Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chapter 5 - I BEGIN LEARNING

After we cleared the little valley, there was enough room for all of us to walk abreast. The uneasiness that was building between my closest friends and me was getting on my nerves, I mean really, they were walking behind me and Durmas, and they insisted on being so quiet and so stiff. I finally blurted, "What is the matter with you all? It's me. Remember? I'm the same kid who helped you milk cows the other day, Brom. And Lagge, I helped you butcher a bunch of chickens last week. You'd still be digging that new root cellar, Carm, if I hadn't jumped down into that hole and helped." I might as well have been talking to a stone for all the difference I made, or at least that's what I thought until Brom spoke up.

"Liam, you must not understand, You are magic now. You are different."

"No I'm not," I said, vehemently.

Durmas stepped in then and tried to explain. "You are different now, Liam. You still think the same as you did before, but you are no longer the same boy who came here three years ago. Your friends walk with you now, and they may choose to do so from now on, but you must accept that you are very different from what you were."

My stubborn burrs dug in and I vowed to myself that I was not different.

We walked on in silence; we would have a long walk too. When we came here, we had run almost all the way (we always ran wherever we went), and it had taken us all of four hours to cover the distance. With an old man like Durmas along, I just knew it would take us all day long to get back.

As the sun climbed, I noticed that Carm, who was walking closest to me, was sweating freely. I tipped my face up to the sun and felt its heat. I should be roasting in my heavy leather sheathing, but I wasn't. I was rapidly growing hungry again though, so I called a halt for an early lunch, and then instantly felt like an idiot for opening my mouth. Unless Durmas had some massive pockets in those robes of his, none of us had brought anything to eat or drink.

Durmas didn't seem at all flapped about stopping though. He drew us into a small circle and had us sit on the ground, then he took my hands. He smiled when he touched me. "I see you already have a very good instinct."

I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but I didn't have much time to figure it out as my lesson began.

"Pay close attention. I'm going to show you how to do this. First, in order to be able to slake our thirst in a civilized manner, we must have a cup." He reached down and placed one of the rocks that littered the ground into my hand. He clasped both my hands around it, and then, with a wash of I don't know what, the rock morphed into a coffee mug; in fact, it looked a lot like one of the mugs my mother liked to use most. Durmas held up the mug and looked at it, smiling. "It is strange looking, but it will hold water. Now, for water, where do you suppose we can find that?"

"From a well," I offered. "But there's no well around here."

"No, there's no well here, but that doesn't mean that the water isn't down there. Pay attention."

I watched him dig a small depression in the ground and place my mug down in it, then he took my hands and laid them flat on the ground on either side of the hole with its cup.

"Pay attention," he said again.

I felt a chill and a tingle run up my arms, and suddenly the mug was full of water. The hole was still dry, but the cup was brimming. Durmas raised an eyebrow but made no comment, he just took the cup and tasted the contents. "Good," he said and then passed it to Brom. "When you gain more control over your magic, all these props won't be necessary."

We made water for Carm and Lagge, but Durmas made me try on my own for his cup. I did it, but I was glad I was already kneeling on the ground. My stubborn burr was still digging under my saddle, so when he handed me the empty cup, I tried to call the water without any other contact with the ground than the fact that I was kneeling. I did it, but the effort made my head spin and the ground caught my backside while Brom caught my hand and prevented me spilling my hard-earned drink. Durmas only looked at me with disapproval as I drank my water. It wasn't enough, so I make another cup the easier way, and then another.

"Now for food," Durmas continued. "Food is much harder. Are you finished being foolish?"

I just shrugged. I was starving, but I wasn't about to admit it.

He wrapped my hands around the mug again. "First, we need a bowl." The cup morphed into a bowl, but it wasn't big enough, so I made it bigger. Durmas raised an eyebrow. "Now for food. What are you hungry for?"

What was I hungry for? An elephant might do. Aloud, I said, "That stew you gave me earlier was good."

"That had meat, several vegetables and herbs in it. What you will be doing is remaking these things," he waved a hand at our surroundings, which might look appetizing to a horse, "into those things, and then cooking it. You may have some problem with cooking it, but we'll see."

"Why do you say that I might have a problem with heating it?"

"Because your magic is water based."

"What?"

"I'll explain while you're eating. First you must feed your friends."

