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2: “Grey”

Grey

© Michael Eric Oberlin, October 11, 2014

The bottle had a transformative effect on the meal. Something about the ingredients loosening their tongues and their wits, morphing each of them into someone else, someone hidden. Maegon couldn’t remember the last time he had talked so much. He couldn’t quite remember what he had said, either, so at least there was a sense of balance to it.

As he came to sobriety, the first thing he noticed was the feeling of wet sand between his bare toes, the feeling of the cold ocean washing over his feet. His lock was still tied, but a bit tangled. He was at his home, his real home. His house wasn’t much to speak of, a single room shack somewhere up the beach. It was the ocean, the Grey, that brought sobriety to him.

The mists never cleared, in this world of his. They slurred starlight and sunlight into an indistinguishable half-light. Where there was no river or ocean, there were hot springs and faults, the planet’s inner heat forever belching out refined vapor. It drifted out over the ocean, into the unknown, forming an intangible barrier to those that would stray just a little too far.

He dug his feet into the sand once more, and thought. He wasn’t entirely sure how long it had been. He wasn’t tired. The only rational thing to do was that which he knew, so he treaded down the beach, barefoot, to the docks, where his boat was moored.

Maegon could only guess what had happened to his boots. They were good boots, durable, leather; likely somewhere in the ornithomancer’s abode, perhaps scattered, haphazard, on the floor. He skipped over the aging wood of the dock, careful not to get a splinter from its stressed and broken surface, and stepped down into the more polished surface of his watercraft.

Beneath it was a thick pane, made of soda-lime glass; a small lens shape was molded into it, beneath a trapdoor that covered part of the window. Beneath the pane was eternity, the whole of the ocean staring up at his wide pupils, free of the shroud of fog and wall. On the end was a reel of wire, the “chain”, one end permanently attached to the end of the dock. The other had a curious timer on it, consisting of one gear within another within another, each rotating about the edge of its containing gear for a full cycle before the other one moved a tenth of the way about its own container.

Their clocks were based on the only thing available to them that everyone could agree on, and that was the metric, the number ten. Beyond that, it was a question of mainspring temperance and convenience of construction, leveling off at the easiest materials to make and maintain.

This clock was not the best clock, the salt had eroded through its central spring many times now, and the condition of the other gears was questionable at best. Sometimes it ticked a little too slow, others it was too fast, occasionally, not at all. When it reached a third of the outermost gear (colloquially called a “throne”), the clock would trigger a small motor which would reel him back to shore.

Maegon untied the mooring rope, and pushed off. The metal wire slowly unreeled behind him, and gradually, the shore disappeared in the white fog. His only real notion of how far out he was was the emptying of the reel, but that could be deluding. The wired dropped into the sea, how far down he could only guess, and the docks could be anywhere from ten meters beyond the edge of his sight, to a thousand kilometers away.

As far as Deep was concerned, the docks no longer existed.

Maegon raised the trapdoor, exposing the lens. He opened up a small tackle box and pulled out two vials, one full of a white powder, the other a yellow salt. The white powder was emptied in part on the glass lens, and the yellow salt behind it. He tucked them away, then dipped his fingers in the ocean and splashed a little water onto the conglomerate. It began to smoke, just a little, then light up in a brilliant yellow.

The trap door closed behind the alchemical fire, protecting his eyes. Below, the entire ocean seemed to come into focus, the flame pouring its light down on everything beneath the boat. Every fish, every piece of coral, seemed to glow in the phosphor radiance. He supposed that he hadn’t been entirely forthcoming, earlier; he was not entirely alone on the ocean.

A puffer fish bobbed by on the seafloor, its casual burst of hidden spines dissuading the attention of a sea snake. Deep found himself again under the spell of wondering how deep the ocean went, how far out it might go, what lay beyond the beach of infinite shrouding. Were there other continents like this one? Were there other people, beyond the fog, or in some other part of it?

His tail coiled itself nearly into a ring and his fingers formed white-knuckled fists, his natural muscular response to his equally tense curiosity. There were other sailors, other fishermen, who had been lost at sea. Their cables rusted and broke, or their pegging on the pier collapsed, allowing their boats to drift further away, swallowed by the Grey itself. What happened to them, no one was really sure, but there were plenty of fisherman tales about what might have been.

Deep liked to imagine that they had landed on some other body of land, one that was not accessible by any dry route. He imagined that they found a place so wonderful that they never wanted to go back, or so alien that they never ran out of riddles to solve. The notion of an infinite ocean, one without bounds, was difficult for him to justify. Perhaps some of them did die of thirst on the open sea, but maybe someone reached a new land.

He stretched out his bare feet, and dropped his net over the side. A swarm of sardines was gathering beneath the glass, a potential gold mine of a catch, if he played it right. Calypso was right. The Grey had been good to him, lately. He dreamt sometimes that he was like the fish, and could walk among the coral and the anemone beneath the boat, down at the bottom of the sea, so very far away. He dreamt that he could breath the water, and meet the fish face to face, not as a predator, but as brethren. He dreamt that he could walk off into the distance, following the submerged sand to the end of its line, until the world ran out of ideas and repeated itself and just maybe, a new continent rose from the waters. He could always dream.

