…After the Eclipse

Fedlir took a long, rattling breath and lifted his face from the grass. He was back. His mind had made it back home. It was impossible to gauge how long he had been gone, yet… without even opening his eyes, he could sense that the eclipse was just passing overhead. The locusts chattered their morning song, confused for a few moments, before falling silent again.

Before he thought of it, Fedlir was on his feet. He felt light, renewed. His body barely felt real, as it was simple an extension of his will. As if physical law no longer truly applied to him. In a way, it didn’t. What he had seen in the trance had brought him beyond the world,, beyond all the laws of magic he had ever been taught. There was a truth there, a grace, something eternal that he had touched.

He had won. For the first time in a thousand years, an eclipse mage had arisen from the trial of choice. This feeling of elevation, of exaltation, was only the beginning. Fedlir had the power to change the world. To remake it for the better. The other magi would stand behind him, he knew.

Fedlir looked to the sky as the disc of the moon retreated from the sun. He could stare at it directly and see it, now. The sun held no mystery to him. As his gaze returned to earth, he stared out across the field.

Another figure was standing up now, from her place in the grass. For a moment, they stared at each other.

Garna. Fedlir’s rival for so many years. Earlier, he had hoped to see her retreat, then to fail, so that only Fedlir could hold the glory that would come. As they stepped closer, their gazes never left the other’s face. There was no anger or pride there, just as there was none in Fedlir’s heart. Instead, he felt an awe and an overwhelming relief. Here stood someone who knew what he had seen, felt what he had felt.

Hundreds of years had passed without an eclipse mage. Now there were two.

Fedlir and Garna locked eyes and smiled. All was as it should be.

Before the Eclipse…

Fedlir looked over his notes for the third time in the last ten minutes. At least, he pretended to. He wasn’t really absorbing anything anymore. His mind was filled with too many thoughts. Tomorrow was everything. The outcome would change his entire life.

Every year, the High Druid chose a day for the rite of calling power. It was the day when all the druids, shamans, and sorcerers looked to the sky for omens, for knowledge, and for the power to drive them into their next stage of power. It was also the day that neophytes such as Fedlir came into their own. It was when they would choose their path and join the ranks of the masters.

Fedlir was one of only two attempting the Choice this year, and for very good reason. Most years, the Calling was at highest noon on a summer day, chosen using arcane formulae only the High Druid truly understood. This year was special.

This year was the eclipse.

At this time tomorrow, the sun would darken almost completely, even in the midst of a fully lit day. It was the greatest of omens and the greatest opportunity for all the magi in the land. It was also the most dangerous. Many of the magi would abstain this year, and quite wisely, knowing that the power of the eclipse was beyond their grasp.

But for neophytes, this presented an opportunity that came only once in many generations. The rites were more complex, the understanding required far deeper, and the level of control was beyond the reach of many of even the eldest. It was considered pure hubris to even attempt the Choice at the eclipse. Only once in history had it been successful. Most died, or had their minds blasted out by an experience they were never again sane enough to describe.

Fedlir would succeed. He had to. This was how Fedlir would make his name. How he would show the world that a child who grew up in the low country could not only accomplish greatness, but could be of legend.

Only Garna would make the attempt as well. Heavens forbid that Fedlir ever succeed where she did not. He hoped that, in Garna’s studies, she decided to back away and leave the Choice for the following year. Fedlir did not wish her death, but he did not want to see her win, either.

Tomorrow was Fedlir’s day. She would not take that from him.

Best Plan Ever

“The best laid plans of –” Kei began.

“You call this planning?” Surina said. “I’ve seen better ‘laid out’ plans on a plate of spaghetti!” She punctuated with a punch on Kei’s arm.

“Ow!” Kei replied. “I’ll have you know, a great deal of planning goes into spaghetti. Getting all the ingredients just right. Just because it doesn’t look sensible on the surface doesn’t mean – ow! Hey, quit it!”

“I will when you stop talking nonsense and start talking about how we’re going to get out of here.” Surina waved around to the six stone walls surrounding them. They loomed up into the darkness overhead, well past the light of their single torch. The door through which they’d come had vanished. They couldn’t find so much as a seam.

“Okay,” Kei said. “Good idea. Any chance we could go over them?”

Surina looked at him, looked at the smooth, neatly cut sandstone, then back to Kei. “Have any climbing gear?”

