After a good night’s rest, Mar continues his learning.
Featured image by ElektronX.
With a clap of thunder, Mar awoke. A storm had rolled in, and rain drummed against the window veiled behind a curtain. Despite the din outside, the world around him felt – in a way – silent and still. Unnervingly so. Half-awake, his mind sluggishly mulled over what could be the cause of this phenomenon.
The realisation that he may not have woken up in his world caused him to sit bolt-upright, but the jingling of a chain quickly calmed him again. That was what was wrong: the pendant that he had received from Tir was blocking his magic. Thanks to it, he couldn’t sense the energy around him: neither the rain outside nor the electromagnetic din that was part of modern life.
Glancing at the time, he realised it was minutes before his alarm was due to sound. This was the first time he’d slept a full night in… a while. With a yawn and stretch, he clambered out of bed.
He drew back the curtains and was greeted by rain battering against the glass, blown to such a steep angle by the strong wind.
“Oh, forgot I put you there.”
On the sill of the window lay three amber-coloured shiridan crystals. The gems, each about 8 centimetres in diameter, professionally cut and polished, were more expensive than he’d be able to comfortably afford on his own despite them being artificially grown. They had been gifts from his parents a few weeks ago when it was decided that he would be going to study at the Raifal Mage College.
Although he couldn’t sense it now, he was sure that they were happily absorbing energy from the rain and wind pounding against the window. He’d learnt how to do basic magic like this enchantment in school, and done some of his own reading and experimenting whenever the fancy took him. The teaching methods at the college were different to online guides and videos – generally slow and methodical, making certain that students understood the theory surrounding a process or action before they tried it.
He removed the necklace and placed it next to the crystals on the windowsill. As it lost contact with his hand, he was suddenly bombarded by the energy outside. The usual electromagnetic din would have been the equivalent of someone turning the lights on in a dark room, but the storm felt like said room’s walls spontaneously turned into spotlights. It almost made him want to return to huddling under the protective blanket that the pendant provided. He soon acclimatised, however, and the pattering of rain against the window softened. Not because the storm was clearing, but because he had joined the crystals in siphoning the abundant kinetic energy that was outside.
After some time of this, he turned away from the window. He motioned upwards and the three crystals quickly moved towards him, coming to rest in a row floating above his head. He imprinted an enchantment upon them so that they would glow slightly and keep themselves above his head – using his horns to orient themselves. He also set them to use their own energy reserves to do this rather than his. He opened a cupboard and grabbed a couple of clothing items. His college scarf was wrapped neatly around his neck, a band bearing the Sterkvleuel crest was slipped into his left forearm.
Turning to see himself in the mirror, he groaned then removed the band and took down the gems from above his head.
He walked out the door, into the room that was his lounge, study and general living area all in one. At his desk, he spotted a note. After putting the crystals into a compartment of his bag that leant against a table leg, he read the note. He smiled. Grabbing his tablet from where it charged, pressing the unlock button and then using his magic to interact with the capacitive screen, he checked his schedule for the day. Physics, Irikshan’s session, Applied Maths, Thermo Dynamics, Tir’s session, study break and then a Self Defence practical. He could do something with Josh during the study break, but should probably use the time to read over the practical’s instructions – his ‘quick nap’ yesterday afternoon ended up lasting until morning. He closed his schedule and opened the message application.
“Busy today. Don’t have Enchantments, but Tir has scheduled to take my last free slot. Gonna be done at 4. What about you?” A flash of electromagnetic energy – almost too brief to distinguish from the rest – and the message had been sent.
Mar turned and headed to his metre-high fridge. He opened it, finding not much else other than the food that Josh had left for him. He dished half of it onto a plate. From his cupboard, he also took a shiridite supplement tablet and a bowl to fill with water to drink. He took all this to his desk, where he began eating the cold food before quickly spending some energy to heat it.
He stared at the wall, lost in thought as he ate.
A notification sounded from his tablet.
“Got a couple classes in the morning, have a few hours free just before noon, and my shift is in the afternoon as usual. I have a couple surgeries scheduled today. If you don’t have any middays available, we could do something on the weekend, perhaps? Meet at my house, Saturday morning?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Mar navigated out of that chat and opened Carina’s.
