Curses, Inside-Out: Part Six
also by Dreagoddess
The art of illusory magic lies as much in choosing
the balance of magical areas or spheres as in shaping them, as the art of painting
lies as much in choosing and mixing color as in form, and though ethereal is
by nature closer kin to the more mundane visual arts than most more material
magics.... Lisha sighed. The title Introduction to the Art of Illusions
had looked promising, but it seemed to hold very little practical information.
She was midway through the fourth chapter, and so far she had learned that illusions
were usually based on light, air, or dark, but not always. She had not learned
what difference the balance of spheres made, unless it was just about aesthetics.
Nor had she learned whether a curse invisible to its target actually qualified
as an illusion or not, which was what she really wanted to know. Unfortunately,
this was one of the more readable texts. Imry Infilson's Index of Illusions
had instructions on plenty of specific spells for casting and dispelling illusions,
but didn't really address design.
"Somewhere," she said aloud, glaring at the bookshelves,
"someone has to have written down something about illusions in between how much
fun they are and a list of incantations."
"I was required to once," said a voice that did
not belong in Meridell's Royal Library, and Lisha started and nearly fell out
of her chair. She turned it into a jump and somewhat awkward landing, then whirled.
Lord Darigan was standing just inside the doorway, looking very gray and black
against the warmer colors of the shelves and spines. He also appeared vaguely
uncomfortable about the ears, which Lisha supposed was why he seemed so remarkably
much more out of place than he had in the courtyard. He bowed. "My tutor assigned
it after I'd been studying magic for about four years."
"Then what did you do before that? None
of these books are helpful at all. Aren't books supposed to be
helpful?" Lisha glared at the nearest text as if it was personally responsible
for the failings of all its kin.
"Some of them are. Some of them are only intended
to be helpful to certain people, and not necessarily the reader." Darigan drifted
a few steps further into the library. "Illusions were hardly the first thing
I was taught. I only tried very simple, one-sphere spells in the beginning,
and I spent nearly all of the first two years and a fair amount of the later
ones being told about magic and asking questions."
"You mean you didn't actually do any magic
for years?" Lisha asked, aghast at the very idea. "But doing things
makes so much more sense than just reading about them!"
"But doing them makes much more sense if someone
has explained what you're supposed to be doing. May I sit down?"
"Oh, sorry. Yes, please do." Lisha regained her
own seat and gestured generally for Darigan to take one of the nearby ones.
"I don't know. I think some explanation is helpful, but just reading a bunch
of theory doesn't help you do anything."
"Doesn't it?" Darigan peered over her shoulder
long enough to scan a paragraph or two on why it was absurd to compare illusions
to calligraphy. "All right, I suppose it depends on the theory. And on what
you want to do." He settled into the nearest chair. "Most people can operate
a variety of magical items without having or learning much magic themselves.
Many can learn specific spells by rote with little grasp of how they work; it's
actually possible to become fairly formidable that way, and you'll find some
who consider it cheating to explain and believe the best way to learn magic
is to learn more and more spells until you begin to discern patterns." A smile.
"My tutor didn't approve of that approach. It would have taken years longer
before I could begin to analyze and perhaps design spells myself, and that was
what I was expected to do, far more than performing them."
"But when you need to use spells, not
design them, does it really matter?"
"That depends on how many times you're willing
to risk getting them wrong."
Lisha frowned. "But you spend just as much time,
or more even, studying the theory, so what's wrong with spending that time practicing
instead, even if you do get it wrong sometimes?"
"That," Darigan said wryly, "depends on
what happens when you get it wrong."
"...I guess so. It just seems like a waste to
not being doing spells you're perfectly capable of doing!"
Darigan looked around the library. "Are you doing
spells in here?"
"No. Well, one lamp spell when it starts getting
dark. But that's just because I don't even know where to start. And I
thought you'd probably get mad if I started casting more spells on the Citadel
without you knowing about it."
"I'd really rather you didn't," Darigan allowed.
"It seems to have entirely too many on it at the moment anyway."
"That's what I thought you'd say. So I have
to just read about it."
He paused. "What is it you want to be
Darigan looked away from her for a moment. "Jeran
tells me you've been trying to find out how to remove the curses on the Citadel."
"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"
"I think more people might ask why you would."
He smiled ruefully. "I am grateful. But I think this is one of the cases
where there is no preexisting spell that will solve the problem, and... I would
not ask you to exhaust yourself in the search."
