Chapter 6: Coalescence
Rose was to have lunch with Lord Dux at noon. His rooms, accessed from an ornate marble corridor off the Atrium, included a bed chamber, a sitting room and a small office in which every possible surface was buried under a pile of books and manuscripts. Dux was waiting for her in his comfortably furnished sitting room which, Rose noted as she entered; smelled pleasantly of old leather, candle wax and sweet confectionary.
“Rose, my dear,” he said, rising and motioning to a comfortable looking couch next to a small table which was laden with all manner of cakes, pastries, bread, cheeses, and fruits. “Please take a seat, help yourself to some food and then we can discuss your day.”
“Thank you,” said Rose, perching awkwardly on the edge of the sofa, “but I’m really not hungry.” Though her nausea had lessened, she still could not face anything to eat.
“Ah,” said Dux knowingly, “things are not going too well eh? Worry and stress always seem to upset my stomach too. Still, I always find that a few sweet pastries make everything look so much better. I can particularly recommend the purple creams; they are a favourite of mine” He popped one of the small sugary pastries into his mouth, devouring it with a murmur of satisfaction.
Rose smiled politely, but her stomach churned and growled in discontent.
“I don’t think I could eat a thing,” she said, realising for the first time how overwhelmed she was feeling “I don’t think I should even be here at all. I can’t use my potentia like the others; in fact, I doubt a native could do any worse. I feel as if I have no potens whatsoever, the Sooth must have got it wrong. Lee is right; I am just some sort of mistake of the process. Even my potens ring won’t work for me.”
“My dear child,” he said, with a sympathetic sigh. “Firstly, though the Sooth’s words may be open to interpretation, he is never wrong. Secondly, potens rings are merely a channel your potentia, they cannot fail to ‘work’ as you put it. If your potentia is strong, then the ring has no option but to channel it, just as a gutter channels a torrent of rain when it merely absorbs the morning dew.”
He sat opposite her, enveloped in a large comfortable looking chair and regarded her steadily through kind eyes that creased at the edges. Pensively and softly, almost as if talking to himself, he muttered.
“So your potentia must be very frail indeed. Mmmm, I had been afraid that would be the case.”
A thought appeared to strike him. He bent forward, taking Rose’s hands into his and peering deeply into her eyes.
“Tell me, Rose,” he said, “did you dream last night?”
She remembered the fearful dream of the previous night and began to describe it in vivid detail. As she described the four Whyte descendants, a look of enlightenment lit Dux’s face. His grip on her hands tightened.
“What did they ask of you?”
His voice held an urgency which unsettled her briefly, but she took a breath and answered calmly.
“They asked me to join them,” she said.
“Can you remember the exact words they used? The exact words,” he pressed her.
Rose thought for a second frantically searching her vast, fathomless void of memory, until out of its depths, the words they had spoken floated into her consciousness. She looked into his kind, tranquil eyes.
“They asked that I became one with them.”
Dux slapped a hand on the table, dislodging some of the displays of fruit from its pyramid. He grabbed another purple cream pastry and popped it into his mouth with a grin.
“Then there is still cause for optimism,” he said, licking the sugar and cream from his fingers, “but first, there is something that we must do.”
A glimmer of hope flickered in Rose’s eyes. “You mean this can be fixed?”
“My dear Rose,” he said “the vapour from which you are ascended contains the potens of the four, but it would seem that it remains fragmented. For the potens to be of use to you, they need to coalesce and to become one.”
“Can that be done?” she asked expectantly.
Dux grinned, chuckling to himself. “Can a Mud chop wood?”
Rose felt instantly reassured by his mood. Dux took a decanter of amber liquid from a beautifully carved glass fronted cupboard. He poured some of the liquid into a small long-stemmed glass and handed it to her.
“This is Morpheus Mead,” he said, “It promotes dream sleep.”
He gestured that she should drink it. She took a sip. It tasted like honey, thick and sweet. The liquor warmed her throat as she swallowed, smiling she took another sip. Dux encouraged her to finish it off.
“In dreams, we can access our vapours in a way that is not possible when we are awake.” He said, taking the empty glass from her. “It has been known for some to recall even past ascensions this way, though this is rare. You saw images of the four in your dream, so their potens are within you, but they are still fragmented and so cannot be channelled. Like separate pools of rain-water, they need to come together if they are to gain enough energy to flow. Rose you must bring the four together, help them to coalesce into one complete, distinct and unique potens, your potens; the potens of Rose the Whyte. Now you should attempt to voyage back into your dream and go to them, do not let anything dissuade you from this task. You will know what to do when the time comes. Just follow your instincts, lie back now and let the Morpheus Mead do its work.”
