The Third Gong
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 1
GONG! Swords were dropped. GONG! Power was returned to the Elements. GONG! Screams of triumph, frustration and primal release filled the Magoge . Spring had come and school was over! Students, who had been grilling rhetoric, flipping weapons, crunching formulas and performing magick for the last three weeks were FREE…for a week. A week could be a lifetime to young man or woman who had barely slept, exhausting themselves preparing for exams. The trials, tests and feats were finished. There was nothing more a student could do. Grades were in the hands of the Gods now…well the teachers who might as well be divine at a school for magick.
Coriander hugged his sparring partner and threw his spear into the holding bin. Teacher Akti Selene, the slender weapons master, eyed him, “”Coriander. Spring has sprung but we shall need those weapons next term please respect them.”
“Sorry,” Coriander crossed to the bin and gently put his spear upright. Then, in apology, helped tidy up some of the other students’ flippancy with their own weapons, as they were scattered on the ground of the large combat square where they had dropped them after the third gong. Coriander liked Teacher Akti a lot. He was sweet and smelled like incense. Coriander had met many warriors in his young life and most of them were huge. Coriander, being skinny, always feared he’d never hold his own at Magoge, or anywhere, with combat: sword or spear or physical. Then he had met Teacher Akti. Also slight of frame, no one stood up against the fierce Teacher, not even large muscled veterans who occasionally came to speak and display. Some, not knowing the teacher’ skill, would attempt to demonstrate on the deceptively thin man. Coriander took great joy in watching those warriors eat dirt.
Teacher Akti also grabbed the weapons lying about that the eager students had abandoned. He was not mad at the sight. He expected it as all the teachers did. Coriander wondered if it amused them. After all, they had been the ones torturing students prior to exams. It seemed fitting they had to clean up after their students ran for joy!
Teacher Akti laughed as he swung a spear over head in a simple combination, “you did well you know.”
“I know,” Coriander admitted without ego. He had done well, no use denying it, “but I messed up the reverse sword flip! I was so close!”
“I can’t believe you even attempted it!” laughed the sweet teacher returning the spear to its proper place. “I do not know where you learned that but I like that you always try and push yourself. You always surprise me. Here…” Teacher grabbed a sword and stood behind Coriander. He gently brought Coriander’s arm up like a puppet, “here is where you reverse. If you flip too high or low the weapon’s chi will not be properly directed. See?”
Coriander tried to focus on the sword and its arc. Coriander found Teacher Akti to be very distracting. Coriander assumed it was because he was the only teacher who was nice to him. And he did smell really good especially considering he spent most of his day training and sweating….He shook his head and tried to focus on the move. He slid his hand up and imagined the energy of the sword attached to his hand. He clearly saw the point of the arc where he would let go and flip the sword back and reverse its desire. So he did. And dropped the sword on his foot.
“OW!” Coriander hopped up and down. The weapon was only a wooden practice sword but it was still heavy and hurt his toe.
Teacher Akti laughed kindly, “do I need to whip up a healing spell?”
“No I’ll be fine,” Coriander knew a spell would alleviate the pain but wanted to look brave.
“We wouldn’t want you limping at the festival.” Teacher bent down and touched Coriander’s big toe. In a moment the pain was gone and the swelling down.
“Thanks, I mean you shouldn’t have…” Coriander stuttered as he retrieved his sword, “I mean err.. I’m not going to the festival…well at home at least….”
“Well we shall all join the festival of Krokos together! Perhaps we shall have our own pre-festival for all of you staying here?” He smiled. Coriander smiled back.
Besides marking the end of term at Magoge, the Spring Festival was a huge seasonal party for everyone everywhere. Most of the students, who were from the city, went home to be with their families. Poorer students, or those who lived too far away would stay at Magoge. Some headed off to the woods. Even most teachers found other places than Magoge to be. However, as it was a celebration of harvest and the Blessing of She, all would join the city’s festival on the last night.
“Why are you still testing?” Vushi interrupted Coriander and Teacher Akti. Standing there holding swords, she assumed they were sparring. “The gong has gonged thrice!” She laughed.
“I don’t stop being a warrior at a gong!” Coriander said mock-threateningly. He circled his practice sword.
Vushi laughed and extended her arms, “Sword!” she called and a practice sword flew off the ground and into her hand. Teacher Akti laughed.
Coriander gulped, “how did you…?”
Vushi smiled wickedly, “it’s not much different then rock-n-shield .” Coriander could never compete with Vushi’s Voice. Every person Blessed with magick has different abilities and different proficiencies of those abilities. Most possessed some basic ability to move objects with their mind but some could move boulders and some pebbles. Most could communicate with the minds as well. Coriander could send a thought to someone, if they were expecting him to do so, but Vushi could tell anyone anything. Coriander secretly thought that her magickal prowess was due to her natural state of being so bossy. Her tall, strong frame and muscular brown skin already made her formidable. She was top of her herd at Magoge, with her relentless weapons practice and training of her Voice, Vushi would be a general some day. And yet, Coriander didn’t fear her at all, to her face.
In he charged. Wood slapped wood as the two students circled one another. Each slicing and parrying with efficiency beyond their young years . Muscles tensed a smiles widened. Vushi came in quick with a combination Coriander would never expect. Coriander spun low and then bringing his sword up, he released the weapon and it flipped in his hand as he reversed direction. Vushi was unready for the move and got sliced across the abdomen. A lethal strike had the weapons been metal!
Vushi’s eyes went wide. She had lost to Coriander before but never so completely. She was in shock at the move and not a little impressed. Coriander was in shock too. He had easily bested Vushi, would she now attack him for real? The daughter of a slave Vushi’s pride meant a lot to her. Coriander had little pride. He was much loved by his family but here at the huge city of Krokos, and the honored Magoge, he wasn’t very liked. His family was deemed poor and him provincial. He’d never amount to much with out the correct family ties and political clout and Coriander didn’t much care. He was happy to return to his home one-day and be left alone. He had little to prove and found the politics of Magoge annoying and trivial. However, he didn’t find Vushi’s temper to be trivial. Even Teacher Akti was waiting to see how the student would react.
Vushi dropped her sword and came up fast on Coriander… and hugged him. She laughed, “well done! Where did you learn that! Teach me Teacher Akti!”
“I didn’t teach him that!” Laughed the impressed teacher.
“I sort of learned it when I was with the military last break…remember?” Coriander thought back to his journey to the giant village and his new non-magickal military friends who had taught him a few sneak attacks.
Vushi recalled the story but did not remember any new fighting techniques. She would have to watch her friend closely to see what secrets he held from her. She laughed at her own ambition, “with that move you must certainly have a passed this level of weaponry!? They turned to the weapons master.
He shrugged, “if only you have done the move correctly before the third gong I could have promoted you.” Coriander and Vushi made faces. The gong could not be denied but both wished Coriander would be promoted so they could be in the same class next term.
Teacher Akti laughed. “Of course you passed! Even if you hadn’t showed off your new skill! Coriander you really need to think more of yourself! You are becoming quite the warrior.” Coriander breathed a sigh of relief and laughed.
Vushi sarcastically added, “more of himself? MORE? Do you even know how he is worshipped at his house? The world stops when Coriander comes home!! Wind and mountains could not think more of themselves!” She nudged Coriander playfully. Vushi often teased Coriander about his status at home. In their village Coriander was almost a hero and loved by everyone. Here at Magoge he was barely noticed. It bothered her that it didn’t bother him. In contrast, having been born a slave at Coriander’s home, Vushi fought very hard to better herself. Even back at their village she was looked at with more surprise than honor. She had been Blessed with Magick by She. Her station had changed immediately. But those she had bowed to now bowed to her and that would never quite sit well with many of the good folk of Pedia-omo.
Their playful laughter was cut short when Rho arrived. He was crying or rather trying very hard not to cry. Dropping his sword, Coriander ran up to him, “what happened?” he asked knowing full well that Rho had botched his magick exams.
“I am the worst Mage in the his…his.. history of Magoge!” he stuttered and cried.
“You are not!” whispered Coriander hugging him.
Rho pulled back, “Teacher said so!”
“Teachers are mean!” Coriander spat, “not you Teacher Akti….” He apologized to present company.
“Many are,” the unoffended teacher added sweetly, “has Rho not been progressing?” He gently asked Vushi. Rho had been orphaned and taken under Coriander’s wing. He would never have been allowed to live at Magoge for this was place for only the Blessed. But somehow, Rho had made a small rock fly into the air and that was proof enough of a Blessing, but apparently that was all he could do.
“It doesn’t matter!” Coriander held Rho more firmly, “he did magick he gets to stay! There are many well-fed goats here who can barely do more and yet they advance!” Coriander hated the elite city-children who everyone helped and fawned over.
Teacher Akti made a placating gesture and softly agreed, “I know Coriander. Rho will stay on, but it will not be easy for him.” Coriander nodded. He felt bad he snapped at his favorite teacher but did not like how Rho would be judged. Teacher Akti added, “you are very young Rho. Today you move a pebble who is to say if tomorrow you will not move a stone!”
“Or a mountain!” added Coriander.
Vushi placed a hand on both of their shoulders, “crying gets us no where. The gong has thrice gonged! We should be rejoicing! We have worked very hard, you most Rho, let’s do something fun!”
“I happen to know,” Teacher Akti smiled, “the last meal was missed by many and there is an unusual amount of pastries un-attended at the dining hall .” That got Rho’s face to brighten. “If you hurry.” Rho, Vushi and Coriander didn’t need to be told twice! They were up and running to the mess hall! It reminded Teacher Akti that they were still children. Children burdened with becoming heroes. He knew how hard these tests were. He was always glad they were over. He knew Magoge expected the very best and sometimes too much, but they were training these young men and women for leadership and combat. It would not help them in the long run to be soft on them now. He knew too the stigma of doing poorly. He hoped Rho would learn to do better like his over-accomplished friends. He was glad they seemed generally happy and excited for pastries!
Not too far away another student, much older than Rho, had also done poorly on exams. He sighed in his private shame. Could he go another year without honor? Or should he leave? Could he go home? Would anyone even care? He pulled out the rope he had taken from the stable. Maybe he only had one choice.
The Hanging Dead
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 2
By nightfall of the second day, the Magoge was near empty. This year there seemed to be even less students than usual. Of course some of the students who lived far away had been invited into their city-friends’ homes; at least those with standing. Some others simply left and chose to stay out of the city camping in the woods. That idea appealed to Coriander, as he was now old enough to go, but that idea was crushed by Vushi. “We have perfectly good beds here. Why traipse all over just to sleep uncomfortably?”
“You sound like your Mother!” Coriander teased. Vushi punched him in the arm, “Ow!” Coriander knew the real reason Vushi wished to stay at Magoge. She wanted to practice. Nothing was ever good enough. She would practice weapons and magick and force Coriander to spar and wrestle with her. As well, with so few children present, she would stand out to the teachers. Coriander couldn’t stand that side of Vushi. He knew she had a more difficult time being taken seriously and being noticed instead of all the rich kids but enough was enough! She was head of her herd what more could she want!
“Perhaps if you kill me you’ll really get in good with the teachers” Coriander laughed.
“What does that mean?” Vushi snapped!
“You love camping!” Coriander protested, “you just want to stick around and show off!”
“That is not true!” Vushi’s face reddened, “I mean yes I do love camping, true, but what’s wrong with staying put and enjoying time here? We have very little provisions, and please spare me the “you can hunt” story because we all know you wont kill anything!”
“For the last time! I didn’t kill her because I didn’t have a clean shot!” Coriander fumed! Vushi knew well that her soft-hearted friend was too gentle to kill the baby faun and, as usual, had many excuses why he didn’t kill animals. Depending on her mood she found it silly or sweet. Tonight it annoyed her. She was about to say something really mean but was interrupted by Rho.
“There you are!” Rho called out, much happier than post-pastry, “Vushi I thought you were going to Tempi’s house?”
Vushi stammered, “umm no of course not. Anyway we were discussing….”
“You were invited to Tempi’s?” Coriander’s face squished up. The Tempis were important people of Krokos. They had invited Vushi to stay for festival and not Coriander, and she didn’t tell him! “Why didn’t you…. Oh so you’re all famous now?!?! Great Vushi! Were you going to slip away next day and go get baths and massages and have slaves wait on you!”
“Obviously not since I am here.” Vushi let the slave remark go and quieted. Coriander’s pride was worth more to her than her own. “Why would I want to go preen and play with those silly people?”
“But you didn’t tell me. Why not?” Coriander answered his question before he said it. “You didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” Coriander was touched and furious and so, not knowing how to react, he punched a wall. “OW!”
“Coriander!” Vushi scolded, “stop that! Let me see.”
“It’s fine!” Coriander pouted, “ya know I could have put a whole in that wall if I had tried but it wouldn’t matter!”
A silence fell on the three friends. Rho was simply confused but Vushi saw the problem more clearly. It was more than Coriander being jealous. He had been labeled provincial and odd. No matter what he did everyone at Magoge would simply use it to reaffirm heir feelings about him. He could save the world from a ghost and after the shock all would simply snicker at how weird he was to talk with ghosts . He could do Elemental feats that were beyond his years but then someone would say he learned it in the wilderness where he lived while eating dirt. In truth, Vushi suspected Coriander was more feared than hated but the mocking came out the same.
Vushi used her softest voice possible, “Coriander I truly did not want to go and stay with the Tempis. I will have to make connections someday but not this day. I wanted to spend festival with you. Stupid boy” she tried to laugh. “And I didn’t tell you because I knew it would hurt your feelings. You the son of a Magistrate not invited where a slave, a former slave, might go.”
Coriander gulped at his selfishness, “I wish you had told me. I would have told you to go and make connections. I am not jealous that you succeed my end-friend. I am jealous of everyone who gets accolades and promotion where I get scoffed and rebuked.”
“That’s not true!’ Vushi said lying.
“Yes it’s true!” Rho added ignoring Vushi’ furious glare, “I heard Sa’ talking and he said only a future necromancer would be able to talk to ghosts!”
“Sa’ is a bully and an idiot!” Vushi scolded, “we all saw the ghost and even teacher Onion spoke with it!”
“Do you see why I wish to be any where but here?” Coriander sadly added.
“I thought having fun, with us, at Magoge, might make you like it here more?” Vushi confessed. “I thought maybe we could break your… what is it called again…”
“Association!” Rho chimed in.
“Very good Rho!” Vushi smiled, “yes, your association with Magoge holds you back. Teacher Akti is going to talk to you about it soon.”
“So every one is in on me staying here!” Coriander tried to laugh.
“Because we care.” Vushi said seriously.
“And I care to not be alone since I’m not old enough to leave Magoge and if you leave I will be all alone!” Rho had little in the way of subtly.
Coriander was beat. He knew he could not now win the fight to go into the woods. He would stay the week with his friends. He smiled. That wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps they could escape First Teacher ’s notice and play all week. Perhaps he should stop feeling sorry for himself and enjoy what was.
“So,” Coriander faced his friends, “The master plan here is to have as much fun a possible so I decide Magoge is a fun place to be?”
Vushi shrugged her shoulders at the oversimplification. In essence he was right. “Sort of?”
Rho patted Coriander on the back in an almost fatherly way, “Well Cor, if we have to stay here we might as well make the best of it! What do you say?”
Coriander took a beat. Then his mischievous faced widened and he motioned the two to come closer, “let’s steal the gong!”
“WHAT!” yelled Vushi then hushed at Coriander’s insistence and hunkered in camaraderie with the others.
“What are we going to do with a gong? Sell it?” Rho whispered.
“No!” Coriander looked incredulously at Rho, “Of course not! But we can hide it! Image: no gong to wake us up in the morning!?!?! While they’re looking for it we can sleep in!”
Vushi did like the idea of sleeping in for once but she was a more practical sort, “How would we steal the gong? Have you seen it? It’s huge!
“We could make it invisible!’ chimed in Rho.
“I don’t know how to do that” Vushi admitted.
“Coriander can” Rho remembered the story about the horse.
“I can try…. but it wont fool the teachers…” Coriander pondered, “I’m not very good at the spell.”
“We probably couldn’t even get to it,” Vushi surmised, “It’s way up in the tower and off limits to students and probably protected magickally anyway…”
“That’s it!” Coriander flashed his eyebrow in a teasing manner, “First one to touch the gong wins!”
“A race?” Vushi smiled back.
“And even made more difficult by the off limit-ness and protection of the gong?” Coriander chided, “are you afraid???”
“Coriander,” Vushi laughed, “there isn’t a race you could name that I could not win.” Vushi did have long legs and more muscle than Coriander but he had no plan to race fairly!
“Wait!” Vushi looked around, “where’s Rho?”
Coriander looked down the hall just in time to see Rho turning a corner, “getting a head start.”
“You teach him how to cheat!” Vushi laughed as she sprinted down the hallway. Coriander followed!
They passed the mess hall and cut across the weapons training area. Rho was barely holding onto his lead as he turned to corner to the wide and tall expanse that would lead to the tower…
Vushi caught up, “giving u…” she too stopped.
Coriander, who had tripped, finally came upon the two friends standing motionless before the tower. He followed their gaze up.
The body hanged freely. It swayed slightly back and forth. The boy’s face was contorted and off-colored. His neck was angled horribly as the rope held death firmly in place.
