A long period of silence followed.
The young lady’s face showed signs of her struggle with the charge being given to her, a charge that she had no idea how to carry out. When she spoke again, a flood of words poured forth. “That much light would require an enormous amount of power. Even with hundreds of lanterns–
To his ears, she almost sounded panicked. The Count placed a finger on her nose and her stream of protestations stilled.
Deliberately, he turned his attention to the table and began to set aside the various implements and plates. She could do nothing but watch quietly while he cleared a large area of the table for his purposes. When he was satisfied, he took a biscuit in hand and crumpled it, scattering crumbs unevenly across the table. Elanore gave him a look of disbelief, perhaps even mild outrage to see him waste what was a perfectly good piece of food.
The Count smiled slightly. “This is a crude demonstration of one of the kinds of magic in this world. Transformation is a change in state and order of an object or being.” He looked aside for a moment, considering his pupil’s background. “I don’t mean the kind of magic that you see in many stories — a ridiculous noisy type where people use wands or staffs and wave them about while muttering long winded incantations. This is the kind of magic that exists even without objects and words.”
The Count, hearing no questions, continued along in his explanations. “Transformative magic is defined by its intent and ability to change the shape or form of something beyond its natural shape. I changed the form of this bread with only physical force, but magic must step in to work against nature. For example — ” He dusted the crumbs into a pile. “I can push these crumbs back together, but not cause them to reform into the original shape it was a few minutes ago without magic. And if I wanted to go further, changing it into something different – like bread into wine – it also cannot be done without magic.”
Elanore gave him a bewildered look. “And you have seen this done? And is that what I am to do?”
He shook his head. “I have seen this type often enough, but the type of magic that concerns you involves transference.” He took one cup of cooled tea and placed it in front of them both. As the water settled, he removed one glove. The lady nearly choked as he reached out to touch the surface of liquid inside that cup. “A small disturbance,” he ignored her for the moment, “creates a much larger effect than the initial input. Think of this single teacup as an analogy for a much larger pool of water. A small leaf falls to its surface, barely imparting any force. And yet–the effect is to ripple the water great distances, the waves growing larger the further the water travels.”
“Then are you saying that I am essentially to provide that small bit of … whatever it is that would create the light.”
“Yes. The stones are, in effect, like water. If set up appropriately, they would do the work required to provide an enormous amount of light. The diagram shows this “pool of water” — specifically the alignment of stones and where a person with the gift of transference needs to stand to tap into the stones’ natural properties. The stones will harmonize with your abilities and with the abilities of the proximate stones and the twelve endpoints marked in this diagram. Whatever they may be, they are likely elements that are designed to further magnify some protective effect or the light itself.”
“Why are there twelve?” Elanore puzzled.
“There are likely twelve, because twelve is a perfect number in many sacred texts and in mythology. It is also the number of months in our calendar year and the number of major races said to have founded the world.”
His mention of the major races surprised her. Elanore’s eyebrows drew together and she began to open her mouth.
“You can read about them later,” the Count interrupted, heading off what was likely another question. He reached into his pocket and then thrust its contents on to the table.
Elanore discovered herself examining a small pile of blue stones. To her dismay, they appeared dull and lifeless. “What am I to do with these?”
“Carry them near you,” he responded. “See if you can learn to perceive their presence even when you don’t see them. Try to develop an affinity for them. If you do, they will glow faintly for you in complete darkness. However, handle them only with gloves — for if you err, they will burn your hand just as they did the other day.”
“Is there something I must say or do?”
He frowned. “It is the same as I said before. There is no magic incantation. The stone will respond to you and your feelings. And be aware of where you use it — for others will misunderstand what they see.”
Her face had a rather disappointed look on it, as if she had expected something quite phenomenal to be taught to her. However, she gathered the stones carefully and placed them in a small bag that she carried at her waist. “You mentioned this magic of transference,” Elanore said thoughtfully. “But this other kind that you said was rare sounds far more dangerous.”
He put his glove back on while he thought what to say. “Both types of magic are inherently dangerous because they can change the status quo. However, transference generally doesn’t violate the nature of its components, from magic user to its end result. It is less of a burden on its user because one can design collaborating objects that bear some of the burden or amplifies the initial input of magic. Therefore, the risk and cost is far less with this sort of magic. But transformation can vary from simple things — like changing water to ice, which is really a small shift in form and has little danger– to changing a bird to a man which has many.”
The woman stared at the mention of the latter example. “Was it this sort of transformative magic you meant you had witnessed?”
He hesitated for a moment before he admitted it to be so. “Rare and sometimes unpleasant when observed. It is worse for the being undergoing that change. There is physical pain and sometimes an additional cost beyond that.” His voice took on a soft, dark undertone. “Time. Memories. Health. Beauty. Your sanity. It is never something one can predict.”
