Echoes and Consequences: Part Five

Submitted by C B Wright on
Elsewhere, Again

Only a tiny sliver of light remains in the sky—the last vestige of sun seeping in through a tiny crack at the very edge of the horizon—and the shadow cast across David’s dreamscape is so deep it almost has weight. Something is pressing down, all around him, and he’s sure it’s more than the wind.

David tries once again to change the nature of the dream. He stares up at the ever-darkening sky, then holds out his hand, palm up, trying to imagine a tiny ball of light.

Such a small thing. Such a simple, small thing. I should be able to do this.

Nothing.

The smell of the ocean grows stronger. He staggers back as the wind rises, shivers as it turns icy cold. Lightning flashes again—much closer now, and in the brief flicker of light he sees why he can smell the ocean so strongly—the setting has changed. The old, cracked floor of the dojo remains, but he’s no longer standing on an endless grassy plain—he stands atop a small hill on an island, surrounded by churning, angry waters. Another gust of wind carries with it a mix of rain and salty ocean spray. It makes his beard itch.

The last sliver of natural light finally dies altogether. As if celebrating its victory, lightning pours forth from the sky in sheets of white light. For a moment the entire sky is nothing but pure-white, blinding light, and the air is filled with the sharp smell of ozone. Everywhere but the hill on which he stands.

Too much light. Too much sound. This can’t be real, can it?

Can it?

Very slowly he raises his left hand, pinching his nose, closing off his nostrils. He tries to inhale. He can’t, of course—but when he’s dreaming, he can. It’s one of his tests. He’s not dreaming, then.

“That’s not possible.” It’s the first time he’s spoken aloud, and his voice sounds thin and weak as it struggles to compete with the storm. He has to be dreaming. The dojo doesn’t exist anywhere except in his mind. He invented it specifically for a dream, a dream where he was trying to learn to—

Think about what you said when you were performing your ritual. You didn’t define it as “memory.” You defined it as power.

The memory comes so suddenly that he can almost hear Artemis saying it.

It affected you, and your body is adapting to it the same way a metahuman adapts to the manifestation of his or her gifts.

He remembers the boat—the sinking boat—and Artemis peering over him, taking his pulse, shining a bright light in his eyes and muttering.

You’re cocooning.

Thunder crashes over the hill, and the ground shakes. Lightning flashes again—not the entire sky this time, but the bolt strikes at the beach a short distance from the dojo on the hill, turning the sand to glass.

David takes a deep, steadying breath and pushes away the fury of the storm around him as he tries to think. He finds himself wishing he’d paid more attention to the lectures he’d attended on the cocooning process—it was part of his training when he was in the Sky Commando program, but it never seemed relevant at the time.

Cocooning is what happens to metahumans when they first manifest—the body slips into a coma in order to recalibrate. Is that what’s happening now?

Four separate lightning strikes hit each corner of the dojo floor. Stone cracks, splinters, and flies into the air. Whatever’s happening, David has to figure it out soon.

Think. His body is cocooning, so he is effectively in a coma. Do coma patients dream? He doesn’t know, but this isn’t a dream in the traditional sense, because he can’t control it.

Lightning strikes again, a single bolt this time, a little farther up the dojo floor.

Think. He can’t control it, so it isn’t a dream, and he’s been able to consistently lucid dream since his days in the military. Except, he suddenly remembers, during the time he was recovering from his concussion. The concussion threw everything out of whack, and he couldn’t focus the way he needed to in order to get the process started.

Two more bolts, from opposite ends, creeping further up the floor.

“Couldn’t focus,” David mutters. “That feels familiar…”

Could that be what’s happening here? His body is changing in response to something he did—he claimed someone else’s memories as his own, and in the process may have claimed more than just memory.

Lightning strikes again, from three directions this time—and the strikes are now halfway up the dojo. David tries not to flinch. Despite the freezing rain, he’s sweating profusely. He doesn’t know if it’s the lightning or if it’s just all in his head, but he feels uncomfortably warm.

Maybe this is a dream. Maybe he’s dreaming but the cocooning process is impeding his ability to lucid dream, for roughly the same reasons the concussion did. With the concussion, his brain was damaged and trying to recover. With cocooning… well, his brain is adjusting to something different. That may be requiring too much attention to give him the focus he needs right now.