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 3
Coriander ran back to the weapons training area to find a sword. Vushi closed her eyes and used her Voice to First Teacher and anyone one else she could reach out to: Death. Student. Come. Tower. Rho stood frozen, eyes wide, in shock. Message sent, Vushi looked at Coriander as he returned sword in hand. She knew he wanted to save the boy but knew it was too late. She grabbed Rho and turned him, “Go back tot your room!” He took s a few steps back and fell to the ground unable to remove his gaze from the body.
Vushi didn’t notice. She watched Coriander scale the wall. She knew she should call to him and stop him but that he wouldn’t listen. The large foyer to the tower was a web of wooden planks leading up the walls and over the ceiling. To one plank was tied a rope that held the boy. Coriander climbed with one hand, the sword he took in panic was too large for him. Vushi had a fleeting thought; perhaps he took the biggest sword for the enormity of the task.
“CORIANDER!” she yelled as he almost fell. He ignored her as he single handedly brought himself up to the grid of beams and ran to the sinister spot. Had Coriander stopped to realize what he was doing he probably would not have, but the sweet-hearted boy had one thought: this should not be.
Teacher Akti and First Teacher arrived first. Coriander stood above the hanged boy sword raised in the air. First Teacher lifted a hand and Coriander flew back away from the rope. He crashed back into the tower wall and started to fall. Teacher Akti, much kinder and with gritted teeth caught Coriander with an Air spell and steadied him on a beam.
First Teacher’s eyes fell to Vushi.
Vushi quickly spoke, “we just walked in a and found… it. I called you immediately. Coriander went to free…”
Coriander returned to the spot and lifted his sword again, “we have to cut him down!”
“NO!” barker First Teacher. “we must leave everything as it is. You have already disturbed many clues stupid child!”
“Clues?” Coriander uncharacteristically lashed out at First Teacher, “I think even you could figure out what happened!”
Before First Teacher could scream, Teacher Akti came in with sensibility, “Coriander reach down. Is he dead?” Coriander eyes went wide. He had touched a dead body before but not a classmate and not in such a gruesome way. Coriander crawled across the beam to where the rope had been tied. His hand shook terribly as he reached down.
“Hold.” Said Teacher Akti gently as he realized what he had asked. This was a job for a teacher not a young boy. Teacher Akti ran to and up the wall then using both hands crossed the beam, hand over hand, till he came to the swinging body. Vushi knew he had used Air magick but she couldn’t believe with such grace and speed the man could move. Hanging with one arm the weapons master reached forward and felt the boy’s neck. He nodded and with one arm swung himself up and over the beam landing like cat. Had the sight of the dead body not been so horrific they would have all been impressed.
“He is dead,” Teacher Akti informed them all as he hugged Coriander who cried. The large sword crashed to the ground. The bang seemed to wake everyone up. First Teacher looked at Vushi, “did you touch anything?”
“No.” She rethought their steps, “We were racing, burning off energy before sleep, when we came upon… it. I called you, Rho fainted and Coriander went for the sword, climbed that wall and then you stopped him. That is all.”
“I didn’t faint.” Rho added quietly.
“To bed all of you!” First Teacher barked.
“BRON!” one student cried out, giving name to the lifeless corpse as 6 or 7 more students came running in followed by the very slow Teacher Onion who screamed. Apparently Vushi had called everyone. She shrugged her shoulders at First Teacher in apology. The hall way broke into sobs and cries and questions. “AWAY!” he ordered and re-ordered to the students, “Teacher Onion BED!” No one moved. First Teacher made a loud clap with his hands that was most likely amplified magickally for everyone jumped. “Teacher Onion take the students to BED!”
At this Teacher Onion woke from his shock and ushered the children back the way they had come. “Come. Now. We will know more and tell you then. Let the Master work! Come now do not dawdle! Silence!”
Teacher Akti looked Coriander in the eyes and nodded, “let us see what we can. It may not be as obvious as you think. We must scan for magick and emotions. We cannot do so with all of you here. There is nothing to be done dear boy. Come” Teacher Akti said a simple spell and he, still holding Coriander, stepped off the beam and, using Air, slowly descended to the floor.
Vushi came forward and put a hand on his shoulder. Coriander nodded. “Come on Rho” she reached a hand forward.
Rho did not take it, “I didn’t faint.” He said to reassure everyone. “I tripped.”
“I almost did” Vushi admitted, “I still might.”
“Come.” Coriander reached out to Rho, who seeing the streams of tears down Coriander’s face started crying. He heaved and lost his breath.
First Teacher was about to get angry again at the annoyance but Teacher Akti put a gentle hand on his shoulder and nodded to Coriander to make haste.
Coriander reached down and grabbed Rho like a child. He held him in his arms and whispered, “shhh it’s ok to be upset. We are all infected with this horror.” Coriander carried the boy down the hallway followed by Vushi who turned and made a small bow to First Teacher as she left. The formality seeming stupid as she did it, but trained as she was, she did it any way. He nodded.
First Teacher watched them leave, “impertinent boy! I should take him to task to speak to me…”
Teacher Akti, who would never scold his superior on front of children scolded, “you’d what? Push him off a beam and watch him fall and break his leg or worse?”
First Teacher eyed the formidable young man with aggression and then bowed his head and admitted, “I wasn’t thinking…..”
“Nor was he.” Said Teacher Akti kindly. “Let hot reactions burn off and cooler heads prevail.”
“I was worried he’d contaminate the scene.” First Teacher said as way of excuse.
“I know,” Teacher Akti was trying to help the man make excuses, “it’s upsetting for us all. I will not condemn a boy for wishing to save a victim. Now let us to work.”
Both men realized they had not looked up at the body since their first arrival. Each took a breath and did just that. They each stepped back and spoke magickal words as the emotional and magickal reside was revealed to them. First Teacher’s eyes filled with the pain of the young man, Bron, as he witnessed the emotional memory of the boy climbing the wall and standing over the beam. There seemed to be a pause where the boy changed his mind and then, as if listening to darker thoughts, leapt. First Teacher jumped as the neck broke.
Teacher Akti like wise saw the event and looked for magick. He saw some glimmer in the boy before he jumped. Perhaps they boy had said a prayer. A prayer that had obviously not been answered. The sweet weapons master fell to one knee and said a small prayer weeping at the loss. He knew Bron and liked him, as far as he knew everyone liked him. The tragedy set firm in both teachers as they silently looked to one another for strength, neither had very much to give.
The students were to return to their rooms, but all had chosen to sleep together in the common room. No one, it seemed, wanted to be alone. They sought to find comfort in this grief. Despite the warmth Coriander set a fire going in the hearth. Light was needed just now. He sat down and put Rho in his lap. Vushi sat across from him leaning against the wall. She quieted the questions of the other, mostly younger students. Yes it was Bron. No she didn’t know why. No, he was not cursed in the eyes of She. She silenced them as much as she could.
A muffled wail of weeping draped over Magoge. Like some far too heavy blanket of despair one could not escape. Coriander reached in a stoked the log trying to make it brighter. He could not handle the darkness, not now. Coriander and Vushi exchanged another look of pain. She shrugged her shoulders helplessly. ‘I love you,’ Vushi mouthed. ‘And I you,’ Coriander replied. He normally hated emotions and corny I love you’s but here and now something good had to exist.
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 4
Typically mornings bring new-life, a fresh start or at least a pretty sunrise. On the morning after Bron’s body was found, the little light that leaked in between the dark storm clouds only seemed to illuminate that something terrible had happened. An eerie silence coated the usually loud bustle of morning activities at Magoge. The gong did not gong. The usually ravenous students barely ate at mess hall, if they came at all. The morning exercises and mediations were only attending by one or two students who basically stood around out of habit waiting for the programs to start. They ended up just sitting down on the ground starring at the dark and gloomy sky.
Even Vushi could not seem to start her day. She nor Coriander had slept much. Throughout the previous night students kept waking them up for a variety of reasons: they were afraid to walk to the toilets alone; they had a nightmare; they needed to cry. Coriander and Vushi had seen to the handful of students as best they could. Teacher Akti had checked in on them twice and seemed relieved when they had things under control. Coriander assumed he would be the more upset of the pair but he could see in Vushi’s exhausted eyes that she was destroyed. Had she known Bron well?
Coriander knew him to see him. That is, everyone knew Bron. He was well liked. He wasn’t terribly gifted in magick, Coriander seemed to remember, in fact, Coriander had never seen him at any magickal classes or contests. He had fought him once and although the boy had a strong build he wasn’t very agile and lacked the warrior’s spirit as they called it. Coriander tried to remember if he had won the fight or the Bron had. He was obviously someone’s child but no one so important that Coriander could remember his family. Obviously they lived far away since he had stayed at Magoge, but unlike Coriander, Bron wasn’t labeled provincial; he was admired.
Coriander smiled. He remembered hanging with Bron as the two had been waiting for some class or trip or some activity Coriander had forgotten. Bron had told him a few very funny jokes. That was it. He was funny. People enjoyed being around him. In fact Coriander couldn’t remember seeing him not smiling. How could such a happy person destroy their own smile, forever?
Vushi saw Coriander’s smile and had to ask, “what’s so funny?”
“Oh sorry!” Coriander blushed at his insensitivity. “I was just remembering a joke Bron had told me once.”
“It’s good to remember the laughter. Do not apologize for that, my friend,” Vushi gave him a small hug. “We are gathering in the field by the stables to exchange stories and memories of Bron. You should tell the joke. It would be nice to hear it replace the…my newer memory of him.” Vushi turned her back and placed her face in her hands. “He was such a good person! Why! Why by the Gods Coriander WHY!?!!?”
Coriander felt helpless as his end-friend collapsed to the ground weeping. He placed a hand on her back and tried to awkwardly hug her. They were still in the common room but they were alone. The other students had wandered off looking for an activity or anything that would take their minds off this trouble.
“I cannot imagine why…” Coriander whispered. He knew Vushi had known Bron but how well? He was so used to, and jealous of, Vushi being friends with everyone he never stopped to consider how well she liked her other friends.
Vushi tried to calm her breathing. She had spent most of the night keeping her tears away. Perhaps she expected her grief to lessen in the morning light. It hadn’t. She had slowly watched her breathing until the last of the students had left to common room. She knew, once alone, she and Coriander would talk and she would feel better. He had reminded her how funny Bron was. She could see his smile and then his contorted face. It was too much. She half heard Coriander trying to comfort her. She had liked Bron a lot. He had been kindest when Vushi was first at Magoge. Vushi had grown to care for him. They cared for each other. Yet as they grew, they grew apart. They had not seen much of each other over the last two years. Vushi had excelled at her classes and Bron had not. Is that why he had taken his life? Should Vushi have guessed that? Should she have tried to help him? Save him? Most of her knew feeling guilty about this was ridiculous but a tiny part of her wondered if she could have done something. Anything. She needed answers.
“I need to know…” She whispered.
“Vushi,” Coriander whispered back, “no one knows the darkness of another’s mind. How could we expect to ever know what he thought? We barely knew him.”
“I knew him.” was all Vushi said. She rose and started down the hall to the sleeping chambers.
“Where are you going?” Coriander followed her. Had he taken a moment he would have known the answer. They were headed to Bron’s room. Coriander didn’t know how Vushi knew where his room was. He knew approximately where it would be since Bron was older, but Vushi walked straight up to the unmarked door and pushed it open.
A physical sense of despair fell out of the door. Coriander had to stop himself from retching. He leaned against the hallway and pushed his palm into his gut. It was that tangible to the over-sensitive apprentice-Magi. Vushi, less affected, strode into the tiny chamber. It was tidy. The bed was made and table covered in scraps of leather and odd tools stood in the corner. Vushi remembered Bron had excelled in leather tooling, it made her eyes swell for a moment until she pushed her emotions down.
Coriander got a hold of himself and entered the room. He saw Vushi looking at some leather strips on a table. He left her alone. Daylight streamed through the window and landed on the clean stone floor illuminating a sacred circle. That was odd. Why would a student cast a circle, and a well measured circle-square-circle circle surrounded in sigils, in their own room? That was dangerous. And yet, it looked like no circle Coriander recognized. Or rather he understood all the signs but they didn’t make sense together. One sigil was for healing and another for good harvest and others were backwards or had two halves of two different signs. Coriander had no idea how bad at magick Bron had been. But here was proof. The boy had now idea what he was doing. Even the circle itself was wrong, it more resembled a summoning circle than any one a student would use. That was beyond dangerous. It made little sense. What had Bron been up to?
“WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING!” bellowed the angry voice of Teacher Onion! “How dare you enter another student’s room. Stealing?” Teacher Onion had directed that insult at Coriander but it was Vushi whose eyes flew wide and spun to face the rotund and pale teacher.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” she almost screamed. Teacher Onion’s eyes also grew wide, but his from fear. Vushi was fierce.
Coriander leapt in between them, “Vushi was Bron’s friend. She is upset… we didn’t disturb anything.” Then he turned to Vushi, “we should not have entered unannounced.” Coriander could not believe he was defending his bullying teacher but right now, the last thing anyone needed was more fighting. Vushi nodded.
“The room is off limits to students,” Onion added as kindly as the evil teacher could, “I am sorry apprentice Vushi. His family will want his things left alone.”
“I understand,” Vushi answered, “and yet I do not understand. Why?” She croaked out the feeble question.
“Who is to say,” Onion laid a gentle hand on Vushi’s shoulder, “none of us truly know. I personally believe he was ashamed at being so poor in magick.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Coriander said before he realized he was speaking.
“Why is that ridiculous,” Onion sneered.
“I mean err…” Coriander would get in so much trouble for his real thoughts on the absurdity of Magi and their better than everyone else ways of thinking. Coriander was quite sure She Blessed all, but knew better than to say it. “So he wasn’t good at magick. He has a wonderful family, if I remember correctly,” Vushi nodded, “there are many positions for one such as Bron with magick or not!”
“Apprentice Coriander,” Teacher Onion rolled his eyes, “we all know your feelings that magick is such a burden to you. And yet you do well despite your belief or any common sense. You do not know how difficult it is for one to gain admittance into Magoge and then fail. You do not know to what extremes students go to simply pass when you, despite any logic in Hera’s eyes, excel without effort at all.”
Coriander was stuck. He had just, sort of, been complimented by a teacher. He did not know how to respond. He also realized he had been called ignorant of the difficulties at Magoge. That seemed more Teacher Onion’s way. Coriander wanted to say he did know how hard people worked, and that he struggled with weapons every day to improve but all that was lost in the idea that Teacher Onion, and thereby First Teacher, thought he excelled.
“Extremes?’ Vushi interrupted Coriander’s thoughts. She knew all to well what extremes students would go to impress their teachers. She herself had callouses and post-exam exhaustion to prove it. But she was a lucky one. Some, desperate to be promoted, had tried spells far out of their reach or magick they were unready for only to end in severe injury, and occasionally death. She looked at the circle. “You think Bron…was desperate?”
“I know he was, poor boy,” Teacher Onions looked at the circle as well, “it seems he tried summon a spirit, or the like, to gets some answers or perhaps Power . It is not uncommon, unfortunately.”
“What did he summon?” Coriander questioned.
“What?” Onion turned as if having forgotten he was in the room, “why nothing stupid boy! Look at that circle. It’s all wrong! You should know that!”
“But what if…” Coriander looked at the scowls of Vushi and Teacher Onion, “I’m just saying…maybe we should check it?”
“Coriander,” Vushi half smiled, “if Bron could make a successful summoning circle, he wouldn’t have to resort to making one in the first place. He wasn’t good enough at magick to do it. Teacher Onion is correct. You have little understanding of how difficult magick is for those “less” Blessed than you.”
The entire notion that someone was less blessed than another angered Coriander. It was intrinsically wrong in his understanding of nature. Yes some had stronger gifts than other but even the lowest slave on a picking farm had been blessed with life and was no better than First Teacher. He looked at Vushi’s red eyes and decided now was not the time for this old argument.
“Exactly,’ Teacher Onion added, “As I said, the circle is all wrong. The entire affair is wrong. Let’s take leave of it.”
Wrong. The perfect word for that day at Magoge. The wrongness filled every room and each breath. It was stifling. It was exhausting. The grief. The Silence. The shuffling of feet and eyes not met. It was all just so wrong. Somewhere, some part of them, some knew this would get better. That time would heal. That smiles would replace frowns. That soon this despair would lift and all would be healed.
They would be wrong.
Each to their Grief
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 5
As the day went on not much changed. Bron’s family, who lived far away, would not arrive until after the final day of the festival. His body was removed and placed far out of sight from the students and teachers. Vushi felt like he was still there. Lurking. Crying. Hanging. That idea upset Rho so much Coriander gave Vushi a horrified look and pulled him away from the inconsolable girl and brought him to the weapon area.
He knew it would be inappropriate to try and cheer up Vushi or any other student in mourning. Grief was an important part of the sacred circle of life. Coriander wanted Vushi to grieve but not to such an extent. He scolded himself for the thought! Vushi was hurting and he should be supportive. But it scared him. He had never seen her so down. She was usually the one to roll up her sleeves and say things like ‘we must move on’ or ‘stow your grief and keep your arm up’ not things like ‘I feel like his dead body is hanging over me and I cannot move.’ Besides being terrifying, it was simply so not-Vushi to be so out of sorts. Coriander realized she must have had stronger feelings for Bron than she had ever admitted.