Elanore wisely did not pry. There was something a bit too raw about the topic, something that caused her instructor pain. Bravely, she reached out to touch his arm, to pull his attention back to the present moment. “Are there people who have both gifts?”
“Yes,” his voice remained hard. “And those who have that combination are far more able to shift themselves as well as warp other objects and inanimate things.”
She shivered. “To turn others into a rat or a bug to smash. The use of it sounds unholy.”
“It is unholy,” he said roughly. “Because their power becomes almost limitless. If you ever encounter such a creature, you are better off casting yourself into the arms of an Unthing. For if the person has been so twisted by power and becomes interested in you– imagine what they might do to you, another magic user.”
Elanore did not like what she heard, but did not quite understand what that punishment might be. “How likely is it that they will come here?”
Wolfram shook his head. “Unlikely. As I said, that type is so rare that there is probably only one or two of those kinds of users in existence every few hundred years or more. Worry about the Unthings for now.”
Miss Redley appeared to be relieved by the assessment. So relieved that she picked up another biscuit and began to eat it.
The Count coughed twice to hide his surprised amusement before redirecting his student’s attention elsewhere. “The light should keep them away. But if you are unable to create the effect needed there are other measures to fall back upon.”
“A barrier of some sort?” She asked in between bites.
He went over to the window and pushed aside a curtain, to allow the both of them some light and a glance outside. Elanore understood the unspoken request to join him. She lightly stepped around the table and stood next to him, occasionally stealing a glance at the handsome profile while he continued to speak.
“Yes, the lions should be of help. They, like the guardian at the bridge, have neither flesh to tear or be hurt and are impervious to the Unthings. They can stamp them out or chase them off. And this estate has its pattern of creeks and stones underneath that should naturally repel the creatures or force their movements in a more predictable fashion, away from the inner circle on the diagram.”
Elanore suddenly realized that the strange passages and caves were part of this pattern that made up the schematic. “You mean this estate.”
“Yes,” he responded. “The study and the caves… largely everything part of the old estate is the inner circle. It should be safe against the monsters of the darkness. When we fall into a time of complete unbroken darkness, this will be the place from where you will work.”
“Do you mean for me to live here?” The young lady could not help but interject, surprised.
“It is the only way to make sure that you are safe and can do what is required. Your grandmother will be cared for here so you do not have to worry.”
Her face spoke of her misgivings. “You do realize how that would appear–”
“No one will notice much at that point,” he frowned. “Miss Redley, the darkness that falls here will be absolute with the exception of the light of the stars in the sky. People will be more afraid of the dark than to care that you have taken up residence here. If you care for them, you must agree to this. It is in their best interest, as well as yours.”
Her protestations continued, however. “With them so spread out– shouldn’t they also shelter here?”
Miss Redley made a very good point, one that had never been accounted for in various plans drawn up by past generations. He thought through her question. “I suppose that depends where the outer periphery of this schematic truly extends to. I believe that they would have done what they could to protect the major road. Much of the elves’ food and crops were raised along the roadway.”
Elanore’s eyes betrayed a great deal of concern. “We must be more certain. My grandmother thinks of the town. And she will find the arrangement very odd.” With a glance away, she gently added. “It is still improper.”
The man inwardly sighed, stepping forward to turn her gaze back towards his. He held her face in a gloved hand, ignoring the heat rising on her face as he did so. “Do you require some other promise, Miss Redley? Something more–” he leaned forward “–to the proposal?”
Miss Redley stepped back, almost tripping over the long curtain. “I will consult with her,” she stuttered as she watched him suspiciously. His presence at times made her feel warm and uneasy. “I should go. My grandmother wanted me to return quickly.”
He did not look offended by her clumsy response to him. Instead, his mouth quirked upwards as he looked out the window. “You do not need to hurry an answer. I will be occupied for a few days with family matters. Study the books to see what you might find of use and keep the stones with you. I will send a summons to you or call when it is time to see your progress.’
“I understand,” she said faintly, wondering perhaps if she had imagined that strange predatory smile on his face as he had touched her.
“And you may wish to speak to the lion. He seems to be bothering your gentleman friend outside.”
Elanore turned her head towards the window slowly, afraid to discover what had caught the Count’s attention.
Edmund stood outside, nervously eyeing the stone creature who had decided to come down its pedestal and circle the man.
She grew rather alarmed. “If you’ll excuse me, that beast was quite rough with Giles. I must tell it to stay away from Edmund!”
“Yes, indeed,” the Count did not seem to share her worry. “That lion should be told to sit still. I shall have business for it shortly. On your way out, you may wish to inform the beast that I will have a commission for it and several of its kind shortly. Please ask for his help in waking at least a few of his brothers. I shall need them… or rather we shall need them shortly.”
If you enjoyed this week’s installment, please remember to vote for this story at topwebfiction.com!