flat, iron-banded door. An image of a young woman, soft-haired with pouty lips and bright, sparkling eyes, in the full bloom of her dainty beauty, wearing a coquettish smirk with nothing more than a thin, linen chemise to hide her otherwise naked body, twisted suggestively, blowing kisses between her silent, soundless giggles.

    Raelen snickered, his bright blue eyes and comely, wide-set features alight with mirthful, sophomoric joy. He smacked a hand over his mouth to smother a burgeoning laugh. Stifling his outburst, Raelen glanced at Edwin. The pudgy, young apprentice regarded his beautiful lady-creation with a glowing face of absolute pride and adoration. A few silent moments passed in which all three stared, enthralled.

    Brune was the first to come out of the reverie. “Guys, he might come right back!” he reproved in hushed, breathless alarm, his eyes remaining fixed upon the phantasm that danced before him.

    The image of the young lady suddenly changed mood, her hands drawn before her face in fright. She shivered mockingly. Despite her worried expression, the alluring sway of her hips betrayed her fear as feigned. Raelen’s snickering doubled in volume and he had to look away lest he burst out and draw the attention of Magister Lutzio. Turning from the teasing coquette toward Brune, he gave him a ridiculing stare, and hissed acidly, “Oh Brune, if I didn’t know you better I’d swear you were going to grow up to become an old, celibate gardener.”

    Edwin snorted, and gave Brune a pitying glance before gaping at Raelen, both admonishing his sharpness and relishing his wit at the same time. His concentration broken, the image dissolved, the colors running together and the edges of her form fringing and wavering. A moment later she was gone, no trace of her existence remaining.

    Brune clenched his jaw as he felt his cheeks redden. The jibe had struck something tender. He felt sore. “You know Raelen, for someone so clever, it certainly doesn’t show in your spellwork.” His retort felt inadequate, and Brune sulked, fuming, his jaw clenched.

    A couple years older and quite a bit taller than either Raelen or Edwin, the mantle of responsibility always seemed to fall upon him whenever Magister Lutzio was not present. To some degree it was also a matter of practicality, as Brune’s gifts most easily transferred into other forms of casting, and given their scholastic environment, this often meant Brune was placed in the role of heading their group studies.

    Edwin never seemed to mind Brune’s leadership. In fact, Edwin never seemed to mind much at all. Having known him for three years now, Brune knew that the red-headed projectionist could become completely absorbed in some artistic endeavor at any given moment. Any hardship or disappointment was soon forgotten in the subtleties of his latest creation. It lent him a carefree atmosphere of patient joy that was a boon to all, especially given the isolation and lonely boredom that always seemed just about to press down upon them, here, tucked away from the world in their hidden corner of the forests of Methyr.

    But Raelen… Raelen had arrived a month or two after both Brune and Edwin, whom had in fact both arrived on the very same day. When he first came to join them, Raelen was distraught, angry, and virtually inconsolable. He secluded himself for weeks. Noble by birth, his family had exiled him, fearing his abilities would bring ruin down upon them all. They expressed their decision to exile him as one of compassion, given their circumstances. However, it was made clear to him by his mother’s brother that if he made any attempt to return he would be immediately killed and buried in an unmarked grave, where he could do them no further harm. That conversation was the last direct interaction he had with his family.

    At first he had treated his new friends with absolute contempt, the product of a lifetime of giving orders to servants three times his age. He steadfastly refused to work the garden. Magister Lutzio was forced to nearly starve the young man before his pride finally broke and he was willing to dirty his hands in the soil that provided for their sustenance. But still, even to this day, his moodiness and recalcitrance were a necessary part of who he was. They could not be removed, just as he could not remove the voices that visited him, or the primordial spirits that channeled through him, when as a young man, they forced themselves into his life, and brought about the dissolution of his entire former world.

    Truth be told, Raelen’s attitude and behavior had improved remarkably since those first few months after his arrival, when he was clearly injured of heart and nearly broken of soul. Brune suddenly felt sorry for his curt, humorless reaction. He could be too sensitive at times, and he knew this, though it seemed he could only realize it after the moment had passed. Being an orphan from birth, it was not without some irony that he was unable to understand what it must feel like to be so completely rejected by the people with whom one was supposed to be closest, one’s own family.

