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Teachings of the Arcane:  Reality

Copyright Ryan Span ©2001

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

 

...A young mageling must come to terms with many things, and dispel any illusions...Reality is at the core of all magic, and a Mage of the Arcane must clearly define his own...
                                           
- Book of the Arcane, Second Segment, First paragraph 

 

A year had passed since Thanien revealed my false childhood, and our relationship had changed much. No longer was he 'Master', and no longer was I 'apprentice'; I was in charge of my own education now, and was given the liberty of choosing a new name. From then on, I was Marcus.

Once more I was digging through the old mage's library, quickly committing to memory the words of dusty, mostly-decayed tomes before they fell apart completely. Thanien had taken to resting most of the day, as his health seemed to be in decline. He was upstairs in bed, as usual, while I threw myself into my work. I wanted to learn as much as possible, my lust for knowledge still as strong as ever, though I ever remembered the lesson of Responsibility.  

A hoarse whisper came from Thanien's bedroom, calling my name. I cursed and put the book I was working on aside, wondering what the old bugger wanted now. I guess I was a typical teenager then, rebelling against those who wanted the best for me. For in the end, Thanien was a kindly man who wanted me to become all that I could be. Up two flights of stairs I went, and into the old man's bedroom. He managed a cracked smile as I entered, and feebly gestured for me to come closer. I took another step and leaned closer, unable to catch his wheezing whisper. With my ear almost on his mouth, I could finally hear his words. "Marcus... My time has come..." 

"What do you mean, 'My time has come'?" I asked, puzzled. Then, I realized the full weight of his words and gasped, "Thanien, you're not...." 

"I am, Marcus..." he wheezed and turned away, coughing hard. "I'm dying... Now..." 

"No, I'll save you!" I said and stepped back. That thin, feeble form on the bed gently shook his head. 

"Even if you could, I would not wish to be saved, Marcus..." He drew in as deep a breath as he could manage. "I have lived long enough... Now, it is up to you to continue the legacy..." 

Softly I cradled his head in my arms, not wanting him to go. I loved the man, even after the hurt he'd caused me. "What legacy?" I asked hoarsely, choked by the lump in my throat. 

"You will know..." he whispered, then convulsed sharply. "The book, Marcus! The book!!" With that last cry his body sagged to the bed, and I knew Thanien Stormbound was no more. I took a step backwards, looking at my former Master's lifeless body, tears streaking down my eyes. What book was he talking about, I wondered under the grief. And...what if this is all another illusion? I gently shook the body, but no response came. Another step backwards followed and the lump in my throat gave way. Loud sobbing filled the room as I crumbled to myknees. 

For minutes I knelt there crying, until suddenly the floor under me shifted. I struggled to my feet and tried to stay upright as the floor sagged downwards, and the ceiling started to cave in. Wooden boards and stone melted into rough sand before my eyes! I struggled to keep myself above the writhing, coiling flow until suddenly it all stopped. As I opened my eyes, I could see the sky; a sight so alien it sent my mind reeling. A green haze greeted me, flecks of light sparkling everywhere throughout. There was no blue sky, no stars, nothing I was used to. This was another world. 

I found myself kneeling on a pile of sand, under a strange sky, surrounded by an unfamiliar landscape. Birdcalls and the buzzing of insects were there, but subtly different. Everywhere on the rolling hills was low grass, and here and there a couple of stone pillars reached up to the sky, crystalline leaves dangling like wind chimes in the breeze. I started to sift through the pile of sand to search for something-anything-I could use to find my way to civilization, or at least survival. 

 Every now and then a harsh, stinging gust of wind blew another layer of sand away, and at last I found a leather backpack buried deep beneath the remains of the tower. Dragging it up, I shook the sand from it and searched inside. There I found a robe, similar to the one I was wearing, some rationed food, a compass and a very old book. It was amazingly well preserved for its obvious age, as there were no tears or missing pages. The cover bore only one sentence, one that I have become intimately familiar with over the years. It said: Book of the Arcane: The Ten Teachings. I'd never seen it before, not in Thanien's library, not anywhere. Yet somehow, I knew I'd seen it before. I knew it was important. 

