The Island of Mist: Part Four
The Stones seemed to bring out traits in each of them. Logan had always been a leader, generally confident in his decisions for those he led. He was tied with strong cords to the rest of his crew. This feeling only grew as he grew more confident, more determined, and much more firmly rooted in the magic energy he'd once known nothing about. The ties that bound him to his crew took on a nearly supernatural feeling. At times he felt as if he could reach out and feel each of their consciousness, like a light in his own subconscious mind. It was a new and welcome sense, but the awareness came at a price: he found it highly difficult to focus on anything, for all the new noise in his mind. He couldn't read minds, by any means, but these great lights hadn't been there before, either. He wasn't sure quite how to compartmentalize them.
Del had always been active and nurturing. The increase in these traits resulted in his possessiveness of his Stone, the increased connection he felt to his comrades - he hated to be apart from them - and the fact that he hardly ever slept.
Sareece was protective and longed to be challenged, someone willing to learn any task. She became increasingly restless and irritable. Having grown tired of trying to master one task, she became anxious for another thing to learn.
Tarin was all business, a man of action. This resulted in a desire to simply DO, at all times, something to further their cause. Unfortunately, with him, impatience took over at times, and his work could become sloppy.
All of them had their good and bad points. Aside from learning what they could of the Stones - their powers and affects on each of them - the crew also had to learn how to balance these effects.
The days had gone slowly at first - almost abnormally slow. And confusingly. None of them had ever had much to do with magic. Logan was hesitant to even approach the subject, fearing in the back of his mind the incredibly strong pull that he felt it had over him. Tarin tired quickly of the exercises that required him to turn inward. Sareece welcomed the new knowledge, but failed miserably the first few times she'd attempted to pronounce an incantation correctly. She would become impatient and angry, muttering to herself, before becoming determined to try it once more - and once more, and once more - until she got it right. Del alone found it to be great fun, but his obsessive urge to practice incessantly resulted in a lack of sleep that, for quite some time, left him fatigued on a daily basis, though his mind never seemed to shut down.
As time went on, the days progressed more smoothly. They adopted a routine, kept strictly, with the exception of one day a week during which they weren't required to train. They woke early in the morning, breakfasted on various fruits and vegetables from the garden Tsizhao kept, and then began the simple breathing and mental exercises. The afternoon & evening meals came from the same place breakfast did, though sometimes if one of them had a sweet tooth, they'd cut the bark away from the trees that grew to get to the insides. When a small bit was cut off and chewed on, it released a sweet flavor. It wasn't much, but it was what they had.
In the afternoons, they trained again. In the beginning days, their afternoon training was much the same as their morning training was. But as they became more experienced, they began sparring each other and - much later on in their training - the old wizard himself.
Tarin proved to be the fastest of them all, good at defense and sneak attacks; Logan packed a powerful punch with his stronger magical abilities; Sareece was excellent at strategy; and Del had almost unnatural stamina and endurance.
After this came dinner. Once that was through, they had the rest of the day to themselves to do whatever they cared to do before going to bed early on the rolls Tsizhao had given them to sleep on. There were to be no house invitations here. Tsizhao himself slept outside with the sounds of the waterfall echoing in his dreams.
As they each learned to balance out their abilities, urges, and fears, they kept the best of their new-found ones and left behind the rest. Logan learned to connect to the magic without it taking over his thoughts. He learned to compartmentalize the bright spots of consciousness so that he could focus on the real world. Sareece and Tarin both learned a great deal of patience. Del learned to be calm when times called for it, and he was sleeping normally again, though he still would not relinquish his Stone for long.
Sometimes, in his sleep, he'd accidentally shoot out sparks from the hand clenched around his Stone. They'd had to put out quite a few small fires that had started this way in the middle of the night. After the third time, a rule had been instated: no sleeping near the Stones. It was much too easy for things to get out of hand.
A powerful magic being channeled through an unconscious - and therefore uncontrollable - vessel was dangerous. They worked, essentially, like electricity. The bearers of the Stones called energy from them, which they could then route how they needed. Initially, this meant using incantations and calling sparks from their fingertips. Once they'd managed to focus better, they were able to route the energy mentally instead of using words, and the sparks became more like orbs of crackling static that they could then hurl at the enemy or simply let fizzle out by releasing the focus they'd poured into the creation of it.
Now, three months to the day since they'd arrived, they had all learned what they could of Tsizhao of the Stones and were preparing to make their way to the reason they'd started the journey all along. In the morning, they would leave, but right now, sitting on the plank porch of the wizard's house, Tsizhao was giving them the map that they needed to complete the next part of their journey.
"Look!" Del pointed to the place their teacher had indicated as their destination. "It's the smudge! Except it's clearer here."
"The smudge?" Tsizhao asked.
"Yeah. See, this place is just a smudge on this map," Del said, showing Tsizhao the map they'd used to get to Mount Ru'un.
"Oh! I'd nearly forgotten about that. I did that for a reason, you see." Del was unsurprised. He seemed to do everything for some great reason. It seemed tiring to Del, to always do things with years - or even centuries - in mind. "I wanted to ensure that even if the wrong people did find this map, they would be unsure of how to get there. If you'll notice, the roads are also unclear." At this, he indicated the blank area around the smudge on the crew's map.