    Wary of any further teasing, Brune cautiously offered an apology. “I’m sorry Raelen. I didn’t mean what I said. We’ve all seen you grow in ability lately. I know your gifts aren’t the easiest to redirect and adapt into, you know, structured spells.”

    Raelen regarded him coyly, his pert, well-bred lips grinning at some secret knowledge, or jest, that he was withholding deliciously. “It’s alright Brune. We can’t all be King Brune the Sixth, Lord of the Classroom.” This was an old joke and certainly not the cause of the devious sparkling that twinkled in Raelen’s gaze. “Issue your command my liege, and I shall obey at once!” Raelen exclaimed exuberantly, his voice full of self-deprecating haughtiness.

    Despite himself, Brune couldn’t help but smirk at Raelen’s theatrics, even as he lowered an eyebrow, pondering his game. Finding nothing concrete, he let the moment pass. Raelen never made amends. He always just swept conflict aside by sharing a laugh. “I suppose we should begin our exercises…” Brune ventured.

    “At once!” Raelen jumped to his feet and unfurled his arm, bowing deeply—so deeply in fact, that he pretended to bang his face upon his own knee. He then covered his eye in mock pain and started scampering about, claiming, “Oh! Oh! It hurts! The tragedy!” He turned to Edwin and appealed to his pity, “You see what trying service my good King demands!”

    Brune and Edwin both laughed, Edwin’s tubby cheeks and belly bouncing jovially. Brune sprung to his feet, his long hair bouncing as he was unable to contain his own chuckles. “Guys!” he admonished in a juvenile, whining voice. Then, after his humor had run its course, which happened rather suddenly, he stood tall, and while rubbing the ache out of his behind left by the damnable pew, looked down at them over the thick bridge of his strong, aquiline nose. With his free hand, he stroked the uneven hairs of his youthful, patchy beard, exactly matching the mannerisms of Magister Lutzio. In his sternest voice, he ordered, “Alright, let’s get to work.”

    “At once!” Raelen repeated, smiling fondly at his serious, predictable friend. He then turned and walked to his corner of the classroom, where he kept a desk, its surface covered in inkpots, brightly feathered quills, and hastily arranged stacks of parchment. Its drawers contained heaps of reagents and implements, their placement remembered only upon the arising of some eventual need. He took his seat and closed his eyes, taking the first few steps towards meditation.

    Edwin joined his desk as well, placed alongside Raelen’s, both abutting the same side of the room. The most obvious difference between the two workspaces was that Edwin had hung a linen sheet behind his desk and used it as a canvas. Behind Raelen’s desk, the wall remained bare, the fieldstone and timber plain to see.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  3. Late-Night Thinker Gems: 17/31
    Latest gem: Star Diopside

    Mar 30, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Brune walked to his desk, set against a different wall, apart from the others, his space arranged according to his own needs. He often dropped things, or accidently sent them careening during his more trying exercises. As a result, his desk was entirely bare, and all of his things were kept in drawers and cupboards. Reaching over, he opened one of the cupboards and removed a wicker basket. He placed it upon his desk. Taking his seat he closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply, steadily clearing his mind of all distractions. A fleeting remembrance of Magister Lutzio’s nostrils flaring during his oration was Brune’s last indulgence before setting himself fully to his task.

    His breathing slowed. The sounds of Raelen whispering to himself and of Edwin creaking about in his chair dimmed, losing precedence to his own internal awareness. The outer world became muted, his whole concentration fixated upon itself. He spiraled inward, into nothingness. It began. A warmth buffeted against his hands and calves. Slowly a pressure built around some ineffable portion of his being, compressing him in a tepid, vacillating embrace. Suddenly he was conscious of a vast abyss of mana surrounding his person, alive, though not as he was. The classroom, his desk, the chair he sat upon, his clothes, even his very arms and legs, they all meant nothing, insubstantial within the sea of energy that permeated all and everything. It was terrifying and lonely to perceive. He had long been acquainted with the sensation, the realization, yet still, in the irrational, animal portion of his mind, a rebellious barking of fear rejected his efforts to remain serene. He held on, fighting against the mutinous panic as the force built, crushing against his chest. He could feel his heartbeat rebuffing the press, indenting into it. At the last moment, when he was sure his heart would drum outward and become stuck, stolen, robbing him of life, the external pressure relented. The phase change had finally, thankfully, arrived. Cool relief spread over his body as a clammy sweat. His heart eased, no longer competing for space. The mana had penetrated his being. It would soon be his to control.