"But there has to be some way to
fix it," Lisha protested earnestly. "And there may not be a way somebody's already
figured out to do it, but somebody might've already figured out part
of it that we can use. Or they might at least know what won't work."
"I don't doubt that portions of the solution
exist, but... Lisha, they're more likely to be in the principles, in the background,
than to be spells themselves. Some existing spells will be useful, yes, and
have been already, but they'll have to be found for purposes, not purposes found
"I can help," Lisha said stubbornly. "If this
won't help, tell me what will. I'm the only one who can even see the
spells. You need me."
"I've been trying to find a way to see them for
"Is it working?" Lisha interrupted anxiously.
"Then you still need me. What can I do if this
"I can find a way," he said gently. "You don't
have to do this." A small smile. "But I am not quite too proud to welcome your
help if you truly want to give it."
"You need my help," Lisha repeated stubbornly.
"It'll take you twice as long if you have to figure out all the stuff I've done
already before you can start actually working at it."
His ears twitched back. "That doesn't make it
impossible," he said shortly, "and we have lived with it this long."
"...But..." Lisha looked down at the table in
front of her, looking absolutely crestfallen.
There was silence for the space of several breaths
before Darigan sighed. "I apologize," he said quietly. "Being reminded of what
I have not been able to do stings... but it's true that this would be easier
with your help."
Lisha looked up hopefully. "Then you'll let me
help? I know I can."
"If you can promise me one thing...."
Darigan blinked, as if perhaps that had been
a little more enthusiasm than he was expecting. "Don't spend all your time researching.
I have a bad habit at times of burying myself too deeply in my work," he said,
mouth quirking up, "and at least one of us needs to be thinking clearly."
Lisha grinned at him. "But you have General Galgarrath
to throw you out a window when you get too buried, so that shouldn't be a problem."
"That's no excuse for you." Darigan smiled back.
"All right. I promise I won't spend all my time
researching." Just most of it.
"Good." Apparently Lord Darigan was not a mind-reader.
He drummed his fingers on the table, looking around the library. "Although you
may not be too pleased with what I say next, since you seem more inclined to
spellcasting itself than to studying it."
"I've been studying it for two weeks straight,"
Lisha pointed out.
"No wonder Jeran complained about not seeing
you lately. Yet a few minutes ago you suggested it was a waste of time."
"I didn't say it was always a waste of
time, just when you can be doing something else. Neither of us knows
what spells to use, so what would I be doing but researching?"
Darigan leaned forward and peered into her eyes.
"I'd suggest a nap, myself. You look tired. More directly applicable... there
was a reason my early training was focused on understanding magic before doing
it," he said gently. "You seem to be thinking it was a restriction, and I suppose
I felt that way at times, but the purpose was to be able to work more
effectively later on. I can't say this specific situation was foreseen, but
it is still, in essence, exactly what I was trained for."
"Then why haven't you fixed it yet? Don't say
I can help and then say I can't!"
His wings rose. "Because it takes time to analyze
-- more, granted, when I can't see what I'm doing -- and will take time to work
out how to make the changes. I'm not telling you that you can't help. I'm trying
to tell you that stopping to understand what you're doing isn't a waste of time;
it's exactly what we need to do right now." He folded his wings again and smiled
wryly. "That said, there are established ways for one magician to share
or borrow another's perceptions. At least half a dozen, actually, and at least
one should work, depending on the exact reason I can't see the spells myself.
If you would allow me to use one, that alone would help immensely."
"...If I let you use my perceptions, you're not
going to try to stop me from helping any more than that, are you?"
Darigan gave her an odd look. "What is it you
want to do, exactly? I don't wish to be rude, but your enthusiasm is getting
a little disconcerting."
"I want to help. I just don't want you
to decide that if you can use my perceptions to see the curse then you don't
need me to help for anything else." Lisha crossed her arms stubbornly in front
of her chest. "Because if you DO, I won't let you use them."
Darigan recoiled slightly, ears flaring, and
stood rather abruptly. Lisha stared at him, baffled and a little alarmed, while
he looked down at her with arms folded. After a long moment, he shut his eyes
and drew a deep breath, then sat back down. "Lisha," he began slowly, "I think...
I believe that I have reason to trust you. If you will, remember that, and instead
of being offended, understand that this is why I'm going to explain instead
"Of course you can trust me," Lisha protested,
wounded. "I just want to help."
"I've been offered help before," Darigan said
wearily, "from sources that were not ultimately interested in anything but control.
