Chapter Twenty-One: A Little Magical Education
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
"Anything you want to know now?" Hemlock asked, nudging Vesper so that the horse turned down another road; the avicorn followed with hardly a touch of the rein to his neck, a very sensitive animal. "It's not really too often I have someone to actually converse with, other than Aldyss. He doesn't really care about much of anything, though."
"Well, how about what we were talking about. Sort of, anyway. How does magic work, here?"
"Hmmm, interesting question," Hemlock responded thoughtfully, then he paused to consider it. "Our magic is directly linked to our physical energy, it takes focus to conjure up. Really, I guess you'd say it's just focusing parts of your soul and mind, rather energy of the spirit than some unknown mystical force." He chuckled at that. "Many, if not most or all of, the inhabitants are born with their magic. Restrictions such as species, heritage, or even strength of will determine how strong one will be. Similarly, personality or inborn traits determine what elements one will be strongest in."
Shoel nodded. "It's rather like how Free Magic works, in my world. You have to have an affinity for it in order to be a necromancer or a Free Mage."
"Well most of the magic you will see the residents here use is their own, so it isn't really free," Hemlock explained. "Though the presence of the Greater Spirits does amplify the effects, in this region specifically. In Star City or other places it really depends more on the individual."
"Mmmhmm. I'm sorry, it's rather a habit of mine to use the term 'Free Magic' to apply to anything that isn't of the Charter-- it's magic that hasn't been ordered or put into the marks, that's all. At home it's dangerous to living things, but I know it's not, other places. It's just a hard habit to break, thinking of it the same way."
There was a smile in Hemlock's voice when he continued, though Shoel didn't know why. "The mages under the High Council of Tselene use runes more than many other people do, though the techniques they use aren't universal. The High Council isn't very well-liked, so most of the runes you see people use are more of a universal persuasion or are simply elemental marks."
"The runes," she began. "Like the ones on the pendant and scabbard?"
Hemlock nodded at that. "Yes, those are the universal runes. Mostly used for enchanting items, unless you happen to be a mage under the High Council."
"All right. What other ways are there to cast spells? Just that-- focusing you spoke of?"
Another nod. "Focusing your mind upon the correct form you want your spell to manifest as. Considering you use this... Charter... you could probably use native magic if you wished."
"I don't know," she said, a little nervous with the idea. "Charter magic is... rather different. It takes energy, but it's connected to something else entirely-- the Charter itself. It's like... a realm set apart, made of nothing but marks and power. I have to actually reach into it in order to cast spells, and take out the marks I need, unless it's a particularly simple one. --Besides, I'm not sure if it's my people, or my world's magic, that makes Free Magic dangerous. If it's my people, any magic but Charter could be dangerous to me."
He sighed. "Our magic isn't particularly dangerous to anyone-- unless you get hit by it, of course," he added with what was probably a grin. "As long as you don't overdo it you should be fine. If you bond, too, you're going to have to take magic classes at RoF."
Shoel had heard the abbreviation for the Ring of Fire before; people at Star City did things like that, though she didn't entirely understand it. It wasn't as if "Ring of Fire" was difficult to say, or remember.... She shook her head and put it from her mind. "I'll cross that chasm when I get to it," she told him. "For all I know, I won't bond at all. If it really is an-- an undead clutch," it felt strange saying "undead", but that was the word they used here, "I can't imagine anything in it would be interested in someone who would itch to banish it all the time." She sounded a bit more bitter than she'd intended.
"Pheodian and Serienth have eggs in that clutch," the Necromancer said sternly, as if expecting her to understand. "Both of their bonds vanquish the undead on a regular basis, one being a spiritwalker and the other being a paladin."
She shook her head; that didn't change the fact that they felt Dead. But she didn't know how to explain that to him, certainly not without getting into an argument. "I suppose so," was all she said. "We'll see what happens."
"Is there any specific defense against shadow beings in your world?" It was a sudden question, but there was deep thought behind it as if the necromancer felt there was something she should know. She didn't mind the change in subject.
"Mmm. Most shadow-beings are the Dead, Shadow Hands like Skelemis. I would suppose I'd use bright light against one, and I suspect my bells would work just as well on them as they do on you or Skelemis. Or perhaps marks of dispelling and purifying-- oh, don't let me forget when we stop for the night, I need to mark you."
Hemlock muttered something she couldn't hear, but then he turned his head so he could see her again. "Mark me?"