    Narrow rivulets of energy, electric and deranged, furrowed into his palms while separate tendrils, alive and alien, licked his legs and tickled his sides. Bending to his will, they coalesced, joining the energy he grasped until the jets thickened, bone wide as they flowed into his hands. Wicking up his arms, the two currents cohered to his marrow. As the two flows reached into his chest, they collapsed into defined pulses rhythmic to the beat of his heart.

    A swelling pool of energy began to form in his breast, cool and separate. Magister Lutzio had taught them from the first not to trust the seeming placidity of the mana bank, as it was only bayed, not tame, and would throw if not minded watchfully. Brune bound it guardedly, his breath and pulse slowed to keep it torpid. He tried not to let the danger of the moment creep into his thoughts, as Brune knew adrenaline to be a sure foe of magic-users, serving only to disturb the charged mana, and render the caster impatient and foolhardy.

    When he was first learning under the tutelage of Magister Lutzio, in a rare moment of rash inattention, he had let the reservoir grow too large, to the point where he was unable to contain it from discharging of its own volition. The memory of the episode was one of trauma, almost as if it had happened to someone else. He remembered first hearing a strange crackling noise coming from all sides. A wave of panic had then rolled through him, licking his insides and halting his breath. Responding to his excited discomposure, the mana bank then completely jumped, undirected and expelling internally. A nightmarish hell ensued. Jagged shards of multi-colored light had shredded his thoughts, and innumerable lances had pierced his every nerve. His muscles had turned into iron bands that wouldn’t unclench, no matter how badly they wrenched his contorted body. For days afterward he had a pounding headache while his every muscle was cramped and sore. It was a terrible, painful experience that forever impressed upon him the diligence required for safe spellcraft.

    His eyes closed, he inhaled and exhaled in a slow, deliberate fashion, inhabiting the center of his being throughout. Feeling ready, he began to allow the pool to slowly discharge, using the magical energy to extend his perception, sensing the physical contours of the basket as well as the palm-sized wooden balls that were stacked therein. It was an odd sort of tactile sensation, different than that felt when he used his hands. It felt very similar to the experience of touching something in a nighttime dream, as if it was a memory unfolding presently. But there was a certainty and immutability that was unlike that of a dream… It was the best he could describe the sensation, and he had tried many times in conversations with Raelen and Edwin.

    The first two balls rose slowly out of the basket, fluttering gently as they ascended, their movement completely silent. He felt their weight upon the small of his neck, directly beneath the base of his skull, like two fingers pressed gently against his skin. He knew from experiment that no true force could be detected there, and it was nothing more than a sensation, a registry of his extended grasp. The next two rose, joining their brethren two feet above his desk. Two more impressions were felt upon the back of his neck. And lastly, two more rose as well, falling into formation as a straight line of balls that then curled around into a tight ring, slowly circling, its plane parallel to the surface of his desk. The circumference of the ring spread outward, until the diameter of their orbit was as wide as they were high.

    Six individual loci of pressure caressed his skin, the movement of the balls registering as a rolling sensation, though the placement of the loci remained unchanged. Like the sixth face of a die, they traced his spine, two to a side, one above the other, following the vertebrae of the nape of his neck. It was a peculiarity of his gift that he could only grasp even numbers of objects at any one time. This was a source of much interest to Magister Lutzio, and they had devised many experiments trying to elucidate the cause of this requirement. In truth, they weren’t entirely certain that it was necessary for even pairings. Brune had always assumed so until Magister Lutzio pointed out that it could also be the case that Brune’s abilities did not function upon prime numbers of objects. Unfortunately, Brune had yet to harness the skill necessary to raise eight objects, much less the ninth that would prove Magister Lutzio’s hypothesis as true. He was nicknamed Brune the Sixth shortly after arriving, and despite his best efforts, it seemed his nickname would remain unchanged—at least during his time here at Magister Lutzio’s retreat.

