32: The Solution
It had been a couple years since my father died. That event had shut off the first stage of my life and closed the door to my childhood. From then on, I only looked forward. I ignored my past, pretended it didn’t exist. It worked well enough; now, Dean and I were both favorites of Marsa, the most dangerous and ruthless criminal lord in the Ryne.
That day, he’d called us in for a private meeting, as he often took it upon himself to teach us his insights, train us for leadership, give us responsibilities. Though we were only children, really, while I was twelve and Dean was fifteen, he treated us like equals, valuing our opinions and perspectives. We sat in the meeting room, the large window letting in too much sunlight, blinding me. I ached to close it, to shutter the curtains. I felt too exposed, with that open window. The noon’s light fell lazily on the long, wooden, meeting table, illuminating the dust particles floating in the air.
“You’re dismissed,” said Marsa authoritatively. “Think on what I’ve told you.”
We left the meeting with Marsa on tense terms. He had just advised us that the Naga gang is in dire need of funds, and that he had tasked us with figuring out a way to procure some. Dean was a pickpocket, and a good one, but I we were just kids. What did he expect from us? We walked in silence through the halls of the manor, each of us deep within our thoughts.
“...I have an idea,” Dean suggested, his lips pursed. “There’s something we should try.” He gestured that I follow him and began walking away without me.
“What?” I asked, frustrated.
“Come with me,” he gestured again, not even stopping to listen to me, continuing his relentless pace forward.
I sighed, but I followed him, all the way down the manor’s wide hallways and into the rear of the expansive house. He stopped to open the back door for me. This exit led to the manor’s delicate gardens, once filled with roses and other lush flowers, now stocked with herbs and vegetables. It was just as luxurious as it had been in its prime, but the subject matter had changed. We had no use for fragrant flowers with thorns, but we did need to eat. So, the flower garden had converted into a vegetable garden we nurtured during the warm months. I always had liked coming here; it reminded me of my childhood, caring for plants.
We stood out in the center of the path winding through the various plants, simply taking in the view. The plants were wild but separated to their own section by type. It was perfect. I breathed in the fresh air, satisfied and temporarily distracted by all of the greenery. This was a place of peace, of thriving, beautiful life. A black bird flit around the trees at the edge of the garden, cawing as he plucked at the vegetables there. I shooed him away, stepping towards him and waving my arms.
Dean reached down to a tomato plant swaying near his thighs and pulled off a leaf from the overgrown plant. He turned it over in his fingers, examining it. Then, he looked up at me, and held out his palm face up, tomato leaf resting in it. He nodded at the leaf, suggesting I take it from him. I complied, lightly grasping it with two fingers. I waited for him to say something; surely, he would come to his point sooner rather than later.
“When you touch this plant, what do you feel?” he asked, tilting his head away from me, his eyes calculating.
I paused and pressed the leaf flat into the both of my hands, palms together, with the tomato plant’s leaf secured inside. I waited, humoring him.
Then, I felt something. A warm, pulsating flow of light that... felt green, and alive. I could feel the leaf in my hands with my physical sense of touch, but I could also feel it with my mind. I closed my eyes, examining further into what I was feeling. Was this... the energy of the plant? I could feel it fading, the light waning, the energy throbbing slower and slower. Alarmed, I reached out mentally to probe this energy, curious about its nature. As soon as I did, I felt it flow into me. Within seconds, the energy was gone from the leaf. My hands only felt a leaf, now rough and dry. I opened my hands and looked at it. It was dead and brown, no longer the cool, healthy leaf that Dean had plucked from the stem moments ago.
I looked up to find Dean watching me intently.
“I felt... its energy.”
That was the simplest way to explain what I had just experienced.
“I suspected as much,” Dean said, an excited grin on his face. “Here’s my theory – first, I think you’re a powerful magical sink.” He took the now-dead leaf from me, and turned it over in his fingers, the leaf crumbling as he did so. He just looked amazed as he sprinkled the leaf-dust onto the ground, watching the pieces flutter down.
“My sister was the powerful mage, not me,” I said, staring at the leaf particles on the path.
The loss of my sister and father was never too far out of reach, and even now, I could feel the grief resurfacing. I shook my head to dispel the sudden overwhelming emotion. It worked enough to bring me back to the present, and I met Dean’s gaze.
I’d been ignoring the truth. I couldn’t deny what had happened just now with the leaf, neither could I deny that I could always sense the energy of living things. Little signs had been making themselves known, little bursts of uncontrolled magic, over the last several weeks. Subconsciously, I suppose, I’ve always been repressing the idea of having any power, given what had happened to my sister. Look where that got her – kidnapped by the King, forced to leave us. I hadn’t wanted to be a mage, wanted nothing to do with anything magical. It had brought me nothing but pain.
But I couldn’t shove the feeling down that I was finally embracing something I should’ve long ago. Mentally, those barriers lifted, and I felt a wave of peace come over me with the hope that maybe I could truly be myself. Me, Renn Fields, a magical sink. Powerful, perhaps, but useful? I wasn’t sure. What would Dean want with my apparent magic?
“Well, here’s the thing. A magical sink is somebody who can absorb magical energy, something’s life force, right? It’s not something explosive that you’d be able to sense, which is why, I think, you’ve always believed that you didn’t have any magical powers,” he reasoned.
I shrugged, but what he said made sense to me. “It’s easy to see a light when it shines in the dark, but the void remains in the shadows.”