"Yes. Against this plague of Galarin's. I can ward us against it, and the longer we're under the marks, the more powerful our resistance to it. I'd like to start immediately, and renew the marks every evening and morning. It shouldn't hurt you at all."
" ... Alright," Hemlock conceded after some hesitation. "Girl, how much do you know about demons?"
"Shoel. Remember? You know my name now." She smiled at him some. "And only what I knew about them as they might manifest at Star City. The Dead were the closest we got to demons at home."
"As I feared," Hemlock sighed at that, putting a metal-shod hand to the visor of his helmet where his forehead would be. "I'm afraid you've a lot to learn if you're going to be here for any amount of time. Much more so than any other candidates, since you've decided to wander abroad."
"Well... you know about them, I suppose. What do I need to know?"
There was dead silence when Shoel asked that. After a few moments the necromancer finally spoke up, his voice wavering and unsure. "I'm not rightfully certain what anyone can tell about them."
Shoel blinked at his shoulders. "Why...?"
"Well, they are spirits. As with any spirit, you can't really know all there is to them." His voice was still uncertain. "You might be able to sense them, anyone magically inclined to sense auras usually can. They probably are a bit like the Dead you speak of, though much, much more powerful. Where the limitations of lesser spirits come in, demons are much worse. Even some of the moderately powerful ones can be too much for an experienced mage."
Frowning, Shoel asked, "What do they look like? What can they do?"
"Anything, can possess people, too," Hemlock replied shortly. "And they can probably do whatever you can think of in that pretty little head of yours."
Not sure how to take his growing irritation, she asked carefully, "Am I annoying you somehow? I thought you said I could ask you anything. I'm trying to learn."
"Sorry." He shook his head as though trying to clear it. "A demon's appearance, in truest form, varies widely. Hellhounds, for instance, look rather like dogs composed of smoke, fire, and shadow. Nasty things, how the last Firelancer met her end.... If you can call it that."
"What do you mean, 'if you can call it that'?" she repeated, brows knit. Did she die? Or was she-- Dead? That was the first thing that came to mind, for her, if her "end" might not be "called that".
Hemlock chuckled, grinning to himself again-- apparently it was nothing bad. "She was what's called a Greater Spirit, one of the ones of old, ancient days. Long before my time, before even the Green Archmage's time. Phoenix spirit on the light side, though to look at her or sense her you'd never know it unless she told you or had to display her powers. That particular one never wanted the power, so when she's in the physical realm she always binds it any way she can think."
"So-- she can't be killed?"
"Oh, her physical form can be killed. When that happens, though, she's likely to come back sooner or later. This one has phoenix heritage, though, so I don't think she's lost this physical manifestation quite yet." Shoel blinked at his back again; that meant very little to her, actually.
"So she can be killed, but she's not dead yet... all right. Where is she? If she's not here, that is-- Firelancer Jasien seems to think she's dead. At least, that's what he told me."
And Hemlock said absolutely nothing. Staring at his back with narrowed eyes, Shoel was struck with the thought that he knew exactly where the previous Firelancer was-- he just wasn't about to say. "All right," she said, nodding and breaking the silence. "--She isn't in trouble, is she?"
"No, she's fine. She can take care of herself," Hemlock responded briefly, close-mouthed but thankfully still not rude.
Shoel nodded again. "As long as she's not in trouble, you can keep your secret. I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't want to be found; I wouldn't, if I were her."
After another long pause, Hemlock relented a little into agreement, "Knowing her, I'd imagine she doesn't. Jasien's Firelancer now, he needs time to settle into the role."
"Agreed. So tell me more about demons? Drakonus said we might run into some. I'd like to know how best to approach the situation, should that happen."
That made the necromancer snort loudly. "You want tips on how to face up to demons?"
"If you have any. Yes."
"It's a bad idea to face a demon."
"I understand that. And if we have no choice?"
Hemlock mumbled, something sounding like a form of a prayer. "Hope that your bells have some power over them, hope that we have magic enough to at least send them out of the physical realm for a time."
Shoel thought a moment. "Can demons die?"
"I don't think any spirit can die," Hemlock said quietly, actually sounding a little tired. "Only be banished from this world, chained beyond the reach of the physical realm or those bound to it."
"Well, yes," she admitted. "No spirit is ever entirely destroyed, it merely passes on. I meant if they can be forced past the Ninth Gate of Death. To whatever afterlife begins there, like any living or Dead creature."
"Sure, you could probably do that, if you could bind one. Difficult and dangerous to do, if not impossible."
"But if there is a chance," she shrugged. "It might be our only one."
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.