    As the six balls circled, held aloft by his telekinesis, he could feel the cool pressure within his chest diminish, its energy expending into the effort of defeating gravity. He rejoined the tendrils, forming a flux that flowed into his chest as rapidly as the pool diminished. A balance was found, a tentative, precarious balance that had to be constantly maintained even while his concentration was required to guide the airborne flight of his round, wooden missiles. He allowed himself to perceive the room, to know his surroundings. It was an integral aspect of his gift, this knowledge of space. Sometimes he could sense the shape of something hidden around a corner, or feel a hollowness inside an otherwise solid body. He opened his eyes, and trying to remain entirely focused upon his own task, offhandedly noticed that upon the linen sheet hung behind Edwin’s desk, there was an image of a fearsome, broad-finned green and red fish, swimming towards the viewer, fangs bared. Edwin teetered upon his chair crazily, leaning about, gripping the sides of the seat with both hands, fully involved in his project. Raelen sat still, apparently deep in meditation. Brune did not allow himself to explore the scene any further.

    Applying his will, two of the balls rose out of the circling formation, hovering above the others, quivering slightly. Brune took a deep breath and prepared himself for the trial that was to come. The momentum exercise pushed him, tested his abilities, and stretched his concentration. It also tried his patience and will, as it was an exercise that had bested him far more times than he cared to remember. He moved the entire flight, four balls orbiting and two hovering above, out to the center of the room, turning his seat as he did so. He lowered the circling ring to knee height. When he failed and it all came unglued, it did so rapidly and wholly, so that the momentum of the flying balls would send them flying outward, sometimes bouncing off a shelf, or denting the back of a chair, but often enough thunking the shoulder or head of one of his mates that consensus decreed he had to take precautions. Raelen, who had unfortunately endured a swollen, painful black eye as a result of one of Brune’s mishaps, had motioned for Brune to practice outside. Brune had done so for about a week and a half, before rain had forced him back into the classroom. This was about the same time Raelen’s eye had begun to return to normalcy and no longer looked like an angry purple tragedy. After the rainstorm had passed, Brune resumed practicing in the classroom, his former blunder left unmentioned.

    Redoubling his efforts at remaining focused, Brune took a deep, long breath, exhaling slowly and steadily. It was time. The two still, hovering balls took flight, flying up and away from one another before curling back and whirling about above the orbiting ring below. They began a strange, convoluted, erratic dance, flying back and forth, their speed and momentum mirroring one another while their trajectories were entirely separate. Like a pair of flying insects enraptured in an impenetrable, synchronized mating ritual, the two balls moved in time and yet were clearly of individual piloting.

    This was a level of the exercise Brune was quite familiar with, having grown to consistently master it long ago. He was entirely at ease, the pulsing within his breast, the tickling upon the back of neck, and the current through his arms feeling docile and predictable. He knew all that would change soon.

    Two more balls rose helically out of the ring and joined the fray playing out above, forming a swarm of darting projectiles that filled the center of the room. The two pairs of a different timing, the dance lost its rhythmic, natural semblance, and instead seemed uncomfortable and constrained, even menacing. It was disconcerting to watch, like seeing two pairs of dancers sharing an inn floor, each hearing their own melody, oblivious to the cadence of the other. Back and forth, above, then below, the four balls whirled about in a riot of changing speed and direction. They gained velocity, their outlines blurring, and their close encounters emitting low-tone, sibilant whooshes, barely audible. The two remaining orbiting balls slowly circled beneath, a foot above the rush-covered floor, uninteresting, calm, silent witnesses to the chaos buzzing above.