By the time it was my turn to empty the bowl, I was so tired that I almost didn't have the energy to eat. If I had been a fraction less hungry, I would have gladly curled up on the ground and went to sleep without bothering. When the bowl was empty, I so wanted another, but I just didn't have the energy to do any more. Durmas took pity on me and made me a second bowl without my help, whatever help that way (he was a much better cook). While I ate, he answered my question.

"There are four types of magic - earth, air, fire and water. Any magical creature, which is what you are now, is predominantly one of those types. Yours happens to be water, So anything you do that has something to do with water, will come easiest for you. That also means that anything having to do with one of the other elements will be more difficult, particularly fire, which is your elemental opposite. You will learn how to use all of the elements, but you will feel the differences most acutely now. Now, you're tired. I want you to lie down and rest before we continue."

"No, I'm all right; I'm not a child. It's only a little before midday and we've a ways to go yet." I got up and took three steps that I remember before I keeled over in a dead faint. He was right, again. I really must do something about that burr under my saddle. I really wish they would import horses; I could do with one of those too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chapter 4 - CHANGES

When I walked back into the other chamber I noticed that it now had another doorway. This place was spooky; doors and halls don't just appear out of solid stone, but I saw no other way. After walking down a long and decidedly not straight hallway, I entered another chamber far larger than any chamber I had seen so far. When I saw the stone altar with the orb hanging over it, I knew it had to be the same chamber where my friends had brought me that first night. The large stone block was in the center of the cavern. It was about three feet high, four or five feet wide and nine or ten feet long. Above it, a big stone ball hung, suspended from nothing I could see. If it was a plastic ball filled with air, I might be able to get my arms around it enough to hold it - any bigger and I might not, no matter how light it was. It wasn't glowing now though, so I could get a good look at it. Made of rough-cut stone, it looked very heavy and hung entirely too close to that stone altar. I had lain on that altar for a time - I just knew it. Standing on the other side of it were my three friends and Durmas. They didn't notice me until I was on their side of that stone block.

Brom was the only one who happened to be facing me, so he saw me first. "Liam," he called. He strode forward to make some sort of familiar greeting, but when he got closer, he suddenly held back. "I'm glad to see you."

These guys, my best friends, they brought me to this place where all these strange things were done to me. Could I call them my friends anymore? "Brom, I hear that y'all were waiting for me."

"We wanted to be here for you. The Master just told us that you want to go home. Why?"

I offered them the same reason I had come up with before. "My parents must be worried." I was confident it was true, but mostly I just wanted to escape this place.

Brom looked down at the floor. "Yes, your family is...different."

Why was he acting so strangely? Oh well, I was more than a little pissed at them just now, so as far as I was concerned, they could stew for a while.

We all headed down another winding stone hall. Someone had spent a lot of time carving these halls out of this stone. Durmas led the way; Brom, Lagge and Carm followed me, and the suddenly we were outside. I didn't realize it at first. At first, I thought we had been struck by lightning. With a cry of pain, I threw myself back against whoever was directly behind me with my arm thrown over my face. I thought that if I could knock them all down, they might survive the strike. I figured Durmas was already a goner.

Carm was the first to recover. I was sprawled on the ground with someone's feet under me.

"Liam, Liam; are you all right? What happened?" Carm's voice was full of concern and he was pulling at my arm.

I just knew I had to be a scorched cinder, so you will for give me if I huddled there for a few seconds longer. As soon as I realized that, aside from the discomfort of having someone's boots under my ribs and a dull ache in one of my elbows, I wasn't in any real pain, I slowly lowered my arm and looked around. Everyone was looking at me. It was Brom's feet I pinned down, so he was the only one who wasn't standing. Looking beyond them, I saw sunlight and green bushes and I heard birds singing nearby. There had been no lightning strike. I felt like such a fool.

"I'm sorry, Liam," said Durmas in his infuriatingly calm voice. "I should have warned you that we were about to go outside."

My eyes were aching in the bright light and I reached up to rub them. I didn't rub them very hard; they felt bruised. I clambered to my feet feeling like a complete idiot and noticed that both Lagge and Carm had bloody noses. They must have banged their heads somehow when I knocked them down. "Are you guys okay?" I asked.

"We'll be alright," said Lagge. "You just swept us down. I've never seen anything like that before. You really are magic."

"The light was so bright; I thought we had been struck by lightning." It was true, but out loud, it sounded lame to me.