“Thank you for the food! It tastes great!”
He closed the message app and opened one for a social media platform he frequented. A thread titled “Tumenzarian scientists have a breakthrough: prototype machine able to manipulate shiridan crystal” was the first that thread greeted him, and quickly grabbed his attention.
Once Mar had finished the meal and cleaned the plate, he picked up his bags, strapping the large belt that held them in place around his chest. He unplugged his tablet and slipped it into its compartment on the left bag. Just before he left the apartment, he remembered to go grab the amulet from Tir and put it in his bag.
“Thank you for your patience, Mar.” Irikshan appeared from inside his office after a few dragons and humans had left. “Strategy and policy meetings have an awful tendency to drag on.”
“Not a problem, Sir. I have plenty to keep me busy.” He motioned to his tablet upon which he had been reading. He packed it away and got up, heading into Irikshan’s spacious office after the old dragon.
The cloak that Irikshan wore flitted from his back and folded itself neatly on a corner of his desk, soon joined by the Kennissoeker family band. His scarf and the jewel of the elder remained on his neck. “When I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve been thinking about yesterday.” He turned from the window to face Mar. “Firstly, I must apologise for… throwing you in the deep end, as the humans would say. I haven’t had time for mentoring many students in my decades as an elder. Those that I have taught have usually been top of their classes. I believe we should work more slowly.”
“No, it’s ok. I am eager to learn. Yesterday was highly beneficial to me.”
“Hmm… I started teaching you about breaking illusions yesterday in the hopes of later learning how you break out of yours and formulating a better way if necessary.” Irikshan sighed. “I guess I succeeded in those objectives at least. ”
“You know how I did it?”
“Mar, even though you were attempting to hide that while I was in your mind, you were still too worried that you’d have to resort to doing that to possibly hide it. You should have told me – anyone – sooner and we could have helped.”
“I’ll be fine now. Slept well last night.”
Irikshan looked Mar in the eyes for several seconds before speaking again. “That amulet you’ve got in your bag. Feels like Rentik’s handiwork. After I talked to her yesterday, she was… distressed that I had not begun your training as soon as you arrived here. Pass it here, please.”
Mar reached into his bag, the world around him plunging into stillness as he touched the chain. He drew out the amulet and gave it to Irikshan. “How come I can still feel your presence when you’re holding it?”
“I’m blocking it.”
“You’re blocking a magic blocker?”
“Well, I earned my grandmaster-rank scarf for a reason.”
“Rentik went over-the-top with the enchantments on this. Even made it track your current status. Most of them will do no harm, but I can remove that part if you’d like?”
“It’s fine, I guess.”
“You probably won’t need it after today,” Irikshan handed back the amulet, “but keep it in case you want it. Shall we begin?”
“First: what we do know. Your illusionary worlds seem completely real to anyone inside them. When inside the illusion, the target’s real body is rendered immobile. Any magic they cast in the illusion will not affect the real world. Physical injuries don’t carry over into the real world, and death in there ejects one from the illusion. Psychological effects…?”
Mar looked down.
“At least partially carry over. Illusions of creatures also appear to have minds of their own. You do not seem to be able to project your illusions into the real world, but rather need to transition into this illusionary world. The transition yesterday was rather abrupt. You reported being trapped for long periods of time on a couple occasions. Do you recall how long these sessions felt to be compared to the actual time passed?”
“When they first started, they were more like dreams. I’d fade in and out of them. They’d feel months long, but I only remembered snippets. The first time I got properly trapped, I was there for twelve years before I got out. I woke up in a hospital having, according to the doctors and my coworkers, been in a magic-induced coma with a simultaneously hyperactive mind for four days. After one of the doctors ended up in a coma too when they tried inspecting my mind more closely, they decided to wait for specialists from the college. In the weeks since then I’ve still had them occasionally, and mostly ended them as soon as I could.”
“Hmm. About three orders of magnitude difference in time. Did you see the doctor in the illusionary world at all?”