For now, he knew that every time he unreeled his line and slipped off into the mists, he was a bit further away from the land he knew. The beach drifted into eternity, and for a third of a throne, he was just a little closer to those strange places that stood beyond the wall of white. He dropped a fine net over the side, and prepared to grab a group of sardines. Someday, fortune might turn its eyes to him, and for better or for worse, he would be lost at sea. He would have an answer. For now, he had a little work to do.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2014 in The Trials of Maegon Deep

 

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Chapter One (Sight)

Now that “The Diviner” is completed (and in its final stages of editing and formatting for publication), I am free to work on two of its parallels, “The Alchemist” and “The Mechanist”. It takes a while to really get a feel for how a book should look and feel to its reader, and I only really have so much control over that; but they both have been working out beautifully so far.

I present you here with the first chapter of “The Alchemist”. It was very late when I wrote it, so it’s of course still under scrutiny; but I believe it sets up the kind of mystery necessary to entourage the reader through the book. “The Mechanist” is much further along. Enjoy; when I’m done, not a single word will be a red herring.

—Mick

Sight

© Michael Eric Oberlin, April 15, 2014

 

Starlight filtered in through an icy glass window, onto the planks of an old and lived-in room. A woman’s bare hands lit a candle on the wall and a lamp on the cluttered table. She cleared it with a sweep of her arms, waving her hands to deter the effluent dust.

She wore a skullcap over her shaved head, and a dark wool overcoat. Skin like an apple petal and eyes hazel, trembling hands pulling out an ornate box full of something precious, and expensive.

She undid its string with as much caution as she could manage, took a deep breath, and lifted its lid. A deep green glow burned from the bottle inside, something magical and hidden, something living and rare.

The woman’s name, for the time being, is rather irrelevant; but the important thing to remember about her is that she is a material. She bleeds when she’s cut, she diligently follows all of the laws of physics that pertain to her, she eats material food and drinks material drink. But in this world, there is another kind of thing. There are materials, and then there are sprites.

This sprite was not what you might imagine. It was a worm, luminescent and greener than grass. It was a lesser sprite, but still. The great difference in sprites is that they were a manifestation of an elementary magical principle, occasionally two of them, embodied in a living creature. They were happy in the element that they manifested, understanding on instinct things that a material man might take decades of study to comprehend. Many of them were as full of mind and soul as any human. This one was full of endless potential, a creature in its youth, not yet entirely manifested.

What she would do with it was not easy, and was generally frowned upon. Her hands trembled for a reason beyond the simple cold. She struggled with the lid, attempting to unscrew it, then stopping and warming her hands on the lamp.

When a mere mortal, or at least an ordinary mortal, managed to acquire a monastic understanding of one of the principles, they became mages. They became the engineers of the natural world, which would fold on itself under their guided will. They developed powers that astonished and impressed other materials, but often did not phase them. To them, it was simple, even obvious as they looked back upon their training. They saw as the sprites see, sometimes better; they felt and saw the underpinnings of their magic around them.

The young woman inhaled deeply, and allowed her hands to come to a stillness. She removed the lid, and, very carefully, reached inside it to pick up its occupant. It was larval, incomplete, as young in its life as she was in hers. She had to trade a great deal away to acquire it. The grub-like sprite wiggled in her fingers, making her gasp.

“It’s alright, it’s alright,” she said. “I’m here.” She held it closer to the heat of the lamp for a moment, then realized what it really needed. It was the same reason that she had decided that she needed it.

“Okay.” Of course the worm didn’t really understand her, not yet. She brought it closer to her face, warmed it a little with her breath, and got its attention. It raised its forelimbs, looking straight at her now, and she brought it closer like child.

The sprite wormed its way onto her upper lip, and began to crawl along her face. She hyperventilated briefly, then took deep, slow breaths to calm herself down as the magical creature moved past her nose.

She saw it in the corner of her eye, then over her eye, and did her best to stay amicable and still. It crawled over the white, then under her eyelid, and back into the socket. After that, the world seemed to stretch and warp before her.

She teared up as the creature began to integrate itself with her flesh, a magical symbiote, and she began to see the world as it might. Butterflies riddled her stomach as the world became liquid, and she collapsed out of her chair onto the small carpet below.

She huffed in a fetal position, drooling onto the floor, her world contorted into a half-reality. The candle would burn out before she was able to stand again, but slowly she would see the light of the half-formed sprites of gestalts. Her eye would change color, and in a few days, memories of the symbiote would dance with her own. In a couple of weeks, the distinction would no longer be appropriate.

Her mind was tormented by growing pains as two worlds became a third, as she became the rarity of a delicate fusion of magic and matter. As for the sort of desperation that would lead her to make this sacrifice, that’s a much larger story.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in The Alchemist

 

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