"I figured that was just water," Logan said, scratching his chin absentmindedly. He'd only recently shaved the hair that had been growing there, and it still felt strange to him not to have the prickly hair to pick at.
"Oh, there is that, too, of course. Plenty of it, in these five labeled rivers. If you'll notice, they all join at the cave - or the smudge, as you called it." Tsizhao indicated each in turn. "This helps channel magical energy. But there is a road to the cave itself - yes, another cave." He grinned at Del's horrified look. "Do not worry, young one. Once this is through, you can fly high and free as long as your heart desires. Only wait a while longer, and see your mission through to the end."
"I wouldn't dream of doing anything else," Del had said, determination replacing the horror. He'd smiled at his teacher. "Don't worry, old one."
Tsizhao simply shook his head and exhaled heavily through his nose. "Some things about you will never change. This is a gift. Hold on to it."
"Do we need to look out for anything in particular along the way?" Sareece asked, passing by with an armful of fruits and vegetables. She and Tarin had volunteered to get things ready, and had been packing most of the day.
Tsizhao had shook his head. "No. Your journey should be fairly uneventful, save for the cave system itself. I must warn you to follow the instructions I've given you with the utmost care."
"When have we ever done any different?" Tarin, who had come up behind Sareece, had asked sarcastically, with a hint of a smirk.
"Exactly. This is why I warn you," Tsizhao had returned with a smirk of his own. Tarin, more than any of the others, had been the worst at listening to rules during their training.
He had learned through much trial and error (mostly his own) that the wizard was not as weak as his mortal shell appeared. Many times they had failed to perform a specific directive to his satisfaction. Tsizhao would wave a hand, blue sparks leaping from his fingertips, and a wailing noise would begin in their minds.
Tarin recalled one time, about two weeks into their training, this had happened. "What was that for?!" he had shouted, indignant. Though Tsizhao had rebuked them when he needed to, this screeching was new.
The wizard had simply shrugged. "This is important. You must learn to do exactly as I instruct you, and no different. With magic, the slightest changes can change everything. An incantation, with the slip of a tongue, can change from 'heal my brethren' to 'bring illness to this Kau,' which is a different thing entirely."
"I'd like to learn the illness-to-the-Kau one," Del had said from his Indian-style sitting position a few feet away. He was cradling his Stone in his hands with care. He'd grown attached to it, almost like a mother with their child.
Tsizhao had smiled. "I exaggerate, of course. There is no specific incantation for bringing illness upon Kaus. You can, however, do a great deal of harm if you say an incantation wrong. Our goal is to bring healing to this land, not to destroy."
"Except for the Great Evil," Del had said, wiggling his fingers sarcastically to indicate the spookiness of the mysterious evil. Suddenly, a grimace overtook his face, and he clapped a hand to the side of his head.
"Okay. I get it. I get it. You can stop now," he'd grunted. His face had immediately relaxed. "Thank you." He'd sighed with relief and returned to the breathing and mind exercises they'd been taught, closing his eyes and drawing on the energy of his Stone.
As soon as Tsizhao turned around, however, one eye had popped open and Del had wrinkled his nose and cast an annoyed glance at the wizard's back - as if that settled the score - before beginning the exercises over again with renewed concentration.
Tarin shook his head and smiled slightly at the memory.
"For now," Tsizhao said, "I want you four to finish up the last bits of packing, and sleep. You must have your rest for your journey tomorrow."
"Yes, Tsizhao," the crew chorused. Logan and Del helped finish the rest of the packing, and then they went to bed.
The next day, they gathered their packs early in the morning. Tsizhao walked with them to the entrance of the cave. Instead of having to climb down, the old wizard led them through a tunnel that led down the mountain. There was a door there with a lock, so that only he could leave or enter through it. The crew was relieved beyond belief to not have to climb Mount Ru'un with full packs on their backs.
"Thank you, Tsizhao," Logan said. He shook the old wizard's hand with more force than he would have three months ago, when they'd first met him.
"The pleasure was mine," Tsizhao said. He inclined his head. Logan quickly did the same, having never earned this sign of respect from his teacher before.
"Do what I have taught you: be one, be brave, be strong, and be true. In this way, I have great faith that you shall defeat the one you aim to. Be careful as well to follow the map exactly. The caves are a confusing place. I have been there once before, many years ago, before this evil came over the island. It was dangerous then, with its strange disorienting properties, without any greater threat than becoming hopelessly lost. You must be much more careful now that there is a greater danger residing there."
Logan nodded in understanding. If they had learned anything of the wizard's ways, it was that his instructions were always precise, and that they were that way for a reason. Every effort would be made to follow the map Tsizhao had given them a mere day before.
Tarin stepped up to take his turn shaking his teacher's hand. "Don't worry, Tsizhao. We'll follow it to the letter," he said. His teacher inclined his head, and Tarin did the same. Similar exchanges were given with Sareece and Del.
"Everyone ready?" Logan then asked. Nods and affirmations were sounded. "Let's go, then!"
To be continued...