Obediently, Rose reclined on the comfortable velvet couch and closed her eyes. She felt the warmth of the Morpheus Mead, spreading through her body. Her muscles relaxed, and Rose became aware of a soft buzzing sound, intensifying and then fading away as Rose drifted off to sleep.
She was back in the mist. It swirled around her, much denser this time. She could see little except the grey shadowy forms of trees, leafy vegetation and the occasional large boulder all disconnected from the ground by a sea of fog. She could hear water, the soft rushing of a fast brook and beyond this another sound, indistinct at first; it was the voice of someone calling her name. Rose moved towards the sound, which soon became a choir of voices.
“Rose the Whyte…. come be one with us…Unum Rose...Unum.”
This time, when she saw the four Whytes she did not hesitate, her steps hastened as she ran towards them. She recognised the clearing as she approached, and like before, sparking flames leapt angrily from the ground hissing and spitting. She did not wait for the red man to appear but threw herself towards the fyre with a great leap, striving desperately to jump over the flames. A feeling of weightlessness enveloped her, and she found herself soaring effortlessly high above them.
On reaching the other side, she felt hands upon her, thin bony hands, cold hands that closed around her wrists, her arms and her ankles, pulling her gently into four pairs of arms. The warmth of their embrace was like nothing that she had ever known or imagined.
A feeling of euphoria followed, and all of her fears and doubts evaporated as four radiant faces stared longingly into hers. She did not remember them, but somehow she recognised them as old and dear friends, friends who loved her deeply and she knew that she loved them too. They were her past and would now be her future. They were her reason for being.
“Unum Rose….. Unum…. be one with us…..Unum,” they murmured, each vaporising in turn, merging together, they coalesced into one homogenous white mist that surrounded her, seeping into every part of her being. Then they were gone, the four were no more, she was alone with nothing but vapour. The feeling of sorrow and loneliness that followed was almost unbearable. Intuitively Rose knew what she had to do.
“Unum” she murmured her arms outstretched, as the vapour mist swirled around her, “Unum…”
The feeling of unfurling weightlessness returned. It washed over her, and as she watched, her hands began to vaporise, then her arms, her feet, and then her legs, until finally her whole body had dissolved into mist. Soon there was nothing between herself and the four.
The feeling of loneliness and grief gave way to one of fulfilment, love, contentment and finally to a sense of incredible strength and power. She had become one with them, Unum; one vapour, one potens, one being.
Rose’s eyes fluttered open to see Lord Dux bending over her and watching her intently, a look of concern on his face and an unspoken question in his eyes as they met hers. Rose smiled, it was a contented smile.
“I met them,” she said, “I am them.”
For the first time since her ascension, Rose felt what the others must have been feeling from the start. She felt as if she belonged.
“It worked as you said it would,” said Rose. “The potens of the four have coalesced. I am one with them. I am Rose of the Whyte, and I belong here. I am home.”
Dux sighed with relief. A bell chimed three times in the Oratory.
“That is the afternoon bell, Rose. Do you feel up to returning to your classes?” he asked, “If not you may rest here for a while if you need to, I will let them know...”
Rose sat up abruptly.
“Oh, thank you my Lord, but no, really, I’m all right,” she said, with some excitement, “and I want to find out for sure if this has worked. So, if it is alright with you, I’d like to return to my classes.”
“As you wish” Dux seemed pleased, he offered her his hand as she stood up.
“But before you go,” he said “I must impress on you, how very precious you are to us Rose. There are those who would see you destroyed, people who fear you and the power you possess. Their concerns are misplaced. Without you we are lost; the Afterlands is destined to fall. You, more than anyone have to understand this Rose, you must not be taken - whatever the cost.”
Rose nodded soberly, her brief feeling of levity evaporating.
“If we lose you we could lose the Afterlands for good. If Lord Eldwyn’s prophecy is correct, then we need you with us, maybe not now, maybe not for many years to come, but eventually your destiny will call to you Rose. Until that day comes, please know that I will be here for you always.”
He walked her to the door, opening it for her and hesitating briefly as he smiled down at her.
“Enjoy this afternoon my dear. I suspect you will find things somewhat different, now.”
“Thank you, Lord Dux.” she said, turning to open the door “I will take care, I promise.”
As Rose left Dux’s rooms, she did not see the brief look of concern that crossed his face, nor did she notice the figure watching her from the shadows in the Atrium.
When she returned to the others, they were openly curious about her meeting with Lord Dux.
