Chapter 5: Quantum Levels
I gestured for Apprentice Hylia to come out onto the ledge. She stretched out with dainty feet, looking like those spindly AI-driven spacemonkeys that clamber around the front of maintenance ports on large carriers. They have that oddly-satisfied but scared-to-death look and feel that makes watching them endlessly interesting to the bored mind.
But still, it’s largely unethical to treat humans the same way so I help her a little by providing her with some support. She takes my hand with a little hesitation and then comes out on the ledge with me.
“What are we doing here?” Hylia asked in a near whisper, looking like she regretted coming out in the first place. That girl didn’t have much confidence in me, considering she specifically asked me to help her.
“We’re going to a secluded area in the forest to practice. We can’t do it without interference in the daytime and if something goes wrong it won’t affect the mansion. I don’t want to burn down my own home, you know?”
There was a shadow moving along the grass there. I relaxed slightly, recognising the figure as it approached the mansion. It was Talland, but what was the reason for him stepping out in the first place?
As the grounds became clear, I decided to file the discrepancy in the back of my mind. Now was not the time for investigation. Besides, there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t learned much about this alien land, but I was dying for a little experience of freedom. It was time to explore.
“Okay, hold on, I’m going to use some magic to get us down there. Spread your arms and legs and grab onto my shirt.”
“Here we go.”
She let out a muffled yelp as a strong gust blew at us from underneath. Our clothes whipped and billowed as I controlled the force of the gale so that a column of air cushioned us from all sides. This was a lot harder and a lot louder than I thought it would be, similar to the rushing wind of skydiving, but about five times as noisy.
We landed clumsily in the middle of the lawn, but Hylia had my shirt in a death-grip and I gently pried away her fingers.
“What in the world was that?” She almost shrieked at me.
I chuckled apologetically. “Wind, but stronger.”
“Wind that strong is way past an Apprentice-level!”
“Yes!” Hylia snapped in a whisper, remembering just barely that we were sneaking out. “I’ve never heard of wind magic being used like this!”
The forest wasn’t dead quiet like I imagined. There were sounds of animals rustling in the bushes and screeches, chattering and insects chirping in the background. Hylia didn’t look comfortable, but she hugged herself and soldiered on.
“W-We’re not going too deep into the forest, are we?” Her voice carried a suppressed shivering as she stepped out. The girl grabbed her cloak, but it looked like she could still feel the cold.
“No,” I replied, “we’re just going to scout around a bit for… oh here.”
There was a small clearing up ahead. From the mansion you could barely see the patch of grass from my window, but it looks like I was right, a small clearing was in the forest.
“Okay, now, show me your magic.”
Again, Hylia started chanting, but I stopped her immediately.
“Okay, okay—” I took a deep breath, then dived right into it “—do you understand what magic is?”
“Magic is the ability to tap into the Centre—”
I held up a hand to stop her mocking tone that mimicked my previous book recital.
“No, I’m not talking about the mechanics of doing magic, but what magic really is.”
Hylia’s eyebrows drew together as she parsed what I was trying to say. “Are you talking about what magic is composed of or how magic works?”
“Both.” I pointed around us. “This is the natural world. We live in it and are a part of it. In order to understand the mechanisms behind the world, The Truth, we have to study it.”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t be studying how to cast spells, but the spells themselves?”
“Exactly. How do you make fire without magic?”
Hylia frowned once again. “How is this relevant?”
I sighed. “Just humour me and answer the question, you told me you would follow my teaching methods.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t question them.”
I smiled, surprising her. “Good, always question, that’s the first step to understanding the world around us. Now, just for the sake of it, answer my question or we won’t be getting anywhere.”
“Well… from what I’ve seen I guess they strike rocks together to make a spark?”
“Just some rocks?”
Hylia reddened at my ridiculing tone. “I mean special rocks, I can’t remember the name right now, okay?”
“Flintstones generate a spark easily when you strike them together or use iron. These sparks will land on tinder and then the tinder is blown to provide air flow that allows the tinder to catch alight, then when there’s a critical amount of heat, the whole thing bursts into flame.”
Hylia shrugged, unimpressed. “Yeah, so?”
Patiently, I summoned a flame around my palm. “Look at this flame. You can feel the heat, but nothing is burning, why?”
“Because it’s magic.”
I gestured with the flame. “But is that really why? We just established a fire needs something to start it and something to keep it going. What is powering this flame?”
“Well… your Centre is powering it?”
I dismissed the flame as I raised an eyebrow. “So there’s fuel, but I wonder where it comes from?”
I gestured around. “Where’s the Centre? Yourself? The Universe? The world around you? What exactly do you mean by the Centre when you talk about it?”
“I-It’s the big source inside of us that we can tap into to get power for spells!” Hylia took a step back at my passionate speech. “I don’t get what you’re trying to say.”
