Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 23

Education continues

Again, this chapter is a bit rushed. Ideally, the magic lessons would be shown rather than summarized. As it is, however, this chapter does hang a few metaphorical guns on the wall for future chapters, including some that haven’t been written yet.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 23

The ceremony went smoothly, with no surprises. Edna became the oldest student at the school, and we went about our lessons with reasonable diligence. I found it easy to master new spells, and I was particularly good at managing weather conditions when we went out sailing and when Betsy and I were coaching the novice class. The school had reinforced its protections after the incident at the races, and my growing powers of repulsion added to the security. It was almost possible to forget the Others even existed.

My lessons continued. My skills were developing beyond Betsy’s, so she eventually returned to regular classes, while I continued to get private tutoring from the school’s best instructors in each field. Gradually, I was learning more and more powerful spells, ones that took increasing levels of skill and energy. One of the most dangerous types of spells was that of destruction – causing things to cease to exist. The energy expended in destruction increases according to the size and complexity of whatever is destroyed. I could, for instance, destroy a pencil and only feel a momentary tiredness. But the increase in energy consumption wasn’t directly proportional. Destroying a tree would take many thousands of times more energy than the pencil. And the destruction of some things, such as animal or human life, would take even more energy. Thus, if a wizard were to take a human life, it would take all of the wizard’s energy; in other words, it would kill him or her. So the only way, practically, for wizards to kill with magic, was to pool their strength – that way, the energy drain was divided among them. The night that the Others killed me, they had probably used many wizards working together. For a single wizard, killing someone would be suicide, and therefore to be considered only as a sacrifice to save someone else’s life – or lives.

Finally, there were the spells of creation. To create something is nearly impossible, and very few wizards in history had ever been able to do it. It also takes far more energy to create an object than to destroy it – anywhere from twice to ten times as much. The school didn’t even have an instructor who could create, so at that point I was learning on my own, with Jackson’s supervision. And, unlike other spells, creation couldn’t be accomplished by wizards pooling strength – assuming there even existed another living wizard on the planet who had the ability to create with whom I could collaborate. So there was a distinct limit on what a wizard could create. Certainly, if a wizard wanted to create life, it was easier to do it the conventional way – collaboration required, of course. My thoughts briefly flickered to Pierre, but then I quickly invoked a control on myself to keep those thoughts from becoming a security problem. I was far from perfect at control, but I was getting better at it.

After a few weeks of intensive lessons, Jackson informed me, “You have mastered all of the skills of the most powerful wizards, except for two. Those two spells are highly dangerous and could potentially destroy many people, and only a few of us are able to handle them. You’re one of those, and you must learn those two spells before you complete your training. But remember, these spells are for emergency use only.”

“I am learning control,” I said. “And believe me, I do know how dangerous magic can be. Remember, I’ve been killed once, nearly killed another time, and had my powers threatened by magical actions.”

“You have, and as you have learned, defending yourself isn’t enough. You’re going to have to defend other people as well, your loved ones, strangers, possibly even the whole world. None of the rest of us can do that, even pooling our powers and using those last two spells. You’re it.” With that, he turned and led me to the small ceremonial chamber, where he taught me X-X-Z-Y and Z-Z-Y-X, the spells that could save the world – or end it. One could defend against the most powerful spells by reflecting them back on the speller; the other could attack and overwhelm the strongest defenses.

“Isn’t that a paradox?” I asked. “It’s sort of like that question, if God is powerful enough to do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He can’t lift it?”

“Yes, it’s the old irresistible force-meets-immovable object question. We really don’t know the answer, because nobody has ever had to use either of these two spells. We don’t even know the real cost. They could well take the life of the user. That is why we need to be extra careful in handling them.”

By the time I’d been at the school nearly three months, it was time to graduate; I’d mastered everything. Each month, the school had a graduation ceremony for those who had reached their top level, so different students had different lengths of time in training. Edna and Betsy were still working on skills, so they wouldn’t be graduating yet. Instead, I was to graduate along with some students who had been there for a year or more.

The group of graduates – there were only about a half dozen of us, since many of those who would have been graduating had been killed in the incident on the race course – gathered with Jackson in the small ceremonial chamber before the ceremony. “You are about to go out into the world,” he said. “You must now choose a mission. Your skills will not solidify, and they may even turn you to the Others, if you do not first choose to serve the world.” He handed each of us a bowl of water. “Look into the water. While you have been here, many things have been happening in the world, things that you have been unaware of. Learn about them, and about the activities of the Others.”

I looked into my bowl of water, and I began to see images in it: riots in the streets of unknown cities; great famines wiping out thousands of people not because of drought, but because of human greed and folly; terrorists being trained by hateful leaders to follow blindly and destroy just for the sake of destruction; cabals plotting in fashionable drawing-rooms to bring all of these events together, under the name of communism, but really only in the name of megalomania, a need to rule the world. That was when I heard myself saying, “I want to go to France, to turn the communists.” Around me, I heard the others murmuring similar commitments, to tasks in other parts of the world.

What had made me say that? I wondered. It was a compulsion that I didn’t understand, a force driving me. Why had I chosen to go to the central heart of the Others’ operations? And if I was heading off to France, where did Pierre fit into the scheme of things?

As we left the small chamber to go to the large ceremonial hall, Pierre and Betsy were waiting in the hallway. Pierre embraced me in a strong hug and kissed me fiercely, pressing his body as tightly to mine as he could; I returned the gesture. It had been a long time that we’d been apart, not even permitted to communicate with each other, and I could feel that tension in my lower parts that longed to get intimate.

We broke apart, gasping. “At last,” Pierre said. “Tonight, you graduate; tomorrow, we join. It has been one very long wait for me.”

“Me too.” I was wondering how to tell him about the mission I was supposed to go on.

“And then we go out to save the world,” he said. Noting my startled look, he added, “Remember, I came through this school, too. Whatever your mission is, I’m with you on it. I may not be as powerful as you, but I can help. And I’m not about to let you out of my sight for another minute.”

“Oh, Pierre!” We kissed again, harder.

“Well, better get in there,” he said. “We’re holding up the ceremony.”

The graduation ceremony went much like any ordinary graduation at any school, with speeches and presentations. There was a memorial to the students who had died in the racing incident, who otherwise would probably be graduating with us. Finally, it was time for each of the graduates to take the stage for final confirmation. Before each, the graduate faced the audience and announced his or her mission, and then Jackson draped an oddly-shaped object around the shoulders of each. I realized it was the ropes and sailcloth from the enrollment ceremony, but each glowing now with magic power, each in a different color. My turn came last; I went to the lectern and announced, “I’m going to France to turn the communists.” Then Jackson conferred the ropes and sailcloth; unlike the others, which glowed all different colors, mine glowed brilliant white.

After the ceremony, as I was leaving the ceremonial hall, Pierre rushed up to me, practically overwhelming me with a big hug and kiss. “Oh, Sarah, a honeymoon in Paris! What a great idea!”

“Yeah, even if it is something of a working vacation, we can probably work in some romance.” I winked at him.

Dinner that night was a celebration banquet in the dining hall. There was roast beef and turkey, and all manner of side dishes, including, to my surprise, macaroni and cheese again. “I’m glad I like this stuff,” Pierre quipped.

“You’d better – you may be seeing a lot of it in the future!” I laughed.


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