After encountering his childhood friend, Mar heads to Grandmage Irikshan to begin his first lesson in illusions. Things rarely go according to plan.
“Come in, Sterkvleuel.”
Mar froze, his forepaw moments away from knocking on the Archmage’s door before it opened of its own accord. On the other side stood the Elder, another dragon and a human.
“These are Serandil and Adrian. They are here primarily to observe the happenings of our session.”
Mar obeyed, creeping up to the two gigantic dragons while feeling as if he were still a hatchling. They had centuries’ more knowledge and experience of the world than he. Even the human was clearly older than Mar.
“It am honored to meet you, Archmage Irikshan. And you too, Serandil and Adrian.” Mar bowed his head briefly. The human and Serandil nodded in response, but said nothing.
“I will be starting you off with some training in areas that are more advanced than what you’ll remember from school. Once I feel your skills have reached a respectable standard, we can start experimenting with your ability.”
“I was hoping as much. To be honest, I’ve become a bit frightened of my ability after some of the things that have happened.”
“Ruk said you reported that your ability took you to places you had never seen before and where things didn’t always work the way they should. This could easily be achieved through advanced use of illusions, but it intrigues me how one who has never had formal training in illusions could trap themselves in them. This is one reason why I am training you personally, rather than having Serandil or Adrian handle your training in illusions.”
“I understand, but it all seemed pretty real to me.”
“Yes, thus the first thing I shall be doing is training you how to spot illusions. If you have any hope to control your own illusions, you need to know what they are. I will be taking you to a field north of Tumensuid now. You’ll see the world warping around you now.”
The world shook and shimmered, then collapsed upon itself as countless fractals. Mar and Irikshan were now stood on a large field sparsely populated by trees and shrubbery. From the surroundings and the positions of the mountains, Mar could tell that they were a fair way north of Tumensuid.
He certainly doesn’t beat around the bush, thought Mar.
“Yes, there isn’t much point in wasting time on asking you questions you’ve already answered a dozen times. Now, the first step would be to realize you are in an illusion. You can only break it if you know it is there. This one is obvious enough, mainly because I did not bother about subtlety. Look for flaws, tell me what you see.”
Mar looked around, inspecting his surroundings. A breeze swept across the area, stirring leaves and long grass. Mar was hard-pressed to find errors in the illusion.
“Some of these trees look identical. And… at the edge of my vision, things don’t seem right… but they look normal whenever I look straight at them. Wait,” a realization dawned on Mar, “why didn’t I feel your mind touching mine just before we entered the illusion?”
“Good start. Yes, we’re also going to have to work on you keeping your mind guarded even when you are distracted. While your schooling was decent enough that I couldn’t get too deep without you noticing, that would be enough to feed you fairly simple illusions while tightening my hold.
“The quality and strength of the illusions are limited by the skill and power of the one creating them. The irregularities you may spot represent weak points, whether the illusionist is not concentrating on those aspects or did not think to cater to them.
“However, since the illusionist will likely have access to at least your top level thoughts, they will know when you notice these and they will attempt to fix their errors. But moving their concentration to a certain aspect could cause them to lose focus on other areas. If you ever find yourself second guessing your senses, you should be alert.”
“Understood. How would I break out of an illusion? Try mentally attacking the weak-points before they are fixed?”
“It depends. Attacking the illusion is essentially attacking the illusionist’s mind. But when you attack you may also leave yourself open to counterattack. If your assailant realizes that you know you’re in the illusion, they may resort to outright trying to break into your mind.
“Try to judge their strength by the quality of the illusion. And maybe a mental probe or two if you judge it to be worth the risk. If you perceive them to be stronger than you or even an equal match, strengthen your mental defenses and simply hold out until they have exhausted their energy, give up or aid comes. If they are weaker than you, you may go more on the offensive – but you must remain cautious of counterattacks and over-extending yourself. School should have taught you how to defend yourself to a decent extent. In the future I shall be teaching you more advanced techniques, but for now I shall focus on the basics.”
“Interesting… and scary. It is so easy to be caught unaware… I remember one of my teachers talking about how easy it is for someone practiced enough to get access to your mind if you are not careful. She compared it to technology, where hackers can easily compromise the unprotected device or system.”