This is not what I believe of you, but you... are... baffling me. You insist
you want to help, then say that you won't unless I involve you beyond what I
asked you to do -- but much of the rest of it is likely to involve things you
haven't been trained for, and for which you seem to find the training process
unappealing." He spread his hands on the table. "I am grateful for your assistance
so far. I cannot blame you for wanting to offer more of it only on your own
terms -- but I admit to being perplexed. What are they?"
"I just...you want to do a spell that will let
you use my perceptions, then send me off to take a nap while you do everything
else. That's not helping, that's being used."
Darigan's expression made Lisha consider checking
her head, just to make sure she hadn't unexpectedly sprouted a third pair of
ears. She restrained herself.
"That wasn't my intention," he said after a moment.
"I don't think I quite understand your point, though. You would be helping,
with what you can do and I currently cannot. I don't mean to ask anything of
you that is outside your abilities or that you find distasteful. I didn't intend
this to be objectionable." He paused, looking thoughtful, and then focused on
her with an expression that was now more speculative than confused. "I do seem
to recall that you mentioned not having wanted to be 'sent off with the children'
during the war. I should probably clarify that none of the spells I referred
to would do any good if you were not looking, figuratively speaking, at the
magic I wanted to examine." A faint, rather tentative smile. "I also meant for
the nap to take place first. I haven't had occasion to use these spells
before, but they're likely to end in the magical equivalent of eyestrain, and
that's only going to be worse if either or both of us should be less than well
"...Oh. It just sounded like...you'd do this
spell and then you wouldn't need me to do anything anymore. I don't want that.
I want to help. I know I can and...Meridell and Darigan are supposed
to be friends now, right? Friends help each other."
"...For which I thank you. Still, most people
would not be relieved at discovering that what they intended to do was
going to be more arduous and uncomfortable than expected."
"I don't mind," Lisha said quickly and earnestly.
"I want to help."
"Yes," Darigan said, sounding a little bemused.
"So you've said."
"...Well, I do." Lisha looked down at her feet.
"You've been quite adamant on that point." Darigan
paused, then added gently, "is something wrong?"
"Why is it wrong to want to help?"
"...I don't believe I suggested it was."
"You're acting like it is. I'm sorry.
I won't...push anymore or make you nervous."
"I was forgetting how young you are, perhaps,"
Darigan said quietly after a moment. Lisha looked up indignantly, but he waved
a hand low over the table. "Young enough to half-expect people to dismiss you,
assuming inexperience, rather than evaluating how capable you really are. And
perhaps genuinely inexperienced enough," he added with enough humor to take
a bit of the sting out of it, "not to have really intended the effect.... Reminding
someone repeatedly that they need something from you tends to give the impression
that you're trying to press an advantage."
Lisha's face turned red. "Oh. I wasn't thinking
of it like that. I just...want to help. I didn't mean to...Sorry."
"I didn't think you intended that. But... I did
have to stop and think." He seemed much more relaxed.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "I just...would
like to help. However you think I can."
"The first and most definite thing is
to analyze the way the spells currently sit -- the curses, and whatever's still
intact from before, and whatever is laid over them. I gather things are a bit
tangled. After that... it will be working out how to get the curses loose without
doing further damage -- and then doing it. I think that will be possible, but
I don't know how it will be possible, or how long it will take."
Darigan regarded her thoughtfully. "You do seem
to have a certain feel already for adapting magic, but under the circumstances
I hope you'll understand that I'd rather you not try anything without
considerable planning. If you're interested in learning more of the background,
however, a fresh perspective can be very valuable."
She wanted to do more than that. But she
didn't want to shake the Citadel again, and she didn't want Darigan to forbid
her to do anything. So she nodded carefully. "I'd like to learn, and
do whatever I can."
"Thank you." He smiled suddenly. "It occurs to
me that no one seems to have thought to perform enchantments on paper
using the orb. I may still have some of the essays I had to write for my magic
tutor. I can't promise they'll be immediately applicable, but they do describe
some of the background material that rarely makes it into the spellbooks."
"That would be great," Lisha said with
"I'll try to have them found by the next time
I see you, then. With luck, a little background will make reading about magic
seem less futile."
Lisha privately doubted that, but just smiled
and said, "I hope so. At least it can't make it any worse."
"Good." Darigan rose, then stopped for a moment
and smiled down at her. "May I ask you to try to be refreshed by then? There's
little point searching the texts until we've more idea what to look for, and
I think your brother would like to see more of you."
To be continued...