“Um. I have a rope.”

“Great. Maybe we’ll come across a friendly bat that will fly it up and attach it to the ceiling. Then, miraculously, there will be some gate or passageway fifty feet up in the air.”

“There has to be something!” Kei said. “Nobody would build a place like this and not leave a way out. What if they… forgot their keys or something?”

“I’m pretty sure whoever build an ancient tomb with the words ‘Death Comes to All Who Enter’ was not keeping employee safety in mind when it was constructed.” Surina paced past each of the six walls, peering close for seams, scratches, anything that might show it was different from the rest.

“If you’re just going to stand there and complain,” Kei said. “Why don’t you come up with a plan?”

“Unlike you,” Surina replied. “I don’t try to plan until I have all the data. Start looking over the floor. Maybe we missed something.”

Peer Review

“Lollipops? Seriously?”

“Yep. Here, look.”

“Where the hell did you find lollipops?”

“Ready to think I’m crazy?”

“I already do.”

“On that tree over there. The one by the cliff.”

“Extra crazy. Suspicions confirmed.”

“I’m happy to show you.”

“What? And draw me into your mad little world along with you?”

“I think it’s a little late for that. You’re the one who agreed to step through the portal.”

“Point. So, are confections the standard for flora here?”

“Not that I’ve noticed. I did see some odd critters poking at the lollipops, though.”

“Define ‘odd’.”

“Kind of like a cross between a fruit bat and an earthworm?”

“How exactly does something like that eat a lollipop?”

“I’m not sure they were eating. Just poking their… snouts, for lack of a better word, against them.”

“Maybe they think it’s just as weird as we do.”

“Could be. I haven’t seen any other lollipop trees nearby.”

“So what? It’s a freak mutation?”

“At this point, I’ve given up on making rational hypotheses about this place.”

“What kind of scientist are you?”

“The kind that knows perfectly well that nothing I see here is ever going to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.”

“Hey, I’d vouch for you!”

“I’m pretty sure that would just hurt my odds more.”

Stories on the Bench

“And you know what they said next?” Aurora said, laughing. “It’s not just…” She stopped, noticing that Isabella was looking away, down the boardwalk. When Aurora reached out to touch Isabella’s arm, she flinched away. “Sweetie. Is something wrong?”

Isabella kept facing away, saying nothing, but her shoulders were trembling. She shook her head several times, violently.

“Isabella,” Aurora said, her voice shaking. “Please talk to me. Did I say something?” She didn’t know how to react to this. Isabella had never acted like this before. What could Aurora have said or done? She had just been sharing stories from the field, same as always when she got back.

“Fine!” Isabella shouted, pushing herself up from the bench and spinning on her heel. Tears were streaking her face, laced with the deep blue of her favorite mascara. “You want to know? It’s that sometimes, there’s more to life than just you and your Council and your adventures!” She kicked her foot at the ground, sending her sandal flying off into the grass.

“But, I –”

“Let me finish!” Isabella said. “You talk enough all the time. Talk about how wonderful your new ‘job’ is. How amazing all the people are. How you’re getting to do all these great, amazing things and that I’m the only one you can talk to about them because nobody else knows and wouldn’t believe you. Well, you know what? I have a life to!”

“I am not just your listening ear, your comfortable home to come back to, your pretty pair of legs to stick your face between. I have a life! I have things I want, things I need, and just like every person sometimes I don’t get either one. So sometimes I don’t want to hear about your amazing life. Would it kill you to – just once – come home again and ask me what my life has been since you left? What I accomplished? What I dreamt of while you were gone?”

Aurora tried to speak but choked. Her face flushed deeply until she could smell the iron in her nostrils. “I-I thought…” she began. But Isabella had spun around again and was walking up the path.

“No,” Isabella said, quieter now. “I really don’t think you did. Not even once.”

Sourceforming

“What do you see, Aurora?” Tass asked. They were standing in a desert. Somewhere on Earth, but he hadn’t told her where. Aurora wasn’t so conversant with deserts she could tell on sight.

“Sand,” Aurora replied. “Shrubs.” She squinted at the horizon. “Maybe a cactus?” That would mean somewhere in the Americas. They had been here all of ten minutes and she was already sweating through her clothes. Not exactly the best environment to give her patience with this kind of crap.

