Weeks had passed since the party had left Baantellay, and they were nearing Maungnoi. They covered much ground without the caravan, riding full days without many breaks or much rest. No one seemed to complain, but they were appreciative of the accommodations in the more populated region. Villages and caravansaries were much more common in the Lake District, offering shelter and accommodations for travelers both ways to and from Rhaattaay along the road. They had beds, food, and drinks that were not available in the more rural area between Baantellay and Rhattaay. They only occasionally camped, which was typically in a wayside off the main road that had been purpose-built for such occasions.
One evening at one of the wayside camps, Jorn, Achara, and Camon were sitting poking a campfire. It was like any other night along the way, listless and calm with the chorus of frogs and crickets in the bottoms that surrounded them. Camon watched the fire intently, drinking some ale that they had picked up along the way and enjoying on the road. It was not fine ale but served the purpose. Achara too partook, but Jorn refused, intently staring at the fire as if mesmerized by its glow and flaming tongues.
“You look like a stone,” Camon commented.
Jorn said nothing for a moment, then responded, “Pardon?”
“I said, you look like a stone, the way you’ve been staring at that fire.”
“Well, yeah. I’ve been doing what you told me back there outside of Baantellay, focusing on the fire in the void. I can find it now, as easy as entering into a conversation with you. But it’s not just that…” Jorn trailed off, going back to the fire.
“Not just what?” Camon asked.
“This…” Jorn focused intently on the fire, then spread his hands towards it. The flame grew slightly in intensity. He then closed his hands, and the flame died down. He repeated the gesture several times before relinquishing his gaze. “Did you see that?”
“Yes, I did. You’ve got your first taste of magic it would appear.”
Achara looked on with her eyebrows raised, “So maybe you can use magic after all.”
“So that’s what magic is? I don’t feel anything. It just seemed to work.”
“Yes and no,” Camon said. “Subtle magic like that is hardly noticeable. Intense magic will feel like heat in your body, almost a burning sensation. But the sensation is not what we judge magic by; rather, it’s what you find in the void. The fire. You see it, and you’ve learned to connect the vision in the void with reality, then project into the void, which in turn affects reality.” Camon answered.
“That doesn’t seem too hard,” Jorn said.
“Try projecting complex thoughts into the complex mind of another.”
“How do I do that?”
“I don’t know. Ask her,” Camon said, pointing to Achara.
“You have to have a mind first before you can project thought,” Achara quipped.
“You saw the fire, didn’t you?” Jorn said.
“That’s not what I meant. You prove my point.”
“Nevermind that,” Camon said. “You have shown that you can do magic and even control it somewhat by projecting control over the flame. But to unlock what is inside of you is going to amplify the power in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine.” Camon took out one of the belts from the elven mages. “Here, put this on and repeat what you did with the fire.”
“Okay…” Jorn put the belt on and sat back down in his place next to the fire. He fixated his gaze again on the flames, then opened his hands to the flame. The flame responded as before.
“Try projecting more but feel the belt around your waist. Feel its presence in the void. See it there. It’s not merely the flame now…” Camon coaxed.
Jorn breathed deeply and rolled his shoulders back. He gazed into the flame, then closed his eyes, this time breathing deeply for almost a minute. He raised his hands and opened them to the flames and then leaned in towards the fire. Rising to his knees from a seated position, he stuck his hands in the flames. The belt started to glow with all nine of its stones. Jorn cupped his hands and reached into the coals and lifted them out of the fire. He stood with a handful of coals unscathed by the heat of the fire. He grimaced, licked his lips, and gritted his teeth. The coals in his hand began to burn brighter, and then a flame leaped from the coals growing steadily larger and brighter. The color went from orange and yellow to white hot and went from crackling to almost a hissing roar as Jorn held the flame out. The flame then went back from white to orange and yellow before finally settling back into the coals. Jorn turned and dropped them back into the fire. He opened his eyes and exhaled.
Camon looked dismayed, “I’ve never seen that trick before. How did you do that?”
“The belt aided my focus, I think. I could see it in my mind, and it responded to my every whim in ways that I can’t begin to explain. The focus on the flame seemed easy for me, so I took it as far as I could. I didn’t feel the heat or the flame when I reached out to it. So, I reached my hands down and touched it. It felt almost cold, so I projected into it the way I had before until I could feel the heat in my palms. That’s when I backed down.”
“Fascinating,” Camon said. “This might explain how the mages were able to control the elven magic they had. The belt not only serves to help focus your magic as my stones do, but it protects you from its effects too somehow. Elven magic would normally kill a human who tried to wield it.”
“It doesn’t build like our magic does, rather it comes on like a rushing wave. Your mind has to be able to absorb it and filter the noise and understand the complexities to control it. Otherwise, it would scramble your mind beyond repair.”
“Like what your magic did to Ratana?” Achara asked.
“Like that, except fatally. The question concerning Jorn, though is why the magic didn’t kill him back in the swamp.”
“My guess is that it wasn’t him,” Achara said.
“How so?” Camon asked.
“He didn’t remember a thing, which leads me to think that he was somehow possessed. Whatever has been imbued on Jorn was never intended for him to control, rather it was meant for another to use Jorn as a vessel.”