“Did he know why you have been finding things so difficult?” asked Auriel.
“He did actually,” said Rose as they hurried into the classroom, “and with a bit of luck, we may have even fixed it. I guess I’ll know by the end of this class.”
“What did he say?” said Ash.
But there was no time to hear her answer, everyone had quietened as the Magica Magister, Lord Goldin waved them impatiently into the room.
“Come on, come on,” he said, “ and move along there, right inside, so those at the back can see.”
The Magica classroom, unlike the others, was primarily open to the elements. As they moved further inside, they were surprised to discover that the room was not only a classroom, but it was also a large open-air arena. Beneath their feet was a dirt floor, though there was a glazed tiled area at its centre. The tiles formed a large gold vaulknut set into a white marble background. The arena was encircled by twelve massive marble pillars that supported a pantiled portico, which gave shelter to a single row of stone benches. Lord Goldin stood in the centre of the arena holding a large wooden staff in his right hand.
“Please, find yourselves a seat,” he said motioning to the benches with a long, sweeping movement of his staff.
His tall, slim frame emphasised each gesture, each limb movement as graceful as a dancer’s.
“Welcome to Magica, young ascendants.” He said, with a hint of sarcasm and a wry smile. “I expect that the other Magisters have endeavoured to convince you that their potens are by far, the most important of them all?”
He narrowed his eyes as the novices nodded in answer.
“Ah, and you are all, no doubt, expecting me to tell you exactly the same thing?”
Again there were nods of agreement.
“Well,” he said, curtly. “Then I am afraid you are going to be disappointed.”
As he spoke, he moved around the arena brandishing his staff with a flourish, like an ancient instructor of some form of magical martial art.
“I intend to let you judge for yourselves.” He said banging his staff on the ground with a flourish.
“In Magica, you will all be learning how to defend yourselves and how to harness and control the power of magic. Those of you that have the potentia may further develop the ability to create, and when necessary, to destroy. It is my ultimate duty to ensure that you gain the wisdom to know how to practise your skills in a manner that is safe, both for you and for everyone else.”
He waited for the excited hum to quieten, before continuing.
“For my first demonstration,” he said, moving to the centre of the vaulknut, “I will need a volunteer.”
Virtually everyone’s hand shot up, though Rose kept hers close to her side. She did not wish to test her new potentia so publically, just yet.
Goldin pointed his staff at the biggest and strongest of them all; Rowan, the Mud’s young Memorix. Jumping up, Rowan strutted, puffed up with an air of self-importance, into the centre of the arena. Goldin handed him the staff. Taking it, Rowan held it awkwardly at his side as Goldin stood back to address the rest of the class.
“In a moment I will ask young Rowan here to attack me.”
He smiled briefly at Rowan’s horrified expression, his eyes glinting mischievously.
“Do not be concerned young man,” he said with a slanted smile, “you will not harm me. All I ask is that when I indicate thus,” He held up his right forefinger, “ then you will take up the staff and endeavour to strike me with it. Will you do as I bid?”
Rowan hesitantly nodded in agreement while Goldin turned back to the others.
“In a moment with Rowan’s assistance, I will demonstrate a blocking spell. This is a basic spell that will enable you to prevent a physical attack. Once you have mastered this, you will progress to binding spells that will subdue an attacker. So now please, pay attention.”
This was added rather unnecessarily as everyone in the class was completely absorbed.
“In Magica,” he said, lifting one arm up while folding the other across his midriff and spreading his feet apart in a crouching stance. “Spells are generally cast in two parts and by using three components. Firstly you will learn to perform the relevant potens action and then, you will be taught to use the corresponding command or incantation. To cast a blocking spell, we use a potens action called, rather unimaginatively, a ‘block.’”
Goldin illustrated the action, moving his raised open right hand in an arc motion, which then flowed into an open-handed pushing movement directed towards Rowan. The blocking action finished with Goldin’s open palm facing the boy at chest level.
“Simultaneously to this action,” he explained, “you must use the blocking command, which is the command ‘Obsepio’. The most crucial component, however, is the one that I cannot illustrate for you visually. Simultaneously to using the command, you must use your mind to project the power of your potentia beyond your physical being, thereby pushing the assailant away. To some extent, this is an innate skill, which you should have no trouble utilising, however, like all skills it improves significantly with practice.”
He put his two forefingers fingers up to the sides of his head and tapped on his temples.
“Initially all you will need to do is to think about pushing the assailant away,” he said. “You have to develop the ability to form a clear picture in your mind’s eye, an image of what you desire to happen.”