Durmas just frowned and pulled me to walk closer to him as we headed out of the small valley. What Lagge had said bothered me. I'd pushed them down. I wanted to save them - and myself. So why did Lagge sound so awed that I'd done it? It didn't have anything to do with magic.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chapter 3 - REVELATIONS

I woke up gasping and struggling to open my eyes. A few moments later, there was a hand on my forehead, which made me flinch. "You're waking early," a soothing voice said. "Relax, don't fight it so hard."

I felt wool blankets over me and a pillow under my head, but I wanted to feel if the knife was still there. It wasn't. All I felt there was my racing heart and clammy skin: I couldn't even feel a scar or stitches - nothing buy my smooth skin.

I was still having problems opening my eyes, but my heart was slowing down and I was catching my breath again. I was drifting off to sleep before I realized that the face hovering over me belonged to a man I had never seen before, and behind it, was something blue.

Shortly before I woke again I remembered that his eyes were hugely dialed, and that his face glowed strangely in the blue light. I sat up abruptly, once again feeling where the knife had frozen its way into me. The blue light was gone, though I had no problem seeing my changed surroundings.

"You're awake," said a voice.

I looked up to find another man standing in the doorway of the chamber I was in. I was sitting in a bed near the center of a small cavern, and the man who had spoken was standing in its only entrance, a half-round aperture in the wall at the foot of my bed. "I must be having a bad dream."

The man smiled. "You're not dreaming. Come; I'm sure you must be hungry and we need to talk."

Reluctantly I got out of bed. Someone had dressed me in a sleeveless white gown that hung down to the floor. It was comfortable in a scratchy wool sort of way, but it was slit down to my navel in front and up almost to my waist on the sides. Needless to say, it left me feeling slightly under-dressed. I looked around for my other clothes, but the only thing in this room was the bed I had just quit. I shrugged and went into the next chamber. There was no other choice.

Sitting at a rough-hewn wooden table were four men. They were all adults, their bulk reminded me that my oversized friends were only kids. One had long hair that looked to have gone white long ago, and yet he didn't look decrepit. The other three were substantially younger, though they all showed some gray in their hair.

"Join us," said the white-haired man with a calm voice and a graceful wave of his hand toward an empty spot on the bench.

As soon as I was settled, I discovered a bowl full of stew in front of me. I could have sworn there had been nothing on the table a moment ago. Before I allowed myself to touch the food my stomach was screaming for, I asked, "Where are my friends?"

"You just eat. We'll explain everything when you're finished," said the man at my elbow.

I looked around at them, but it seemed as though they weren't going to start anything until I started to eat. In fact, they didn't say a thing until I was almost half way through my second bowl, which was also handed over from somewhere I hadn't seen. As soon as the first spoonful passed my lips, I had little attention for anything else.

When I began to slow from a starved gobble to something more polite, the white-haired man spoke. "Your friends are waiting for you in the outer chamber." He spoke as if no time had passed at all. "They have been waiting for you for four days now, and they were prepared to wait for several more. You're up early; most that come here don't wake for eight or more days, and some don't wake for weeks.

"My name is Durmas, sitting beside you is Tsan, on your other side is Larak and across from you is Oskan. They will be your teachers. I will teach you too, but mostly I will be your adviser."

Each man nodded his head in acknowledgment of his name; it was all I could do to put my spoon down during the introduction, I was starving.

"Tsan will teach you the sword as well as an assortment of other bladed weapons," continued the man who called himself Durmas. "Larak will teach you the bow and staff, and Oskan will teach you all he knows about hunting. They all will be teaching you how to control your magic.

Magic? Now that put my spoon down. "Magic?" I said aloud. "I don't know any magic."

"No, you do not know any magic, but you do have magic," said Durmas. "You may well have more magic than has been seen here in many generations."

If I had had this conversation the other day in the village, I would have been thrilled, but I was still recovering from the fact that someone had rammed a large knife into me. I wanted to go home. I wanted to immerse myself in something familiar, something...safe. Throwing my pride to the wind, I said, "That's all very interesting, but I just want to go home."

Durmas frowned, but it looked like he hadn't really expected me to say anything else. "It would be foolish of you to leave here now. You have been referred to us by several of the people in the village."

"You can't keep me here," I said. Fear was clenching my stomach and threatening the stability of my meal.