    He briefly considered slowing things down, reducing the tempo of the chaotic dance to make it easier to introduce the final two balls…but no, he had to do it at speed—that was the whole point of the exercise. If he failed, then he would try again, and again, until he succeeded. It wasn’t that he needed to reduce the velocity of the swarm; instead, if he was to succeed, he would have to increase the rate at which he perceived their motion. Then he could remain in control. Then he could continue to grow…could continue to harbor dreams of making a difference, of taking the art of spellcraft out of its infamy, of finding acceptance—of burnishing away the perception that magic was a sin for which the only wage was pain and death.

    He opened himself to the flux, allowing mana to pour into his consciousness. Time seemed to slow. Between each fluidic double-beat of his heart, an increasing number of insights occurred. He could feel the grain of each wooden ball rotating in space. He could feel the tiny, barely perceptible currents of air resulting from the rotations of their slightly imperfect surfaces. There it was. A marginal opening appeared, and with an unnoticed, spasmodic jerk of his body, the final two balls dove into the fray. The sound of the swarm changed, became strained, more complex, higher in pitch as the sibilant pulses came faster and faster.

    Brune’s mind was completely silent, his focus entirely within his own instinctual understanding of motion and trajectory. Faster than thoughts became words, spacial knowledge flashed through his consciousness, all of the balls guided simultaneously. The sense of comfort he had felt earlier was now obliterated by a bewildering cascade of thoughts, feelings, and applied will, pushing his human mind beyond the limits of its nature. Fixated within the chore of directing his flying spheres, the other necessary aspects of magical expenditure became difficult to sense, and therefore trying to accommodate. Fleeting perceptions of the flux skirted the hidden corners of his concentration, requiring discipline to engage and decipher. The flow of time lost its stately progression. But throughout all, some detached portion of his being guided him, untouched by the frazzle of the moment, a calm nexus of determination.

    He continued to practice his exercise for some time. As the thrill of success began to subside, he felt a grating headache start to gnaw upon the fringes of his mind. The pain grew in intensity, becoming sharp and angry. He realized he was grinding his teeth. He had to stop…he could not risk another seizure. He began to draw down the pace of the cluster, to let it unwind naturally so as to not agitate the flux of mana.

    His fixation relaxed and his surroundings began to come into focus.

    “The forty-seventh chord defies the geometrics…my hatred, the wheel that enclosed her neck, could not...”

    Brune started, surprised by the voice. It was inhuman and obscene, fading in and out. He immediately brought his balls to the floor, rapidly ending the casting.

    “He knows I know this…”

    It was male and demonically high in pitch, like the tinkling of a wind chime disturbed and chattering in crisp, winter air.

    “He knows how her life flowed through the thirty-seventh segment. My hands, the arc of the circle, were defined by his formula.”

    The voice seemed to be coming from Raelen. Sitting at his desk across the room, facing away from him, Brune could see that Raelen had his head tilted back, the tails of the black leather chord that bound his ponytail dangling behind his chair. It looked like he had his hands folded, resting upon his lap. He was entirely motionless. Edwin sat at his desk alongside, staring wide-eyed in wonder and apprehension. The last vestiges of some image melted away, leaving his linen sheet bare and white.

    “He knows that I know he knows this...” It sounded as if it was emanating from the end of a pipe, or some other long, tinny enclosure. He could tell that it wasn’t Raelen speaking. The voice was disembodied, moving about near the vicinity of Raelen’s head.

    “The forty-seventh chord defines a segment undefined by the precepts of his…” The voice faded out, falling back into the vacuity from which it issued.

    Brune stood up, alarmed, and crossed the room towards Raelen, his sandaled feet kicking aside loose rushes in his haste. Standing aside Raelen, Brune looked down to find the reclining young man in some kind of trance, his eyes rolled back, lids fluttering, and his mouth slightly open with his full lips pulled back into a languid, narcotic smile.

    Without warning, the voice returned, emanating from the far side of Raelen, slightly behind and above his lolling head.

    “His elegant calculus, though beautiful ,sublime…her bulging eyes, ignorant, stupid...animal.”

    Then something perverse and horrifying happened.