Vushi too could not grasp why her grief was so overwhelming. Certainly she had had a crush on Bron but that was years ago. Yes she still cared for him but why was she so completely unable to breathe. She tried to think of something else, anything else, but could not. She was grateful when Coriander took Rho away. They hadn’t stooped to cheering her up but their faces were covered in worry. She hadn’t meant to be so demoralizing but she knew they would never understand her pain.
In the weapons area Coriander handed a wooden practice sword to Rho. Technically Rho was too young to begin training but most students had been unofficially training for years at their own homes or, the wealthy, with their own masters. Thus Rho was very behind in weaponry. It seemed just another injustice at Magoge. So Coriander decided to take up the job of tutor and teach Rho best he could.
“Are you sure we should be doing this?” Rho asked as he held the weapon nervously.
“It’ll be good for us,” Coriander half smiled, “put your grief in your body and out your sword. At least that’s what they tell us…..”
“It feels wrong to be playing.” Rho blushed and lowered his weapon.
“Playing?” Coriander faked-yelled, “we shall see if you laugh after a few round with me!” At that Coriander charged the boy. He was more bluster than attack and let Rho block his first two obvious swings. His third landed on Rho’s backside. Coriander wanted to laugh but did not. He kept a serious expression as he coached. Eyes forward. Sword crosses your body. Hold firm. Follow the sword and lead it. Coriander was good at this. In the training area with weapon in his hand he knew who he was. He was a warrior. Albeit a warrior who doesn’t like to kill things, but still he could flip and swing almost any weapon against people much older than he. He liked knowing himself: every muscle in perfect form. He also liked barking orders a Rho. He treated him like any coach would. No pampering! Rho got caught up in the practice and stopped thinking about Bron and focused on landing at least one strike on Coriander.
Hours passed and, although Rho had improved with the coaching, he never struck a true blow. Coriander had thought of allowing a hit to improve Rho’s morale but then knew better. By the end both boys were tired and they sat down on the dirt. Coriander slapped Rho on the back, “not bad. Not bad at all!”
“…was Bron good at weapons” Rho asked sheepishly.
Coriander wanted to groan. He had been trying to get the boy to think of something else, but obviously could not, so he answered the question as honestly as he could. “I don’t think so. I mean he wasn’t awful or anything but he wasn’t… up to our standards.” Coriander hated himself or that last remark. “He would have fared well in the regular military , I think. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Rho stumbled for words, “if I never get better at magick perhaps I could at least be a good fighter. If not…. I think I know how Bron felt.”
Coriander’s blood ran cold, “never say that! Hera help us! No Rho you must never consider… how could you consider that!” Coriander’s eyes betrayed him and they wetted.
“NO!” Rho quickly jumped in stopping the accusation, “I would never! Cor, I lived to see my entire village slaughtered and then.. worse things . I would never now remove that blessing. It would be a cruelty to my kin.”
Coriander was then secondly stunned by the maturity of Rho’s statement. “Yes. Yes of course.” He added feebly. He stared at Rho. Perhaps Teacher Onion was correct and Coriander lacked empathy. Was he more like the spoiled city nobles he hated than he wished to admit? Had his arguably more pampered life than Vushi or Rho made him unable to imagine true despair? True pain? Was that even a bad thing?
After a small diner Rho was exhausted from the exhausting day and Coriander put him to bed trying very hard not to mother the young boy. Rho usually bunked with six other boys but only Rho had stayed at Magoge. Rho assured Coriander he was all right being alone. He was lying but knew Coriander had his own worries to tend to. As Coriander looked around the common room he realized most of the children had gone to bed early and alone. He supposed that made sense. The camaraderie of last night had given way to private thoughts.
He wanted to see to Vushi but could not. She was in such state Coriander feared saying or doing anything to make matters worse. And also, more honestly, he couldn’t stand being sad any longer! He shuttered. He was ashamed at his weakness. His friend, his end-friend needed him and he was being selfish. But he knew he wasn’t in any condition to be supportive. He decided a simple spell might put him right.
Right there in the common room he sat in front of the low glowing fire. He breathed deeply. He would do a small circle to release his fears and beg for strength from She. While he was at it he decided to add a little protection sigil to protect himself from despair. It was a simple circle really. He sat on the ground and drew it with the ash from the fire. He let his mind go. He added three sigils. Wait.. he had drawn them wrong. “What?” he thought. He almost laughed. He had drawn the first backwards. Obviously he was more upset than he realized. He couldn’t even focus on a very simple circle. Then again why bother? What was the point?
He closed his eyes and felt the uselessness of the effort. What good would come from it? No. He didn’t need protection. He didn’t need to be strong. His hand reached out to wipe away the ash circle when the thought of Vushi crying came to his mind’s eye. Her pain. There was his purpose. He shook off his melancholy and cast a firm stare at the ash circle. He saw the ash circle and then Saw it in his mind. He did not add the sigils instead he did the most basic circle he could. The easy kind teachers taught the new students. A moment later the circle closed. Coriander felt immediately better. He even felt sort of happy. He realized he had simply been cut off from the gloom of Magoge. That made sense. Emotions carried weight and were easily shared. Here in his safe circle he could sort out his own thoughts. He breathed in deeply and wished for peace. He found his own breath. It was so nice he sat there longer enjoying the serenity. He would find Vushi in a bit.
Vushi was at another circle. Bron’s circle in his off limits room. She touched it. She could feel his sadness. She wanted to feel more. She didn’t ask why. Somewhere she knew this was an exercise in pain but a larger part had to know what had gone through his heart.
She opened herself to the emotional memory. The circle was too much. It hurt her heart like an axe of ice. She followed the memory out of the room and down the hallway. She felt it stop a few times as if Bron were changing his mind. Oh to go back in time and be there and tell him how much he had to live for! The emotional memory of Bron continued down the hallway. He crossed the square and came into the tower’s entrance. A day had passed Vushi expected the residue to be scattered and hard to see but no. It was intense. Actually it had increased in intensity. It was so much stronger than even the circle. Why?
Vushi looked up and had her answer.
Another body hanged from the rafters.
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 6
News of the second body had shattered Magoge. Any glimmer of hope or ease of despair was gone. Vushi was almost catatonic. The teachers didn’t even call the students together to say stupid things and try and make sense of the senseless. By the time bed came even Coriander was low. No one said encouraging words and hugged. They all simply slumped to their own private darkness.
No gong gonged in the morning. Coriander had hardly slept. He was going to spend all day in bed hiding from everything. But he was hungry. The grey clouds were thick. He couldn’t guess the time. The clouds begged to rain and release but something held them back. As if they pushed against an invisible wall that painfully would not let them weep.
Coriander decided to try and go back to sleep. He found that thought even more depressing. Finally he couldn’t lie there for a moment more. He leapt out of bed and starting jumping up and down. Like a mad man, he ran in a small circle shaking his head. He loosened his chin and let his head relax. He swung it back and forth and made a grunt of a sound that sounded like a long growl. The growl turned into a scream! Coriander yelled out the whispers and tension he had been holding for days. It was primal. It was fierce.
It woke everyone up.
Teacher Akti arrived, first obviously out of breath, “What’s wrong? What happened?”
Coriander realized a few moments too late he had been screaming. He looked sheepishly at Teacher Akti and at Rho who came in a few strides behind him. “Sorry. I just .. don’t you just want to scream?!?!?!?!”
“Coriander!” Teacher Akti was uncharacteristically angry, “I thought you had.. or had found…. Please do not scream!”
Rho almost collapsed once he knew nothing was wrong, “you stopped my heart! Hera help us Coriander what’s wrong with you!”
“I just cannot be this sad!” Coriander selfishly said. “I’m sorry, it’s too much!”
“Then find another way to cope instead of screaming!” Teacher Akti spat sounding more like First Teacher than Coriander’s friend.
Other students arrived with terrified apprehension at what the scream had meant. Weeping, wide eyes and wailing made Coriander feel horrible. He tried to apologize but was too busy explaining: no one else had died, nothing was wrong. They stood in a small huddle. A clump of crying children. Coriander wondered how this could be healthy grieving. It looked more like some brutal punishment. “Why don’t we all go out? We could for a hike? Get out of Magoge for a few hours?”
Coriander expected his idea to be met with either joy or fear but no one reacted at all. It was if he hadn’t said anything. They all seemed to be listening but not hearing him. “HELLO!” he barked. “Did you hear me? Let’s go for a walk in the woods!”
One small child moaned, “the woods are full of bad things. We should stay here.” Others agreed.
“The Magoge is filled with bad things!” Coriander spat back.
“Coriander!” Teacher Akti looked horrified, “perhaps you should walk into the woods and remind yourself of proper decorum in times of grief. How dare you upset these children!”
“Me?” Coriander could not believe that once again he was being singled out as the crazy one. Him? He was the only sane person here! And what was going on with Teacher Akti?
Vushi arrived last. She moved slowly. Her eyes looked horrible. Dark circles hung low and her usually bright glowing brown skin seemed ashy and dry.
Rho was first to tattle, “Coriander screamed and upset everyone, Vushi.”
Coriander expected her to get mad and punch him. But she just sighed, “it is his way. He doesn’t understand our grief.” The children and Teacher Akti sighed. “Bad things have happened Coriander. Do you really have no compassion? Can you not feel the pain?”
“Yes!” Coriander wanted to scream again but did not, “that’s why I want to do something about it!”
“What are you going to do?” asked Rho, “raise the dead?”
The students started crying again. Teacher Akti shook his head and was about the say something when Vushi put a hand on his shoulder, “Coriander is the son of a wealthy Magistrate he does not share our loss. Forgive him.”
That was about the meanest thing someone could have said to Coriander. He had no answer. No rebuttal. It was simply not true! Was it? Was he a horrible person? Coriander felt the sadness come back. Creeping into his consciousness like a worm; he shook his head. “Perhaps I should leave?” Without waiting for an answer Coriander pushed his way out of his room, ran down the hall and into to the weapons area. Why did he keep returning there? Was he comforted by weapons? What did that say about him? He needed something besides training. He needed to bond with his magickal self. He needed to meditate. Could he? He sat on the dirt and tried to slow his breathing. He was dizzy with thought. He drew upon Earth. He felt the Power fill him. He felt.. a hand tapping his shoulder.
“Rho?” Coriander could not believe Rho had interrupted his meditation, “are you eating berries out of season ?”
“We were told not to be alone.” Rho said uncomfortably, “you know, so no one could… you know. I thought I had to wake you.”
Coriander forgot to be mad at being interrupted and smiled at Rho, “Rho, I love living.”
“But you hate it here,” Rho reminded him.
“Actually that is not completely true,” Coriander smiled wider, “I hate things about it, ok I hate a lot of it, but I like learning. I am not going to kill myself.”
“No of course you wouldn’t,” Rho responded in an odd way, “you don’t have any friends.”
Coriander gulped, “huh? I thought we were friends?”
“Sure we are,” Rho sat down as if explaining something to a child, “those boys were both popular and both bad at magick. It’s a pattern Coriander. You are the exact opposite of the pattern. Unpopular and good with magick. Now me? I’m next on the list.”
“WHAT!” Coriander was hurt and upset and mad and scared all at once, “you promised…”
“I did and I wouldn’t do it, but I fit the profile.” Rho sighed.
“We have a profile?” Coriander hadn’t stopped to think about the idea that there were connections between the two boys. He had assumed they were random reactions to exams. Was Rho hinting at something more sinister? “Rho, do you, do people, think there’s something going on?”
“Like what?” Rho now looked confused.
“You just said there was a connection,” Coriander’s mind raced, “so perhaps there’s a spell or curse making everyone sad?” Things started to click. Coriander could see a pattern, but not a pattern of popular students, a pattern of how crazy everyone was behaving. He couldn’t put his finger on it but something was askew. Now that he stopped and thought about it things were not right. But what? Beyond the obvious.
“Everyone is sad because our two friends died!” Rho said angrily. “Vushi is right! You don’t even care!”
“I do care!” Coriander lied, “I care more than anyone! I want to know what’s happening!”
“You couldn’t understand!” Rho almost yelled but hushed his voice, “They’re right! What everyone is saying. You aren’t friends with anyone. You stay alone and practice, who knows what kind of magick with ghosts and dead people, oh and giants! You have no idea what it’s like to be not as Blessed as Coriander! How hard some of us have to practice to do what you do without thinking! And then to add to that we are popular! Do you know what kind of pressure that puts on Vushi? On me? On Bron? He hanged himself because he was what I am! And you sit there thinking we’re crazy?!?! Hera help you!” Rho ran off.
Coriander confused and upset barked, “yea well maybe I’ll go kill myself too just to show you!” Suddenly that seemed like a wonderful idea. An easy and simple solution. How quickly to end all his misery. Coriander heard the thoughts in his head and could not believe he had thought them! No! Life was a gift from She! Blessed and Grand said the prayers! He believed it too. Life was a wonderful thing. He saw it everyday in Pedia-omo! Animals being born. People dancing. Sunrise grasping new ideas. Love. Magick! Coriander stood and knew he had to find Rho. He had to explain that his life was not easy either and that Rho had so much to live for!
Teacher Onion appeared. “CORIANDER!”
“I’m right here,” Coriander rolled his eyes, “I can hear you.”
“Yes but you’ve ignored First Teacher’s summons !” Teacher Onion shook his head, “why he thinks we need you for the ritual I have no idea!”
“Ritual?” Coriander groaned. He was one of the older boys left at Magoge. Of course he’d be expected to handle the dead bodies and perform funeral rites. He hated that. Vushi was much better at funeral rites. Some say Death feared the usually fierce young woman.
“Yes ritual,” Teacher Onion could barely utter the next phrase, “we need you.”
“I would be honored to hold the funeral rites.” Coriander said trying to sound adult.
“Funeral rites?” Teacher Onion almost laughed, “You? Please Coriander you don’t have the manners, breeding or integrity for funeral rites!”
Coriander was pretty sick of being told what a loser he was but he controlled his temper and asked, “so what ritual then?”
“The ritual silly boy,” Teacher Onion had to throw in insults whenever he could, “is to see into the future. We must make sure no one else harms themselves. Death in three is very bad. And during Festival!” Teacher Onion walked away from the weapons area towards the temple.
Coriander was dumbstruck. A Seeing ritual? Those were dangerous and simply not done at Magoge. Certainly many Magi, and a few pretend ones, said they could predict the future and what not. They made a lot of money at it. Coriander, like most, believed some and doubted a lot. But a full Seeing ritual? That was like going to an Oracle or a Seer and The Blessed Sight! First Teacher must be desperate. Desperation!
Coriander wanted to run and check on Rho. Rho certainly seemed desperate. But Rho had promised. He had sworn on his dead family and the village that had been massacred. No, the better way to help, and help Rho if he was next, was to help do this ritual. Coriander knew something was wrong. Something more than grief. Something unnatural was happening. He just hadn’t asked the questions yet. Perhaps this ritual would have answers.
The Trouble with Seeing Future
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 7
Vushi sat alone in her room. Her grief overwhelmed her. Some part of her, a tiny part, thought her grief was somewhat disproportionate to her relationship with Bron. She had lost family and not been this upset. No. When Grandmother had died it had been a natural event of an old woman with a hint of warrior. Grandmother had smiled at Death. Why could Vushi not do so now? ‘Because it is just too terrible,’ she thought. ‘You could not help Grandmother and you could not help Bron. What good are you?’ The words flew through her ears. ‘You are so proud of your freedom and yet you are still just a powerless slave.’ Vushi wept at her thoughts. Her pride was gone. She curled up in ball in the corner of her room. She made herself as small as possible. Vushi, the hero of Magoge, was useless.
Rho replayed the things he had yelled at Coriander. In his heart of hearts he knew he spoke true but in his belly he felt horrible. Coriander had done so much when Rho was orphaned why was he paying that back with contempt. Surely there was a kinder way to have said those things. Why had he said those things? ‘Because you’re a terrible person.’ Rho told himself. He had thought himself Blessed by being the only survivor of his village. How arrogant he now seemed. He had been left for he wasn’t even worthy of slaughter. He had only not been homeless or enslaved because he had managed to move a rock. A feat Coriander had taught him. Coriander who now must hate him after what he had said. Rho had never felt so alone and ashamed. So very worthless.
Coriander took a deep breath as he entered the temple. Students were not usually allowed this smaller chamber. The larger hall that held all other rites was the only on he’d seen. It was a beautiful place. Statues surrounded by offerings, flowers and fruit stood at every corner. The ceiling could be pulled back to let in the stars. The wood was filled with the various incense and spices, which were used in various rituals throughout the year, which some how combined making a most holy smell. Low burning sconces lit murals of great deeds and great Gods inspiring you to be better than you ever might have been. It was a warm and welcoming place. The inner temple was not.
The inner temple was dark. The walls held no decorations. Strong herbs filled the room making Coriander almost gag. A fire burned odd colors in the wrong corner . Faceless statues stood creepily about the room in no discernable orders. They had no eyes and yet seemed to glare at Coriander as he dared to enter. There wasn’t even al altar to speak of. A small wooden plank sat on rocks on the ground. Coriander wondered just how dark this ritual could get!
