“You must work on your control,” Gabriella asserted as she cleared off the wooden table top, which signified the end of today’s lesson. That was nothing he hadn’t heard before, he thought as he pulled his thick cloak around him. She was teaching him Illusions now, one of the first steps in the training of kyor’rashni, for it taught one control. This control learning process was something like learning to color between the lines while at the same time learning to ride a bike. He had to keep his object, his Illusion, out there, which in itself was no easy thing, and yet at the same time keep it recognizable. Like blowing soap bubbles or smoke rings, it took a certain amount of coordination and finesse, neither of which was he overly endowed with.
Gabriella’s Illusions were perfect, colorful, intricate. His were blurry at best, in one color or sometimes two or three, but even those were only primary colors, nothing so involved as, say, silver, or magenta. And intricacy was certainly out of the question, in fact, his were almost two dimensional they were so simple. It was very frustrating. She had told him on a few occasions how much power she could sense in him, but if he harbored all this power, then why couldn’t he conquer the rudiments of control and supposedly simple things like Illusions?
Gabriella had originally planned to tutor him mostly in kyor’rishtan, but as they went along, his talents in kyor’rashni kept getting in the way. Kyor’rishtan was the power of the mind; kyor’rashni was the power of the body. When you heard someone’s thoughts or communicated with your mind, that was kyor’rishtan. When you cast an Illusion, that was kyor’rashni.
Having both gifts was most advantageous, especially if you were a Mage for a military company, Gabriella had told him. Causing someone to be invisible, for instance, could be done two ways. You could use kyor’rishtan and “suggest” to someone that something was invisible; this method was called a compulsion (and was not, Gabriella had emphasized with a stern tone, entirely ethical). Or you could use kyor’rashni and cast an Illusion of Air around the person or thing to be made invisible. The problem with both of these methods, Gabriella had warned, was that when using kyor’rishtan as an offensive tactic, the person whose mind you were targeting might have kyor’rishtan themselves and so might detect you in the act. If that person were strong enough, he or she could hold your mind captive. It was not very common that people unshielded themselves to that extent, she said, but it was certainly a risk to be aware of.
Kyor’rashni, on the other hand, was easier to detect because by asserting your will, you drew from the forces of the earth around you, thereby giving you an almost endless supply of power. Drawing in the earth’s power, however, meant disturbing the natural flow of its forces, causing ripples of a sort that anyone in the region using mage vision would be able to detect, depending on that person’s range of perception. The problem that Andrew had begun to run into when Gabriella was trying to train him in the use of his kyor’rishtan was that he kept using his kyor’rashni to perform whatever task she set him, and vice versa. He couldn’t tell if he was using the wrong kyor. So Gabriella, with no small amount of irritation, began to instruct him in both kyors.
It was not the fact that he had problems distinguishing between how to use which one exclusively that irritated her, she had explained to him, for that meant that his gifts were each extremely powerful. The problem was that because kyor’rashni was the power of the body, the trials and complications were at the least tripled when trying to teach one its uses while one was going through puberty, as the body is undergoing many changes. In fact, Gabriella had told him wearily, most people do not show evidence of kyor’rashni until the decline of puberty or some time in the years succeeding it, making the instruction of it a great deal easier on both the student and instructor. Except, of course, for those like himself whose gifts were so strong they could not be stifled until after puberty.
In fact, she had said, there were a number of focuses of kyor’rashni and kyor’rishtan, such as the Gift of Prophecy, the Gift of Empathy, and the Gift of Speech, the latter she explained to him meant that he would be able to communicate with the ordinary animals, birds, iros and the like, the way he could humans. These ideas were so foreign to him that he was overwhelmed. He had no understanding of how he could be so powerful and not feel any different than he ever had, although the sheer effort it took to learn anything of either kyor at all usually wore the edges off of his disbelief soon enough.
Sighing, Andrew gathered his heavy, ankle-length cloak closer about him and braced himself for the cold of the outside. The thin layer of snow on the ground outside of Gabriella’s workroom squeaked beneath his boots as he headed toward the frozen creek. He had made a habit of going for a walk after his lessons to clear his head. The cold weather and rhythmic sound of his feet in the snow helped him to calm his overburdened mind. As he approached the creek, he found that he was heading toward the same place he had been visiting for the last two or three days. Well, perhaps there was peace of mind to be had in a routine, especially when all else was continually changing.