“That’s not what I mean, girl,” Tass said. He crunched his dark eyes shut – all four of them – and blew out swiftly through his teeth. Apparently sighing was universal? “I’m talking about the source. You see things differently. You always have. That’s what makes you enta viyan. Now concentrate on the details and tell me.”

“So,” Aurora replied, brushing the blowing dust from her face. “If I’ve always seen things differently, how am I supposed to know what to say? Sand, shrubs, cactus. Sky. Sun. Clouds. Wind. Dust. Your ugly face. They look like they look. Is there any chance we could do this somewhere more pleasant, by the way? I feel like I could list nouns quite readily in a forest or something.”

“It’s… simpler out here,” Tass said. “Fewer sapient minds. Details will be clearer. The source will be less… noisy.” He continued to stumble over words, probably lapses in the translator bauble he brought with him. Aurora tried to find it funny, but it was really just annoying at this point. Like he was talking down to her. “These details… will not be there all the time. In times of intense focus, or stress, or perhaps at the edge of sleep. The world made sense in a different way. You knew things you couldn’t, felt things that… you could touch. Control.”

Aurora stopped mid-jibe. That night in the truck-yard. With David there, running after her, drunk. Angry. Scared like she’d never been. The air… the cold… the flow of it. The energy in it. Her breath caught.

Now, she stared at the dust. The flow of it. Swirls, eddied, moving with the heat, with the chaotic patterns of matter and energy. Except no more chaos. Just like then. She wanted control then. She had grabbed it. In that moment, Aurora had understood something. The world had made sense. Then it had all gone wrong. She had wanted David gone… and then he was.

Damn it! Now all she wanted was away from this place. Away from this damned dust. Away from Tass and his irritating pedantics. And away from this damned desert inferno! Like then, she just wanted…

Control.

The air cracked. The wind howled, nearly knocking Tass down as air rushed outwards from her. Sweat flash-froze to her skin and hair. Aurora gasped as chilled, rarefied air replaced the scalding breaths of a moment before.

Aurora’s eyes came back into focus. For at least a hundred feet around, the air was clear and the sand was dusted with a fine coating of ice.

Tass opened his eyes and smiled his odd, toothy smile. “Very interesting. Now tell me what you saw.”

To the Rescue

“I ain’t sure about this, man,” Trever said. He and Sergen were creeping up along-side the building now. There wasn’t a single sound but the faint whisper of wind in the trees.

“Well,” Sergen said. “You better get sure. In about thirty seconds we’re goin’ through that door and all hell’s gonna break loose.” Sergen sounded confident, but he was running his fingernails up and down the grooves of his wand, just like he always had before a big test. Acing demon banishment in a classroom was a way different thing than doing it here.

“The procs are gonna be real mad,” Trever said. “Sure we shouldn’t just wait for them?” He was trying to suppress his own nervous habit. Several times he’d had to stop himself from tapping the base of his staff against the wall. The brick was thick, but there was no telling how sensitive the demons’ hearing was.

“You heard the screams,” Sergen replied. “Clear as I did. Ain’t no time to wait for the procs. It’ll go just like I said. You go in, scatter the bag. That’ll distract ’em enough. Nobody’s faster than me at the incantation. Trust me. I’ve taken down three at once before.”

Trever nodded. They were right by the door, now. An old, rusted side-access door that looked like it hadn’t been opened in decades. They couldn’t afford the noise of breaking it open. Surprise was key. Instead, Trever risked a minor cantrip to snap open the lock and swing the door ajar.

There was no response from inside. Both of them released the breaths they hadn’t realized they were holding.

Ready​? Trever mouthed. 1… 2…

He swung the door open and tossed the bag of salt and iron through. High-pitched shrieks responded from inside. All hell, ready and waiting.

Ill & Rambling

Sick. Fevered. Living on ice cream and popsicles. Not exactly the ideal state to be writing in. But here I am. I also don’t want to just spend five minutes whining about the normal human experience of illness. I guess I’ll just ramble a while.

I’ve been focusing a lot on Council of Dawning lately. The idea from 1994 that continues to propagate in my head and, occasionally, onto a page somewhere. It’s gone through so many iterations. It almost feels like it’s getting somewhere. At the least, it’s much more mature of a story than it was back in high school. The characters are fleshing out, I’m becoming more aware of the impact setting has on story and vice versa.