"No, we can't keep you here, but you must understand that, right now, you are a very magical creature. You must learn to control it."

I found myself on my feet and away from the table. My hand was over my roiling stomach, right over the place where that glowing knife had rested. "What did you do to me?"

"We awakened your magic. More than half the adults in the village have some magic and they could feel the strength of your own untapped capacity. They spoke to us about it."

I was angry now. "So you lured me out here and shoved a knife into me. I suppose, if you had been wrong, I would be dead right now. Why should I trust you?"

Durmas spoke patiently. "No, you would not have died. The knife would never have touched you. If your magic had not been strong enough, It never would have existed."

I didn't know what to say about that. "I still want to go home. My parents must be frantic."

"I'm sure your parents have long since been informed of these events, but you are a stranger to our land." Durmas rose from the table with a patient sigh. "I will go with you. Perhaps I can explain things to your parents a little better than the village elders have."

"You don't need to go with me. I know the way." I said. I wasn't too sure I wanted to see these men ever again. I expected mother would have us packed up and down to the spaceport in the blink of an eye.

"Someone needs to be around to control what you cannot."

What was he saying? "Are you telling me that I'm some kind of time bomb?"

Durmas wrinkled his brow in confusion. "I don't know what a 'time bomb' is, but you are dangerous and you are stressed. Telling you to be careful would be like telling a beam of sunlight to be careful and not burn your fair skin."

Reflexively I looked down at my bare arm; being a redhead had its drawbacks. I had yet to endure the summer without at least one sunburn, and more often than not. many.

"Come on," said Durmas patiently. "Go back to your bedchamber and dress, then I'll take you home."

I looked down at what I wore: it definitely wasn't suitable for any sort of travel, not mentioning the fact that I had no shoes. Not that I was concerned about going barefoot, but on one traveled far without shoes unless they had no choice. It was too rocky.

When I looked up again, the chamber was empty, only the table was left. I shook my head. Magic, pah. I went back into the chamber where I had been sleeping and found my bed neatly made. Folded on it, were some clothes. Some of them were my clothes, but not much. I found my underwear and my socks, but the rest was made of heavy leather. There were built-in pads covering my thighs and shins, and there were buckles to tighten it all down. After I put my socks on and then buckled on the boots - my tennis shoes were nowhere to be found - I buckled up all the buckles on my pants. This all felt very strange.

Next I pulled on a homespun cotton shirt, and then over that, the leather shirt that matched the pants. The front was tow layers thick. The left side of the shirt lay across my chest first and tied in place under my right arm on the inside. The other side lay over that and buckled under my left arm and at my shoulder. By the time I was finished buckling my sleeves down, I felt like a football player, though I've never played. I felt like I should be putting on a helmet, but there was none to be found, so I left. It felt strange walking in this heavy leather get-up, but the leather was soft and flexible and it was comfortable, so I wasn't about to complain.

Chapter 2 - THE MEETING

We'd terrorized the village for three years without anyone letting on that I was different, other than my size that is, so I thought nothing of it when one night, I woke up Lagge's hand over my mouth; he had climbed in through my window.

"Sshh," he whispered. "Come on, we want you to meet someone."

I was confused, but I dressed hurriedly and followed him back out my window. Brom and Carm were waiting just outside the yard, and when we joined them, we all took off across country. As soon as we were safely out of hearing, I asked, "Who are we going to see?"

Lagge only shook his head and led on.

We didn't follow any road or path I knew. After three years in the company of my friends, I thought I knew the area pretty well, but I
d never been this far from the village, Not in this direction anyway. I suppose that was another difference between them and us. They almost never went very far from home; there was no call to.

A few hours later, we came to a small, sharp valley at the foot of a granite cliff By the light of the moons, I could make out that this was only the first of many steps that told of the mountain range beyond. My friends obviously knew where they were going, but in the predawn darkness, it took me a few minutes, and the covering of another hundred yards, for me to stop the entrance to a cave hidden in the brush at the foot of the cliff.

I groped my way in with my friends until I stumbled over a litter of stones in the middle of the floor.

Lagge pushed me down to sit on the floor. "Sit down," he said. "We'll light a fire."

I could hear them scrabbling around near by. "Can you see in here?" I asked as soon as one of them came back.

"Yeah," said Carm's voice. "Not well though. We'll have a fire going in a minute."