“I’m trying to point out that it might be possible to power spells without tapping into the Centre. If you decouple the Centre from the spells, then effectively you could power spells without using your own strength, wouldn’t that be great?”
Hylia’s expression cleared as it dawned on her what the implications were. “But… what does that mean?”
“What does that mean indeed? We just have to find out what sort of ‘fuel’ spells require and then try to manipulate it. Just like starting a fire requires wood, magic must require some sort of energy or source to get going. Plus… why stop there? Flintstones are one way to light a fire, but how about rubbing wood together to create it through friction? How about concentrating light so that the photons impart their energy? How about using high voltage electricity to kick start it instead? There are many ways to cast a spell, why just rely on chants or arias? Maybe chanting or arias don’t cause the spell to come to fruition, something else does. That’s what I’m getting at.”
Hylia stared at me with wide eyes.
“You just started talking with weird sounds.”
Oops, looks like I started talking in Galactic Common. “Don’t worry about that, just think, the amazing possibilities if you break down the essence of magic.”
Hylia shook her head. “What are you talking about?”
I mentally reproached myself for getting excited. “Well, never mind. What I’m saying is that chants and arias are probably not the only way to cast a spell. It’s merely a process that helps you cast a spell. It orders your thoughts so that you can better visualise the outcome and draw on your power. Think of it like a crutch for walking, but wouldn’t it be easier to do it yourself if you’re strong enough?”
Hylia nodded with a clearer expression. “I see!” She frowned. “But why are you telling me all this? You don’t need to go this far to help me when all I’m asking you is to learn a spell.”
I shrugged. “Knowledge should be shared. You’re not a bad person, just a little ignorant. Someone once said that you should assume people are speaking from ignorance rather than malicious intent. That said, rationality is your friend. Don’t believe everything you learn and be open to all sources of information, big or small. Besides, if you learn this, you don’t have to rely on specific spells.”
Hylia glanced at her hands. “Umm…”
“Also, it’s going to be hard to break your reliance on arias or chants to help you cast magic, so it’s going to take you a long time to master it. Concentrate on shortening your chants and try to separate the spell from the intent.”
“The spell from the intent?”
“Yeah, look.” I summoned the flame again. This time is separated into three parts. I played around with the three orbs and then dismissed it again.
Hylia stared wide-eye. “How did you do that? What spell did you use?! I’ve never seen that before!”
I smiled thinly. “What do you mean? It’s the same spell as before.”
“B-But the spell you cast before what just to summon a flame, not three flames that can be individually controlled, that’s another spell!”
“It’s the same spell. Think on it.”
Frustrated, Hylia frowned at me. “What do you mean? That doesn’t make sense.”
“You will have to figure that out yourself.” I sighed. “That is part of learning.”
Hylia considered what I said briefly, then with a serious nod, she finally acceded.
“Yes… thank you.”
I hid my surprise. This was probably the first time she had thanked me.
The next few weeks went by like this. Hylia tried really hard to separate the spell from the chant, but was unable to do it, so she settled on shortening the chant itself. Her flames built up in strength, but she was unable to summon another type of flame or split it like how I did no matter how hard she tried.
“I don’t get it, why isn’t it working?”
“You have to break away from your preconceptions.”
Hylia glared at me, her frustration breaking through. Though she didn’t outrightly criticise me, her demeanour suggested that she was fast losing respect for me or my teaching methods. I’ve seen this in students that I had taken on board before. Those who stuck through with my teaching methods ultimately gained a greater understanding, but there were those who, frustrated at the plateau in their growth, decided to seek instructions elsewhere that would get them to their short-term goals the fastest.
I’ll admit, some were successful in doing so, but personally, I believe that nothing beats hard work and planning for the future. Self-restraint is a good thing. An ancient human psychology study confirmed that children with the highest self-restraint were more successful in the long term. They did this by placing some treats in front of them and told them they would receive more if they could wait five minutes.
All the children in the study were tracked until they were adults. Those who adhered to the time limit and waited for the promised extra treats were generally more successful than those who weren’t. Of course, humanity has exceptions, but you have to adapt to circumstances. Right now, Hylia wasn’t doing either, so we were stuck with her growing impatience and her own strengthening conviction that I wasn’t helping her.
“Why don’t you teach me another spell? I can learn to stop chanting later.”
I stared at her for a moment, then shook my head. “If you do that, you’ll destroy all the progress you’ve made so far.”
“What progress? I haven’t been able to do anything other than shorten my chant, I keep trying to do it, but nothing comes out!”
“That’s because you keep going back to the chant to reinforce your perception that spells rely on them,” I replied, closing my book with a gentle gesture. “It’s the opposite. You rely on them to produce spells, when in fact there is no need.”
Hylia stomped her foot. “I can’t get anywhere with this!”
