T-1 day until release! Today’s Release Week Tidbit, by request, is the full and complete second chapter!
Time passed unmarked as Finton’s training continued. Deowyn made occasional forays from the tower, returning wet, snow-covered, sweating, or otherwise weather-beaten. Finton often watched him leave, but the sight of the world beyond the tower filled him with dread. Instead he focused on his magic.
After conjuration and transformation, Finton learned alteration–imparting motion to stationary objects. Once he mastered the basics, he moved on to bigger and more complicated applications of each technique. He created an entire weather system in the foyer, called down and trapped lightning from one of his conjured clouds, and even learned how to impart a semblance of life to inanimate objects using complex patterns of wind and motion. Deowyn had imbued the tower’s cleaning supplies with this sort of working, which kept the tower tidy without any other assistance. Finton’s experiments fell far short of Deowyn’s clear mastery, but he understood the principles.
Each success brought with it greater confidence. Finton soon stopped feeling daunted by the magus’s endless supply of new challenges. Instead, he wanted to know and do more. Working and releasing magic dulled every ache he felt over his lost life and replaced it with a bliss he had never before known. With it, through it, he could forget the pain that shot through him every time something reminded him of Lila.
“You’ve done well, young man,” Deowyn said, as Finton finished summoning every drop of rain off of Deowyn’s dampened cloak and into his own outstretched hand. The water assembled into a ball of ice. “To be truthful, you have exceeded my wildest hopes.”
Finton dropped the icy sphere, staring at Deowyn. The magus never gave such direct praise. “I have?”
“Oh yes,” Deowyn said. “I hoped you would be able to channel some small magic, enough to…to suffice. But you have done far more than that. You show all the promise of some of Alour-Tan’s brightest students. Most magi only dream of achieving your prowess at the height of their power.”
Finton beamed. “Thank you, Deowyn.”
The old man studied him for a long breath. He said, “It’s time, Finton, for you to begin assisting me in the Great Work.”
Finton’s mouth dropped open. “It is?”
Deowyn snorted. “Close your mouth lest it fall off and need to be stitched back on again. Yes Finton, it is. I have been without a talented companion for a long, long time. You are the first hope I’ve had of remedying that situation.”
“Thank you,” Finton stammered.
Deowyn raised an eyebrow. “Unless you have something pressing to attend to, I see no reason to delay.”
Finton looked around the library. His tutelage had kept him from thinking about it, but he realized all at once that he had no anchors other than Deowyn. This library had become his home, his studies his profession and his hobby all in one, and Deowyn his father, his teacher, and his brother. Reason to delay? Finton had little reason for anything that didn’t connect back to this man.
“No reason at all,” Finton agreed.
Deowyn nodded, and Finton once again saw that strange, unnerving twinkling in the old man’s eyes. “You asked quite some time ago about Alour-Tan. Come along and I shall explain.” Finton fell in behind Deowyn as he made his way toward the library door and out into the stairwell winding through the tower.
“Alour-Tan was the island home to the greatest assemblage of magi ever seen on Tryneya. With that much magic at their command, none dared challenge them. Fortunately for everyone else, their desires were benevolent: quiet study into the nature of the arcane. Most believed that we had just scratched the surface of what magic meant, and the more the magi of Alour-Tan learned, the more questions they had.”
Deowyn’s voice carried up and down the tower stairwell as they climbed the steps. Only one room sat atop the stairs, beyond the library–Deowyn’s forbidden study. Finton felt a charge of excitement building within him as they drew near.
“The greatest mystery the magi sought to solve was the mystery of death. Many magi knew how to prolong life, but none knew how to bring back one of the dead.”
“Looks like they figured it out,” Finton said, holding out his own decayed hand as evidence.
“In fact, they did not,” Deowyn said. “No one is quite sure what happened, but something terrible occurred at Alour-Tan. Every settlement, every single one, along the eastern coast of Ceteynia records a massive blast of light from the direction of Alour-Tan. All that remains there now is an impenetrable violet-black cloud seething with untamed magical energy. Anyone who crosses into the cloud never emerges.”
“A magic storm?” Finton asked.
“If that helps you imagine it, yes. A magic storm that has churned unabated yet stationary for centuries. The world lost its most powerful magi that day. Many of the best magical records and tomes went with them. The working of magic became the purview of a few small pockets of wisdom, scattered among those attuned to the world. No one would ever again command the sort of raw power that had been harnessed at Alour-Tan.”
The pair reached the door at the top of the staircase. Finton had seen the heavy wooden slab many times, but had never attempted to open it. His excitement and anticipation now mingled with fear. What mysteries, once forbidden by Deowyn, lay behind this door?
“But if no one from Alour-Tan discovered the secret to beating death,” Finton asked, trying to distract himself, “how is it you brought me back?”
Deowyn smirked. The expression always felt unnerving, but now it felt predatory. “I kept working on the problem.” He waved his hand over the door’s lock. It click-thunked in response to his gesture and the door swung inward without a further sound.
The circular room beyond was modest in scale. Books and magical equipment lined the walls. A small cot sat crammed against the wall opposite the door. Next to it rested a large desk, covered in books, with an unassuming stool tucked beneath it.
The center of the room drew Finton’s eyes. A massive iron cauldron twice Finton’s height across occupied most of the floor, half-submerged into the stone itself. It bubbled with luminous, viscous green liquid. Finton had no idea how deep the cauldron went, nor what kept it heated.
“Welcome to your re-birthplace, Finton,” Deowyn said, gesturing at the cauldron. “The liquid is the secret the magi sought–the Great Work of Alour-Tan.”
Finton took a tentative step toward the cauldron. “All you need to do is dunk a corpse in there and it comes back?”
Deowyn barked a laugh. “Hardly. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to prepare the body, even more to prepare the liquid, and the working itself is laborious. The ingredients required are costly, too.”