Four forks of lightning strike the dojo floor, but they don’t stop—what should be a brief flash of destructive force remains as four columns of blue-white heat, looking like the discharge from a massive tesla ball somewhere beyond the clouds. He pushes back the terror and tries to focus on the problem. The strands advance on him, one from each side, making concentration difficult. He tries harder.

Maybe it isn’t a dream. The spell that kept the island of Esperanza locked in the last 24 hours of its existence drew him out of his dream and cast him—or, at least, a piece of his consciousness—into its own. Magic doesn’t understand dreaming, so it couldn’t do what it wanted, but it managed to do something. Maybe that’s happening here. He absorbed the memories of a μάγος—he blinks rapidly as he sees the symbols in his mind and realizes that he has no idea what they are, but he thinks briefly of Artigenian and feels that somehow they are correct—but he absorbed more. He has to acknowledge that, now: he also absorbed the power that bound those memories to Artemis’ flesh.

That power is stirring.

The streams of lightning inch ever closer. The heat is becoming difficult to bear. Something inside him, a black, oily rage, is struggling to get out.

I absorbed part of Artigenian’s power. And that power is a living thi LoOSe ME mAsHEuDh aNd I WiLL SAvE uS

His thoughts change so abruptly in content and tone that it takes a moment to realize what happened: he didn’t think it at all. Someone else—something else—thought it through him.

“What?”

LoOSe ME mAsHEuDh aNd I WiLL SavE uS tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

As if on cue, the columns of lightning inch closer.

“Who are you?” David looks around wildly, trying to find the source of the voice. There’s nothing there but the storm, the scarred dojo floor, and columns of liquid fire falling from the sky.

I aM YoUR pOWeR

“My…” Despite everything, David shakes his head in disbelief.

LoOSe ME mAsHEuDh aNd I WiLL SavE uS tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

My power… The oily rage surges again, as if responding to the thought.

ThERe aRE wORdS mAsHEuDh lET mE sPEaK tHEm

There are words? David’s eyes widen.

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

“There are words.” It’s what he said to Artemis when he tried to explain what it was like having Artigenian’s thoughts in his mind. Every memory the man had of Artemis was there… which included every lesson. Artemis had been an able student, and their lessons were extensive.

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

Artemis had described the relationship between someone wielding magic and the magic they wielded as being symbiotic. Some of that magic now resides in David, inadvertently absorbed in a ritual of his own devising, and he is now having a conversation, of sorts, with it.

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

tHe FirE iS COMiNg anD WE WiLL BuRN

“Be quiet!”

The lightning hasn’t reached him yet, but his skin is starting to blister. He remembers reading an article that claimed the heat generated in a lightning bolt exceeds the surface temperature of the sun. He doesn’t know that he believes it—he can’t imagine it being true without tearing the world apart—but the heat is excruciating. The power in him, whatever it is, grows urgent.

masHEuDh

The word connects with something in Artigenian’s memories, but he doesn’t have the luxury of chasing it down at the moment. What’s important to him is the context: the power uses it with a mixture of deference and supplication that feels overwhelmingly insincere. He knows that tone well. He used it more than a few times—and was disciplined for it every single time—when he was in the Army. It is the tone of someone who recognizes rank, doesn’t respect the person holding it, and believes the person is too stupid to catch on.

LeT mE SavE uS

Something is wrong. Artemis had to learn to wield magic. Artigenian had to learn to wield magic. The symbiote, or whatever it was, grew within them as they learned. He appears to have a… thing that is much more developed than it should be.

masHEuDh

It claims to have the knowledge to save him—to save them, David supposes, since if it truly does exist symbiotically then it will likely share his fate. Perhaps that’s the way out of this trap: perhaps he should let it speak the words it claims to know to rescue them both.

Or perhaps that’s the actual trap.

With a sudden yell David runs toward one of the blue-white pillars of fire. The thing inside him screams in rage and frustration, his skin feels as if it’s bursting into flame, but he doesn’t stop. He hears himself screaming—the sound is so feral he is only barely conscious of it being his own voice—but he doesn’t stop. He forces himself forward, and forward, and when he can take it no longer he leaps so that he can do nothing but cross the distance and enter into the unyielding arc of fire.

