T-2 days until release! Today’s Release Week Tidbit is a twofor, accounting for Thanksgiving yesterday. The full and complete first chapter!
Finton spent his days in Deowyn’s impossible library, reading about impossible things. Before the magus’s tutelage, Finton had known little of the outside world, let alone its rich history. Once the old man taught him to read, he pored through the library’s innumerable tomes, devouring information from those written in the languages Deowyn deigned to teach him and memorizing the glyphs in others to decipher later.
Whenever the magus reappeared from his frequent absences, Finton bombarded him with questions about what he’d read. Deowyn responded to each question as though expecting it, never once stumped or struggling for an explanation. Finton made a game of it, hoping to ask Deowyn some deep question to which the magus had no answer. Over time, Finton came to realize that Deowyn had taught him not only to read and speak other languages, but also history, philosophy, and myth. All the while, the magus never showed any sign of discomfort with Finton’s ghastly appearance and Finton’s gratitude for that made it easy to ignore the old man’s off-putting expressions and occasional unsettling chuckles.
During his education, they discovered that Finton remembered everything. He could recall with perfect clarity the smallest details, from waking up in Deowyn’s laboratory to the exact symbols on the pages in front of him. In contrast, memories of his life before remained veiled behind a nightmare fog. Trying to remember anything from that life meant first pushing through that fog and the more he struggled to remember, the more evasive those old memories became.
Occasional stimuli prompted memories to resurface unbidden. When they did, Finton lost awareness of the world around him until the memories played out. He dreaded these moments and sometimes he preferred not remembering at all. Even though it meant most of his memories of Lila remained out of reach, he didn’t want to face everything he’d lost. While the amnesia concerned Deowyn, for Finton it felt like a blessing.
Time had no meaning in Deowyn’s windowless tower and Finton gave up trying to track it. He never ventured far from the library, which could have accommodated every one of the tower’s other rooms with space leftover. He had no need to make use of the kitchen and Deowyn forbade him from entering the chambers at the tower’s apex. His existence now consisted of books and the ancient knowledge they contained.
In the midst of perusing Olkelban, a dry tale of the settling of a mythological city by dragons, Deowyn came into the library. The magus sat across from Finton’s place of study, where books lay in a disheveled pile. He produced a volume of absurd proportions and surprised Finton with a new challenge: learning magic.
“Working magic is not easy, young man,” Deowyn said. “At first, it will require a great deal of skill and focus to achieve even the most meager result. As you grow accustomed to its demands, it will come more naturally. Eventually, it will be an afterthought. For example–” Deowyn raised his hand, uttered a word, and flicked his wrist.
The entire library fell into darkness, save for the red glow emanating from Finton’s eyes. The magus flicked his wrist again, uttered a different word, and the library’s customary warm light returned. It happened so fast, Finton’s yelp of surprise felt like an afterthought. He tried to ignore the smirk on Deowyn’s face and grasped for something to stifle the terror and awe threatening to overwhelm him.
“Trivial now,” the old man said, “but that took me nine months to master.”
“What words do you use?” Finton asked, focusing on the mechanics of Deowyn’s performance to calm himself.
“Lïzh-up for extinguishing and zdruhl-um for illuminating.”
Finton crinkled his brow in thought. “I recognize those. Albizar?”
“Indeed. Good ear.”
“Why Albizar?” Finton inquired. Deowyn’s face clouded over, his eyebrows knitting together. Finton had asked the wrong question.
“My reasons are my own. Enough trivialities. You have a great deal of reading to do.”
The magus departed, leaving Finton with the tome. He opened its giant cover and found himself assaulted by a wall of complex scribbles more dense than any he had ever seen. Each symbol hinted at a book’s worth of knowledge, with concepts and notions embedded deep into the ink itself. If he tried to decipher them outright, they defied him and became impenetrable. He realized the secret only after letting his mind wander, when the symbols started making sense. His conscious and subconscious had to work together to understand this book.
When Deowyn returned, Finton had almost finished the oversized volume. “Do the words and gestures matter?” he asked without preamble.
Deowyn bristled. “Of course they matter! Without them, the working is just a complicated thought. But the choice of word or gesture is irrelevant, so long as you stay consistent. Over time, they’ll become part of your concept for the working.”
Finton nodded, feeling a little proud of having anticipated Deowyn’s answer. “I see.”
“Not yet, but perhaps in time,” Deowyn smirked. As it often did, his expression carried with it an uncomfortable edge. “Now it’s your turn. Put us in darkness, then return us to the light.”
Finton frowned, looking up toward the ceiling and the dull glow emanating from it. The library didn’t have any traditional source of illumination–no torches lined the walls, no candelabras stood on the tables, and no windows existed to permit sunlight. Without a point of reference, Finton struggled to visualize putting the light out.
