Her chest rose and fell matching the rhythm of the gently ebbing tide. A single bead of sweat formed on her crinkled brow and trickled down her creased brow; the lone droplet’s progress was almost languid, tracing a snaking line through the thin patina of dirt that coated her skin.
Empty my mind, make my thoughts free of form, movements like flowing water. Reach out…
“No, no, no!” a voice split the air, her concentration crumbled and vanished like dust on the wind. “Truly I do despair for your progress Shada.”
“Where did I go wrong this time Master Brondolf?” she asked.
“Although there is distinct improvement in the speed and precision of your somatic components, your changes in direction remain too abrupt and sudden.” The master pinched the bridge of his nose “They’re too… pointy. An arcane gesture must be smooth and flowing, all curves and no verticies.”
“Sorry Master” Shada nodded, glumly, eyes down cast fidgeting with the stitching on the sleeve of her robe.
“We will break for five minutes and then try again” Brondolf replied sternly.. With a flick of the wrist he sent a water skin sailing towards Shada’s face. Flinching, the skin bounced off her raised arm and flopped to the stony ground, its brown, leather exterior quivering like a landed jellyfish. The older wizard merely sighed and shook his head. With shaking hands Shada picked up the water-skin and squirted its contents into her dry mouth. It tasted stale, infused with the musky flavour of old leather, on the upside it was at least wet and at least vaguely potable, unlike the hundreds of thousands of gallons of brine that sloshed and swayed about the headland on which they stood.
Sometimes Shada couldn’t help but agree with her Master, magic was far harder than she’d anticipated when she’d asked to become his apprentice. But then again if it were easy everyone would be a wizard wouldn’t they. “Magic is 90% blood, sweat and tears” It was one of Master Brondolf’s favourite sayings. Admittedly she could just give up, admit defeat and crawl back to her parents, head bowed in shame. But that was an idea far less desirable the decades of mind-shattering effort required to even come close the a full understanding of the most noble and ancient art. On top of that she’d never hear the end of it from her mother. “I told you those notions of bein’ a wizard were ridiculous. Now let’s find you a good husband and you can start pumpin’ out the babies” Perhaps not verbatim, but Shada knew it’d be something like that.
She idly wondered if Master Brondolf had ever had such problems when he was an apprentice. Seeing him standing there on the headland, staring moodily out towards the bleak horizon; his red robe thrashing in the wind, rippling like a vengeful red sea; his onyx black hair snapping and twisting in the very same breeze, but yet somehow never obscuring his vision, not even once did he push it away from his face; arms crossed, a towering figure brimming with power and gravitas, someone who exuded an aura that demanded respect; Brandolf the Red, Master of the Old Words, Flame of the Eight Towers, Protector of the White Cliffs, Red Hammer of Justice, Red Spear of Vengeance. It was enough to make a young girl go weak at the knees.
“Shada? Shada!” Master Brondolf snapped his fingers. “Your break is over, back to the business at hand if you will”
“Yes Master Brondolf” Shada sighed
“Empty your mind, find your centre and free yourself from conscious thought. You must be able to perform a spell without thinking, it must come naturally. You must enter a state of calm, zen perfection. And remember…”
“Make my gestures less pointy. I remember” Shada interpreted.
“Exactly. Now begin!”
Taking a deep breath Shada sunk herself into the empty nothingness of her own mind. The continuing words of her master faint whispers on the very edge of hearing, forgotten echoes of things which once were words, but now their forms lost, but their meaning still remaining.
“Feel the world around you”
“Sink yourself into the skein of the thing…”
“It’s all a matter of knowing where to push. Find it, position your fulcrum and push”
“Begin the motions. Echo the ebb and the flow of the world. Focus your energies”
All of her master’s words teased at her unconscious mind. Shada understood what he was saying, what he wanted her to do, what she should do. But understanding and doing are two entirely different things. It was usually at this point that things all fell apart. The act of reaching, the touching of the mind against the material, the convergence of the essence of two existences, that was where the alien shock of the experience o’er-whelmed any attempt to hold focuses. It was like trying to hold back a breaking tidal-wave with nothing more than an umbrella and a smile.
Before Shada’s mind’s eye lay a roiling tempest of existence, coloured with sounds and the clamour of colours; there was no difference between the two here, just as there was no appreciable distinction between words and action. Her thoughts were a gull floating on the wind, waiting for the flash of fish scales to spear into the inky depths. But this time something was different. Amidst the sloshing and thrashing surface of the mindscape there was, for the first time, something distinguishable. A current; an eddy; a trail; a hole. An o’er abundance of failure in any endeavour can end one of two ways: you become crippled by the fear of the failure, you become reluctant, tentative until or immobilised, the task becomes a tight-rope walk; or you just stop caring and hurl yourself at the task irrespective of its potentially outcome, like battering yourself against a wall, safe in the knowledge that either you or the wall will eventually crumble and break. While Shada may not yet have mastered the arcane nuances of magic, she was nothing if not an expert in the art of stubbornness. Without hesitation she plunged her mind into the skein of the world, following the trail of the blemish her mind had perceived. Downwards it went, coiling, twisting but always moving downwards deeper and deeper into the essence of reality. Colours and sound evaporated into a black and inky nothingness, the feeling of the world pressed heavy around her thoughts; it was a darkness at once physical, mental and metaphysical; a deepness both cold and warm, empty and undisturbed, lonely. The current petered out, leaving Shada’s awareness adrift in a void beyond fathoming. There was nothing here. As she made to withdraw from the mindscape of the world she felt something at the very edge of everything. A slow, languid presence, something that felt as huge as it felt ancient; A tingling; A suggestion; An opportunity? What was it that Master Brondolf had said? It’s just a matter of knowing where to push… reach out…
What came next?
Reach out. Speak the words.
At the very bottom of the sea, the presence of Shada’s being spoke the words.
“Come” At first nothing “Come!” A stirring in the water “COME!” Her presence flashed bright, like the burning heat of a thousand suns, an unbending will, towering and forever trapped in a limbo between rage and purpose. It rose. She rose. Like a star. Eddies and currents stirred, a placid and empty nothingness became a storm to drown nations. All of it, rising from the deep.
Blinking her eyes Shada drifted back into the world as it is seen by man, the reality we know. She coughed, breathless and sweating cascading from her brow.
“Well?” said Brondolf, looming behind her. “Have you finally succeeded or have you just decided to give up for the day?”
“It comes…” she replied, haggard and drained she could muster no more.
Brondolf’s eyebrow rose. For the first time in years he was unsure of something, confused as to the meaning of words, the very things which he was master of.
The waters about the headland began to stir and froth from relative placidity to something that began to seethe and boil as if stirred by something, something of great size and strength, something rising from the deep. The presence which Shada had summoned broke through the surf, its breaching more like a calamity sent from heaven than the quaint splash of a whale. Water and sound filled the air, beneath the rubble of crashing waves and displaced water came a deep bass rumble beyond the edge of hearing, a blast of infrasound that was felt more than it was heard, a noise which bred unease, fear and an acute desire to be somewhere else. This leviathan from the deeps filled the entire bay, its serpentine form contorting around rocks and thrashing in the uneasy warmth of the air, a place so utterly divorced from the cold and lifeless depths from which it had risen. Slowly the thrashing and unease of the leviathan faded, it coiled itself neatly in the shallow waters of the bay and gazing towards Shada it waited, as if for instructions.
Brondolf folded his arms and gazed out at the titanic creature that had answered his apprentice’s call.
“Not bad Shada. Not bad at all”