    “He knows that I know…” The locus of the voice, drifting upon some invisible ethereal wind, crossed into the threshold of Raelen’s head, and the young man’s lips, moved by a foreign will, mouthed the icy, tinkling words that emanated from within, “…I must kill him too.”
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2009
  4. Late-Night Thinker Gems: 17/31
    Latest gem: Star Diopside

    Mar 30, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Hi, I'm just looking for some feedback... Tell me what you think! A friend of mine was confused by it, but he's not really familiar with the conventions of the genre. Did it make sense to you? Do you have any suggestions?
  5. Carcaroth

    Carcaroth I call on the priests, saints and dancin' girls ★ SPS Account Holder

    Aug 3, 2004
    Likes Received:
    As no-one else has come forward, I'll have a go - though I'm afraid I'm not the most natural comentator and I'm certainly not a writer.
    Story so far isn't confusing as an opening chapter, the prose is very visually descriptive, and I think you're set the scene very well.

    How long do you anticipating the story to be? I think it will be fine if this is going to be either a lengthy tome or a very short tale. A short tale would maybe 2-3 times the current length and not change location (remain in the teaching spot). You could maintain the level of detail without losing the readers interest fairly easily.
    However, I get the impression you're intending this to be a bit longer. If so, you're going to need to keep up the level of detailed description which will in turn make it a long book - you'll also have to be careful to keep the detail in without losing the impetus.
    Does this make sense?

    Assuming it's the longer version, at some point in the nearish future you're going to need to elebaorate on the different way the magic gifts operate and give some more back story. (I'm cribbing off advice given to T4B here). I'm assuming that's what was confusing your friend. I wouldn't bother with this if it's a short story though.

    Otherwise, More Please!
  6. Late-Night Thinker Gems: 17/31
    Latest gem: Star Diopside

    Mar 30, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Yeah, I'm just going for a short story. I've noticed that ending a story is infinitely more difficult than beginning a story, so I am going to ensure that I actually finish this one (I've never made it to 'The End' before...)

    I think I am easing up on the visual descriptiveness, especially now that there is some dramatic momentum.

    I'm also thinking about rewriting Part 1. The prose there is quite herky-jerky, in my opinion. It reads as over-written. Before I print this baby and give it a place on my coffee table, I am going to clean that section up.

    So...without further ado...


    They stared at Raelen in fixed shock. A few moments of silence passed, stretched and tense. The voice returned, but not from within Raelen, having apparently drifted away in the interim. It now sounded like it was…sobbing. Pitiful and whining, the high-pitched crying sounded porcelain and corrupt. They stared at one another, listening intently while Raelen lolled in his trance. The sobbing was abruptly broken by a short burst of maniacal rage, insane and frightening.

    Brune suddenly wondered if the voice could hear them as well as they could hear it. Feeling unsafe, he put his hand on Raelen’s shoulder, nudging him gently. “Raelen…Raelen! Come out of it! Raelen!” The voice disappeared. Raelen started violently, lifting his head up, his eyes flying wide. Mouth agape, he took one long, sudden breath before exclaiming, “Get me out of here! It's dark...too dark! Wait…where am I?” He was shivering.

    “Raelen, are you alright? Calm down. You’re here…here.” Brune repeated, unsure what to say.

    “Yuna’s roots, what a nightmare! It was cold…cold, dark, and damp. Bugs…bugs everywhere. My uncle…” Raelen rubbed his shoulders, shaking his head. The wild, faraway look began to fade from his eyes as he glanced about the room, relaxing as he recognized his surroundings. His gaze settled upon his desk. He grasped its edge with both hands, holding on to it as if it supported him.

    “Your uncle…?” Edwin uttered, surprised.

    “My…my uncle…” Raelen stammered, glancing aside, dismayed. “I…I contacted my uncle.”

    “I...I didn’t know you could do that…” Edwin replied, stunned, his blotchy face reddened in excitement.

    “Yes, well, I’ve been learning more about myself…about my gift. My uncle, he’s touched you see, like us… only mad, not like us. I think that’s why I can contact him. He must be receptive or—”

    Brune interjected, overwrought and animated, “Raelen, that voice was horrible! It sounded like a demon…like…like ice shattering! How could that be your uncle? And it was talking about murder! About murdering a woman…!”