First Teacher was kneeling at the makeshift altar as Teacher Onion was drawing shapes on the stone floor. Teacher Akti came over and placed a comforting hand on Coriander’s should. His hand was freezing. Coriander tried hard not to move away from the discomfort. He tried to smile at Teacher Akti, “cheerful place.”
Teacher Akti did not smile at the obvious sarcasm. He removed his hand and whispered, “gloomy business.”
First Teacher did not turn from whatever he was doing at the altar but barked to Coriander, “you shall be Earth. Teacher Akti informs me you have been useful at calling upon It before. No teacher was available for the deed. Do not fail me boy!” At that he turned and eyed the shaking apprentice. His eyes were dark and red-rimmed. He looked like a monster.
“Y-y-yes sir,” Coriander bowed his head.
Teacher Onion had finished his arcane drawings and sat as Water. First Teacher sat as Air, obviously he would be doing the scrying, and new beginnings. Teacher Akti stood as Fire. He had a torch in one hand and a knife in the other. At second glance Coriander realized he simply held fire in his hand.
First Teacher began to chant. Teacher Onion followed suit. Coriander did not know this particular prayer. He looked at Teacher Akti who nodded in way that told Coriander to wait. Words were said. Herbs were thrown. Teacher Onion shook.
Teacher Akti walked through the circle towards Coriander, knife raised. Coriander’s eyes grew wide as he held the blade to Coriander’s chest.
“Earth will bind us,” First Teacher spoke. Teacher Akti looked Coriander and nodded solemnly. Coriander could not believe what was happening. No wonder they had chosen him. Who else would let them cut him? Of course First Teacher had chosen him! Coriander was about to say no way! When he thought of Vushi. What was a little blood, and a little pain, to save his end-friend and perhaps the entire Magoge? He nodded.
Teacher Akti drew small line over Coriander’s chest. Blood flowed. Coriander was proud he hadn’t winced. Teacher Akti wiped his knife on his hands and on his eyes. Then he used Coriander’s blood to wipe the face and hands of the other two teachers. Coriander felt it immediately.
His abdomen sucked in. His spine stiffened. His legs cramped. Without needing to be told he knew it was time to do his part. He called upon Earth. Sweet Earth of the meadow and hard Earth of the cliff. Bane Earth of the dark places, kind Earth of the hearth. He saw all three teacher’s nod. He might have even noticed a small smile on First Teacher. Coriander pushed his silly pride aside and went deeper.
He felt his blood upon the heads of the other men. He felt himself dripping over their hands. He felt kindred to each of them. Not in a friendly way, no not at all, more in a purposeful way. He needed them. He cared for them. He would do anything for them. He caressed and massaged them. Somehow he held them.
Then he felt the rush of all four Elements sweeping about. His braid blew back as the Power circled in front of him. It was intense and terrifying. Some part of Coriander wanted to let go and look away but he held on. Again he called upon Earth to grab his waist and hold him firm as mountain. First Teacher said more words in a command that defied common tongue. A light appeared and all calmed.
As if the Sun ceased to move. Moon walked away. Winds dared not budge. Coriander opened his eyes and saw four images at the same time. He realized it was the same image from four different perspectives. He was looking at Magoge from each of their directional perspectives. The sky was dark. Then the images moved, like a bird, with a dizzying effect, as each viewpoint of each man entered a different window into the area before the tower.
Each looked in a different direction. Teacher Akti looked up and saw a figure. All eyes move to see who it was. There on the rafters was Vushi. She had tied a rope around her neck.
Coriander could feel a collective sigh as the three other views looked away. First Teacher looked down. Teacher Onion’s view faced a walk. Teacher Akti looked out a window. Coriander could literally feel his pain but he continued to look in horror as his friend’s toes hung over the beam. For the briefest moment she stopped. Something stirred in her eyes. Coriander saw the slightest hint of something, her shadow behind her move. The she took a breath and jumped.
Coriander leapt forward to catch her screaming “NO!”
The circle broke with gust of Power, the fire roared to life and went dim. Coriander, lying on the floor in the center of the now broken circle, realized nothing had actually happened. Vushi was safe. For a second he was relieved. Then he understood he had seen the future and became terrified. The three other men in the room wept openly. Coriander felt their tears washing away his bond with them. He did no weep. He couldn’t. It wasn’t real. It would not be real. And yet the Circle of Seeing had been clear: Vushi was next.
Will, Destiny and Duty
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 8
A silence filled the small dark temple. Eyes dared not to look upon the truth. All bonds Coriander had felt through the blood magick were gone and yet Coriander could feel a deeper bond; something tangible held them all. Coriander wondered if it was their love of Vushi. Each here admired, respected, and, yes perhaps, loved the girl. In fact, if you had to pick and four people at Magoge who knew Vushi best it would be these four. For the briefest of moments Coriander also wondered if that was a coincidence or harbinger.
First Teacher was first to get himself together. He met Coriander’s eyes. He pursed his lips as if to either stopping a cry or to accept fate. He stood and threw two small logs in the fire. As it roared to life Coriander could see the grimaced pain of Teacher Onion and Teacher Akti. Ignoring Teacher Onion, Coriander walked over to Teacher Akti and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Why do you weep?” Coriander asked.
“Did you not see!” Teacher Onion spat. “Vushi, your supposed friend, is next to die!”
“Yes I did,” Coriander remained calm. Years of taunting had helped him ignore almost any jibe. “We saw what could happen, but now that we’ve seen it we can prevent it!” He almost smiled except he noticed the eyes of the other three men dart to one another. “What?”
Teacher Onion broke the silence, “we cannot tell her.”
“WHAT!” Coriander yelled, “are you eating berries out of season! We must!”
Teacher Akti held Coriander’s hand, “It is not that simple. Who is to say if what we saw is destiny or chance or choice? Perhaps it is the will of the Gods? We are no oracles deciphering Their words. We perceived a glimpse of what were allowed to see. We must be very careful.”
Teacher Onion added, “if this is Her will, the Goddess’s will, it must be obeyed and we dare not impose our desires!”
Coriander wanted to punch his fat face, “to the Dark Place with….” He was about to say Her desires but could not. He suddenly found no air to speak. He was mute. He looked at the fierce gaze of First Teacher.
“You will not blaspheme here!” First Teacher was so offended a vein on his forehead pulsed, “never here!” Coriander nodded is head and First Teacher let him go.
Coriander’s breath came back to him. He bowed respectfully realizing what he had almost done. What if this was divine effort? What of She, or some other God, was testing them? What if he had then spoke ill of the Divine. What wrath would have flown down there and then? Coriander had heard terrible tales of those who had failed the Gods. Cities had been destroyed from one foul-mooded priest. Crops had failed from one too-tired-to-burn-the-sacrifice farmer. Coriander knew his temper was getting the best of himself. He very well could have just condemned Vushi to death had but uttered those words!
He quickly took knee and placing his hands on the temple floor said a quick prayer. He dared to meet First Teacher eyes and said, “forgive me… Vushi is my closest friend. Thank you for stopping my childish tongue.”
First Teacher approved of the humbling and forgave him, “yes, yes but what are we to do?”
Teacher Akti gave Coriander a kind look and agreed with Teacher Onion, “she wouldn’t believe us even if we told her? And if she did? It could be worse. She might be caught up in despair and do it somewhere else. At least we know the place. We can be there to stop her…”
“So we do want to stop her?” Coriander said quietly.
“Of course!” First Teacher shook his head at the stupid boy. Teacher Onion was about to say something but First Teacher brushed off his warning, “..and if it is the Divine will of She or any other God, there is little we three, four, could do to stop them. No? We would do little to counter the Gods of Death.”
All seemed to find wisdom in this. Even Coriander, who would never digest the idea of his end-friend being chosen as sacrifice, had to admit he couldn’t take on a god.
“Then what is to be done?” Teacher Akti asked.
First Teacher said solemnly, “I will follow her mind.”
“NO!” Teacher Onion snapped, “that is too dangerous! You mustn’t”
“What else are we to do? I appreciate your concern my friend but I have few other ideas.” Coriander had never thought that Teacher Onion and First Teacher were friends. They simply seemed too sour to have buddies. He shook out the idea of First Teacher and Teacher Onion playing rock and shield. It was too weird. First Teacher continued, “I am the only one capable of monitoring the girl. We have no other clues. If these deaths are coincidence perhaps I can understand these youthful angsts and turn Vushi and others to a proper course of action. But if this… this grief is more akin to a sickness then we must know more about it. I am sure I can handle the spell. However, it will leave me somewhat incapacitated.” He eyed the other teachers sternly and continued, “You will have to take care of all the affairs at Magoge for this day and perhaps another, as well we must prepare for the festival in two days time and of course keep me safe as I will be unaware of my own surroundings.”
“I will see to the festival,” Teacher Akti bowed to his master, “though I do not feel very festive.”
“Magoge will go on as it can. All will be fed and rules enforced,” Teacher Onion added.
Coriander was up on his feet, fist balled up for combat, as he declared, “I will guard you!” He waited for the cheers at his bravery. Teacher Akti smiled a bit. First Teacher coughed as if suppressing a laugh. Teacher Onion, of course, let out a howl! Coriander felt foolish as his cheeks reddened.
First Teacher said gently, “Thank you boy, but that will not be necessary. Your teachers are well adept at securing the temple. They will place the appropriate spells and wards.”
Coriander felt even more foolish. Of course there were spells in place that were beyond his comprehension and Powers ready to serve the master of magick that he could not imagine. All he could do was a new flip-sword trick. What had he been thinking? He felt silly and useless.
First Teacher continued, “But Coriander you must do something.”
“Anything!” he almost yelled. Coriander hated feeling useless, especially when it came to helping a friend.
“I need you to watch her body as I watch her mind. They may be very separate places indeed!”
“But you cannot tell her!” Teacher Onion added in a scold that sounded like Coriander had already done it wrong.
“So I follow her? She has the Voice she may know I am there,” Coriander knew he could not mess this up and was trying to cover every angle.
“No,” Teacher Akti still amused stood and placed a hand on Coriander’s head, “no my very brave boy, simply be with her. Do not try and be sneaky or clever. Just being near your admirable charm and wit makes me happier. Perhaps that is all she needs. Have Rho help you so she is not suspicious. Simply be her friend. And if we fail you will be there to stop her.”
Coriander left the temple with purpose and whole lot of trepidation. He decided to stow his fear and focus on what mattered: Vushi.
He searched everywhere for her. No one had seen her. Intentionally or not, Coriander kept checking the entrance of the tower. Finally he realized the one place he hadn’t checked was her room. Why hadn’t he gone there first? He realized how exhausted he was. The last few days had been emotionally draining and sleep deprived, on the back of the exhausting pre-exam studies, and it was showing. His mind was wandering and his feet sluggish. He had to think more clearly. He went to her room and instead of knocking gently pushed it open.
Vushi was there. Coriander used magick to cross the room in silence. He bent down and made sure she was breathing. She was. Coriander wanted to kiss her forehead but knew how badly she needed to sleep. He knew because he needed it as badly too. He quietly closed her door. He didn’t know what to do. So he sat down in front of it. He wanted to feel like a brave guard at the king’s private chambers. Instead he just felt tired. And he fell asleep curled up like a cat in front of her door.
Unknown to any of them Coriander had done the perfect thing. Sleeping on her threshold Coriander had put himself as barrier between Vushi and anything that might wish harm. Not in a physical way. Any foe could have easily stepped over the sleeping boy and unlocked door. But the tangible despair and gloom, or what ever it was that had taken over Magoge, could not cross that barrier. For Coriander had created an unspoken invincible ward over that doorway: love.
The Condemned and the Cliff
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 9
“Coriander what are you doing here?” Vushi sighed having almost tripped over the body of her sleeping friend.
“Vushi what are you doing here?” Coriander repeated sleepily.
“I am trying to leave my room,” Vushi shook her head.
Suddenly Coriander remembered where he was and why he was there. “I um…didn’t want to be alone?” He shrugged his shoulders hoping Vushi bought it.
Vushi sat down in the doorway with her end-friend. “I know. I finally willed myself to sleep last night and hoped that with the dawn, new beginnings would begin…” she trailed off as if searching for some answer.
“Did they?” Coriander asked hopefully but knew from Vushi’s face she was no better off. To accentuate the point Vushi shook her head.
Sitting in the doorway made Coriander remember a joke with Vushi. He wondered if he should say it or if she’d get mad. He decided mad would be better than whatever she was feeling now…
“Remember?” he smiled a tiny smile, “when we got in trouble once and they separated us and told us we ‘could not even be in the same room!’ So we sat in the doorway?”
“Such brats we are…” Vushi cracked a smile. Coriander saw the thinnest glimmer of hope in that tight lipped smile.
“Let’s get some food. I’m starving.” Coriander reached his hand down and helped Vushi up. They walked hand in hand away from the door and into the rest of Magoge.
A few feet away the let go of hands. As if a chill crept up their arms both apprentices withdrew their arms and kept them to themselves. Half way to the dining hall Vushi started crying. “Coriander… Oh Coriander what if we never feel that way again? To be a silly brat again. What if all those happy times are gone. Why did you remind me! Why!”
To be honest Coriander simply wanted to slap her. He would never, well outside of the training room, hit her but no matter what he said or did she got worse. It was so frustrating. Coriander noticed the few students at the dining hall were also crying or in worse shape. Didn’t time make everything better? What was happening?!?!
As Vushi grabbed a piece of fruit and small corner of bread she felt sick to her stomach. Bron would never eat again why should she? Poor Coriander so lost in his own ignorance of pain must be so frustrated with her. She wished she could pretend to be happier for the dear boy but she simply couldn’t lie in the face of such grief.
Rho arrived empty handed and sat down quietly next to the two. Coriander wondered if he should nag Rho to eat something but dared not say anything. He seemed to be at the wrong end of the tongue this morning.
After what could be called breakfast though no one ate, the three walked aimlessly around Magoge. Afternoon came with no gongs or speech. Coriander hadn’t been this quiet in morning mediations! But he was here and Vushi was alive.
As they sat at the training area Coriander took a deep breath. He wished the wind would stir. He wished something would break the grief. Then he got an idea. Coriander carefully broke the silence, “I have an idea? How about we go to cliffs?”
“Coriander,” Vushi rolled her eyes, “I appreciate your kindness but would you pleases top trying to cheer everyone up. It’s all right that we are sad. We should be sad.”
“You aren’t sad you’re…” Coriander stopped himself from saying anything unkind If he made Vushi angry she’d leave and he couldn’t follow her then. “…you’re honoring Bron. That’s why I want to go to the cliffs.”
“What’s at the cliffs?” Rho cleared his throat to ask. It sounded like he hadn’t spoken in days.
“I think we should speak Bron’s name to the Wind.” Coriander said firmly.
“His family has not yet come…” Vushi knew the etiquette of Death and, although it was not unheard of, typically the departed one’s family or holy person spoke the name to the Wind.
“I know,” Coriander’s only thought was to get these two away from this horrible oppressive school. He’d say almost anything to force them to go, “last night I heard the wind howl, in a dream, it sounded lonely. It was so sad I had to sleep outside Vushi’s door. I think the Wind needs to hear his name. I didn’t say it at breakfast because I thought you’d get mad.”
Coriander paused dramatically. He was a terrible liar. He put his head down to feign embarrassment. Rho either didn’t know the custom or was too young to have taken part in it. He simply looked at Vushi. She cleared her breath and nodded. “Ok then. We will go to the cliffs and speak his name. It cannot hurt I suppose and if the Wind finds Bron’s soul sooner all the better.”
Coriander fought a smile. He had done it. “I’ll go back and get us some food. We barely ate and it’s along walk. To the cliffs.” he tried to sound sullen instead of ecstatic. He ran off and returning to the dining hall grabbed a sac and filled it with cheese, bread and fruit. He remembered he’d have to make an offering to the Wind so he grabbed a second piece of smelly cheese, a fading flower that still held scent and then ran around to the temple to grab some cold ashes from the censer. A part of him felt disrespectful, He hadn’t had a dream and he didn’t know Bron well enough o say his name to the Wind. Would She be mad that he had lied about a sacred ritual? Coriander put knee to Earth and said a small apology and ran back to the training area.
Rho and Vushi were not there.
He made a small loop and couldn’t find them anywhere. Suddenly he realized he had said ‘to the cliffs’ and perhaps his friends thought he meant to meet them there or on the way. The thought annoyed Coriander slightly but not so much that he didn’t hoist his sac upon his shoulders and run off to the cliffs.
He ran on. The trip would normally take a few hours but Coriander sped himself with magick. There was no sign of Rho or Vushi. He used more magick. Suddenly he had a terrible thought. He had sent his depressed friends to a cliff! Oh No! He ran full speed with all the magick he could muster to the spot where they had all spent much time sitting, laughing and praying. They were not there. Coriander peered over the cliff to make sure there were no bodies at the bottom. He couldn’t believe he had even thought to do that!
No one. Nowhere. He was alone. Had they waited for him back at Magoge? Were they all right? He was certainly NOT watching Vushi like he had promised. He dropped the sac from exhaustion. He knew he had to run back but also knew he had to catch his breath. The cliffs were beautiful. He had forgotten beauty in a few short days. Why hadn’t Vushi come? She would feel better here amongst Her majesty.