His smile was infectious, wide and eager. “Yeah! It’s interesting, I think.” He stared off into space, deep within his own thoughts.
“What does this have to do with anything?” I asked, curious when he would arrive at his point, interrupting his reverie.
“Well, that brings me to my second thought. I have a theory...” he said, enthusiastic, hands and arms waving in the air to emphasize his points, “I think we could combine our magic to create something new.”
I furrowed my brows, thinking about what that could possibly be.
“You’re being awful wordy here. Just get to it,” I said briskly.
“Well, think about it! I’m new at it, but I’m able to create whatever illusion I want,” he said excitedly. “But I have to be actively casting for it to work.” He began to pace, a few steps back and forth, as he became more and more enthusiastic while pitching his idea.
I could see that his ideas were growing as he spoke, a first thought becoming fleshed out into full-fledged plans. While I enjoyed seeing his mind at work, I really wished he would just say what he was trying to.
He continued, “So, what if instead of requiring me to actively cast the illusion, what if we could store the illusion into an object?”
“... And when the casing is sufficiently destroyed, the illusion is activated?” I asked, astounded.
As far as I knew, though I was no expert, this was not something that’d been done before. Magic users working together was rare. Competing egos makes cooperation difficult, and magic users tend to have large egos.
I pressed my palms together and brought my fingertips to my lips, thinking. “So, you’re saying you want to pre-make your illusions and set them off like bombs?”
“Damn, that’s an awesome idea...,” he mused, eyebrows raised. “Not what I was thinking, though.”
“Well, what then?”
“The Naga gang needs money, right?”
“Obviously, Marsa just told us that,” I huffed, unable to control my irritation. “If we’re not making bombs, then what are you proposing? Dean, for real, just say what you mean.”
He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “We need something to sell,” he said, “that’s clear. Well, I figure, what’s something people would buy?” His eyes were far away, bright and starry-eyed with this grand idea, this dream. “All anybody ever wants is happiness, peace, whatever, right? What if I could bottle those emotions, so to speak?” He got even closer to me, his eyes searching my face for my reaction.
He grabbed my shoulders, almost as if to shake me, desperate for my input. Selling emotions? What I wouldn’t give to obtain a mere feeling of peace, of forgiveness, of contentment... I personally would pay any amount of money for that. I was sure others would, too.
“Dean, you might be a genius... I think I see why you’d need my help, now. You’ll need to remove the magical energy from the existing ‘bottle’ so that you can insert your illusion.”
He released my shoulders with a large smile on his face and sighed in relief.
“Exactly,” he supplied nonchalantly.
“But you do realize,” I said cautiously, “this has way more applications than just selling bottled emotions. We could pre-make illusions as distractions and set them off at will. Imagine the chaos we could cause. We could have every advantage, in military strategy, in everything.”
“Or, we could disguise the compound,” Dean said, eyebrows raised. “Marsa is always concerned that we’ll be found. What if we imbued an illusion into the bricks to make this place invisible?”
“That wouldn’t be suspicious at all,” I scoffed. “You’d still see people coming in and out of an invisible house. That’s bound to draw attention.”
“Hmmm... okay, fine. What if we made it look like... I don’t know... a little cottage or something. Nobody would bother with that,” he shrugged.
“You might be onto something here, Dean,” I said, pointing my finger at him.
“Anyway though, back to my original idea. What could we put these illusions in?”
He looked around the garden, considering the greenery. He fingered the tomato plant he had sampled the leaf from before, “It’d have to be something easy for us to get that also has enough ‘life force’ to put an illusion into.”
“What about a plant?” I suggested. “We do have plenty of those.” I gestured towards the garden surrounding us.
“A plant... Do you think it’d have enough energy to remove?” he questioned, sounding unsure.
“Probably. It’d a good start, anyway. We can figure it out as we go.” I brushed my fingers up against the tomato plant, petting its leaves. They held so much potential. “This is going to take some work, some trial and error.”
“And I wonder how best to release the illusion...” he pondered, his voice fading out.
“Burn it,” I said, shrugging again. “That’s so easy. Burn it like incense, release the illusion. I bet the smoke would even carry the magic with it.” Energy coursed through my limbs, itching to do something, anything, to answer these questions.
“Renn, if this works, everything is going to fall into place,” he said, staring into my eyes with infectious enthusiasm. “I’ll be able to keep my promise, you’ll rise within the ranks... Marsa already treats you like a daughter. I’ve heard rumors that he wants to name you his successor!” Dean tilted his head and waggled his eyebrows.
“You’re getting ahead of yourself. We don’t even know for sure if I can do this,” I said, the usual self-doubt and lack of confidence seeping through.
“I know you can. You’re the most powerful person I know,” he said offhandedly.
I felt heat in my face in response to his nonchalant compliment, and I quickly deflected to change the subject.
“We need a name for it,” I said quickly, not meeting Dean’s gaze.
Dean pursed his lips and stared at the ground. “How about Spate?” he prompted, after a moment of silence.
“Spate?” I said, taken aback.
How apt – spate referred to when lots of similar things happened in quick succession; a cluster of events, an epidemic, a plague, a wave... The more I thought about it, the more I liked the it. What were emotions if not a flood, a surge and swell?
He grinned at me, pleased with my confirmation and validation of his idea. I couldn’t help but grin back at him; his wide smile infectious, as it usually was. In that moment, I felt a wash of hope, of excitement for the future, a dangerous emotion that I hadn’t felt in a long time.