Andrew stopped at the bank of the creek to regard the frozen ice, his archenemy of late. Everyone knew to be careful when walking on ice, yet the more careful he was, the harder he fell on his ass. He took a deep breath and placed a booted foot on the ice. So far, so good. Another foot. One more step. He let his breath out and relaxed. Stepping forward again, his foot slipped in some standing water and, his arms wind-milling wildly, Andrew spent a moment teetering back and forth, trying to regain his balance. Finally he was able to stand still, immensely glad of the fact that he had not fallen again; his butt and hip were still sore from his prior free-falls. He looked then at the remaining ice left. Instead of trying his luck with the few steps left to the bank, Andrew instead jumped the rest of the distance, immerging his feet into snow up to the top of his boots. Self-consciously, he glanced all around, hoping no one had witnessed his dismal display of grace. Then he realized that he was standing in the middle of a cold, empty forest -- only the trees were likely to have seen him, or the wickas, of whom little sign could be found. In this weather, they huddled together for warmth in their bird-like nests, only occasionally coming out to forage or frolic in the snow and sun.
It took some time to reach his destination but he eventually found it. It was hard to find landmarks when they were constantly becoming snow laden, losing branches, or falling prey to other appearance-marring circumstances. His chosen site for contemplation and retreat was a picturesque perch at the top of a somewhat unremarkable tree-covered hill. It unexpectedly overlooked a deep valley, enabling him to look out over miles of forest. The scenery was so overwhelming that his problems and concerns no longer seemed quite as monumental as they had previously. Andrew looked out over the valley and breathed in the fresh, wintry air before he turned and brushed the snow off of the rock that was his seat of state.
He had been there for some time – staring vacantly seemed to allow his mind to roam freely – when he heard the sound of snow squeaking. He had just enough time to grope beneath his cloak for the sword he had little idea of how to use when he heard Elise’s voice.
“There you are. You’ve come a long way out,” she panted as she climbed up the rest of the hill, Fiaz following behind her like an inky shadow. As she came to stand beside him, the view caught her eye and whatever she had been about to say was arrested as she gazed out over the valley. Andrew felt pride in having claimed this beautiful spot as his own and yet irritated that someone had violated his sanctuary.
Elise finally looked down at him, her cloak billowing in the breeze around her, and asked, “Is this where you keep disappearing to every day?”
Andrew shrugged nonchalantly. “Sometimes,” he replied, as if he had many places exactly like this to retreat to. Ah, the airs he was taking, he thought to himself wryly.
“We were out roaming around and we found your tracks in the snow. I thought maybe you were hunting or something.”
“Not unless I have to,” he replied.
Elise pulled her long cloak around her. “Mind if I have a seat?”
Pleased that she had asked permission, Andrew brushed more snow off of the rock and gestured next to him. As she sat down, a cold gust of wind blew through her hair, and, he was certain, his own clothes, he thought as he wrapped his cloak about him tighter.
“Your hair’s getting longer,” he said for conversation’s sake. His sister always said girls liked for guys to notice things like that.
“I know,” Elise said distastefully, putting a hand to the black curls that dangled below her shoulders. “I tried to cut it not too long ago, but she walked in on me and forbade me to take anything sharper than a comb to my hair. She says no one wears their hair so short, especially not women, and that I will only call more attention to myself with it short.”
‘She’ was in obvious reference to Gabriella, of course. Gabriella had informed them that few people here had dark hair; people had mostly red, blond, or brown hair. Only the Kin’keska had black hair like Elise’s, and even more rare was naturally curly hair like Elise’s. But Elise was going to draw attention wherever she went with a zary’andu at her side, so Andrew didn’t think her black curls would make much of a difference after people saw Fiaz.
For a while, they sat, each lost in thought as they looked out over the valley. Then Elise asked curiously, “Andrew, what’s it like being able to do magic?”
He snorted at the irony of the question.
Taking that as a reply, she looked at him and said defensively, “What?”
“Nothing. It’s... well,” he trailed off and shrugged, unsure of what to say. “Being able to do it and doing it are totally different. Trying to do it is... very, very frustrating.”