A warm wind came up over the cliffs blowing Coriander’s braids back. It filled his lungs with peace. It wetted his eyes. Coriander knew he was not the one to say Bron’s name on the Wind but perhaps another prayer could be answered. He spilled the offerings on the ground in front of him. He opened his arms and spoke the voiceless prayer to the Wind. It came. It thundered around him. Ash and cheese, fruit and flower spun at his feet.
Coriander spoke quietly, “help me Goddess. Help me help them. Tell me how to fix whatever is wrong. I know something is wrong. This is not simply grief and sorrow to the cycle of You. Make me more than I am. By Your grace I beg You.”
In Coriander’s mind’s eye he saw the sigil for Strength. He held out his strong hand and using his finger like a wand drew the sigil in the Air. It stood there glowing. He held out his hand and laughed as it tickled his palm and spun. Yes he would be strong.
Then his other hand reached out and drew the sigil of Truth. Coriander nodded understanding he was indeed on the path of truth. As he reached his palm out for the blessing the sigil spun. Reversed truth: the sigil of deceit. Coriander winced in confusion. What deceit? What lies? Then the sigil spun again to truth. The Wind was telling Coriander something, but what?
Both sigils spun in each palm. Coriander said aloud, “I draw the sigil of truth and you Wind see it backwards… do you find our truths to be lies? But when I draw the sigil for Strength, like the sigil for Love, they are the same no matter what perspective…….” Coriander remembered his own mediation at the hearth. He had thought he wrote the wrong symbols from exhaustion, but what if he had been guided to write them backwards? Coriander put his two index fingers together and pretended to be two different people one would draw Lies as the other drew Truth. One would draw Open as the other drew Close. What would separate the two? A door? A circle? What if someone or something had been on the other side of Bron’s circle? What if it had made Bron draw what it wanted him to draw? And if so…why?
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 10
Coriander did not magick himself back to Magoge. He was concerned about his friends but needed to work out the thoughts floating, congealing and falling a part in his head. He was on to something but what exactly was happening and why exactly it was happening were just out of reach. Coriander hated puzzles mostly because once on one he could never give up. Coriander also knew, with the current state of Magoge, he would have to have some proof and word his theory very carefully. Was he the only one free from this… spell or whatever it was?
That thought was terrifying. Why would he be singled out and not affected? Was he that weird? Was something wrong with him? It seemed clear that many, including teachers, thought highly of Coriander’s magickal skill, were they right? Did he have some magickal shield against something? No. He didn’t believe he had some secret magick that allowed him to do anything. He wasn’t special. Perhaps he had been lucky. Perhaps the spell didn’t bother him the way most people didn’t bother with him. Perhaps his general dislike of Magoge had actually been what saved him?
If any of those assumptions were true then Coriander was alone to save everyone. He stopped. He was the only one to save everyone? What?!?! Life was so unfair. He would have turned and ran away right then and there. Would have run through the wilds, would have run home, would have run to the ends of She, if not for the image burned in his mind’s eye of Vushi jumping. He took a deep breath. He would not turn away.
Coriander picked up his pace as the sun started to set. He didn’t want to use magick for if he was dealing with some supernatural entity he would need all his strength. He knew he had some time to spare because the vision in the Seeing Circle had been late at night but he didn’t want to push his luck. If all came to pass as expected the vision would be made real either this night or the next. Also he wanted to be at Magoge before too late so he could explain his theory to fully awake teachers. He ended up jogging to the city.
As he entered Krokos the city was bursting with joy! He could hear houses, taverns and squares full of people celebrating the Festival. Celebration seemed so foreign to Coriander just then. And yet in his jealousy he was happy for the revelers. Tomorrow night all those people would take to the streets and carry lit effigies and sings songs and know it means to be alive!
He quickly went through the town, fighting the desire for fun the entire way, and finally came to Magoge. It looked like a great dead thing. He saw no lights burning. No noise came from it. In fact it looked downright creepy.
He shuddered as he entered. He could feel the wall of despair. It was like walking through slime. He found it harder to breath. He put one foot in front of the other and continued.
First he had to check on his friends. He went to the entrance of the tower out of habit. No dead end-friends. Good. He saw Rho lying in the training area. He almost walked by but Rho saw him. He needed to find Vushi and report to Teacher Akti but he had to know what happened to them. “Rho? Where did you go? Why didn’t you come to the cliffs?”
“Cliffs?” Rho blinked at him.
“Yes!” Coriander tried not to raise his voice, “we were headed to the cliffs. Where did you go?”
“No where. We decided it was a bad idea,” Rho tried to remember something, “we figured you could do it without us. We don’t want to leave.”
Coriander knew his frustration would be pointless, “Rho have you eaten anything?”
“We are not hungry.” Rho said quietly.
‘We?’ Coriander thought. His skin twitched, “Ok Rho go to bed at least?”
“We will. We will all sleep.” Rho said without expression in a far away voice.
So Coriander slapped him.
“OW!” Rho sat up. “Why’d you do that?”
“To wake you up! And I’ll do it again if you stared acting weird!” Coriander rolled up his fists and stared as intimidatingly as he could at the young boy.
“I’m not the one hitting people!” Rho rubbed his cheek.
“Things are bad. And this is more than grief for Bron. I need you!” Coriander barked finally getting his frustration out felt good.
“I told you I wouldn’t kill myself!” Rho sulked.
“I know, that’s why I need you to stand guard.” Coriander lifted the boy up by the hair. He knew only fear of Coriander’s wrath would get through to Rho’s mind. “We are going to Vushi and then you are going to guard her while I speak with Teachers! Got i?!?!” Rho shrugged. Coriander slapped him hard.
“Got it!!!” Rho cried. “You’re mean!”
“And you’re going to be beat punch drunk if you make me any madder!” Coriander stared the boy down. Rho’s eyes seemed to clear, just slightly as if one of the many curtains that covered them was pulled off. Coriander had taken a chance. If Rho started crying like a child he might have fallen into an even deeper depression and feel even more alone after being hit. But Coriander had been training with Rho a lot this term. Ordering him around like a weapons master he prayed a part of Rho would respond to the drilling and take an order like a warrior. Rho’s back stood straighter and he nodded in agreement. Coriander nodded back, careful not to tell Rho he did good, and marched to Vushi’s room.
She wasn’t there. She wasn’t in any of the rooms she should be in. It was getting late. Coriander still had to go the Bron’s room and check the sigils as evidence for the teachers. He didn’t dare separate from Rho. They marched to Bron’s room and there was Vushi sleeping on Bron’s circle. She had completely erased and smeared all the sigils. Coriander was furious! ‘First off who sleeps on a magickal circle! Secondly…’ Coriander was so upset he couldn’t finish his thoughts.
Rho put a calming hand on his arm. Coriander nodded and relaxed. Vushi had not meant to ruin his evidence or perhaps she had been used by something to scatter proof. He would let Vushi sleep but not on magickal circle that may or may not have been drawn by something that may or may not have come from another dimension. Coriander rolled his eyes at how ridiculous he would sound to First Teacher. He let the notion fall away as he let his conscious mind quiet. He was fairly good at Air magick but this would have to be gentle not the typical gust of wind he normally did in combat. He reached out. His hands shook. He was tired. He wanted to cry. Seeing Vushi like that was almost like seeing her dead.
Rho came up to Coriander and stood in front of him. The much smaller boy placed his back to Coriander’s hips and took his hands. He extended them. Coriander felt the much needed support and let the magick flow. Rho’s energy was calmer and less intense than Corianders. It focused him. Gently the Air came up from under Vushi. They lifted her up and set her down on Bron’s bed. Rho went over the pulled the covers over her. Then the two boys went outside.
Coriander closed the door and turned very seriously to Rho, “Stay here. Do not let anyone in. If she leaves and you can’t stop her come get me!”
“Or you’ll slap me again?” Rho said sarcastically rolling his eyes.
Coriander let his eyes go flat, the way someone did when things were very serious or you were in a lot of trouble, both of which Coriander had experienced many times, and stared at Rho, “Do you honestly think the worst thing I can do to you is slap you?”
Rho gulped. At that moment he feared nothing as much as Coriander. Instead of answering he took the small dagger from Coriander’s waist and held it in front of him like a sentinel. Coriander nodded and turned on his heels. He felt a little bad for being so tough on Rho but it was either that or have him succumb to the despair.
It was now later than Coriander wished it to be. No one was about. Finally he entered the teacher’s private quarters. He had one ally with Teacher Akti so decided to go there first. Not wanting to wake any other teacher, he gently knocked on the door and called out his name. Nothing.
He pushed the door open. It was dark inside. It smelled of incense like Teacher Akti. It was quiet. Suddenly he heard a small splash of water and an instant later felt a sharp point on his chest. Oddly it was the exact location where Teacher Akti had cut Coriander during the ceremony. It was at the top of his chest nowhere near the heart. Not an immediately fatal stab. Had Akti made a mistake? Funny what raced through Coriander’s mind instead of saying stop or it’s me or anything. He simply stood frozen wondering about fatal blade placement. Perhaps he wasn’t as immune to the despair as he had thought.
Teacher Akti said a quick word and his lamp lit. The muscular and lean weapons master was standing there naked, dripping wet and holding a knife to Coriander. Both seemed to awkwardly pause for a second taking in the odd tableau. Teacher Akti lowered his knife, “why didn’t you announce yourself?”
“I did quietly…I mean I thought you’d be sleeping…”Coriander mumbled trying to avert his eyes.
“NO!” Akti’s eyes grew wide, “I only left for a moment to splash some water.. NO NO CORIANDER NO!!!!” he reached out and pulled Coriander into a tight, wet hug. “By the Goddess please not Vushi!!!”
Coriander had never been hugged so tight. He resisted the urge to hug back. He would have blushed had it not been for the urgency of information, “no not Vushi she is fine! Vushi lives! No one… everyone is fine… well, everyone is alive.”
Teacher broke his death hug and sank to the floor weeping, “I am exhausted from this vigil.
“It is I who is sorry I should have knocked loudly or not frozen when you tried to kill me.” Coriander made an attempt at a laugh.
“I did not try to kill you,” Akti said earnestly, “what good is a dead assassin? An injured one can speak. But you are not here for lessons I believe. What is it?”
Coriander cleared his throat and tried to look at the teacher and not look at the teacher, “umm sir I have a theory about what is happening.” Teacher Akti nodded for him to continue. “Well sir, I think. I believe. Sir, perhaps you should get dressed first?”
Teacher Akti made a face at the boy’s modesty. Then he considered the dark lighting, the incense, his wet nakedness, the fact they were in his private room and of course, just by looking, he could tell Coriander was obviously not his normal himself. He fought a smile and stood. He turned his back on the apprentice and threw on a tunic that lay nearby. He pretended to adjust it to give Coriander a moment to compose himself. Then put on his teacher face and turned asking, “Now Coriander what is it that you need to tell me.”
Coriander, much more at ease, took a breath and said, “I believe we are under attack.”
Truth Hurts …a lot
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 11
Teacher Akti turned his head as if to hear better, “what do you mean under attack?”
“I have a theory as to why everyone is so sad,” he put up a hand to stop his teacher form saying the obvious, “I mean more so than the obvious.”
“How would you have the students behaving in light of these horrors?” Teacher Akti tried to give Coriander the benefit of any doubt but Vushi, whose views he respected, had been clear that grief was foreign to the sweet boy.
“It is more.” Coriander said calmly, “I think there is some sort of spell happening.”
“Coriander I am concerned for you,” Teacher Akti placed a hand on the boys shoulder, “grief is a part of life. Have you mourned the loss?”
“Hera grant me strength!” Coriander almost yelled. He had thought Teacher Akti would simply believe him.
“Coriander…” Teacher Akti’s face saddened for the boy. “You believe there is some spell that only you are immune to? Perhaps there is no spell and you alone have not allowed yourself to feel your own pain?”
“I know how crazy this sounds,” Coriander pleaded.
“No it doesn’t sound crazy,” Teacher Akti said kindly, “it sounds like a young man trying to make sense out of this senseless loss of life.”
Coriander knew there was no way anyone would believe his suspicion. He was about to tell his favorite teacher about the sigils and the cliff and Bron’s circle but knew he would not be believed. He was on his own; or everyone else was right and he was crazy. Coriander was about to leave but remembered something Teacher Onion had said. “What is it about the Power of three?”
“What do you mean?” Teacher Akti was thrown by this new seemingly unrelated question, “there is power in three and there is Power in two and four in everything if you learn how to see.”
Coriander was furious at the stock “teacher” answers. He needed facts. “NO! In spells the Power of three? We learned it. I went to the cliffs today and I brought three things with me to greet the Wind. Teacher Onion said three deaths was bad. Why?”
“Why would death in three be good?” Teacher threw the question back as they always did and yet something in Akti’s posture slightly changed.
“Could you please just answer the question for once!?!” Coriander was at his last drop of patience.
Teacher Akti grew stern, “You are frustrated with what you do not understand. But we do not answer directly for there is rarely a simple answer! Yes three gifts are given to speak to the Wind. As three herbs are thrown to See. There are many theories as to why, but I tell you I have spoken to Elements with no gifts and with many more….”
Coriander ignored the rambling philosophy of masters and continued his line of thought, “so if I were to do, let us say a summoning circle, typically I bring three sweet gifts to summon sweet spirits. So, if I wished to offer three lives to a spirit….”
“CORIANDER!” Teacher Akti spat, “do not speak of such things!”
“What would happen?” Coriander demanded.
“Horrible things! Why would you do this?!?!” Teacher continued to yell.
“But what if I was the horrible thing? What if I was a demon? To do something so bad would require an offering so bad. Don’t you see?” All the pieces fit together for Coriander.
Teacher Akti sat on his bed. “Coriander this is bad. Why would one summon a demon?”
“Please believe me.” Coriander begged, “Do you not trust me? What would I not do for Vushi? Please help me.”
“I will try and help you,” Teacher Akti stood rigid and took Coriander by the shoulder and walked through Magoge. Coriander had tried to speak but was quickly hushed. Teacher Akti’s eyes were straight ahead. Something had changed.
They ended up at the temple. Teacher Onion was praying. First Teacher was preparing something in a bowl. They both turned to look at the two entering the sacred space. Coriander was sure he hadn’t interrupted any sort of ritual. There was a magickal presence but it wasn’t any like Coriander had felt before. Before he could stop himself Coriander mumbled, “Vushi?”
“What?” First Teacher barked.
“Umm forgive me master, I thought you were watching Vushi’s mind?” he tried to bow but was suddenly aware of how hard Teacher Akti held his arm.
“I have.” He did not elaborate. “Why is he here?”
“Coriander has a theory,” Teacher Akti let Coriander’s arm go and the boy fell slightly forward. He quickly realized he was somehow surrounded by the three teachers.
“Speak.” Teacher Akti spoke.
Coriander did not know what was happening but it wasn’t in his favor, “…ummm, well… I believe the deaths are offerings?” First Teacher and Teacher Onion’s eyes grew wide. They stared at him and then Teacher Akti.
Teacher Onion spoke first, “and what would you do with these offerings boy?”
“Me?” Coriander gulped.
“What bane business is this?” First Teacher made a fist and suddenly Coriander was bound by some invisible force, “what Power would you try to gain from such offerings?”
“He is trying to help Vushi.” Teacher Akti shook his head, “he has imagined conjured up demons to allow him to save her. His heart is in the right place.”
“His heart is in the dark place!” Onion’s lips curled back in disgust.
“NO!” Coriander begged, “ I did not say I was benefitting from this! I believe there is some sort of entity here at Magoge. It is trying to break through into our world. I think the lives it has taken….”
“You are correct.” First Teacher said plainly. “There is an entity trying to come to us. It is the Goddess! The final Festival is tomorrow night! She has demanded this of us and so it is our burden to fulfill it.”
“And you would turn this blessed sacrifice into necromancy!” Teacher Onion was turning red with rage.
“NO!” Coriander tried to speak but the force that held him was getting stronger. “I have clues. She would never… I have….you are wrong. You are infected too…”
“Of course you are immune,” Teacher Onion continued with fire in his eyes, “you evil child! You cannot even mourn the loss because you are the cause of it.”
Coriander panicked. He looked around at any escape possible. Teacher Onion was moving towards him with hate, even more hate than usual, in his face and First Teacher was trying to suffocate him! What could they be thinking? No one could ever suspect Coriander of being a necromancer! What lies are feeding them? He thought of the cliff. How lies and truth were opposite perceptions of the same thing. He remembered the Divine sigil for Strength that had spun in his hand. He saw it now in his mind’s eye. He called it. He felt the Power rush into his body and spirit. With a mighty exhale and scream Coriander forced all that Power outwards. Teacher Onion fell back and the force around Coriander shattered. He was free. Now to escape! He turned around and was face to face with Teacher Akti. His face was contorted with pain, anger and disgust. He reached back…
Before Coriander hit the ground the last thing he remembered was how sweet-smelling his favorite teacher’s punch had been.
The Impertinent Prisoner
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 12
Coriander came to in small locked room. Despite the pounding headache he immediately realized where he was: the detention cells. He had spent a few days in them years ago before he had learned to hold his tongue. They were small circular rooms not large enough to lie down in but tall enough you couldn’t touch the ceilings. There was no bed and only a small chamber pot. They were locked from the outside. They were also magickally in escapable. Coriander had tried. But he realized that had been when he was younger and less Powerful. Perhaps now he could escape. He called upon Strength again. He felt Power stir. He punched the door.