“That is a fairly good analogy. Fear for their minds is one of the contributing factors to why the average human is untrusting towards dragons and mages. They don’t often realize that even non-magical humans can be taught to defend their minds. Or at least they didn’t…” A distant look crossed Irikshan’s face.
Mar noticed a slight drop in the quality of the illusion, managing to spot several errors now. The Elder spoke in a pained voice, “I had more than my fair share of negative interactions with humans in my travels when I was as young as you.” Mar thought he heard angry human shouts and threats emanating from the empty field, but in a moment they were gone again.
“In more recent decades, humans have improved a fair amount. Though most of my travels have been invitational or on college business, so I can’t speak for the world as a whole.” Irikshan shuddered, then said, “My apologies, I am getting sidetracked. What you need to do now is free yourself from the illusion. Now, reach out and try shake my mind’s hold on yours. I shan’t make it too hard for now.” The imaginary Irikshan who stood in front of Mar vanished.
“Ok.” Mar mentally reached out, carefully probing Irikshan’s mind.
Irikshan felt the mental probes and slightly strengthened his hold wherever he sensed Mar look but weakened it in other places. He also occasionally threw a soft mental blow at Mar when he noticed the youngster wasn’t being careful enough. To shake his hold, Mar would have to attack where Irikshan was not actively defending.
All of a sudden, Mar retreated further into his mind. This confused Irikshan for a moment, before he realized what was happening. He would let Mar have this one for the creative thinking. A second later the attack came, impacting Irikshan’s mind with an unexpected force. Irikishan’s lowered defenses meant that the force of the explosion of mental energy was enough to disorient Irikshan.
Two cars crashed into Irikshan’s left legs and knocking them out from under him. He managed to catch himself with his magic moments before he would have landed on them and crushed the humans inside. He lifted himself up to his feet again as the humans ran screaming. All around, humans were fleeing in a panic. It seemed as if he had appeared in the middle of a double lane intersection. The disgusting architecture, the thick polluted air and the constant blaring noise of modern human cities surrounded him.
He looked down at his legs. They were in pain and some paint had scratched off on his scales, but his wards had absorbed most of the impact. He took a moment to refresh the wards. While illusions weren’t real, they could certainly feel that way sometimes.
Once that was done, Irikshan sat down and began reaching out, trying to find the mind that was creating the illusion. He could feel Mar’s, but its link was weaker than expected. Irikshan then felt another mind, much nearer, but it didn’t seem to react to his. It belonged to a human busy recording Irikshan on his cellphone.
Irikshan muttered to himself. He reached out and touched the minds of nearby humans. They were each unique and definitely human. And there was no mind but Mar’s actually linked to his. His annoyed muttering then turned to something more pleased. He would find Mar and continue his lesson while making use of this most recent development.
Sirens sounded in the distance, rapidly approaching. A handful of cars arrived and did what they could to block the dragon’s path. They looked to be some sort of local law enforcement.
“Dispatch, this one is far bigger than the last. What are we to do?”
Irikshan’s sensitive ears could hear a distorted voice responding. “Do not engage until reinforcements arrive. We can’t have this one disrupting half the city as it flees.”
Irikshan touched the minds of the humans and determined that each of them felt real – each having thoughts and fears of their own. It astounded Irikshan how a novice could achieve this, let alone accidentally – Irikshan had only learnt to do this after decades of study under the previous Elder, Rumaga the mind mage. And Serandil, in turn, had learnt it from him.
Or perhaps this was not an illusion?
Ruk’s report on Mar’s ability had speculated it could also be some form of teleportation, but no one had ever witnessed it. Until now. It must have been because their minds were linked when his ability activated. But what exactly had activated it? He hoped that Serandil and Adrian were able to observe this.
Irikshan found it strange how the humans spoke the Imaaduudin language, yet reacted so startled to see a dragon. He was under the impression that most humans in this region of the world had at least seen a dragon in their lifetime. Granted, he had appeared out of thin air.
“Humans,” he addressed the police in the multinational language, “I am the Elder of the city Tummenoord in the Tumenzar state. I apologize for the disturbance, and will reimburse you for the damages I may have caused as soon as I can. Could you kindly inform me what the name of this city is? And which country it is in? You may lower your weapons; I mean no harm.”