Surprised, Elise asked, “Why? I would think it would be fun. Easy.”
Andrew raised an eyebrow. “Neither.” She looked baffled, so he groped for something to say to explain. Hoping for something original and brilliant, he instead wound up explaining it in the same way Gabriella had. “You can do it two ways, with kyor’rashni or with kyor’rishtan.”
“No kidding. I thought kyor’rishtan was only for reading minds. You know, telepathy?”
“Well, it is, but you can do more with it than just talk mind to mind. Those Illusions Gabriella does can be done with kyor’rishtan. Kyor’rishtan means ‘power of the mind’, and kyor’rashni means ‘power of the body’,” Andrew explained. He told her how both were used, which left her looking thoughtful.
“I have kyor’rishtan, too. Does that mean I can do all that?” she waved her hand as if she were describing a vast amount.
“Depends on how much you have. The more you have, the more you can do. It’s like strength. Just because you can lift something heavy, doesn’t mean you can lift a house. How much you have limits you to what you can do.” He paused and pulled his cloak around him a little tighter, hoping he hadn’t completely confused her. After all, you could always develop more strength, but with either kyor, what you had was the most you were ever going to have, no more and no less.
“How do you know how much you have?” Elise wanted to know.
There was a way of testing a person to find out, but Andrew didn’t know how to do it. Although, he thought as he looked over at the zary’andu, Fiaz might, being Elise’s mind-mate.
“Fiaz would probably know, but I don’t.” Andrew watched her as her eyes gained that far-off quality that usually meant she was talking with Fiaz mind-to-mind. Then her eyebrows furrowed petulantly and she looked again at Andrew.
“He says it’s none of my business, that I don’t need to know! Would you believe! Furball!” Her last comment was obviously directed toward Fiaz, though the unconcerned zary’andu continued to sit silently and look out over the countryside. Only a slight twitching of the tip of his tail against the snow distinguished him from a black statue.
“Of course it’s my business! It’s me, isn’t it? It’s my ability we’re talking about, right?” Elise was fuming.
“Calm down,” Andrew said lightly. Her outbursts had lessened considerably since their arrival here, and her fights with Derrick had dropped comparatively to an almost non-existent level since the fateful chain event, though there was a definite cold disregard remaining between the two of them. He often wondered why she disliked Derrick. She had made it quite clear the first day they were here... which reminded him of something. He thought that maybe he had an idea about everyone’s kyor abilities, or in some cases, lack of, that had its foundation in their bodies’ reactions the day they arrived here. On an impulse, he said, “You know, I have a theory about all that.”
“About all what?”
“Our abilities. Who has how much of what.”
“So tell me.”
Suddenly self-conscious, Andrew took a deep breath. “Well, you know how most of us were sick just before we got here?”
“Ye-es,” she responded slowly.
“I wasn’t sick at all and you were only a little nauseous.”
“Don’t you think it’s interesting that you and I have some form of kyor and the people who got really sick don’t have any? Like Derrick?”
Elise studied him thoughtfully before she said, “But how do we know he doesn’t have any kyor?”
“Gabriella told me that Rick and Derrick don’t have any kyor at all.”
“But the rest of us do?”
“She didn’t say that the rest of us did or didn’t, but it’s kind of obvious that you and I do, and she didn’t say that Fiona didn’t. And Fiona hardly got sick at all, either.” Andrew told her.
“So... what you’re saying is that the people who were the most sick don’t have any kyor, and the people who were the least sick have the most... and that the people who were in between have only a little kyor?”
Andrew sighed. It sounded so ridiculous put like that. He should have just kept his mouth shut.
“It makes sense. If Gabriella –” Elise stopped for a moment, looking around at the sound of a twig snapping. “If Gabriella says Derrick doesn’t have any kyor at all, well he’s the one who got the most sick. You and I have kyor and we hardly got sick at all. Interesting. You’re probably right, but you’ll probably never be able to prove it. I kind of doubt that anyone else has left their world and.... What?” she trailed off in response to his raised hand.
Andrew was sure he’d heard something in back of them somewhere. The top of a cliff was the last place he wanted to fight a wild animal. Straining his ears, he listened again.