After he stopped screaming from the pain of a possibly broken hand, Coriander decided his best course of action would not be to physically harm himself any more. He tried to perform a small healing spell on his hand. It barely worked. “Not fair!” Obviously some Power in the cell dampened magick in some way.
He knew it was useless but he tried to call to Vushi. He could see her in his mind’s eye but that was about all. High on the ceiling there was a small slit of a window. ‘Well at least they don’t want me to suffocate,’ he thought. He could tell by the color of the sun it was passed mid morning. His nose ached. It was probably broken. “I can’t believe Teacher Akti punched me!” Coriander said aloud to no one, “he knocked me out with one hit!” He was well aware of the slight teacher’s prowess but to completely knock out an opponent with one swing was a tactic Coriander would like to learn.
For about an hour Coriander sulked. He felt sorry for himself and his brain-splitting-headache. He wondered how he always got messed up on things like this? Other students didn’t meet giants or talk to ghosts or have weird adventures with faeries and nymphs! Were the trickster Gods simply in love with him? Coriander thought back on all his weird and out of the norm trips and fantasies. Did he regret them? Any of them? Would he wish they didn’t happen? Well, certainly some of the grimmer things but all in all he came to realize these events had made him stronger, formidable. If nothing else he certainly wasn’t some boring city-brat whose biggest adventures were what cape to buy! Coriander laughed. For the first time in…forever, he thought it might be good to be him.
It occurred to him then: if he was in fact special no silly detention room would stop him. Had he not thrown off First Teacher’s binding spell? He stopped for a moment and let that sink in. He had thrown off a spell from First Teacher. He decided to think about that later. For now he had to plot to escape. But what to do even if he could? He could run but could he leave Magoge to this horrible demon? If he stayed the teachers would overwhelm him easily. Did they truly think this was the will of She? That kind of barbaric thinking was more akin to a Scav than a human! Perhaps he could steal Vushi and escape? Why did this…whatever, want her any way?
Coriander was sick of not knowing! He was sick of saying this..whatever it is, is doing whatever for some purpose. It was ridiculous. No wonder they had thrown him in prison. He need to know what was actually going on. He decided, against all common sense, to ask the person responsible for the spell. He would summon the demon.
This spell was far beyond him but he had seen it done. As well the room would barely let him use magick so he could not hope to trap the demon or send it away. But Coriander was clever. Perhaps he could at least get the demon to tell him what was happening? He knew he’d have to do the spell perfectly and as intensely as possible given the confines of the room.
He sat center and cleared his mind. He called upon his true magickal self. The image could not pull much Power from any of the Elements but it was still the warrior that lived inside the well-trained talented boy and thus was still a force to be taken with caution.
Coriander needed the circle to be strong. Rho had his dagger. He needed blood. His blood. He reached up to his bashed in nose. He steadied himself and with a defiant twist re-broke it. He stifled a scream. He took the pain into his belly as he had been taught. He might need that Power too. Blood trickled out of his nose. He collected it in his hand. He knew the next ingredient would have to mean something. He thought about Vushi. He forced himself to relive the vision of her jumping to his death. He felt the agony of her death. With a ragged breath he started to weep. He cried directly as hard as he could onto his palm. When he had enough he sued his spit as his life force to bind his pain and loss. It tickled his hand.
He extended his finer and thereby his will, onto the rock floor. He drew the circle as perfectly as he could, turning his body and increasing his intensity. As his finger returned to the starting point it snapped shut. He could hear it hum around him. He swallowed. He spoke, ”you know who I am. Show yourself.”
Nothing but the humming circle came. “Coward!” Coriander spat!
“In a circle lies a circle lies a liar!’ a voice whispered and laughed.
Coriander jumped. He could not tell where the voice had come from, “You are the liar! Whisperer of falseness! Sigil trickster!” Coriander was not sure if playing name-calling was the best solution but he had to start somewhere.
“Lies have no Power yet weak humans find strength in them” it giggled.
The Sun was starting o set and there on the far wall a shadow fell. It seemed to move as the giggling sound giggled. Coriander turned his body to face it, “tell me your name I’ll tell you mine born and learnt !”
“Name? One? We have thousands and not a one will you learn Coriander!!”Ha ha ha” the laughter was really annoying Coriander.
“Why do you laugh when all you cause is despair?” Coriander couldn’t believe he was asking such an honest question. “Why?!?”
“He asks what he has discerned. Why waste what moments you have boy? I will not let you ask me more if you honor not my time” the demon was becoming more obvious in its shape. It had two legs bent at the knee and a large body with long neck and beady head. It stood maybe four feet tall but that seemed only to hint at its actual size.
“Did Bron really kill himself?” Coriander didn’t know where that question was coming from, “I mean obvious he did but was it you?”
“Me? I cannot take for to tie the noose. Again you ask and waste!” the demon laughed!
“You laugh because you are on the opposite side of the veil. Our pain is your joy. Yes?” The shadow creature nodded. Coriander had to figure out how to phrase his next question just right. “Why don’t you sit down with me? The circle can not hold you.”
“So polite? And yet rude for the asking!” the demon half laughed half screamed, “I cannot sit as I am still shadow. First I was thought then shadow soon whole!”
“I knew it!” Coriander boasted, “with each death you grow!”
“Yes! And now ask the most important question!” the demon teased!
“How do stop you?” Coriander barked. The demon roared a laugh. It’s shadow self shook and seemed to hold in its belly. “I’m glad I amuse you!”
“Oh you do boy! You do!” the demon turned its shadow eyes on Coriander as he felt goose bumps all over his back. “And you know how to stop me. Again he asks stupid questions!”
“I stop you by stopping Vushi.” Coriander said out loud even though he knew the answer in his heart. “and yet you’d tell me that.. Aha! the question is: why are you telling me this?”
Silence fell. The demon laughed again. Why was he telling Coriander this? Did he want to punish him? Was he simply teasing him? Torturing him? “You want something?”
Coriander didn’t need to take a breath, “My life for Vushi’s? Yes.”
The demon laughed so hard it almost fell over. Coriander wondered if it would make a shadow splat if he hit it. “What then!” he screamed.
“I want you both!” it laughed again. It motioned its hands and Coriander could see a vision within its palm. It could apparently do magick in the cell. The vision was Vushi.
She was sitting on her bed crying. She was braiding together rope. She stopped and looked at the rope. It seemed for a moment she wondered where it had come from. She shrugged her shoulders and went back to making the noose.
“NO!” Coriander yelled! “What do you want? Both of us is no deal!”
The demon sighed victoriously, “I will tell you how to save Vushi. If you can you defeat my plan. If you cannot I will claim her soul and your life.”
“I would not want to live without her anyway…” Coriander mumbled.
“No boy!” snapped the demon making sure his pact was clear, “I do not kill you I promote you! You become my first soldier in a war your world has had coming for a millennia. You will unquestioningly do my bidding. You will cut down your Magi. You will slaughter your kin. You will wondrously defile Her temples! You will be my sword!”
Coriander gasped. He had never thought about to what dark ends a demon would go. Turning him for the grace of She? Making him grotesque? Would he do that? Could he? No. In the vision Vushi sighed and made the final knot. Coriander had no choice, “yes I agree.”
“Done!” the demon barked and laughed.
“WAIT!” Coriander yelled, “tell me how to defeat you and save her?!?”
The demon laughed more as it slipped back into the shadow.
“You have to tell me how!” Coriander screamed.
“I just did,” whispered the demon as it disappeared. Coriander went over and slapped the wall trying to catch a shadow! All that remained was the real shadow of the small window. Coriander stood and kicked the wall. “OW!” he yelled at his toe.
Coriander threw his body into the door. He threw it at the wall. He spoke every spell he had ever learnt. He screamed and cried. He blasphemed and cursed. He prayed for forgiveness. Finally he fell to the ground useless and defeated. He had bargained his soul and lost. Vushi would die and he would become an abomination. He would be glad Vushi would be dead and not live to see that.
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 13?
Night fell. Vushi knew what she had to do. A part of her needed to say things, needed to tell people things but that part was quickly hushed up. What could she say? She was a failure? Would they try and stop her? Yes. Like she would have stopped Bron. Some voice in her head told her this was nonsense. Why would she put people through what Bron had put her through? Would this kill her Mother? She tried to imagine Deena alone in the world. She would go on. Her Mother was a survivor. She paused. Coriander. Could she die without telling him? Yes came the voice! Go. He doesn’t really care he’s too caught up with being Coriander to care… Vushi knew this to be true.. and not. She saw his face in her mind’s eye. She smiled. Coriander made everyone smile. ‘Good bye my end-friend I love you most of all,’ she thought.
Coriander pushed on the door as hard as he could. He tried to magick the lock for the 707th moon. He tried to call out for help, for water, for anything. Nothing. He heard a voice. He jumped back scanning the cell. Was the demon back? No it was not the demon. It was Vushi. She had called. “I am here Vushi! Come and get me!” He tried to use his own inferior Voice. Nothing. He realized magick could flow in but not out. Was Vushi calling him? Did she need his help? ‘Quiet’ he ordered to himself. ‘Listen with your mind and not your lips!’
There, far away, for Vushi had not meant to send the message but her Power was such that she had sent the message anyway, he heard her Voice:
“Good bye my end-friend I love you most of all.”
NO! Coriander had to escape. He had to stop her. Looking out the window he realized night had come! The final sacrifice would be soon! The walls could not be punched, the door could not be opened. Any magick was dampened by the spell in the circular room. He was bound by a circle was it the room itself? He could not see a circle. If a circle was at the very end of the floor where it met the wall it would not protect the brick which was outside of it. He had tried and could not make a dent in the brick. So no… the enchanted circle must be coming from farther in. The circle he was inside the walls themselves! If could somehow get outside he could, in theory, easily smash in the door or even walls. If he broke the circle he could do anything. He looked up to the small slit of a window and got an idea.
The room was too small to lie down in. That was supposed to be torturing but in fact it was a blessing. Coriander called upon what little Air would answer him in the round prison and placed each hand on the wall as far as he could. Then he lifted one leg to the wall and then, with a grunt, the other. He held himself off the ground like a giant X in a circle. Slowly, moving in opposition, he moved his right hand and left foot. The he placed his left hand and right foot up higher and raised himself, inch by inch up the room. The Air did not especially help him, it may have steadied him somewhat but it was there more as a security blanket for fear of falling face-first onto the rock floor.
He inched up and up to the ceiling. His hands shook. His thighs buckled. He almost fell. He said a prayer to all that might ever be holy to please let him succeed. When he reached the top of the ceiling he wanted to cheer but of course that would mean falling 25 feet so instead he said a small “yes” and went on to the next gymnastic move.
He placed his right hand on the small slit of a window. He let go of his left hand and as he pushed off with his legs reached for the slot. He face banged into the wall re-breaking his nose but this hands held the small sill. He swore a few times, obviously he had learnt more from his military friends than a sword-flip-trick. Before his hands gave out Coriander used any leverage he could from his toes and pulled with his fingertips. As he pulled himself up he wiggled his right hand out of the slot. The walls were thicker than Coriander thought but eventually he managed to get his arm all the way out.
As he hung there, feeling like his shoulder would snap any minute, he wondered what he must look like: 25 feet in the air with his skinny arm sticking out through a tiny window. Coriander knew now for certain he was definitely weird. Again it occurred to him that that was not such a bad thing. Far off he could he hear the Festival! He wondered if any of them could see his arm sticking out? None of that mattered. “Focus,” he told himself. He called upon Strength. Only tiny amount came.
Coriander panicked. It hadn’t worked! Could he climb down without killing himself? Why hadn’t he felt to surge to his toes? Looking down he realized that his toes were still in the circle. It would take more than a hand jutting out to break the Power that kept him weak.
Coriander refocused. He ignored al his training and procedures. Instead of feeling Power in his belly or toes he called it to his palm. He demanded it of his hand. Wind stirred. A bird cawed. His palm arched like lightning had struck. There it was. And it was a lot of Power. More than he had meant to call. A small voice in his head wondered if She had wanted him to escape. Had She over heard Her most holy name used profanely by the demon? Did She want him to stop the masters from committing blasphemy?
Coriander felt not only the immense build up of Power but a feeling he was dedicated to a purpose greater than himself. He took a huge breath and as if his fist were a bolder he threw the Power into the wall from the outside in. It worked like a catapult and the wall caved in. Unfortunately Coriander hadn’t thought about proper placement of all that Power. Had he stopped and felt less heroic and more technical perhaps he would have placed the blast a few feet away from him. As it was, the wall exploded directly over the young man. He was pummeled with rock and stone and thrown from the wall dropping 25 feet.
A cut above his eye opened and blood clouded his vision. One large rock almost broke his clavicle. As he fell he also felt the surge of energy as the enchanted circle collapsed. The Air he had called earlier expanded under him. Coriander focused his will and managed to control his descent.
He landed in short-lived triumph. The sound of the wall caving in must have been noticed! Teachers would be here soon and put an end to any heroics. With a small word of Power Coriander sent force into the door. It blew apart as though made of sticks. He ran out of the cell and out of the detention area. He ran towards the tower. No one was there. No one was anywhere. Had they not heard the wall tumble down?
He realized he had no plan. What to do? He silently walked back towards Vushi’s room. He threw himself against the wall when he saw First Teacher, Teacher Onion and Teacher Akti all chanting and waiting outside the common room. They were waiting for her! A group of children sat crying in the hallway. Could he take them on? Could he sneak passed their weeping solemn faces knock Vushi out and drag her away? He started to mutter a spell to make himself disappear. He wasn’t very good at it but it might help. He also threw in a spell for speed. He needed every advantage.
He was about to go for it when Rho stepped out of the common room and saw him. He thought perhaps Rho would realize what was happening and make a distraction. He signaled him to come over. Rho cried out, “CORIANDER ESCAPED! THERE HE IS! GET HIM!”
Hide and Seek or Die!
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 14
Coriander ran! He had a head start and meant to keep it. He dashed through the main rooms and leapt over tables in the mess hall. He backtracked in the training area and cut across the mediation square. He fell against a wall panting, his heart pounding. Where could he run? He thought about climbing the tower to save Vushi at the last moment. He thought about a thousand spells that he might use. He thought about a world without Vushi.
Footsteps and voices came closer. Coriander had to get out. He needed to think and prepare neither of which he could do while playing cat and mouse at Magoge. He wondered if the doors would be guarded. Did that matter? Few could stop him if he wanted to leave. Had he not thrown off First Teacher? He dared them to try. Would he kill if he had to? If it meant saving Vushi? Would he use force or magick? What were these thoughts? Coriander had trouble killing a deer and now he was talking about killing people, most of whom he knew. Who was he? Why was all this happening? He wished it would just stop.
‘Give up Coriander… all is lost. Sit and let them find you.’ Coriander heard the demon in his head or possibly his darkest feelings given voice. ‘NO’ he thought! He was not getting caught. He was not loosing Vushi. And he was not going to become a monster to do it! He heard footsteps go by him on the other side of the wall. They’d find him sooner or later. If any of the teachers, or some students, tried a locating spell it would be a matter of moments. He needed to think.
From what he knew demon didn’t lie. Well they could of course tell lies but the bargains they made or spells they cast wouldn’t have very Powerful magick. There is an innate truth and craving that is needed to make spells work. Coriander knew that much. He decided to go on the assumption the demon was telling the truth. Somewhere in their conversation the demon had told him how to stop the materialization. But when? He tried to frantically replay their conversation. Had he spoken first or it? What had it actually said? Details started blurring. Coriander needed to calm down. He took a deep breath…and froze.
He smelled him.
Teacher Akti was near. Was he invisible? Coriander could not best Teacher Akti in a fight. Should he run? He probably couldn’t out run him either. Coriander pressed his body back. He wanted his back against a wall if Teacher Akti was after him. Coriander played out a few dozen scenarios, in each he lost. Realizing he was out matched Coriander decided to try and use speech instead of fists, he whispered, “I can smell you.”
Teacher laughed in a creepy way that Coriander never would have imagine coming from the sweet man, “very perceptive.” Teacher was on the other side of the wall. Coriander gulped. “Shall we get this over with?”
“You know I didn’t necromance anything!” Coriander begged not moving.
“Yet…” Teacher Akti slid his foot ready to leap.
“You are under a demon spell.” Coriander whispered again.
“You are the one under a spell and I must stop you.” Teacher moved out from the wall.
“You could just let me go?” Coriander was running out of ideas, “I could leave Magoge and never come back?”
“You would abandon Vushi?” Teacher Akti laughed again, “nice try. I know you plan on trying to stop the ceremony.”
“Do you hear yourself?” Coriander stepped out from the wall and faced his master. “Ceremony? She’s going to kill herself!?!?!”
“She ends her suffering,” Teacher Akti’s face winced as he said those worlds. As if some part of him was fighting those words.
“All life is sacred!” Coriander choked back tears, “you taught me that!”
Teacher moved his head back and forth hearing different voices arguing in his head. “Enough!” He made fists and approached the young man.
Coriander fought all logic and attacked Teacher Akti. He leapt out and grabbed for him. Akti swung wide and Coriander ducked under the arm and came up face to face with the insane teacher and…hugged him.