Goldin caught sight of the two Muds, Cedar and Tamarix playfully pushing each other in turn.
“There is absolutely no need for any physical contact.” He said, his voice was soft, but it held a steely edge.
They quietened at once. Goldin turned back to Rowan, who was gripping the Magister’s staff so hard that his knuckles were white and his nails had made small crescent shaped indents in the skin of his palms.
“When you are ready?” he said, nodding towards the young Mud.
Rowan hesitated, his troubled eyes looking around at the other novices and then back to Goldin.
“You will be alright Rowan, go ahead,” Goldin said encouragingly. Then after a second he raised his forefinger.
Rowan surprised everyone by the speed of his attack. Leaping at Goldin, he was at his side in seconds, the staff raised as if to strike the Magister about the head. Lord Goldin performed the block in one seamless, lightning fast movement.
As he spoke the blocking command, a stream of energy flowed from his potens ring. It formed into a solid sheet of golden light that rose up between himself and Rowan. There was a loud slap as Rowan hit it in mid-leap and he was instantly flung backwards as if someone had slammed a door in his face.
The novices applauded, whooping excitedly. Rowan picked himself up off the floor, brushing the dust off his tunic, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“Did you see that?” said Ash beaming at Rose “it was bloody awesome! I love this place!”
Goldin, somehow, heard him.
“I am pleased, young Ash, that you are so impressed with the art of Magica,” he said, with a small mischievous smile. “Would you like to be the first to attempt the spell yourself?”
“Would I?” Ash said, with an enormous grin on his face. Without hesitation, he sprang to his feet and hurried towards the centre of the arena.
“You will need a partner,” Goldin said, indicating to Rose that she should join them. She hesitated for a few seconds, before reluctantly complying.
“The staff; please, Rowan,” said Goldin holding out his hand.
Rowan, sullen-faced, handed back the staff.
“Thank you for your assistance young man. You did very well.”
This seemed to appease Rowan, who returned to his seat, looking marginally less sorry for himself.
“Lord Ash, please take your place in the centre of the vaulknut. Lady Rose, take this,” he handed her the staff. “Stand here, and on my command, you do exactly as you saw Rowan do…. only perhaps with a little less enthusiasm, if you do not wish to harm your friend.” He winked at her.
Rose and Ash stood tensely watching each other waiting for Golding to give the command. Goldin finally raised his finger, and Rose moved swiftly forward lifting the staff above her head. When she was close enough, she brought it down heavily. Closing her eyes, she waited expectantly for the blow to be blocked, but it was not. The staff hit Ash with its full force. Letting out a loud cry, he fell to his knees clasping his throbbing shoulder. Rose opened her eyes and saw, with horror, what she had done.
“I am so sorry!” she said looking bemused “What happened?”
“I forgot the bloody command” he admitted, flushing with embarrassment. “That’s what happened!”
“Oh dear... oh dear…” Goldin said shaking his head and barely containing his amusement. “No matter young Ash, swap places with Rose and let’s see if she can do any better.”
“No, really Lord Goldin,” said Rose “I am happy for someone else to take my place.”
Rose did not want to do this; she did not wish to be humiliated in yet another class.
“Nonsense Rose,” said Goldin dismissively, “everyone will be practising this today, you are here, so you may as well have your first attempt now.”
Everyone’s eyes were upon her. She could see the expressions on Rowan and Cedar’s faces. They were expecting her to fail, more than that; they were willing her to fail. Knowing that backing down could be even worse than failing, Rose handed the staff to Ash and took his place at the centre of the vaulknut.
“On my mark” instructed Goldin.
The moment Goldin indicated, Ash flung himself at Rose, but her response was swift, a perfectly executed block action, accompanied by a clear command. The effect of was instantaneous and dramatic. A blinding white energy stream flowed from her potens ring, transforming instantly into a rapidly moving wall of light which knocked Ash off his feet, lifted him up and carried him at great speed across the Arena. He let out a cry as he hit the surrounding wall with a loud thud. Stunned silence followed. Ash, apparently dazed, got unsteadily to his feet. Rose rushed to his aid. Embarrassed, he pushed her away, his voice shaking as he tried to reassure her.
“I’m all right, really Rose, I am fine. Just remind me never to pick a fight with you, will you?”
“I am so sorry I…”
“Rose the Whyte,” Said Goldin, attempting to keep the shock from his voice. “That was an exceptional execution of the spell. Well done my dear.”
Goldin’s hand shook as he retrieved his staff. He had never seen a novice perform a blocking spell with that much power.