He was met with blank and confused stares. “Uhhh… dispatch, this one spoke English. It apologized and says it means no harm. Over.”
“Copy that.” The humans awkwardly stared at Irkishan, only a few lowering their weapons. “Chief says to bring it in. Over.”
Glances were exchanged between the humans until one stepped forward and spoke. “D-dear Sir or Madam, you will need to come with us to the police station for questioning.”
“I don’t have time for this.” Irikshan focused on the thread that was his connection with Mar and used it to determine what direction Mar was. He then turned around and walked that direction. There wasn’t enough space between the buildings for flying. He ignored the humans except for placing wards around himself to deflect any of their beloved guns’ bullets to the ground.
“Dispatch, the beast is evading custody. Heading East on Bird avenue. Over.”
“Hold fire until the chief gives the order. Pursue it and reduce collateral damage where you can. Report back as soon as you find its objective. You will be notified if one of the agencies discovers relevant information from the other. Over.”
“Understood.” The police jumped back into their cars and then continued slowly tailing Irkishan as he marched through the grid of streets. Irikshan soon tired of the blaring sirens and used his magic to crush the megaphones. Humans may not have much hearing to begin with, but constant noise would do no good for his ears. This got no reaction other than a couple startled yelps.
“Dispatch, it appears to be heading towards the other one. Over.”
“Roger that. We’ll alert the agents. The chief says to start shooting at it. Try herd it away. We don’t have anything guaranteed to stop them without destroying the entire city… yet. Over.” The foolish humans probably thought he couldn’t hear them.
The humans opened fire, but Irikshan did not react – merely continuing to supply power to his deflection wards.
Soon enough, Irikshan found Mar. He was lying in the middle of the street, scales damaged by bullets, bound in thick ropes and surrounded by humans – many of which appeared to be scientists of sorts. The humans didn’t look surprised to see him, giving him a wide berth rather than fleeing. A police officer also yelled for a ceasefire. Irikshan felt many eyes upon him as he approached the unconscious Mar.
The youngster was in an energy coma. Getting them here had probably taken enough of a toll on his energy reserves that stopping the idiotic humans’ bullets was enough to drain the last reserves of his Shiridan crystal. With a mere thought, Irikshan sliced the ropes off Mar.
“It’s freeing the other one! Shoot it!”
Although Irikshan’s immense energy reserves were more than enough to sustain shields around himself and Mar for a fair amount of time, he did not appreciate the annoyance. He spread out his mind into all the weak and undefended minds of all the present humans and cast a mass illusion upon them; fooling them into thinking he and Mar had vanished in a flash – and left behind a fiery crater so that the humans wouldn’t bump into him. Seeing as he had full access, he etched this illusion into their minds so that he wouldn’t have to maintain it manually.
Turning his attention back to Mar, Irikshan began funneling energy into him. When Mar awoke, Irikshan sent him a mental message which would be inaudible to the humans. “Are you ok?”
“Some healers would be nice, but I’ll live. What are you doing here? Thanks, by the way.”
“I believe it is because our minds were touching at the time your ability activated. I noticed that I’ve been attached to you by a thread since I arrived.”
“That’s probably it. Why are all the humans looking so confused?”
“I made them see us vanish. We need to leave soon – before they investigate too thoroughly or take pictures. May I examine your mind so as to find out how to solve this situation?”
With Mar’s permission, Irikshan looked into Mar’s mind – trying to figure out the working of the young dragon’s ability, and how to break the illusion. He instinctively wanted to repel the intruder but had to force himself to remain calm – it was important that they get out of this place. Eventually, Irikshan seemed to find what he was looking for, then sent him instructions on how to break the illusion. The elder did not sound as sure about it as Mar would have liked.
“If I get back before you, I will try to help you from the other side. When you’re back – come to my office.”
“Go to your office? I thought I already was there.”
“You are in fact just outside the waterfall room you spoke to that human friend of yours in. I was going to make a point about illusions within illusions later in our lesson, but the situation has changed.”
Mar mentally acknowledged this, then severed his connection to Irikshan.
A disoriented Irikshan found himself on the floor of his office, a startled Serandil leaning over him.