Chapter Thirteen - On Matters Cerebral
I went round to the edge of the copse and sat there, eating my pie whilst enjoying the view out over the village and down to the sea. It looked like I’d got myself a servant… not a tremendously powerful servant… and his table manners left an awful lot to be desired… but, still, a servant.’
It was easy to tell when Psion was done eating. The waves of ecstasy rolling out of the wood were replaced by this gentle buzz of contentment. I strolled back to see that every bone and bit of skin had been devoured, leaving nothing but a nasty stain on the ground.
“It looks like you enjoyed that.”
“I have enjoyed fine banquets much less,” he replied. “Indeed,” his eyes and mind went all dreamy, “I can’t, offhand, think of a fine banquet I enjoyed more. On the whole, the politics and backstabbing are generally more significant at fine banquets than is the delectation of delicious delicacies. A simple meal with friends is generally much to be preferred. That repast was an unalloyed pleasure. Thank you, Young Mistress.”
Then he paused for a moment. “Incidentally, is my use of the title ‘Young Mistress’ acceptable?” he added, at last. “You don’t find the term overly familiar?”
“I’d love you to call me that,” I answered. “It’s a little reminder to us both of my mother.”
“Anyway,” I went on, “you were about to tell me how to break free of this horrible thing in my head.”
“Ah yes,” he said, his tail becoming more agitated as he spoke. “The technique to be employed in removing such an implanted node is not overly complicated but I would advise you most vehemently not to be premature in its use.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Because, as soon as Rhiannas sees you, he will observe that you have broken free and he will destroy you utterly.”
“I guess you’re right,” I said with a bit of a sigh. “I’m not ready to deal with him yet. I am going to get him though.”
Psion looked at me for a while, his golden eyes boring straight into me, kind of sharing my hurt and frustration. “Have no fear, Young Mistress,” he said. “The time for release will come and with it will come retribution. Furthermore, the meticulous timing of said release will make the retribution all the more certain.”
“And rest assured,” he added in his most formal tone, “when the time comes to face him, you will not stand alone.”
“Thank you,” I said simply. “That means a lot to me.” Psion, I was starting to realise, was much more than the funny little thing I’d thought he was at first. He really might help me to survive.
“Would you tell me how to get rid of it anyway,” I asked after a moment’s thought. “I’m sure just knowing would help.”
“With pleasure. The technique is relatively straightforward. Transition into the cerebral domain and I will demonstrate.”
“Transition into the cerebral domain…” he repeated. He looked at me for a moment, slightly puzzled. “You do not understand?”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“But you must be cerebrally active or you would currently be exploring the nether regions of Rhiannas’s digestive tract.”
“Do you mean doing the cloud world thingy?”
“I’ve never heard it described as such before though the term is apt.”
“I’m a bit nervous about doing the full cloud thing. Last time I tried it, I attracted the attention of somebody quite powerful and he wasn’t overly happy about it.”
“Your caution is judicious, however, in my presence, you need have no such concerns. I am more than capable of shielding the two of us.”
So I flipped into the cloud world… and I was just amazed by what I saw.
Psion’s cloud was a brilliant sky blue colour.
“It’s beautiful,” I gasped.
“Why thank you,” he replied. He sent golden sparkles and bubbles dancing through his cloud as he basked in my compliment.
“How come your cloud is like that when everyone else’s is so dull?”
“As I may have mentioned, I do have certain talents in this area,” he said with enormous false modesty, “and while it is not quite fair to say that I am the only one to take a pride in my appearance, it cannot be denied that standards have slipped lamentably since the Year of Flame and Sword.”
“You were going to show me how to sort out this thing in my head.”
“Yes, of course,” he replied, gently guiding me into his mind. “All you have to do is wrap the node in your will, so, and squeeze it, so.” He placed a simple picture in my head, showing me how to do it. Squeeze hard and the implanted node will be destroyed.”
He thought a little and then added, “If you are cautious, then, by applying more judicious pressure, you may be able to release a mere fraction of your pent up rage. I would, however, advise you to exercise extreme caution when doing so in the presence of others, particularly Rhiannas.”