Could this be the book Thanien meant? Where am I? What is this place? Moments later I was back on my feet and taking a few aimless steps in no particular direction. A feeling of being completely lost filled me like a blanket of fear drawn over the sky, and then wrapped around my neck, choking me slowly and sadistically. I stumbled to a hilltop and was immediately buffeted about from behind by harsh trade winds, exposed outside the small protective valley where the tower had stood. Desperately I shielded my eyes from the stinging wind and sand, trying to find my direction with the compass. So with no real choice of direction or destination, I pressed on. 

Millions of lights sparkled overhead as I trudged onward. These green heavens were perplexing and fascinating, yet at the same time terrifying and dark. I didn't know where I was, where I was going, I wasn't even sure who I was. I couldn't stop wondering if this was all a lie somehow, and I had no perception of what was real and what wasn't. I realized I'd lost sight of Reality. And then, of all times, it started to rain. 

"Just farking great!" I cried in anger. "Of all the bloody times--" In the blink of an eye I was
startled to silence by a huge bolt of lightning striking a tree only a hundred feet away. That single thunderclap was enough to send me flying in the wake of a massive shockwave. Suddenly, I found myself flat on my stomach against the rough, spiny grass, pain throbbing throughout my body. My foot was stuck in something and I tried to free myself, but even with a hard tug it wouldn't come loose. Crawling backwards, I found myself stuck in some strange metal contraption, and I heard a snap as my other foot was snagged as well. Fear raced through my veins and I let out a helpless scream, clawing at the grass as I was slowly dragged under the ground. 

Again, dull pain throbbed through my body as I lay on my back facing some kind of ceiling. Yellow stone bricks surrounded me in a small chamber only a few feet across, with a single door facing due north. "Where did I get dragged off to this time?" I moaned and got to my feet once again. Inspecting the door, I found it was something similar to obsidian, jet-black and very much clashing with the yellow bricks. Faces of alien creatures were carved in the doorway, and I softly touched the door to see how much dust had accumulated on the thing.  

I was surprised when, with a loud click, the black door slowly creaked open and allowed me a peek beyond. Behind the door was nothing; total blackness, like night, but without even a single star. Every now and again the earth shook with lightning, leading me to believe I hadn't moved far, and reminding me where I was when my mind got lost in this endless void. I hung onto the doorframe, trying to see beyond the blackness, though one rumble of thunder was enough to shake loose my precarious hold. I floated aimlessly into the darkness, excess motion making me spin so fast it made me sick. For minutes I desperately grasped around for something to hold on to while my stomach less-than-gently emptied itself through my mouth. My flailing arms finally contacted with something solid I couldn't see, and suddenly the floating sensation ceased. I crashed down to a floor, groaning with pain. 

"This is becoming a very unpleasant habit..." I grumbled to myself as I got up for the third time. I found myself in a tiny square chamber with two doors, one locked. With no idea what direction I was going in, I reached for my compass. Its arrow spun around like crazy, leaving me with no idea where to go. I put my hand on the unlocked door's handle and gently pushed it downward. "Here goes nothing..." I whispered, followed by a resigned sigh as I opened the door all the way and fearlessly stepped through. 

For a second time my senses were assaulted by an entirely new world. It looked very, very much like home, but more vibrant in some strange way. The colours were brighter, the smells sweeter, the birdsongs more melodic... I ran my fingers over the soft green grass, and it rippled under my touch like a gentle breeze had come over it. An old memory surfaced, a vision of what the world was like when able to see what lay beyond the surface. All the grass, all the trees and all the warmth died in moments and suddenly it started snowing furiously. I shivered with cold as I tried to stay on top of the mounting snow, everything seeming so incredibly dead, but a minute later it all melted away. The grass and flowers started blooming again, the trees grew leaves in seconds and once again this intensified world bloomed with life. Somehow, deep inside, I knew this was the place Thanien had shown me. 

"Thanien!" I called out. "Master! Are you there? Can you hear me?" My body warmed to the summer, and again a full year's worth of seasons passed by. No answer came, except that suddenly a bright white door appeared out of nowhere. Time seemed to freeze in the gentle spring, and I made my way closer. What on earth could a door be doing here I asked myself as I walked around it. It didn't seem to go anywhere, but I noticed a small red key lying in the grass. I picked it up and gently inserted it into the keyhole, and with a slight twist the door swung open, revealing another antechamber and another door. 