    Raelen rocked back, closing his eyes. Then timidly, shame-faced, he asked, “What did he say? Tell me exactly.”

    Brune raised an eyebrow and regarded him with surprise. “You couldn’t hear it? Err…him?” Raelen shook his head in reply. “He was talking about figures, or numerology, or something… and saying how it made him strangle a woman! And it kept referring to someone else, saying, “He knows I know,” or some other such rubbish. That was really your uncle? Who did he kill?”

    “His sister. He killed my aunt, my…aunt. It happened years ago, when I was a child. He killed my father’s sister.”

    “So that was your father’s brother?” asked Edwin. Raelen nodded. “Why does he have such a high voice? It was appalling...no offence,” Edwin added, absurdly.

    “He doesn’t…that must have been an effect of the contact…of the distance. Was it really so high?”

    Brune and Edwin both nodded.

    Edwin, unsettled, ventured, “It made your lips move...”

    “My lips move? What do you mean?”

    “Your lips…the voice went inside your head and your lips moved,” Edwin’s voice was filled with distaste, disturbed by what he had witnessed.

    Raelen frowned deeply, alarmed. “Did I talk?”

    Brune said, “No, no, just your lips…moved.”

    Raelen paused, absorbing this revelation.

    “We should get Magister Lutzio,” Brune said. He looked towards the magister's study and began to unconsciously scratch his fledgling beard.

    “No! No…not yet. Don’t tell him! I’ll tell him…when I’ve had a chance to think this through.”

    “I don’t know…” Brune admonished skeptically. “It was creepy Raelen…very creepy.”

    “It’s alright…I’m alright. Everything is fine.” A moment later, “I’ll tell him…when the moment is right.” Seeing their discomfort, he added, “It’s my concern, not yours.” His handsome, wide-set face turned stern and impassive. An uneasy silence ensued, and Raelen, growing embarrassed, closed the matter by saying, “We should clean up…your toys are all over the floor Brune,” referring to his wooden balls, left where they had dropped when he had abruptly ended his exercise.

    Brune shook his head, discomfited by the strange turn of events. He turned and ambled throughout the room, retrieving his wooden balls, casting Raelen wary glances as he did so. After filling his basket, he returned it to its cupboard and then took his seat.

    They all sat soundlessly, deep in thought, waiting for Magister Lutzio to return. They did not have to wait long. The elderly man came slowly bustling out of his study, unaware of what had transpired and eager to begin his instruction.

    “My goodness, you all look like you’ve seen a ghost!” he chuckled humorlessly, standing behind his podium, glancing at each in turn.

    Brune and Edwin both looked to Raelen.

    “Oh, Raelen..? A real spook this time, hmm?”

    “Yes, Magister,” Raelen hastily responded. A moment later, “This one was audible…as I have been able to accomplish lately. Your instructions have been quite helpful.”

    “Oh? Well what did it sound like? What did it say?” He stared at Raelen over his bulbous, plain nose, his unkempt beard disturbing the parchments he had just placed atop the podium only a moment before.

    “It was, uh, strange sounding…very high in pitch…just a bunch of gibberish, really.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw both Brune and Edwin glance away, Edwin's nose developing a terrible itch.

    “Hmm,” Magister Lutzio sounded, using a free hand to pull his beard off the podium top, glancing at all his students thoughtfully. “Hmm.” He paused. “Well, alright then, we may as well get started.” He reorganized his papers, his large, aged hands unsuited to the task. Bringing everything to order, he began, “We are going to learn a most useful spell—one that I quite often use here at the retreat—one that you have all benefited from without necessarily realizing it.” Introducing it with all the theatric flair the geriatric, stubborn old man could muster, he pronounced in a loud, monotone voice, “Hartigan’s Proven Mantra of Water Purification!”

    He pretended not to notice their heads sink in disappointment.

    “Now, you all know my belief that failure without penalty is no failure at all…so every one of you will be drinking your results!”

    An hour later, outside, Brune knelt alongside Raelen as he puked into the verdure. Feeling sorry for him, Brune held the tails of the leather chord that bound his ponytail, keeping them from falling into the wet mass matting the blades of grass below.