“I do not recall meeting him, there were lots of humans in this world. He woke up at the same time as me. He avoided me in the real world, so I couldn’t ask him if he’d seen me. I don’t blame him. That wasn’t a pleasant place in my experience.”
“I’ve got plenty more questions about how your ability works, as I am sure you do too. Many that will only be answered through experimentation. First, we need to enter your illusion. For that-”
“I have an idea. It clicked yesterday.” Mar briefly went limp, but then stumbled and caught himself before hitting the floor. “Yep, that worked.”
“Mar! Please be careful. You’re supposed to take this slowly.”
“How did you trigger it?”
“I’m not sure how to put it into words. It would be easier to show you.”
“Ok, but first I want to make some measurements.” He moved to his desk, taking a device from one of the drawers, “Do you mind if I record us with this camera? Also, may I measure how much energy you have available?”
“Sure.” Mar took the three crystals from his bag and placed them in front of him, then yielded to Irikshan’s energy probes, one of which entered the right of his chest.
“Been charging these for a while, I see. Your three crystals are near full charge at about one hundred and seventy-three megajoules. Your heart-crystal has about fifty-six megajoules remaining.” Irikshan made notes on his computer, then pointed a camera at Mar. He walked around his desk and lay down on the floor on the other side of Mar. A small rock floated from his desk and hovered nearby. Mar lay down too, pulling the three crystals closer to his chest.
The walls of the office broke away to reveal a beautiful natural scene, with rolling hills before the pair and great mountains behind them.
“Ok Mar, I want to see if you have any control of what world we go to. Picture this place as you go there.”
Mar waited a second until he sensed Irikshan’s mind touching his before concentrating on the scenery. The world shuddered around the dragons, then he got up.
“Oh, I see. It does indeed have similarities with what I do. It just requires a little more… force.” Irikshan stood up too. “Hah, you brought my floor and furniture too.” Irikshan looked to the computer screen and it turned to face the pair. It no longer had power.
“You did tell me to picture the place.”
“Quick, start a timer on your tablet, then follow me. You can leave your bags.”
Mar complied, then took off in pursuit of the elder dragon who had flown off in the direction of the mountains. After flying for some, Mar spotted a massive waterfall tumbling down the bare cliffs of the mountain. They landed on rocks beside the top of the waterfall. Mar looked out across the hills and down the meandering river.
“Recognise anything,” Irikshan asked.
“This place looks kind of like Tumenoord, but different and without any sign of civilisation.”
“I created my illusion based on artists’ renderings of what our homeland would have looked like before civilisation. Back when we were still giant solitary wandering hunters. Before humans forced our kind to band together or face extinction.” Irikshan unleashed a colossal bolt of lightning into the water, causing a massive plume of steam to shoot out. “I was careful to exclude the waterfall in what I showed you, but this looks similar to the renderings. I wonder how you knew to create it. Maybe you subconsciously recognised the scenery that I showed you, or it is perhaps another quirk of your ability. I wonder whether this or the artists’ provide a more accurate representation of what it was like.” Another bolt of lightning arced from Irikshan into the water.
“What are you doing?”
“Draining Rumaga’s heart somewhat.” He motioned to the crystal that hung on a chain around his neck. “Going to see if there any impact on its energy in the real world.”
“As far as I know, there won’t be.”
“Still worth testing. In fact, I think you should head down the waterfall. I’m going to do some landscaping. We should test the permanence of your illusions, even if you do not see what changes I make. I’ll meet you there when I’m done here.”
Mar fooled around in the waters for several minutes – splashing about while the mountain vibrated with the great movements happening above.
When Irikshan finally joined Mar, he brought a giant boulder and planted it firmly into one of the river’s banks some distance away from the bottom of the waterfall. Irikshan made back-and-forth slicing movements with his claws. Layers of the rock sheared off and were deposited in a heap. Mar walked to join him. “Seeing as we have time, do you have any questions?”
“Yaromudr Svetopolk? The lightweaver.”