This is getting repetitive... I thought as I stepped inside, and the white door slammed shut behind me. Before I could even touch the other door's handle, it simply vanished, yet when I tried to step through, the pack on my back suddenly increased in weight a hundred-fold and I was dragged to the floor. My nimble arms slipped out of the straps and I opened up the pack to find out what the hell was going on. The strange book I found inside was glowing a fierce blue, and it seemed to weigh a ton. With a heroic effort I got it out of the pack and into my lap so I could take a look. 

I flipped backwards through the pages and, to my surprise, found that most were blank. Only the first few paragraphs were there, comprising the entire first 'Segment', and the first paragraph of the second. My mouth fell open as I read in detail how and why I had learned my previous lesson of Responsibility, much more than Thanien had told me. Of the Second Segment, two lines caught my eye. A young mageling must come to terms with many things, and dispel any illusions.  Reality is at the core of all magic, and a mage must clearly define his own. Somehow they sounded familiar to me when I read them out loud, but I managed to shrug it off. As I closed the book, I noticed something on the inside of the cover. I gently folded the cover open again, and found a scribbled message.


This is the Legacy, Apprentice. This Book, and yourself. The Apprentice and the Book are ever the last of the Arcane. Once, your Master was an Apprentice like yourself, learning his own lessons. What you have been through so far is only the beginning. Go out, young Apprentice, and learn; the Book will record. Learn about the world, about yourself, and most of all, about the magic. Keep it alive, young Apprentice. Keep it alive at all costs. The best wishes of the Arcane go with you.
Parvi, First of the Last


Many of my questions were answered when I first opened that book, and many more were raised. There are still questions I have no answer to, but if I do not learn them, some future Apprentice will. The magic will never die; I have sacrificed too much to let it. I snapped the book closed and shut my eyes tight, not wanting another look at the thing. Quickly I tucked it deep into my pack and slung the thing over my shoulder, entering yet another unknown place.

This time I was surrounded by thick blue mist, a soft glow spreading through it to give it a mystical, magical sheen. The air tasted dry and stale; the smell of age. Under my feet was a small circular slab of stone, hovering over a seemingly endless abyss that faded into the mist. As I squinted ahead, a path of these strange stones became clear, and with great care I managed to walk it all the way to the end; a stairway carved into the face of a massive pillar. Not knowing what else to do I ascended the steps, and at the top a small pedestal awaited me. On it was a book; from the outside, it was the exact duplicate of the one in my pack. Step by cautious step I approached; yet suddenly the book opened with a loud thud and the sound of a spark. Gracing the pages was a single sentence: Why are you still here? 

My mind was in turmoil. Random thoughts surfaced in a boiling meltdown of chaos, but two questions kept ringing through my mind. Where are you? Why are you still here? I couldn't make sense of anything. Memories of my childhood, my teachings, books, friends, games... All of it was meshed together yet nothing made sense. Still, the questions repeated themselves...Why are you still here? 

 A scream of agony escaped my lips and echoed endlessly off unseen walls, never seeming to lose strength. My thoughts sprang to the book on the stand, and something else was written there. I tried to look more closely, but I couldn't control my mind or my body. Still, the questions came. Where are you? Why are you still here? 

Then, I gasped as everything suddenly became clear. Effortlessly I floated a few feet into the air, and then set down on my feet again. It all made so much sense now. At last I had an answer. 

"I am in my mind," I answered the questions in a soft voice, but the sound seemed to thunder through the whole room and shake it.

THEN WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?!?

A wry smile twisted my lips. "I am no longer here." With a blinding flash of light everything vanished, and my own world swam back into view. The familiar smells, the feeling of grass under my boots, and the great pile of sand where a great black tower had once stood. Neither the sudden flash nor all these changes could make me flinch. I had grown. From then on I was a mage, with all the unimaginable power that came alongside such a title. My mission: to explore my magic, to learn its consequences, and to continue the Teachings of the Arcane so they would never fade away.

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