From studying the arcane manual, he knew only precise thoughts fashioned in the correct way would allow the working to succeed. As Deowyn had just confirmed, the gestures and words merely provided necessary mental anchors. He tried to marshal his thoughts, settling on the image of extinguishing a torch. He reached a hand toward the ceiling and splayed out his skeletal fingers, curling the middle two back toward his palm as the old man had. Fixing the concept of the torch in his mind, Finton commanded, “Lïzh-up!”
Finton frowned and glanced at Deowyn.
The magus raised his eyebrows in amusement. “You didn’t expect it to work on the first try, did you?”
“I suppose not,” Finton said. “Hoped it would.”
“It never works on the first try. The most skilled magi to ever grace Alour-Tan failed on their first attempts.”
“Focus, Finton,” Deowyn said. “Don’t just use one sense when constructing the thought. Use them all. You know what it looks like when light goes out. What does it sound like? Taste like? How does it feel on your skin, in your soul? You must perceive the entire result before it can be made manifest.”
“Why should light going out taste like anything?”
“That’s not the point,” Deowyn said, waving a hand from side to side as if clearing smoke away from his face. “The point is that you are not thinking about the result from every conceivable perspective.”
“Just to put out a light?”
“To put out a light with no obvious source without any direct contact from yourself, yes. Magic is not as simple as striking flint and fanning sparks on a torch, young man. If it were, everyone would be able to do it. It is also never easier than a mundane alternative.”
Finton furrowed his brow again and looked back toward the ceiling. “Every conceivable perspective,” he murmured, echoing the magus. He tried again to formulate the picture–no, the experience–of the light going out. What sound did a torch make as it sputtered? What did the odor of lingering smoke smell like and how did it taste on his tongue? Finton thought of the cold that came with darkness, the crushing isolation, and the fearful things that lurked there.
Finton felt something stir along his outstretched arm, a strange tingling sensation cascading down its length as though he had leaned on it for too long. Warmth followed close behind, racing toward his fingers with fierce determination. A second life took root within the arm, its only goal to make manifest the construct he had built in his mind.
As the sensation reached his outstretched fingertips, he felt a new surge through his entire body. Unbidden and unexpected, a memory of Lila flashed through his mind.
They were together, far enough from the village that no one would bother them. A stream babbled nearby. Lila’s skin glistened in the sunlight, droplets of water beading and running down her curves as she came toward him with a mischievous and lustful smile gracing her lips. He wrapped his arms around her, then pulled her down and pinned her beneath him. She laughed, then gasped. Their breathing grew heavier, synchronizing with their movements. Finton felt a surge through his whole body.
The memory evaporated and Finton found himself in the library once more. The sensation from the memory coursed through him now, but twisted and bizarre. Here, the surge in his hands threatened to overwhelm his senses. Rather than a rush of pleasure, it carried an imperative that he release it lest he explode.
The light in the room flickered.
Finton jumped to his feet in a flash. “I did it! Did I do that? I did, didn’t I! I made the light flicker!”
He tried to ignore the unease Deowyn’s smirk elicited. “Yes, young man, you did. But the objective was to extinguish the light. Dimming it for the briefest instant hardly qualifies.”
Finton gaped at the old man. “Before you brought me back, I didn’t even know magic existed,” he protested.
Deowyn’s eyes darkened and his face twitched as though he wanted to respond. The moment passed, though, and he said nothing.
A new question occurred to Finton. “How long have you been doing magic?”
For once the query seemed to surprise Deowyn and the lingering darkness cleared from his face. “Well, now, let’s see…” Deowyn trailed off and stared into space for several seconds. Finton was starting to wonder if he had somehow put Deowyn into a trance when the magus continued, “A long time. A very long time.”
For as long as it took, Finton found the answer lacking. “That’s not very specific.”
“Yes, well, pay you no mind. I’m old. Leave it at that.” He pointed at the ceiling with his staff. “Keep practicing. Figure out the necessity for thaumaturgy. I will return when you have progressed.”
Deowyn disappeared from the library, leaving Finton to focus on performing the full working. Here he remained, he knew not how long, trying to make the lights go out. Sometimes they flickered, but most of the time nothing happened. He returned to the tome often to study both the basic methods and the specifics of this particular working, hoping that he had missed something the first several hundred times. He hadn’t. Instead, Finton suspected that the tome’s fundamental instructions omitted some key fact and that Deowyn had not yet revealed some crucial element.
Finton centered his mind once again on the task at hand. “I can do this,” he said to the endless, book-filled shelves around him. As he had countless times before, Finton reached out toward the ceiling’s diffuse glow and curled his inner two fingers. He constructed a sense-image of the effect in his mind; he had at least mastered that much.