The thing screams. The world is full of light, then darkness, then light.

He collapses on the cracked stone floor of an open dojo in the middle of an endless grassy plain. A warm wind blows, carrying with it the smell of dry soil. The sky is clear and blue, and the sun shines hot on his face and neck. David climbs to his feet, self-consciously dusting off his legs as he stands.

There is no rain. There is no lightning. There is no smell of the ocean. There isn’t a cloud in the sky.

David sighs in relief, closing his eyes, taking a moment to appreciate the scent of warm soil.

The power within him no longer speaks. It withdraws, retreating from David’s awareness until it is nothing more than a vague, oily shadow lurking underneath his thoughts. If David didn’t know better he would swear it was sulking.

“Called your bluff,” he says.

The power stirs slightly, and David feels the slightest hint of agitation, frustration, anger. Then it settles once again.

David looks around the open dojo. Once he’d used it to learn—perhaps it could serve that purpose again. His body is trying to adjust to whatever happened to him on the island, but it’s clear that what happened to him was not primarily physical. He would need to take advantage of the time to do a little research of his own.

He sighs, walks back to the center of the dojo floor, and sits down. There, tucked away in his thoughts, are Artigenian’s memories: a Pandora’s box of unpleasant knowledge that is connected to this new dark power coiled around his soul. He grits his teeth, narrows his eyes, and reaches for the first memory.

“Show me the horrors of your world, Artigenian. Let the lessons begin.”

Comments

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IMO:

IMO:

The whole "magic users can't talk about magic" problem struck me as more important to the story than to the world - it was very convenient that there was a solid reason to keep some aspects of the story quiet until they had to be revealed. I realize you may have developed that mechanic as part of the system, with the help it provides in writing to be secondary, but it does appear to have been quite helpful in plot hiding/revelation.

In contrast, the idea of magic as a symbiote, with the attendant problems that happen when a new magic user somehow inherits a more powerful symbiote, is quite interesting and presents a fairly unique world mechanic that doesn't appear to be there to help the story along. I like this.

On a different note, it is good for the local universe that magic apparently isn't a good manipulator. "Let me out or we die" is somewhat of a brute force tactic, and David can apparently read some of its emotions/thinking, so he can be on guard against blatant attempts like this. Perhaps David can end up being a "good" magic user in some sense.

Magnificent - well worth the

Magnificent - well worth the wait!
Shades of Smeagol/Gollum or should that be Golem?
Slight error after David runs into the lightning -- 'David climbs to his feat, self-consciously dusting off his legs as he stands.', should be 'feet'.

Unmarked, the effect of magic

Unmaker, the effect of magic-as-plot-constraint was more of a happy accident than anything. I'd assumed that the people in the know in Farraday City were bound to silence through magic in some way but hadn't settled on how. Then in issue 13 I had the thin man explain why monologuing (as in "now before you die I shall reveal my secret plan!") was actually tied to an ancient ritual of power and when he and CB met for the first time I wanted him to do something like that again - explain why an apparently silly aspect of a trope wasn't as silly as it appeared. I chose the "mysterious wizard only speaks in riddles instead of just telling you what to do" trope and when I came up with the explanation I thought "huh - that actually fits really well!"

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

The capitalization pattern

The capitalization pattern for the magic's "voice" is nearly, but not quite, consistent. I noticed "SAvE" vs. "SavE", and "ME" vs. "mE". Did you mean this to be consistent throughout?

Out of curiosity, is "masheudh" a word you made up for this story? Google doesn't know anything about it -- but you also use "μάγος" in a similar context, and μάγος is a real word, so I wasn't sure.

It's real according to Google

It's real according to Google translate, but it's a transliteration of an Arabic word so if you type it in you won't get anything, since the actual word is spelled in Arabic script...

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Er, I meant "transcription,"

Er, I meant "transcription," not "transliteration."

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

I'm fairly sure I've read the

I'm fairly sure I've read the word (or something very, very similar) in a Arabic context before, but I can't remember what or where. It's driving me batty.