I stood in silence for a moment, I was sort of itching to rid myself of the horrible grey lump but I knew I couldn’t. At last I made a decision.
“Right, if we’re not going to deal with the horrible node thing right now, I’ve got a couple of questions to ask.”
“Ask away! I will answer as best I can,” his gold sparkling blue cloud responded. “Should we revert to the base domain?”
I flipped back into the plain world then asked, “How are you talking to me?”
“It is termed cerebral communication and it is performed by implanting ideas directly into your counterpart’s mind. We dragons lack the basic vocal equipment to mimic human speech and our attempts to do so make us appear ridiculous. As you will soon discover, dragons will go to extreme lengths to maintain their dignity.”
“And how much can you do with this cerebral thingy?”
“I take it you are asking how much can be done. As you might infer from my current wretched condition, my own cerebral potential is, at this time, distinctly lacking. For a more potent party, however, their capability is determined by two factors: the raw power of the individual and the subtlety with which they are able to bring said power to bear.”
“And what sort of things can you do?”
I watched as he drew himself up to his full height whilst balanced on his tree stump. It was as if the bedraggled vagrant had vanished to be replaced by a wise and experienced professor. His tail was mostly wrapped around his body apart from the very tip which he was waving around for emphasis.
“Firstly, there are the straightforward cerebral attacks. It is not necessary for me to describe those for your mind still bears the bruises from the ones you experienced last night. They can, however, be used to influence an individual with more delicacy. Did you, for example, appreciate the storm you encountered when you first approached the island?”
“It was pretty wild,” I answered cautiously, “but, for some reason, I wasn’t quite as scared of it as I ought to have been. I got the impression that there was something not quite right about it.”
Psion studied me for a moment. “That, Young Lady,” he said, “is a rare and unusual talent. The storm is, as you have probably surmised by now, a permanent, geographically constrained illusion…”
“Whilst most illusions are simply inserted into a single mind, that particular illusion is experienced by all individuals venturing into its active domain. It helps to protect us from unwelcome attention.”
“That sounds sort of tricky.”
“It is, beyond question, one of the most sophisticated feats of illusory work performed in the last century and I am extremely proud to have played a pivotal part in its construction.”
He paused briefly and did a bit of his preening thing.
“The mind may also be applied to cerebral manipulation,” he went on at last.
“Moving objects around with the mind. Appropriately applied, cerebral power can be used to augment or even replace muscle power, allowing you to run faster, jump further or lift heavier objects. For example, we use it to assist us in flight. If you consider the size of our wings for a few moments, you will soon realise that they are too small to lift us. A skilled rider can use cerebral manipulation to assist the dragon in flight…”
I nodded. “Rhiannas was trying to get me to do that but he got pretty fed up with me.”
“I can well imagine. Rhiannas is not renowned for his boundless reserves of patience and the application of your will is, as yet, conspicuously maladroit.”
He paused for a moment then said, slightly formally, “Your dear departed mother and I had an agreement. I always told her the truth, as I saw it, with no attempt to ‘gild the lily’ and I was never punished or disadvantaged for doing so. I would strongly recommend that you and I proceed on the same basis.”
“So you didn’t just tell her what she wanted to hear. Makes sense, I suppose!”
He sort of relaxed a bit and then went on, “Furthermore, for those of us who are not so amply endowed with raw power, there is significant scope for the application of more delicate manipulation. Our claws cannot operate with the deftness of the human hand so we have developed the ability to manipulate objects on a smaller scale. Such cerebral manipulation can be used, for example, in combat to deflect the path of a blow or a flame. The most powerful sword blow ever struck will do no damage if the arm behind it is nudged off true at the right moment.”
“Or, better still, you add an unanticipated twist when parrying your opponent’s blade, throwing him off balance and opening his defences for a killing blow. This is an area that is going to be particularly important to you as,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “your puny body will not be equal to all that is demanded of it here. We can but hope there is enough between your ears to compensate.”
“That’s nice,” I muttered.