    Between gasps, Raelen uttered, “…mean old codger...I’ve got a spell… Raelen’s…Proven Mantra…of Eyebrow Grooming…” Spit. “…goodness knows he needs it.” He punctuated his vengeance with a hearty, splashing retch followed by a series of twahs as he spat out the remnant.

    Brune snorted and glanced back towards the flax-curtained entranceway to make sure Magister Lutzio wasn’t nearby. Seeing that they were safe, he returned his gaze to looking about Raelen, keeping his attention upon him while not actually looking at what he was producing. Eyebrow grooming? Brune supposed that Raelen’s breeding would never leave him, no matter how long he lived in exile. A soggy, gross splash sent Brune’s head shaking, and when the biting smell wafted up to his nostrils, with no further consideration, he placed the tails he was holding upon Raelen’s heaving back and walked away, his hands upon his hips, now fighting against his own urge to retch.

    Trying to clear his head, he took in a deep breath of fresh summer air and pointedly looked away into the piney woods that surrounded their hidden retreat. Dense and shadowy, the forest was a living wall that surrounded their grounds, encircling their garden and its three squat hovels. This time of year, the floor of the forest was an endless thicket of ferns, shrubs, and briars, all abuzz with the working songs of insects. He had no idea how far it was to the nearest settlement. Days? Weeks? It was a question that had been occurring to him more and more regularly as of late. Often coming to him unbidden, it was a notion that filled him with a secret, guilty joy, tossing with him at night and resting upon his shoulder while he turned the soil during the day.

    Raelen’s sputters and spits seemed to be coming to an end. Brune walked over to him. “Why did you lie to Magister Lutzio?”

    Raelen sat back upon his heels, his hands on his thighs. He looked straight forward, annoyed. “Brune, do you really think this is a good time?” Spit.

    “I just don’t understand why you didn’t tell him, that’s all…”

    “Because Brune… because.”

    “Because why?”

    “Because!” He rose to his feet, turned towards Brune and glared at his tall friend. “Because…I’m not supposed to attempt any contact with my family.” He eyed Brune, weighing him. “It was forbidden for me to do so when I was brought here.” He spat out an injustice.

    “By who? By Magister Lutzio?”

    “Yes…and by my family.” Raelen’s anger was not abating.

    “Then why did you?”

    “Why did I what?”

    “Contact your uncle..?”

    Raelen rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Brune…I mean, does any of this stuff really matter? These stupid exercises…purifying water! By the gods! There are some things that are more important than silly tricks named after doddering old fools no one cares for… He won’t even tell us what his gift is, just how not to use ours! I tell you, I can’t wait to leave here…to be free to choose my own day…to eat meat again for goodness sake!”

    Brune didn’t know what to say. He stared into Raelen’s chest, angry… and scared. Alone. Looking away, he wondered if Edwin knew that Raelen felt this way. Did Edwin hate it here too..?

    Suddenly cool, Raelen became confidential. “You won’t tell him will you?” It was as close to pleading as he was capable.

    “I…I don’t know…”

    “Brune… Can you try to look at this from my side? Through my eyes? Please?! Don’t tell him…”

    “Alright…alright, I won’t tell him,” Brune whispered, still and uncomfortable.

    “Alright. Thank you.” They stood silent for a moment. “Alright…let’s head inside and eat. Believe it or not, I, um...I think I’m actually hungry!” He laughed, turning aside as he did so. It sounded distant and forced. Brune did not return his cheer. He just wanted to put this day behind him—to crawl into his bed and figure out how he felt.

    Dinner passed uneventfully. They ate in the schoolhouse, as was their custom. Carrots, potatoes, and plenty of clear, magically purified water. The only one who seemed to enjoy the meal was Edwin. He prattled on about the vagaries of the color orange, and about how delicious the water tasted, seemingly oblivious to the fact that all three of his dinner companions were dry-mouthed and distracted, absorbed in their own thoughts.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2009
  7. Late-Night Thinker Gems: 17/31
    Latest gem: Star Diopside

    Mar 30, 2003
    Likes Received:
    I don't know... I might be done with this for awhile.
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