Finton stared into the bubbling liquid. “But this is it. This is how you return life to the dead.” Finton couldn’t tell if he felt reverential awe or abject terror.
“This is one of the keys, yes.”
Finton turned toward the magus. “What is it you plan to do with it?”
Deowyn smiled, the expression full of sadness and an iron resolve. “Keep people from losing the ones they loved. Since the beginning of time, we have all known the pain of loss. Now death need not be more than a setback. No parent need ever see their child die. No child need ever watch their parents slip away. No husband shall ever lose his wife. Not so long as this exists and we know how to use it.”
“An end to death,” Finton said, skepticism and fear warring for dominance in his tone.
“It should not be all that surprising a thing to consider,” Deowyn said, gesturing up and down Finton. “You have had quite some time to grow accustomed to it.”
“Will they all be like me?” Finton asked. “Ruined husks?”
Deowyn scowled. “Your body may no longer adhere to the misguided ideals of beauty you revered before your change, but your mind is far from ruined, Finton. What’s more, you will never again die through mortal means. The forces that returned you to life now course through your body to sustain it. There may be a limit to your immortality, but if one exists it is beyond my knowledge. Should those forces be disrupted…to be truthful, I am not sure what would happen. Nevertheless, you are still you, your circumstance aside.”
Finton wanted to argue, but saw a kernel of truth in the magus’s words. “I don’t know how many people would want to come back like this.” Finton looked down at his emaciated, gray-skinned hands. Bone protruded from the ends of his fingers, giving them the appearance of talons. “I have nowhere else to go. You knew what to expect; I don’t have anything to fear from being like this around you. But out there?” Finton pointed at the wall of the room with no real concept of what lay beyond. “At the first sight of me, my village would have raised the alarm and hacked me to pieces.”
“I am not suggesting we simply end the penalty of death throughout the world all at once,” Deowyn scoffed. “Change of this magnitude takes time.” He paused, considering Finton for a long beat. “Besides, we still need to confirm that it can be repeated. You may be a fluke.”
“Confirm it?” Finton asked. “How?”
“By trying again.”
Finton tensed, off-put by Deowyn’s mild demeanor. “Do you propose we wander around out there until we find someone recently dead?”
“No, young man,” Deowyn said. “I already have the person to be saved here in the tower. I have had her here for a long time, preserved against any further decay. Indeed, she may look no different than she did in life, if we are successful.”
“Ilelyse,” Deowyn said the name with a degree of reverence and affection that Finton had never before heard in the magus’s voice.
“Who was she?” Finton asked.
“She was the greatest of us,” Deowyn said, “a blazing sun even compared to the best magi of Alour-Tan. She had such talent, such unbridled ability. She tackled magical problems in mere moments that renowned magi spent decades trying to solve.” Finton watched as Deowyn slipped into a silent reverie. Until now, Finton knew only the magus’s gruff exterior; he never revealed this much emotion.
“She was more than that, though,” Finton ventured.
Deowyn snapped out of his trance with a start, as though he had forgotten Finton existed, much less stood next to him. The magus took a moment to collect his thoughts, fighting down annoyance at having them interrupted.
“Yes,” Deowyn said. “She was much more than that. And she will be again.”
Finton understood. Deowyn had suffered the loss of someone he loved. Given the chance to bring Lila back, Finton would risk everything. In that moment, Finton would have done anything the magus asked. “What do you need me to do?”
Deowyn held himself back from smiling, but Finton saw the hints of it all the same. “I need you to help me power the procedure. It took nearly everything I had to bring you back, and you had not been gone from this world long. Ilelyse has been gone far longer. Though she’s preserved, pulling her back across that much time would be impossible for me alone. But together? Together we can do it.”
Finton tried to ignore the feeling of anxiety building in his chest. “How do we begin?”
“I’ve already started the liquid,” Deowyn said, gesturing at the steaming cauldron. “Ilelyse is in there. It will take several hours for it to suffuse her tissues, time enough to instruct you in the specifics of the working.”
Finton stared at the opaque sludge again. “She’s already in there?”
Deowyn nodded. “The longer she is exposed to the liquid, the better our chances of success.”
Finton suspected that an unspoken ‘I think’ belonged somewhere in what Deowyn had said, but he opted not to mention it.
“Come, young man. There is much to learn in the short window that we have.”
Deowyn proved a master of understatement. Though Finton recognized the patterns within the grueling working, the complex intermingling involved in putting the thoughts and sense-images together made his greatest efforts look like idle dabbling. It hurt to force himself through the mental dance. Thoughts had to shuffle and change so fast that he felt numb and drained after their first practice run-through.
“Are you sure about this?” Finton asked. “This working is the lifelong pursuit of the greatest magi in the world. I only just mastered the basics. I don’t think I’m up to it.”
Deowyn waved a dismissive hand. “Nonsense. The difficulty stems from deciphering the right workings rather than performing them. I’ve done the hard part. We need only combine our strength to bring about the working.”
Finton felt none of the magus’s confidence. He still thought his complex weather system the pinnacle of achievement. The entirety of that working represented the tiniest portion of the one now before them. Still, Deowyn hadn’t yet been wrong. At the very least, Finton would provide what support he could muster. His flawless memory guaranteed that he could do that much. He knew the working. He just had to perform it.
“Ilelyse should be ready now,” Deowyn said. “Are you?”
“I don’t know. This is pretty intensive magic.”
Deowyn reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. Finton tried not to jerk away at the unexpected gesture. Whatever history Deowyn and Ilelyse had, it ran deep enough that Deowyn’s emotions pushed past his gruff exterior. “I would not have asked you if I did not think you equal to the task.” He dropped his arm back to his side. “Let’s bring her back.”