He did his bubbly cloud thing.
“And then, of course, there is pure cerebral communication. This can range from straightforward detection and communication, which some skilled operators can perform even over a distance of a couple of miles, to a full mind meld, where two intimately linked minds can share their cerebral potential.”
“That’s what I was doing with Rhiannas when we were flying, wasn’t it?”
Another one of his mental nods.
“Finally of course, there is our cerebral conflagration.”
“Our flame; our glorious, unquenchable flame. The flame that is so linked into the overwhelming majesty and boundless rage that is the quintessence of dragonkind.”
I nodded, thinking back to the spillover of Rhiannas’s emotions when he’d flamed that poor dolphin.
“If those are all your immediate questions,” he said after a few moments, then I believe that I should use our remaining time to introduce you to some basic cerebral operations which will enhance your chances of survival until we are next able to talk.
“Firstly, you must learn to construct an effective cerebral shield. In spite of wearing the Rhian insignia, it is possible that you be attacked and such as choose to do so will either be extremely powerful or utterly desperate. You must be able to protect yourself.”
“The technique I intend to teach you at this time adds an additional layer of cerebral shielding to the protection already provided by your bracelet. First you must learn to fashion defensive blocks.”
Psion showed me how to squeeze and form lumps of pure mind power so that they took on an almost solid form.
“Then you have to assemble them into a protective structure, something like a tower.” He showed me how to wrap the blocks in a defensive sphere of protection around my ‘crux’… the little light thing at the centre of my mind.
“Right, Young Mistress, would you care to practice?”
So I tried to grab at the stuff that made up the cloud world.
“Gently, gently,” he cautioned me as I groped around, trying to build blocks like he’d shown me. “You evidently have significant cerebral potential… you must, however, learn to harness it.”
After a great deal of fumbling effort I managed to pull something together that he was more or less happy with. “You must, however, practice diligently to ensure you are able to raise such a shield between one heartbeat and the next. Otherwise…” he paused dramatically, “there is a significant danger that there will be no ‘next’.”
“The other skill we need to consider at this time is cerebral manipulation.” He thought for a few moments and then went on. “Perverse though it may appear, I would recommend that, in the first instance, you focus your practice on the control of small, light objects. Allow me to demonstrate.”
A pebble rose gently off the ground and moved slowly towards me until it landed gently in my outstretched hand.
“Now you try.”
I looked at the pebble in my hand. Nothing happened.
I tried to bring my will to bear on it. Still nothing happened.
I tried again and suddenly my will locked onto the thing and it disappeared up into the treetops.
“I am relieved that I did not propose lifting your instructor by way of a first exercise,” Psion observed mildly. “Otherwise we might have discovered whether the dainty snack you so generously proffered had restored my ability to fly.
“Now, might I suggest you repeat the attempt, but this time with just the teeniest smidgen more control?” His eyes gave their now familiar twinkle.
After a little more practice, I was able to control my lift so that the pebble only jumped two or three yards into the air before wobbling wildly up and down.
“Regrettably, we must terminate our lesson if you are to return to the Rhian lair before nightfall,” Psion told me. “Now, at least, you have some understanding of what is required and will be able to practice alone.”
“How am I going to find you again?” I asked.
“You need have no fear in that regard,” Psion assured me. “Now that I am familiar with your mind and recognise that it is concealed behind your bracelet, I shall have no further difficulty in locating you.”
“Take your pebble with you,” he told me as I set off up the track, “and practice most diligently because…” for pretty much the first time, he turned all serious on me… “I simply could not bear to lose another mistress.”
He waited until I’d rounded a corner of the track and disappeared from sight before adding, “After all…” And, even without seeing it, I could sense the twinkle returning to his golden eyes… “who else would be so kind as to feed me?”
I made my way back up towards the Edifice and the Rhian lair, chuckling gently as I went.
And, luckily, Rhiannas wasn’t home when I got there so I didn’t need to explain why I was so late. I went pretty much straight to bed, planning to run through the exercises Psion had shown me, but I wasn’t all that successful because I just fell asleep.