Teacher Akti pounded Coriander with 3 fast kidney shots and grabbed Coriander’s braid to free himself from the clinging boy. All the while Coriander spoke quickly and quietly into Akti’s ear, “You taught me to spin my first staff. You told me all life was a gift. That a true warrior is also a healer. That honor and pride are not the same things. You said I brighten every room I walk into. You said I have to believe in myself until then you’d believe in me for me. I love you Akti. I love you so much. Please hear me. Please…..”
Akti’s punches fell to his sides. He stood there frozen. Tears formed in his eyes. After a breath, he dared to turn his head slightly and see Coriander’s eyes. He seemed somehow aware as he choked his voice free and said, “Coriander? What am I doing?”
“Trying to kill me?” he half laughed.
“The voices…the voices By the Goddess Coriander what have we done!” Teacher Akti placed his hands on Coriander’s shoulders.
“Are they gone?” Coriander prayed.
“No but I can tell they are voices now and not truth and not my own thoughts.” Akti shook his head clear, “We have to stop them!”
“I know, but how?” Coriander relaxed his position, “we can’t fight them. We might hurt someone. And they are not going to believe me!”
“There he is!” a voice cried out. Footsteps became the pounding of a herd running to a fresh kill. “Teacher Akti got him!”
Coriander’s eyes went wide with fear. Akti whispered, “Faint.” Coriander started to fall backwards, “faint towards me…” Akti corrected. Coriander swung his head pretending to be dizzy and fell forward. It would have been funny at another time. Teacher Akti swung down and threw him over his shoulder. “I have him! Tell First Teacher I am throwing the criminal to the authorities far from here! And tell him not to start the ceremony until I arrive!”
Teacher Akti strode out of Magoge with a lifeless Coriander over his shoulder. None dared to question him. He walked down a few streets to make sure he was far out of sight from Magoge and any eyes who might be watching. The streets were empty. Even the tavern lights were out. Everyone was at Festival. You could hear it in the not too far distance. He set Coriander down.
“That was almost fun,” Coriander laughed.
Akti smiled back, “how do you smile even in the face of this tragedy? It is a special gift you have.” A short silence passed as each tried to think of what to do. Teacher Akti broke the moment, “So do you know what kind of demon it is?”
“A bad kind?” Coriander laughed, “I called it. It was shadow. I umm… I sort of made a deal with it..”
Akti winced, “oh no! Coriander! Never do that!”
“I was alone and scared and you tried to kill me!” Coriander knew he had done something stupid but still tried to defend himself.
“Tell me everything.” Teacher Akti listened patiently as Coriander went over the conversation as best he could remember.
“So he just laughed and disappeared?” Teacher Akti’s mind swirled with possibilities.
“Yes and now I might become a servant of a demon and kill everyone.” Coriander said sarcastically then added, “and lose my best friend.”
“Vushi is not dying,” Teacher Akti said with such conviction that Coriander wanted to hug him again.
Far off the sounds of the revelers grew louder. Bright burning fires filled the dark sky. A song was sung by seemingly everyone. Festival was growing. Cheers and hurrahs could be heard even from this distance. Both men were staring at the shapes the shadows made in the clouds.
“At least the festival is…festive?’ Teacher Akti sighed. He mulled over how best to handle the present disaster. He was trying to decide if he could actually do a school-wide sleeping spell without harming anyone.
“I wish Festival was one more night,” Coriander also sighed.
Coriander guiltily smiled, “after all of this? I could use some fun or at least a laugh.” Teacher Akti nodded in agreement.
“THAT’S IT!” Coriander yelled.
“What’s it?’ Teacher Akti wanted to catch up.
“How to stop the demon and break the spell!” Coriander added up the logic and formed plan, “Go back to Magoge and stall!”
“What are you going to do?” Teacher Akti liked the gleam in his student’s eye.
Coriander smiled wickedly, “I am going to party!”
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 15
Teacher Akti had been worried if upon returning to Magoge he might fall under the demon’s spell. Coriander wanted to assure him he was safe but now having a comrade, the idea of losing him again was terrifying. He wondered how or why he had been immune. “The spell!”
“What spell?” Teacher Akti had been thinking along the same lines.
“All we need to do is short simple circle protecting you and keeping your breath your own.”
Teacher Akti reached his hands forward and took Coriander’s hands into his own, “I can probably manage it on my own but perhaps a little Coriander energy would help?” Coriander couldn’t tell if he was teasing or not but decided he wouldn’t mind a bit of the brave teacher’s energy either.
They stood on the quiet deserted street holding hands. Each took a breath. East to West Sunrise to Set. Air to Water. North to Earth South to Fire. The festival grew quieter from their perception, as if the world hushed for a moment from all the terror. Power raised and encircled them. They hummed with the Grace of She. They stayed in the moment longer than necessary. It was nice after so much bad. Eventually their eyes met. Teacher Akti smiled. Coriander had never realized how young his teacher was. He liked his smile so returned it. Teacher Akti nodded. They let the bubble of Power swirl. Then they took a deep breath and let the energy flow into each of them. It was a rush. Coriander had to blink a few times as he controlled his breathing and absorbed the effort. The spell was finished. They stood for a moment longer.
“So I should go and stall….” Teacher Akti cleared his throat.
“And I have a festival to get…to go to,” Coriander stuttered, “um we should probably let go of hands?” They each laughed.
Without another word Teacher Akti ran back to Magoge. As he ran he imagined solid walls around his mind. If he saw windows or openings in those imaginary walls we made sure to seal them or close them tight. No demon spell was going to take hold of him again. He fortified his metal prowess. He would not fail Coriander. He slowed his pace for a moment as he realized that last thought. Not having time for reflection he sped back up and ran to the school. He too felt the tangible sensation as he entered the grounds. As he walked through that barrier of a spell he made sure his now-fortressed mind was his own.
Vushi stood in her room. She was ready. Why had she been procrastinating? The decision had been made. She must find her courage and complete this…this…deed. She held the noose in her palm. It was soft to her skin. Somewhere in her mind she was glad it wouldn’t roughly cut her neck. She had some vague understanding of how ludicrous that was and another image of her neck being cut by rope. She sat back down. No said the voice in her head. Stand now and move. Vushi obeyed. She wished Coriander had been there. She could use his bravery right now. He would walk her down the long corridors to her death. A part of her realized he would try to stop it, which gave her two thoughts: 1-did she want Coriander to try and stop her and 2- perhaps he would see the wisdom in this and tie the rope off for her. Yes he would tie the rope wouldn’t he? Isn’t that the point of being an end-friend?
Coriander headed into Festival. It was bright and loud and well, festive. People screamed and cheered. The dancing had either started again or was still continuing in its circular pattern around the square and outer streets. Burning effigies of Old Man Hunger were in full flame and dangerously showering the on lookers with burning wheat. Coriander wove in and out of drunk revelers and over children and under the flaming wheat-waterfalls. How was he ever going to get anyone here to listen to him? He climbed a wall. He could make out 4 no 5 dancing lines. One in the center was the craziest but Coriander also knew it was the most serious probably headed by the Magistrate. Coriander would leave them alone. Two were quite small and not nearly substantial enough for his purposes.
On the opposite side of the square he saw that the other two lines were dancing towards each other and seemingly drunk. Typically they’d either pass one another or intertwine (or if it was late, they’d fight over who had the right of way). Coriander needed to act fast. Using a little subtle magick he leapt off the wall and tried to cross the square. He was pushed and almost knocked down. Then he thought: why was he being subtle? This was Festival! He used Air and floated himself off the ground. He couldn’t actually fly with magick but he could float and fall like a drunken Mage might! He bounced and fell over the crowd to the cheers of anyone who saw him! He landed on the opposite side of the square right between the two lines of dancers just as they met up. They both stopped. One group was lead by a student who Coriander didn’t quite know. Of course there were students here. It was last night of the Festival all of them should be here! The other group was unfortunately led by Coriander’s archrival Sa’ .
Rho saluted Teacher Akti as he entered the hallway to Vushi’s room. Akti nodded back, “is everything ready?”
“Yes,” Rho said eerily, “we await the weapons master!” Akti nodded again and found First Teacher praying at the end of the hallway farthest from Vushi’s room. He was obviously going to lead the procession. Teacher Akti shook the sick feeling in his stomach and the desire to punch First Teacher away.
First Teacher’s eyes looked flat and dark as he spoke, “finally. The goddess waits not!”
“I was thinking,” Teacher Akti tried to sound as monotone and as weird as everyone else. He could also sense the bombardment on his mind’s walls, “perhaps this ritual would be better served at the dawn. As the Sun greets the Earth?”
“No,” was all First Teacher said.
“She comes!” Teacher Onion said as he ran form Vushi’s doorway with some sick gleam in his eye. “Make way! The offering walks!”
Teacher Akti’s mind raced with a hundred spells and incantations that might stop this abomination. He thought about calling the demon but didn’t think it would come nor should Akti leave Vushi.
She entered the hallway gracefully. She stood perfectly erect and carried her own noose in her hands palms up like an offering. ‘Oh this demon is smart,’ thought Akti. Instead of simply having another student mysteriously die this was a public execution to which all would be accountable. Anyone who didn’t stop it would be overcome with grief afterwards. If it was true and the demon would be made manifest with this final offering he would have a couple of dozen very upset Magi and apprentices to easily enthrall or eat.
Vushi passed Teacher Akti and stumbled. He could see a small part of her fighting this. A tiny small part. Teacher Akti reached out and steadied her. She, without looking at him, took his arm. He was now part of this sick processional where he himself was guarding the prize. The idea made his stomach twist again. They walked to the tower entrance. The students and teachers made a small circle under where Vushi would fall. Vushi grabbed Akti’s arm tight. ‘Fight it,’ he thought, ‘if you help me I might be able to get us both out of here.’ But she did not fight.
“What are you doing Cori?” slurred Sa’.
“Joining the Festival?” Coriander smiled sheepishly. He lamely called ball of fire in his hands and tried to look cute.
“Go find another group cheese spoiler !” Sa’ laughed and his line, those that could hear, laughed too. Coriander wished he had the Voice. Wished he could manipulate emotions or force perspectives like others could. He could fight Sa’ and win. Could he take over his line then? No. Coriander didn’t have the prestige to hold a burning effigy let alone lead a line! Sa’ started to walk away when Coriander knew what power, no capital P, he did have: he could annoy a beetle off a dung heap!
He laughed back at the insult and cheered, “That must be why the masters chose you! I said ‘hey I can do it First Teacher’ and he said ‘No Coriander only the bravest the best of the herd may hold this honor!” Coriander mimicked the Teacher’s voice badly but got Sa’s attention.
“What honor?” Sa’ spat. His muscle bunched as if he was going to hit the much thinner boy but then Coriander realized he was drunkenly attempting to puff out his chest.
“Speak!” shouted the girl leading the other line.
Coriander knew he had to sound convincing. Both lines, including their respective leaders were hanging on his words. Honor at Magoge was thing most prized. Coriander tried to sound official, “I have come on First Teacher’s orders. It is the seventh Spring of the seventh season,” Coriander had no idea what he was saying but everyone nodded anyway. “On this night we do not go to Festival it comes to us! Only the most brave or most loved or something, can get the crowd to cross the town and come to Magoge! Only a true leader!”
Coriander paused and let the information seep into their wine soaked brains. The girl leading the second line caught on first. She turned to her friends, and even some of the folks in Sa’s line, and yelled, “TO MAGOGE! Follow me!” Cheers rang out and she started to jog away.
Sa’ reached out and knocked Coriander down, “Jackal teat!” He called him as he then turned to anyone left, “NO! Follow me!” and he ran off catching up to the line.
Coriander picked himself off the ground wondering if his plan would work. He started to follow the dancers. He had to catch up and direct the line to where he needed them to go in Magoge. He knew a few over-the-roof short cuts and could do magick easier than the other wine-clouded students; he would get there first. For a moment Coriander jokingly thought, ‘well if I don’t get there and all is lost and I become a servant of a demon, maybe I’ll get to kill Sa’?’ Then he had the horrible thought of the demon making him serve Sa’ as punishment!! Coriander ran even faster!
Circle and Voice
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 16
There something most people don’t know about demons They aren’t actually mean. Sure they do despicable things but if one leaves the idea of good and bad out of the equation they are simply creature trying to better their lot in life…or un-life. If one thinks about it: A hero ups his status by killing a monster. Likewise the monster would up its status by killing that hero instead. To most demons, humans are nothing more than smart animals who should know their place and serve demon-kind to create wonderfully foul plane of existence. Is this not terribly different than say the farmer? He takes less intelligent beasts and shackles them to a plow and makes his life better and ups his status. Before one says: yes but in the demon-view of the true order of this existence we would be whipped and beaten for not much more than demonic pleasure. Have you ever been to the circus?
Such were the thoughts in Coriander’s mind as he magicked himself over rooftops to catch up with the formidable sized dancing party of drunkards that headed to Magoge. Would this seemingly-ridiculous plan work? He tried to think of alternative plans or ideas as he leapt from walls and roofs. In his frenzy, he had a calm feeling that it might actually do the trick. And indeed it was a trick. But hadn’t the demon tried to trick him? Perhaps this was exactly the sort of obvious riddle that demons, and truth be told sprites, nymphs and the like, enjoyed teasing humans with?
Coriander had another quick thought: if he stopped the spell what happened to the shadow demon? Would he simply go away? Not likely. He’d have to do more than stop this dark business, he’d actually have to destroy the entity. But how? If it made manifest, which he did not want to happen, he could smash, bash and trash it. Or at least he could try to fight it on the physical plane. But how a shadow? If it were partially realized maybe he could partially damage it, but destroy it? Again: not likely.
This second half of the problem rushed through his mind faster than Coriander was travelling. He finally stopped and realized not only had he caught up with the revelers he had passed them. He jumped down to street level and waited. They were very loud. Their songs and stomping feet, as well as burning wheat on poles, made them a physical force of celebration. As Coriander stood on the last street separating Magoge and the party he could feel a division down his torso. Each “spell” was so full, so very at the very height of its spirit he wondered for a moment: which would win?
Inside Teacher Akti could hear the approaching Festival. Some of the students by the windows started to hear it as well. They were too loud. If First Teacher heard them he’d bar the door and the demon would win. It was so close. Akti could hear its whispers on the physical plane. He started singing a low chant: A call to the Gods of Death. It was an old chant knew by everyone. Slowly the other students joined in. The somber song filled the tower entrance and covered the noise from the street. As First Teacher raised Vushi into the Air with a simple spell, Akti moved in closer. He strategically put himself behind First Teacher and Teacher Onion. These two powerful men even enthralled would be the only ones to stop the stopping. If Coriander didn’t arrive in time or his plan didn’t work, Akti would stop Vushi but he might have to take out these two first.
Vushi tied off the rope.
Teacher Akti tensed.
Now. Said the voice.
Coriander screamed a terrible and yet festive cry, “MAGOGE!!!!” as the dancers crossed the somber barrier of the spell. They did not stop. They didn’t even notice. They were so enthralled with their own merriment they didn’t feel the crumbling of the spell that encased their school. Coriander took lead and marched the partiers towards the tower. No one seemed to notice him take lead or if they did they didn’t mind. Coriander knew he didn’t have long for the new second half of this plan.
First Teacher spun at the spectacle. His eyes grew wide in horror at such an intrusion. He and Teacher Onion lifted their arms as if to cast a spell possibly to create a barrier stopping the incoming party. Teacher Akti stopped them first. He, faster than a cat, drew out his blade and held it to First Teacher’s throat and with the other hand grabbed Onion’s throat. He hissed a quiet warning, “mumble a syllable of a spell and I’ll rip put your throats!”
Coriander passed the terrified and furious looks of Teacher Onion and First Teacher. He led the dancing party around the tower entrance. He led them in a full circle. Around and around the partiers partied. Students who had been glum and stunned started to laugh and join in. The despair was no match for Festival of She. As the circle grew more fabulous, and thusly more magickal, Coriander leapt into the center. He was exhausted but he summoned all the strength he had left. He called Fire from the effigies and brought it in a ring around him. “Come forth demon!” he screamed!
There in front of the flickering fire light the half-shadow half-corporeal thing emerged. It was taller than it had been. Its hands had grown into claws. It seemed to smile but lacked any laughter. The dancers had no idea what was happening behind the magickal wall of flame as they continued to laugh and sing as if it was part of the procession.
The three teachers could see somewhat through the Fire. Teacher Akti had lowered his knife and grip but still held his arms before the other two, in a serious warning to not intrude. Teacher Onion was aghast at the sight of a demon at Magoge. As the spell left his eyes, he looked even more horrified. First Teacher was as if made out of marble. He understood what had happened faster than Akti had imagined. First Teacher glared at the creature that had tainted his soul and wanted to personally tear the beast to shreds but knew he should not break Coriander’s circle. The fact that things were in Coriander’s hands did not sit well with him either. Coriander didn’t see him, as he was too busy dealing with the demon.
“Laughter! I did it!” It was Coriander’s turn to laugh, albeit breathlessly.
“A pity,” scowled the creature as it paced back and forth as if looking for a way out of the Circle. “You would make a good slave.”
“Gee thanks,” Coriander said sarcastically, “I won. Be gone!”