If there is anything I’d like to see made into a novel one day, it’s Dawning. Keeping at my current pace of development, it’s even possible that it could be accomplished in my lifetime. Assuming life doesn’t keep getting in the way – and I’m including my highly variable mental and energy state in that category. I still don’t know what the actual plot is, of course, which I’ve been told is a key detail that is rather expected in a novel.

Bad books are often described as a series of vaguely related events that start somewhere and then stop somewhere. That certainly applies to my previous attempts at novelizing the Dawning setting. I clearly needed a different approach. For now, I’m focusing on feeling out the characters. What they want, what they can do, how they interact. I’m hoping that will eventually lead them to tell me what their story is.

If nothing else, I’m getting some entertaining, likely non-canon scenes for the Five Minutes project.

The Role of the Council

“So what do I do now?” Aurora asked. “Are we some sort of government? Are we superheroes, solving all the worlds’ worst problems? Ooh, is there some ancient adversary we need to constantly be on guard against?”

As usual, Raeth didn’t seem to fully appreciate her form of humor.

“What we do is nothing so grandiose,” Raeth replied. “We maintain a balance. We prevent disruption to the system. We study the source and the Builders’ legacy in order to perform both more effectively.” They checked the small device again at the next branch in the way, this time heading down the left route.

“Oh,” Aurora said. “So like, the boring sort of government.”

“Ha! I would hardly call it boring. It’s a very careful balancing act we perform. The Council maintains a relationship with hundreds of different civilizations on worlds with completely divergent versions of life and physics. Keeping them in check, controlling the flow of information and material… it’s all quite complex.”

“If you’re into that sort of thing,” Aurora mumbled. In a louder voice, she added, “So what will my role in all this be?”

“That remains to be seen,” Raeth said. “It will depend in part on what you can do. Enta viyane are very much a product of their worlds. In all previous cases, a world has been studied thoroughly to determine the effects that might become present. Earth wasn’t to be on the list for some time yet. The anomaly… warrants investigation.”

“So you’ve said,” Aurora said. “Does that mean we have no idea what I can do?”

“My observations are a start, as will be your testimony.”

Testimony. That would mean… God, she did not want to talk about that. Not to anyone. What if they decided she was dangerous? Did the Council have some sort of jail? Could she be… de-powered somehow? Questions she could ask Raeth. They might be understanding.

“How much longer are we walking?” Aurora asked instead.

Into the Source

For a moment, peace. A silence and calm Aurora had never experienced before.

But then, the Watchers came. From all sides, the whispers turned to shrieks. A thousand different voices speaking at her, into her. It was past the point of noise. The sounds echoed inside her mind, inside her brain, until there was no more thought. Just sound, then pain.

And then silence, again.

Aurora was suddenly shunted into memories of her childhood. Elementary school, then earlier. Things she had no business remembering. Playing in a crib. Then lying in a cradle. The memories felt like they were being yanked from her mind, perused, then shoved back inside.

Every part of her life replayed itself at rapid pace. The raw emotion of each scene came with full force, lasting just moments before the emotions of the next came to replace it. From childhood through to her training at the Dawning. All the way up to the screeching in the way. The attack that sent her here.

Just when she thought it was done, her mind wrenched and it started anew. Her life in fast-forward. Again and again. Aurora began to feel less like a person with each iteration. Instead, she was just a collection of experience. A deterministic reaction to a series of events. Seeing her past, the future seemed clear. Who she was, what she would become. There was no “Aurora” just… just…

Her body came back into sudden awareness as she landed hard on her back. Eyes, ears, skin, all came back into function in a rush of pain and pleasure. Vision stabilized into a white ceiling. A causeway. A dark figure stood nearby, out of focus.

Aurora realized she had just stopped screaming. Her throat was raw and she gasped for breath.

“Aurora? Can you hear me?” a familiar voice asked. Aurora tried to respond, but her mouth wouldn’t work. The figure knelt close, resolved into a face. Raeth, their expression creased with concern. They turned to someone nearby, out of sight. “She’s still alive. We need to get her to the Dawning. Now.”

The sensation of being lifted, then moved. Her wracked mind tried to make sense of it. Tried to compile her current experience while holding on to the revelations she had witnessed. So close to the truth. So close.

Tears dripped from her face as consciousness fled.