Time had passed, since my manifestation. More days had gone by, and things were changing. I could no longer understand what I was feeling. Things changed in that they became exponentially more intricate, this only masked by the inherent enormity and complexity of reality.
I could feel the delicate movement of time, unreliable as it was. I was working on my Attunement. It was more about knowing myself than knowing Existence.
Solipsism is one explanation. But the base idea is an oversimplification. As always, it seems. The mind craves simplicity. It’s comparable to peace.
I was in my chamber, and the light was low or absent, the hour was late. I entered my bathroom to approach the sink and look in the mirror.
Need to shave, at some point.
I stared at myself, looking into my eyes. It was a dissociative technique, which helped in Attunement, but took a toll. Everything became distant, the more I looked into those eyes.
I see you. But I reject you.
It’d been a few weeks since Kendall had put the hurt on Cat, and things had been going well enough. Physical confrontations had been avoided. Ash can be surprisingly low-key when he wants to be. Downright charming even.
Focusing on objective truth, I tried to meditate on further information. Segue my consciousness away from sensory reality, into pure information.
Something is coming.
That was disconcerting, but not unexpected. Something big was not far off, and it wasn’t just the War Games. Those would be important enough.
It was a steady, inexorable thing, that worried me.
Need space. Can’t sleep.
Exiting the bathroom, I came out into the white main room. I got down and closed my eyes, pressing my forehead to the floor. It would be backwards to say this required intense focus, but it did. There was one thing all my effort was focused on, and that was wisdom. With that came power. I had access to the preternatural. I had a foot in the door.
Humans are not inherently supernatural things. We’re made of information, we think by that information, and therefore we’re beneath it. Souls, by default, are just records, metadata. They don’t make you special, and the only way they mean anything is when interpreted through external values. The same as morality. I grasp them. It’s like a joke. You have to have magic, to get it. You need administrative status, a red pill, to circumvent the naturalism of reality. Its substance is a different thing entirely. A pure causality, within a sort of Platonic space.
Sometimes magic is given by deities. Sometimes it’s made possible by cosmological constants, put in place by Eldritch things. And sometimes it’s inaccessible, a fiction, in places which sought out technology. Ultimately though there’s just one question. That same bitch of a question. The one which everything comes down to.
I grimaced. The unexamined life is not worth living, so the saying goes. It doesn’t warn you what examining your worth will yield.
For all this understanding, I had gained something.
Shifting my mind, it was possible, with time, to view a place out of sight.
I smashed my fist into the punching bag and felt the recoil through my arm. Twisting, I hit the rebounding bag with an elbow, keeping it bouncing back and forth, swinging it more than I was supposed to, just for the fun of it.
Couldn’t sleep. Neither could the only other occupant of the gym, I supposed.
He was free lifting weights, and as he rose with a grunt, he exacerbated the aberrant trait about him. He had no eyelids.
A Revenant, my insight told me. Powerful, and incidentally, abominable.
He was staring at me, and I gave a smile, then taking a breather. The lighting was shady in the gym, keeping with the nighttime atmosphere. I wasn’t anywhere near Porter’s Sanctuary but instead was far below in the rock somewhere. The gym was seldom visited, apparently, the acolytes were mostly erudite, less interested in the body.
Well, at least when it’s two in the morning, they were.
A door swung open, out of sight, and slammed.
“You,” Kendall called, from across the room.
“Me?” I said, without looking. I took a swig of water, and then watched him approach, from where I sat on a bench. I threw my coat over my shoulder.
“Meeeeee?” Asked the Eyelidless man, with his long stringy hair, drawing out the word. “I’ve seen what the waking mind sleeps to forget, I am-” I tuned out his monologue as Kendall struck a hands on hips pose right over me.
“You need to stop escaping your enclosure, this is becoming obnoxious.”
“That part of it is humorous but unintentional,” I said, “and you should have a reason, or precedent, for a long term order like that. Should’ve been in the contract, if you cared that much.”
Liddy was still talking, low and ominously in the background. I was half paying attention. Something about a sacred darkness, hell, and the oncoming night.
“You need to respect me and my wishes, that’s in the contract.”
“Per the order of importance, which I liked, by the way, I get to prioritize lives over that command. I’m working out, that could save lives one day.”
“You’re just coming up with any and every excuse, Doran.”
“Yes, because I’m not some spirit or thing, I’m a sentient human being and I go where I damn well please,” I said, suddenly changing my demeanor.
Kendall recovered fast. “You’re mine, is what you are.”
“Just like Odessa?” I said.
He didn’t recover from that.
I rubbed a hand over my face, thinking while I had time.