“Humans can’t control elven magic and probably never will,” Camon said. “But elves have long been able to imbue artifacts with magic that humans can use, like my sword. If they imbued a human in a similar fashion, then Jorn is effectively an embodied talisman. I think you may be right about Jorn not controlling himself. It was someone else, but it was Jorn’s body that was being controlled, not unlike how some seers can control others. But they would first have to imbue him with the ability before they could use it.”
“So, what does that have to do with the belt then?” Jorn asked.
“My guess is that the mages were imbued with magic in much the same manner. The belts allowed them to control the magic as an indirect means, rather than directly control it.”
“In other words, they themselves are talismans, and they were controlling themselves by way of a talisman,” Achara summarized. “That seems complicated. Why not just make a talisman like a sword and use that?”
“That’s a good point, but my guess is that it has something to do with the way magic works in general, Camon said. “A talisman is static. It can only do what it was enchanted to do. But life is dynamic. It adapts and changes. It can learn. What Jorn has is not a specific spell or ability – which is form. No, he was given an essence of a sort – an elven essence that allows him to use magic as an elf. But without changing Jorn into an elf, the essence alone is useless.
My guess is that the belt offers protection from the effects of the elven magic while allowing for the use of the magic, at least to some degree, I think. A talisman can only do so much, and because it serves as a filter, the full effect of the magic is lost. Jorn is a living talisman of a sort. Nevertheless, even in its mitigated form, the magic is formidable.”
“So, somebody was in my head and tried to use me to kill you?” Jorn said.
“Yes, essentially. We already knew that you were sent to kill me, and they figured that I would use my magic on you. That’s what triggered the control. Once they knew I was near you, that’s when they took control of you and tried to kill me.”
“If I have this elven essence, then can I learn to control it like the mages did through the belt?”
“If I’m right, then yes,” Camon said, scratching his chin. “But, it would require an elven mage to teach you the subtleties of elven magic.”
“I see…” Jorn said. They all sat silent for a moment.
“Is it possible to learn magic through observation?” Jorn asked.
“Well, I suppose. I mean, you can learn it by reading about it, understanding it, and practicing it. The problem is, how do you get inside of someone else’s head unless you’re a seer?”
“Achara is a seer,” Jorn said.
“She would have to observe an elven mind to learn elven magic. I don’t see how that helps you.”
“Yeah…” Jorn said, trailing off again. They were silent for a moment longer. “You said that the belt offers protection from the effects of magic, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Camon said.
“Well, one of the effects of this magic in me is that it makes me unconscious to allow another to possess and control me. If the belt could somehow protect from that, then I would, in effect, be observing my mind if another possessed me.”
“What are you proposing?”
“Activate me with the belt on. If I can see how the elf controlling me activates the magic within me, then I should be able to do it as well.”
“Out of the question,” Camon objected. “You would be putting yourself and me at risk. Your consciousness would be connected to the consciousness of whoever is controlling you in your mind. It’s possible to do that, but not in those circumstances. Not without serious ramifications to you.”
“Trust me, Jorn,” Achara said. “I learned that the hard way.”
“Then how else am I supposed to learn to tap into this then?”
“We’ll find another way,” Camon said. “I know you are now eager to unlock this gift you’ve been given, but you have to be patient with it. You’ve made huge strides already. Learning to control the magic that you have discovered is the next step.”
“That’s easy to say from your position,” Jorn said. “You already have it.”
“Do you think I learned magic overnight? It was hardly that. I spent years mastering the priestly arts, only to start over again when I became an apprentice to my mentor as a Paladin to learn this magic. It was not easy, with many setbacks. You are learning well already. It seems mundane, but you’ve made great strides even in the short time you’ve been working with it.”
“What about her?” Jorn asked.
“Achara can tell you the consequences of learning too fast without control,” Camon said.
“He’s right,” Achara said. “Without learning to control the magic first, you risk hurting yourself and others.”
“What happened to you?” Jorn asked.
“Not long before we met, we were in the Gypsy camp where I was joined with their seer. She wanted to ‘walk’ with me, which is a ritual they use to explorer a person’s story. In the process of that, the magic in me welled up and overwhelmed even a seasoned seer. I was knocked out for days as a result. I put the seer and myself at great risk because I didn’t have control of my magic. Even now, there are things I won’t attempt even though I have the potential to do them because of the backlash.”
“I guess I will go back to fire gazing then. It seems that’s what you want me to do.”
“Jorn, despairing over slow progress doesn’t help,” Camon said. “It slows you down. You’d do better to have new resolve. You saw what the belt allows you to do, which is a huge leap beyond even what you were doing before. Keep working on it, and I think you will be amazed at the progress you can make. You didn’t become an expert swordsman by simply picking up a sword, did you?”
“No, but I had a good teacher.”
“With magic, experience is your teacher. It’s the only way to master it truly. I am not here to teach you magic any more than I am teaching Achara. I am a guide along the way. My job is more to tell you what not to do than to tell you how to do it.”
“But what if I want to take the risk?”
“Then you bear the responsibility for its consequences. And where that involves me, I will not take part in that. I am not going to be complicit in your self-destruction.”
“Fine, I will find some other way then,” Jorn scoffed.
With that, he gazed back into the fire without another word.