He wanted the light to go out. It had become a grating problem that he had to solve. He’d poured enough time into learning the ins and outs, hadn’t he? The magic would do what he willed.
Finton added his rising frustration to the sense-image. He had the knowledge and had practiced the skill. Nothing could stand between him and his objective.
Instead of the gradual release he had felt before, Finton all but fell off his feet as a surge of power slammed through him and burst from his outstretched hand. The entire process took a fraction of a second. Finton sucked in an unnecessary breath, gasping in surprise at the sudden explosion of sensation.
Gasping in the dark.
“Hah!” Finton cried out as he realized that his eyes now provided the room’s only illumination. He chortled in triumph, spinning around in the blackness with his hands above his head.
Armed with the missing piece of knowledge, Finton raised his hand back toward the ceiling. He inverted his sense-image of the working for darkness and imagined the room flooded with light. In his mind, the chill of dark gave way to warmth, the scent of fear and trepidation gave way to that of joy and safety. Finton commanded the sun to rise and chase away the fears of night.
The library filled with radiance once more. He surveyed his handiwork, beaming at the illuminated ceiling. “So that’s the trick? That’s what it takes?”
A slow, steady clap echoed through the library, startling Finton. He turned away from the ceiling and looked toward the door where Deowyn stood, a smirk on his face as he applauded Finton’s achievement. Something about Deowyn’s expression reminded Finton of a cat that had cornered a mouse.
“That’s what it takes,” Deowyn said. “Well done, young man.”
The dam holding back Finton’s pent-up frustration broke. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” Finton demanded. He stabbed a fleshless finger toward the arcane volume sitting open on his favored table. “Why isn’t it even mentioned in the tome?”
“Because it’s the most dangerous part of magic,” Deowyn said. He entered the room and walked over to Finton’s table. “If a magus lacks the conviction necessary to perform the working, the magic need not bend to his will. Most of the time, nothing happens. Should he waver while handling enormous power, though, unspeakable horrors can result.”
Finton crossed his arms, shifting his weight onto one leg. “Like what?”
“Horrors you are not yet equipped to contemplate, if you hope to retain your sanity,” Deowyn snapped, his voice taking on a sudden sharpness. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, young man. You have taken a very important first step, but you still have much to learn.”
This time, Finton rejected the magus’s cryptic response. He wanted an answer. “If it’s so important and so dangerous, why isn’t it mentioned in the tome? Why didn’t you mention it?” His voice went high, undermining the defiance he wanted to project. Instead, he came off as the rebellious teenager he had once been.
Deowyn raised his eyebrows and smiled, going from stern to amused in a heartbeat. “Because you have to find that component on your own to understand its importance. A tome and a teacher can equip you with knowledge and skills, but to apply them you must have the conviction to follow through. That isn’t taught. That’s never taught.”
Still not good enough. “Even if the feeling comes from within, why isn’t the need for it explained?” Finton pressed.
Deowyn sighed, an old man pestered by the endless questions of youth. Finton tried not to take offense. “Suppose you have never before seen a bow and I give you one, and an arrow, and tell you to kill a man. I explain the concept behind nocking the arrow, drawing the string, sighting, and loosing. Perhaps I even demonstrate it. Then I hand you the bow and arrow. You understand the principles. You understand the process. But you do not yet have the strength to draw back the string. Once you develop that strength, you must then further decide if you will kill the man. Without developing the strength, you cannot hope to carry out the task. Without the conviction you will not, even if you can. Do you understand now?”
Finton did not. Deowyn’s entire analogy set him on edge. “Why would you ask me to kill a man?”
Deowyn rolled his eyes, waving a dismissive hand. “It’s not about the act, but the will to carry out a task that is difficult or even repulsive.”
“Killing a man and turning out the lights are hardly–”
“Finton. It was an example.”
Finton relented. “Sorry.”
The magus grunted. “Questions are a sign of a hungry mind. Perhaps it’s time we feed it something heartier.”
Before Finton could ask what Deowyn meant, the old man raised an upturned hand. It adopted the working gesture faster than Finton could register. A sharp word from Deowyn spawned a perfect sphere of fire above his palm. The fire flash-froze to ice, falling to the floor as Deowyn slid his hand out of its way. As the ice hit the ground, it turned into water. The water boiled, steam rising back up, where it formed once more into a fiery sphere.
“Conjuration and transformation,” Deowyn said. The fireball winked out of existence without a trace. “Now that you understand, I expect it will not take you long to master these. I will return when you can do them all, in sequence. If you have questions, consult the tome.” Deowyn turned, his robe sweeping out in an arc behind him, and strode out of the room before Finton could voice any concerns, questions, or protests.