I need a shave.
“Why don’t you just speak your mind, Kendall? We both know your reasoning. He’s on both of our minds. Mine, increasingly.” I raised my brow to look up and meet his eyes.
“Christopher conjured you, and I can’t have anyone to finding out. I’d be expelled or exiled. You need to stop fucking around and making a show of yourself. The more attention you get, the closer someone is to asking questions.” I looked and Lidless was gone. Kendall had apparently noticed and I hadn’t, which was… disturbing, to say the least. “You’re pushing the line, constantly, and it shows.”
“I uh… I apologize.”
“Yeah. I’m just as lost in this situation as you are. And even though it may seem like I’m withholding information, I’m really not,” I said. “I’ll stop wandering at night, and after classes. Not beyond the Sanctuary, anyway. You’ve got to stop locking me in, though.”
“I’ll take that deal. You can understand why I wouldn’t offer the same to Ashmedai, though, or Anna. Flight risks, even with their contracts.”
“Untrustworthy and unstable. Yes…”
Kendall put his hands in his vest pockets and shifted his weight. “You need to pick a weapon for the War Games,” he said, after a while.
“I agree. I’m thinking of picking an implement.”
“You practice magic?” He was almost upset.
“Kind of. I’ve been working on orienting myself with Attunement, getting ready to actually cast something. But, whenever I get close, I shy away from picking a channeling device. I’m more of a hands-free kind of guy. Can’t see myself with a wand or weapon. There’s a different method, which I’m moving towards.”
“Don’t you dare attempt anything in the field, Doran. You’ll be going up against educated Battlemages, and they’ll outmatch you.”
I hung my head and nodded, all the while smiling out of sight. “I won’t.”
“Good. Pick a weapon. The Tech Guild will ruin anything too advanced, so be wary of that. Don’t use anything connected to a signal.”
“I’m aware, I’ve read the info. Every Guild will be involved in the War Games, and even though it’s volunteer based for those not in the Eidolons, almost no one misses. It’s obligatory. A cultural pillar. It’s about Unity.”
“Mhm,” I echoed.
Kendall seemed to think for a moment. “We’re so gonna die.”
“Probably,” I agreed with a laugh.
Then, “…what’d you mea-.” He reconsidered. “You know, Doran, magic isn’t something to fuck around with. Especially for… people in abnormal states. Can you tell me you know what you’re doing?”
“The shadow in the light is unseen but does not cease. All things are. Magic is simply the power to choose which are known.”
This was my interest. It’d been about a month, and I’d done next to nothing but think. There was too much to learn. Everything necessitated reflection.
Kendall thought about that. He opened his mouth to speak but then shut it. “That sounds heady, but doesn’t say a lot to the practical nature of the craft.”
Eh. “It’s different wherever you are. I could say the language is information, but that’s not very helpful, now is it. The general principle is cause and effect. One needs sway, abstract cause, and reason.”
“That’s still lacking substance. What you’re describing is Mana, to a degree. But the philosophy is unnecessary.”
“Anyone can learn the systems. Yours is based in procedure, and intent. Which is why, when dealing with more concrete entities, like Odessa, Anna, and myself, your contracts fall prey to interpretation. But with Ash, a spiritual thing, your intent is as clear as your wordage. Willful ignorance is not within his power.”
Kendall wrinkled his brow. “Each is their own. No contract can change that.”
“The contract harnesses.”
“It, like everything, though, is limited. Purpose of want and want is a trick.”
“I’m in control,” Kendall assured. “Your purposes are my purposes.”
Our relationship was built on mutually assured destruction. Which was awkward, to say the least. The common understanding was to fear one another, but we were both too convinced of ourselves to do that. I, of my intelligence, and him, of the knowledge that no bound thing was beyond his power.
I didn’t underestimate him, though.
We exchanged a wordless goodbye, and I went on my way. Exiting the gym, I walked through tunnels, passing a restroom, and a lounge.
My intent had been to get space, to think, but just like sleep, it was difficult.
Walking the halls, I considered the oncoming battle. The War Games. They were a defining moment, a turning point. The way they went would determine the future as every moment did. Special relevance, though, was given to them.
Two sides, one winner. I couldn’t say if the wind was in my favor.
But I was growing, and that was what mattered. I had an obligation, and a moral imperative. I believed in those things. Not just gain.
There were ideals, and beyond the quibbling, they were clear. There were truths, and beyond the doubt, they were obvious. But there was an ache there.
I crossed a threshold and came outside.
Brr. Frail. The noise is muddling. The noise is yours.
I shook my head and pulled on my jacket. Got going to where I would.