I waited, and a few moments later, a small campfire was burning in the middle of a circle of stones, pushing back the darkness. As the glow lit up my friends' faces, the first thing I noticed was that their eyes were hugely dilated; they really could see better in the dark. I seemed to remember my mother saying something on the subject, but it made their faces look strange to me.

They had barely settled down around the fire when they jumped up again, looking off into the darkness behind me. I jumped up too, but I didn't get the opportunity to turn around before hands were gripping me. My arms were pinioned behind me by one huge fist and a big beefy hand was across my mouth. I felt as though a straight jacket couldn't have held me as tightly as these hands from out of the darkness did. It was the first time since I came here that I actually felt small.

I struggled, but I could scarcely move. As I tried to kick, I watched my friends, pleading for their help with my eyes, since I couldn't utter a sound. They weren't interfering, but they looked frightened just the same. Perhaps they were just stunned, because they did eventually move forward, but it was too late. Their hands had barely begun to reach for the ones holding me when they were shouldered aside and there was this horrendous burning stab of ice sliding into my heart.

In utter stunned confusion, I gasped for the power to breathe. Before I could manage my first breath, an orb suddenly appeared, suspended behind my three friends, in the center of the large chamber that was now revealed in its soft blue light.

It didn't hold my attention for long. My friends backed away in astonishment as I looked down in search of the cause of the cold fire in my chest. Revealed in the light from the glowing stone, was a strange crystal hilt protruding from just below my sternum. It too glowed blue and it shot a beam of blue light directly to that glowing stone. With that light, went my soul. I just had time to notice all this before the ice spreading through my veins obscured my vision completely.

I felt myself sag, and distantly, I felt the hands lifting me. They lay me out somewhere close I think. Before I faded completely, I thought I heard someone ask, "You don't think it was a mistake asking the boys to bring him here, do you?" I don't know who said that or what the answer was. I didn't know anything else at all for a while.

Chapter 1 - FRIENDS

My parents came to Planet 663-457 when I was twelve and we moved into a house built especially for us about a quarter mile from the edge of the village. The house had to be specially built because the natives are roughly twice the size of us. They weren't twice as tall, just really big; living in one if their homes would be just weird.

We came here because my parents are scientists and so they could study the local people and their society like you might study an interesting bug under a microscope; another reason our house was a quarter mile from the village. The things they learned were the topic of conversation every evening over the supper table. You'd think I might have learned something, but it was all very boring and I thought the whole thing was rather rude. Of course, everything is either boring or rude at twelve, I guess.

I thought life at the village wasn't all that much different from anywhere else in the empire. Aside from the fact that it was a small country village rather than a city, and the fact that there was no electricity, the people ate three meals a day, the men wore pants and the women wore dresses. There was a fair assortment of shops. Men tended either crops or some sort of stock if not both. Women learned to spin, weave and make all their own clothes as well as cook and preserve all their food. The biggest difference was that there was nothing like a local school, so I did my schooling at home, but as soon as I got my lessons done, I could go out and hang with my friends.

There were four of us. The other three were locals and they were all taller than I was by at least a foot and a half, but we were best friends so the size difference wasn't so noticeable to us.

We met shortly after I moved here. They had ganged up on me because I was so small, but after I broke Brom's nose and one of Carm's fingers, and then kicked Lagge in the family jewels, as soon as they could, they started laughing. Tears were streaming down Brom's face and Carm was doing a little dance while wringing his broken hand, but they were still laughing. I was so surprised I forgot to run. Lagge pulled himself to his feet and leaned on my shoulder, then we all made our way to the old healer woman so she could set Carm's finger and Brom's nose.

Every day after that, as soon as one of us finished our chores (I had to finish my lessons), we'd seek out one of the others and help until the four of us were free of our daily responsibilities. At suppertime, the four of us could be found at any one of their houses. They came to my house too, but my place made them feel uncomfortable. We had electricity and mom cooked on a gas stove, but the biggest thing was that the house was just so small to them.

MY THANKS TO:

I'd like to thank my 2005 co-workers at Riversong Lodge, Inc., Steven Jimenez, April Cooper and Annie Lawson for patiently being my sounding boards and helping me come up with a way to deal with a complicated emotional problem. I also want to thank my boss, Robin Dewar for her patience as she listened to me telling this tale. I hope it comes out much better on paper.