The demon laughed, “you have no power to banish me! You did not fetch me! You do not have that Power little Mage! NO when the Circle is broken, and it must eventually, I will stay I will creep into the shadows. I will remain a stain on this holy house. Always whispering always preying and prying. And there’s nothing you can do about it!”
“But I can,” Vushi landed with a quiet thump. “I banish you! To the dark place!” Vushi barked with the full force of her Voice. He looked oddly clam, Coriander thought for just almost having killed herself.
“NO!” screamed the demon. He turned to Coriander and spoke quickly, “I can help you boy! I can grant you fame and glory! I can show you riches!” Coriander had a few dozen thoughts at the same time, the loudest of which was: Vushi say it again! But she didn’t. Vushi’s mind was stuck. The demon had thrown up a shield to her Power. She could not speak the thought on her tongue. She pushed her Will against the barrier. The demon desperately continued, “I know things boy. Free me and I swear to serve you! Bron! You want to know how I tricked Bron? I can tell you!”
At the mention of Bron’s name Vushi’s Will exploded and she spake, “I banish you twice! Bane creature of whispers and shadow!”
The creature trembled and coughed. Did it feel the pain of leaving this world? It glared at Coriander and turned on the speaker. Vushi had to refocus her Will in order to use her Voice. She needed just another moment. The demon leapt to rip out her throat and silence the witch.
Coriander leapt too. He grabbed what he could of the half-corporal thing. It was like trying to hold pond scum. They rolled on the ground. Coriander tried to end on top but failed. The demon reached for Vushi but Coriander held him a bear hug. Coriander struggled to keep the thing on the floor. He pulled back with all his might. The thing slammed his head back into Coriander’s face. The demon’s claws swiped back and ripped the flesh for Coriander’s thighs. He screamed. His arms finally gave out and his breath left him. The demon broke free. It lurched at Vushi.
“I BANISH YOU THRICE!” she screamed with all the Power of her Voice. The demon screamed as well, but not with purpose but in pain. It dissolved or dissipated or descended, or all of those actions at the same time, with a final screech.
Coriander, covered in his own blood, looked up at his end-friend and said, “hi,” and passed out.
Credit Where It Is Not Due
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 17
The fervor of Festival took over the entrance once the Fire-circle had dispersed with the demon. The circling was abandon for free-form dancing and bawdy songs. From somewhere instruments began to accompany and add to the frenetic fest. Laughter exploded and even the shyest of students began to joyfully make fools of themselves. Such was the nature of Spring Festival. None of them seemed to notice the bloody boy passed out in the center.
Vushi was on guard. She stood stone-like at the feet of her friend making sure the demon was in fact banished. She, like most apprentices, second-guessed her Power. She searched the din for any evidence of the creature. As she remembered more of the last few days she shook her head in anger and shame. She was horrified to have lost herself. She would not cry. Not now. She was too much a fighter to give in to that. She would make sure her job was done. She was so busy looking for demonic energy she didn’t notice Teacher Akti rushing to Coriander’s side.
He placed his head on the boy’s chest and then examined the bloody wounds. He sighed in relief. Coriander was injured but alive. For the slightest of seconds he had thought the demon might have taken Coriander’s soul with it. He still wasn’t sure he hadn’t damaged the boy in another, more spiritual way, but that would come later if the body lived. The loudness of Festival was annoying the teacher and making it impossible to heal Coriander. He called out, “Vushi Help me!” On his third yell she spun around as if ready for a fight. She looked down at the weapons master and her bloody friend and all thoughts of the demon left as she knelt by his side.
“Oh no!” she cried, “is he…”
“He’ll live but we have to get him out of here!’ Teacher Akti yelled over the noise. He lifted Coriander in his arms and Vushi pushed the crowd out of his way as they headed for the healing rooms.
The other teachers watched Akti and Vushi carry out the limp body. For a moment First Teacher was afraid there was the third death required of the bane spell, but Teacher Akti caught his eyes and nodded in a way that he was sure Coriander lived.
Teacher Onion, still in shock or realization, asked, “should we dismiss these revelers?”
“No!” ordered First Teacher, “they have dismissed a spell that clouded over even my eyes. If anything, fetch more wine from the temple and make sure the festivities last until dawn. The glory of the next Sun will fortify Magoge and all who inhabit it. Go.” Teacher Onion waddled off. First Teacher had a lot to process. He pushed his way to the center where the demon had fallen and placed a hand on the gateway. It was closed. He made his way to Bron’s room and made sure that circle was closed too. Then the overwrought man went to each door and window and said a small prayer of a spell making sure all would be safe until a full ritual could be done with the next Sun.
The next day, students, those who had stayed, those who had danced back and those who returned at close of Festival, were greeted with an odd ritual of purification. They were forced to bathe in dark salt water, chant a prayer in an unknown language all while inhaling disgusting smelling herb incense that made most of them gag. Afterwards they were told, as a welcoming of Spring, they would clean Magoge from tippy top to very bottom. This filled the students with a sarcastic “great to be back’ attitude. After all was cleansed with sage and lemon First Teacher held an assembly to explain things.
“A statue?” Coriander gasped, “they’re making Bron a statue? Hera help us, Gods of Trickery prevail!” Coriander didn’t mean to sound spiteful of the honor but enough was enough! He sat, still weak in his hospital bed, as Vushi filled him in on how First Teacher had handled the disaster.
It had been decided that Bron was not the unfortunate victim of a spell gone wrong or the first in a series of offerings. He was hero. The first to try and fend off the school from a demonic foe! He fell in battle was what his family had been told. They fought back tears and found pride where they would have felt shame. Coriander decided that would be ok.
He was not all right with the rest of the outcome. Sa’, or so it had been told, came to the defense as well. He supposedly heard Vushi’s psychic cries of torment and he, like a true warrior, brought the festivities just in time to counter the demon’s spell. Vushi when freed of the binding had used her Power to cast the demon away. Coriander was not mentioned in any of the telling. In fact, rumors flew about his bloody appearance and the subsequent three days in hospital. Some said he had tried to fight the demon and failed miserably but most thought he drank to much wine and fell down the stairs.
Vushi delivered this as gently as she could. “I tried to correct them but…” her voice tailed off. She hated the lies but couldn’t bear to tell the students, and hence Bron’s family, the truth.
“I don’t care,” was all Coriander said.
“Why did I make you stay! Why didn’t we go out into the woods like you wanted. Why do I…” Vushi cried.
“Don’t take this the wrong way my friend,” Coriander half-smiled, “I don’t think I can handle you being upset anymore.”
Vushi laughed. She wiped away her tears and hugged her friend, “Thank you by the way. It must have been so hard on you. If roles reversed I do not know what I would have done.”
“You would have saved me,” Coriander touched her shoulder, “that’s what we do. Let’s not dwell on who got the credit. We know the truth. I’m just glad it’s over.” Coriander noticed no one mentioned him destroying the detention cell and decided not to bring it up.
Vushi didn’t know what to make of her well-sensed friend. He should be angry or annoyed or some emotion other than kindness! And that of course was when she realized he was just being Coriander. It made her love him all the more. She brought him some water and looked at his wounds. The physical wounds could not be attended to until the spiritual ones were healed. Apparently, the demon’s claws had poisoned Coriander physically and psychically.
Vushi sat on his bed, “are you going to be all right?”
“Yes,” Coriander tried to sound convincing, “any day now I will get out of here. I do feel better. I just wished they’d close some of these wounds. It must be terrible to be non-magickal!”
Rho walked in smiling wide with pride, “You’re awake! Did you tell him what I can do?”
“No Rho you haven’t come up yet” Vushi laughed at the impertinent boy.
“What can you do?” Coriander wondered how much he had missed in three days. He was glad of the distraction Rho would prove to be. Vushi, although free from the spell, was still so somber and weird acting. He was not himself either.
“Remember when we levitated Vushi? Well I learned the spell!” he said with such happiness Coriander smiled too wide which hurt his split lip.
He made no mention of it, “show me!”
Rho looked at a large crystal at the foot of Coriander’s bed. He smushed up his face and reached out his arms. The heavy Crystal lifted a few inches in the air and spun around. It was no small feat.
Coriander and Vushi broke into applause and laughs as Rho explained, “First Teacher says I might be a Mage after all!” Coriander reached out his hands and hugged the young boy. Rho hugged back. Then he looked into Coriander’s eyes and made pouting face and continued, “are you sad?”
“NO,” Coriander said clearly, “I am glad for you and glad this business is over. And NO I do not need credit for the deed. Apparently my terrible magickal association with Magoge is the only thing that saved us all!” He elbowed Vushi who smiled. Vushi had been waiting for the: I told you so.
“No. I meant sad about Teacher Akti?” Rho asked.
“RHO!” Vushi punched him.
“Later…” Vushi said kindly. Coriander eyed her in a way that made it very clear he wanted the information now.
“Well,” Vushi shot glare at Rho and then tried to smile at Coriander, “he got suspended from Magoge. He did put a knife to Firs Teacher’s throat…”
“Who was under a spell!” Coriander finally got furious, “of all the stupid cruel ego’s! What a fool! You’d be dead, I’d be a servant of evil and Magoge would be demon fodder!” His friends let Coriander spit out swears and insult for a few moments until he calmed down.
“Coriander you’re sick. Try and stay calm.” Vushi bit her lip.
“When? How long ago,” Coriander tried to sit up.
“3 days,” Vushi gently pushed him back down.
“3 days?” Coriander gulped, “he didn’t say good bye or anything?”
“He couldn’t,” Vushi tried to ease the information, “he was suspended and could not remain Krokos. He told me to tell you goodbye…and…”
“He said you to tell you to keep brightening up rooms,” Vushi wished the phrase would make her friend smile but instead he cried, “I was going to tell you. I was waiting for you to feel better.”
“Feel better,” Coriander huffed, “are we all ever going to fell better?” He asked his friends not expecting an answer. He didn’t get one. They exchanged sad glances. Bron and the other boy’s death were now mourned properly with sadness in perspective. Those witnessing the almost death of Vushi felt violated and shamed. As well, the idea that a demon could invade the school was lurking on the back of everyone’s minds; it was supposed to be the safest place in the world. Would they forever mourn not just the loss and hurt of the spell but the loss of what Magoge was supposed to mean to them? Somewhere Coriander knew he’d, they’d all, feel better eventually but would they ever feel the same? Should they? And now Coriander lost his weapons master. His hero. He did not believe, in that moment, he would ever truly recover.
A Secret at the Cliffs
Coriander: Mourning at Magoge 18
“You should not have come,” said a stern voice.
“Did you not want me to come?” asked Coriander.
Teacher Akti sighed looking over the cliffs and back at Coriander, “you are still weak. They still do not know what affect the demon had on you. The wounds on your legs are more than scratches. You should not have come.” Again he spoke seriously than Coriander wished.
“And why are you here?” he whispered.
“I knew you would come anyway,” a smile broke the grim mask and Teacher Akti laughed despite himself, “I was waiting for you. Still…”
“I should have waited,” Coriander grimaced in a bit of pain, “Perhaps if your message had been: meet me in two weeks at the cliffs, I’d have waited.” He sat on the ground Akti offered him a hand and sat down next to him.
“My message said nothing about cliffs,” Akti smiled.
“This is where She came to me and answered my prayers,” Coriander gestured to the cliff’s edge, “what kind of person would I be if I did not say think you.”
Akti smiled wide at Coriander’s spirit, “and so I waited for you. Are you in pain? Can I do anything?”
“No,” Coriander lied but then added truthfully, “being here helps.”
Coriander had pretended to be sleepy after his meeting with Vushi and Rho. He was tired but not too tired to sneak out the moment they were gone. He rewound the bandage around his head, tightened the bandages on his legs, grabbed a walking staff and started out for the cliffs. Something had told him, some gut instinct, where he should go, or maybe he just knew, Akti knew what kind of man Coriander was and that he’d return to the cliffs.
It took him forever. He had to sit down many times. His legs shook. He hadn’t brought water or anything. By the time he arrived it was getting late and he was exhausted. Some part of him knew he was in bad shape and should not come, he told that part of him to be quiet. He had to say goodbye.
“It’s so not fair,” Coriander tried not to whine like a child, “they should be thanking you. Praising you!”
“Me?” Akti smiled again, “It is you who have been most unjustly not been thanked and praised.”
“I’m used to it,” Coriander shrugged.
“That makes the news sadder still.” Akti touched his face, “why are you so sad then? Vushi is safe. You saved all of us! First Teacher knows it too.”
“But you’re gone,” Coriander felt childish again.
“Do you think we’ll never see each other again?” Akti asked. “I am only suspended. I may come back.”
“I love how you see the good in everything,” Coriander mumbled, “even in me, Teacher Akti.”
“Not your teacher anymore,” Akti laughed, “and it is easy to see the good in you. You are so very good. Have I apologized yet for punching you?”
“Then I apologize my friend,” Teacher looked at the bruise on Coriander’s jaw, “shall I heal it?”
“ummm” Coriander blushed, “I’m supposed to let my wounds stay until we are sure my spiritual and psychic ones are healed. I have no idea why. I think First Teacher likes to punish me.”
“Possibly, but I am sure we can fix this one…” He reached up and Coriander flinched. “I am not going to hurt you.”
“I know. Sorry,” Coriander wanted to speak clearly but kept mumbling. “It’s the only thing I’ll have to remember you by…if you don’t come back. And I wouldn’t if I were you.”
“Please Coriander by the Gods remember me for something better than hitting you!” Akti laughed.
Coriander snapped, “why are you laughing? I am never going to see you again. You’ll be off having adventures and forget all about us. And I don’t blame you and I’ll be back at Magoge where everyone hates me…and… if you acted a little upset I might think you didn’t want to leave me!” Uhg Coriander winced at those last words. What was he saying to his teacher, ok his not-teacher person who smelled so good?
“Coriander I don’t want to leave,” Akti confessed, “but I held a knife to my master’s throat! Even if I could come back in a year and a day he might not want me to. I think I scared the goodness out of him!” They both laughed as he continued, “I am not sad because I like you, I did a good thing. I would not change it if time went backwards. The action has a consequence. So be it. The road is before me. As is yours. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s reason to celebrate. I am sure our paths will cross again. And if they do not, I will not sour this last moment with you sad of what might have been or what was not or what is fair? I do not hang my head when a flower is dead, it must make room for the next bloom. ”
“I think you might still be my teacher,” Coriander smiled.
“There’s that smile I love,” Teacher Akti smiled back, “now please let me fix that bruise it makes me feel horrible!” Coriander let him heal some of his minor cuts and cruises.
It was nice. They spoke about Magoge and home life. They swapped tales of parents and early magick mistakes. Coriander realized he was not someone’s son, brother or student or end-friend here and now. He was…well, he didn’t have the words for it, but he felt cared for but in an equal way: a true friend, a comrade, a….? Coriander knew then that life would be about finding words and he liked it. They shared more laughs as Akti told Coriander some stories about how he became weapons master at such a young age. Coriander told him some stories about the trouble he got into that no one knew about, which was considerable.
Night fell and silence came. It grew late. They spent this time in quiet togetherness. Coriander had the fleeting thought that this should be awkward or even scary but everything was so easy with Akti. Everything he did was wonderful. Coriander had never felt so alive. The fire grew cold and neither noticed. Eventually sleep called them. Stars shone down winking at Coriander as he drifted off.
The next morning was spent laughing and replaying. Akti became worried about Coriander’s health and made him return to Magoge. He walked him as far as he dared, that is as close to Krokos as he was allowed. He left Coriander on the road with more sweet silence.
Coriander hobbled back to Magoge with a flood of different emotions. He was sad at Akti leaving but thrilled they might cross paths again. He was grateful for the time they spent together but terrified he’d never know such friendship again. Their time together had shown Coriander a world, a future of joy and acceptance. A thing he’d never experienced outside of his own provincial home. His love of sunsets and trees and all things She could, might, now encompass humanity too. There was magick between people. He had no words or way to wrap his brain around all the changes one simple evening had meant to him.
Vushi was only slightly angrier than the furious healer at hospital who was scolding Coriander for straying. She had to be begged not to tell First Teacher. Vushi stood as a silent angry guard, glaring at Coriander for his stupidity. And then Vushi’s rage turned into concern. As she watched her friend get healed, she realized he was different. Something had changed. His…energy or something she couldn’t exactly name was not as it was before. The healer finally finished his bandages and went away. Coriander caught Vushi’s eye and knew a lecture was coming. Before she could utter a word he hugged and started weeping.
“Are you in pain? Shall I fetch her back?’ Vushi’s concern grew.
Coriander looked up at her smiling, “No. Everything is fine. No Vushi, everything is wonderful and we are alive!”
“What?” Vushi knew she had put her friend through an ordeal, “yes Coriander I am alive. I have no wish to die. It was the spell sweet boy.”
“No Vushi! Oh Vushi,’ he wept freely the tears falling over his trembling and yet smiling lips, “how dare we not mourn every moment lost by praising it with joy of the moment coming and loving the one we are in!”
Vushi hugged him tightly. She did not understand this poetry. She did not understand the happy tears and trembling shoulders. She did not understand the sweet smell emanating from him. She did not understand and yet knew she did not need to.
The gong gonged. Coriander took a deep breath, composed himself and smiled at his end-friend, “come Vushi. Let us go back to our lives.”