“Calm down, I know it’s hard, but if you—”
“Teach me a spell now!”
“No, you will have to learn the basics—”
“This won’t work out, why can’t you teach me one spell?”
“If you won’t, then I will find one myself!”
I shook my head. “If you wish.” Then I went back to reading.
Hylia stared at me in mute astonishment, like she was expecting me to say more, then huffed and stormed out.
From then, we stopped doing evening jaunts together, although I kept it up alone. The clearing was regularly lit by my exercises of magic and I would return back home exhausted, having used every ounce of my fortitude to try and take control of my Centre. Magic power, it seemed, was limited to some sort of mental stamina that affected my body simultaneously. At this rate, my body needed to keep up with my mind, and though it was almost sleepless torture, I exercised during the day when my attendants weren’t looking.
Of course, during the times Hylia and I were ‘teaching’, we ignored each other, which was fine by me.
“Rael… he doesn’t seem very lively today…” Lilanthe and Dias were back from a journey to the kingdom’s capital. Apparently, there was an urgent summons from the king and though it was evidently very important, they were equally tight-lipped about it. Though they were discussing me at one end of the room in low voices. I kept reading, although I slowed down to keep an ear on what they were saying.
Dias was also slightly concerned, but hid it behind some manly stoicism. “I’m sure he’s fine, but… let’s put off sword training for another year, I’ve heard there was a sickness spreading to nearby villages.”
Lilanthe scooped me up and lightly placed a hand on my forehead. “He doesn’t seem to have a fever, but he does seem tired. He barely reads his books anymore and spends a lot of time sleeping…”
That’s because I’ve been sneaking out and learning magic and training my body while you weren’t looking. Also, ‘barely reading’ is like decreasing from ten books a day to about five, I just read half of them at night, that’s all.
“You don’t think it’s the wasting disease, do you?” Lilanthe continued unsteadily.
Dias rounded on Lilanthe with a frantic expression.
“No!” he yelled.
“Dias! You’re scaring Rael.”
More like I was frowning in thought, mother, so don’t worry. What was the wasting disease?
Dias lowered his voice as he glanced at me. “No, we can’t say that for certain. We should bring a doctor over.”
I shouldn’t really exhaust myself like this, so I guess it probably would have been better if I had waited until my ‘sword training’ began. The people here really did use swords and daggers, which was ancient technology. Back in my old life, we had reciprocating blades, which were a series of dull interlocking edges that vibrated back and forth at high frequencies to replicate a fine cut.
They were a lot safer than knives because they adjusted their frequency dependent on the ‘yield tension’ of the object. For example, hard materials like plaster needed high frequency but low tension, it was breaking more than cutting, whereas for softer materials like meat, it was the inverse. At rest, the blades themselves were dull enough to hold and didn’t require honing except for disposable cartridges.
But I’m sidetracking myself. Right now, I needed to do something to distract them. I immediately perked myself up.
“I’m okay, don’t worry, mother and father.”
They shared a look.
“Oh, Rael,” Lilanthe crooned as she picked me up. “No need to worry, Mommy and Daddy will take care of it, okay?”
They misinterpreted my assurance as a lack of assurance on my part. Well, at least I tried.
“Okay,” I replied meekly, I didn’t have much choice.
The doctor came for the second time. I think she was starting to get annoyed because she was somewhat impatient when we met.
She told the parents to clear the room as she examined me.
“Healthy complexion, heartbeat strong, fit body… have you done sword training little fella?”
I smiled and neither confirmed or denied it.
It’s not like I wanted to mislead the doctor, it would just raise a lot of questions if I didn’t respond or acknowledge her. Also, how would I explain to her I did training while my parents weren’t looking?
Despite that, I couldn’t think of anything better, so they found out anyway.
“Sword training?” Dias frowned. “We haven’t started that yet at all. Why do you ask? Is he alright?”
Lilanthe didn’t say anything but she wrung her hands together, trying desperately to prevent herself from mothering me like I was a crystal vase that would shatter if she touched me. She kept sending me worried glances and I thought she was going to die an early death if she kept this sort of high-anxiety mongering going.
The doctor’s eyebrows drew together. “I’ve examined the boy and he is fine, but his build is exceptionally toned for someone his age. He eats well and looks lively and apart from not talking too much, he is the epitome of good health. I can’t find any fault.”
“Then…” my father started, but the doctor interjected.
“Since he hasn’t had any sword training he must have been doing some of his own, haven’t you?”
The last part was directly astutely towards me and for good measure I hung my head.
“Rael, is this true?” Dias asked of me.
Sorry for neglecting to update this for a while. I've had a lot on my plate recently! Anyway, leave comments, whatever you think sohould be improved and I'll hasten to get on it. Alternatively, if there's anything you like, let me know!