“Been curious about other illusionists, have you?” Irikshan paused before putting some of the rock back onto the boulder, where it fused together with the boulder once more. “I wish it had been as easy as a web search back then. In the late 19th century, I was one of the masters at the college. I was not the head of any one department, but I worked closely with several of them while I trained some of their best students and pursued my own research. I had none but myself and the scant historical records of other illusionists to teach me about the limits of the possibilities of my ability. I put out the word that I would like to meet any others like me. When I heard of someone from the Volakolian Empire, I became determined to find them.
“As it turned out, finding her was easier than convincing the Volakol to allow me to enter their lands. Even once I had secured permission, it was on the condition that I wouldn’t travel without an armed escort everywhere I went. Told me I would have to carry all the guards if I wanted to fly anywhere! They seemed concerned that we Tumenzarians would make a pastime of toppling empires. In retrospect, they were already crumbling on their own.
“Anyways, Yaro had gained a fair amount of recognition as an artist. Travelled from one affluent household to another. Sometimes entire towns would save up to contract her services. She’d weave sunlight into great works that would last entire days. She’d sometimes mix shiridite with paint or thread for more permanent displays that lit up whenever the sun touched them.”
“I saw pictures of some that are still up.” Mar added, “and there’s that one in front of the Tumensuid town hall. My friends and I used to marvel at that when we were kids.” The rock was beginning to take the shape of a city. The roofs of some of the buildings seemed to have a traditional Volakolian style.
“Yes. Her works gave me the idea to anchor my illusions to shiridan crystals. I taught her how to include small ones in her works so they’d last even into the night. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on many things, but we still found it mutually beneficial to cooperate. Granted, she did find it more beneficial than I, but that does not bother me.”
“The page about her said that you two kept in contact until she died fifty years ago. You even performed a light-display at her funeral.”
“Yes. Some Tumenzarian scholars made improvements to the crystal-relay communication system that the Imaaduudin empire had invented. Their use was becoming more widespread, despite the costly set-up and maintenance. These were eventually replaced by electro telegraphy and then radio telegraphy, on account of the machines being targeted for theft far less often and being operable by your average human, not a skilled and therefore costly mage who could also become privy to many secrets.” The rock city had been completed. It was impressively done for one who was no artist. It appeared to be a Volakolian port city, but Mar could not say for sure.
“But what was she like?”
The stone city lit up in an extraordinary display of colour. “In life, arrogant, self-confident, determined and unthankful. The thing with humans is, they’re such fleeting creatures. Fires that, when faced with their own mortality, want to burn bright enough to be remembered long after they’re gone. She had already left her mark but endeavoured to make it greater. However, I do not think she ever truly forgot her origins. I believe she was driven into this outward display. Her outward attitude towards me was likely for fear of ostracization, and she was, in fact, the one who initiated communication with me years after I had returned home. Following her death, the journals of research and the gem containing one of her greatest artworks that she bequeathed to the dragons of Tumenzar also indicated a good measure of gratitude.
“Humans… such fickle, fleeting creatures. Empires rising and falling within one of our lifespans. Yet we wouldn’t be here without them. We believe we have all the time in the world, but in reality neither do we. We Tumenzarians purport to be great innovators, but the humans sparked many of our successes. It is their innovations and advancements that spurred ours as a species, and ours spurred theirs. Even in the times when I was younger, one could say this was for fear of extinction or the desire of conquest. But we might finally be at a time where we can truly say that we work for mutual betterment
“You still have the energy, enthusiasm and determination of your youth. I pray you keep that. I sense the world has once again reached a point of great social change. Questions will be asked. There will be no universally right answers. Cooperation will be the way forward.”
The lights that shone in the stone city danced. The shoreside water gently lapped against the dragons’ feet. In the distance, the waterfall still thundered on.
“That machine in the news?” Mar intoned quizzically.
“With or without that, change will have to come. But technology has had a way of speeding things up. Take it from me. I knew it was a matter of time before someone managed to create something like this, but didn’t expect that to be in my lifetime until a team including some of my past students approached the elders for funding on that project.”
Irikshan turned to Mar and smiled. “But enough of that, we’ve got some experiments to continue. Shall we return to the real world?”