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Curses, Inside-Out: Part Six

by schefflera


also by Dreagoddess

The art of illusory magic lies as much in choosing the balance of magical areas or spheres as in shaping them, as the art of painting lies as much in choosing and mixing color as in form, and though ethereal is by nature closer kin to the more mundane visual arts than most more material magics.... Lisha sighed. The title Introduction to the Art of Illusions had looked promising, but it seemed to hold very little practical information. She was midway through the fourth chapter, and so far she had learned that illusions were usually based on light, air, or dark, but not always. She had not learned what difference the balance of spheres made, unless it was just about aesthetics. Nor had she learned whether a curse invisible to its target actually qualified as an illusion or not, which was what she really wanted to know. Unfortunately, this was one of the more readable texts. Imry Infilson's Index of Illusions had instructions on plenty of specific spells for casting and dispelling illusions, but didn't really address design.

     "Somewhere," she said aloud, glaring at the bookshelves, "someone has to have written down something about illusions in between how much fun they are and a list of incantations."

     "I was required to once," said a voice that did not belong in Meridell's Royal Library, and Lisha started and nearly fell out of her chair. She turned it into a jump and somewhat awkward landing, then whirled. Lord Darigan was standing just inside the doorway, looking very gray and black against the warmer colors of the shelves and spines. He also appeared vaguely uncomfortable about the ears, which Lisha supposed was why he seemed so remarkably much more out of place than he had in the courtyard. He bowed. "My tutor assigned it after I'd been studying magic for about four years."

     "Then what did you do before that? None of these books are helpful at all. Aren't books supposed to be helpful?" Lisha glared at the nearest text as if it was personally responsible for the failings of all its kin.

     "Some of them are. Some of them are only intended to be helpful to certain people, and not necessarily the reader." Darigan drifted a few steps further into the library. "Illusions were hardly the first thing I was taught. I only tried very simple, one-sphere spells in the beginning, and I spent nearly all of the first two years and a fair amount of the later ones being told about magic and asking questions."

     "You mean you didn't actually do any magic for years?" Lisha asked, aghast at the very idea. "But doing things makes so much more sense than just reading about them!"

     "But doing them makes much more sense if someone has explained what you're supposed to be doing. May I sit down?"

     "Oh, sorry. Yes, please do." Lisha regained her own seat and gestured generally for Darigan to take one of the nearby ones. "I don't know. I think some explanation is helpful, but just reading a bunch of theory doesn't help you do anything."

     "Doesn't it?" Darigan peered over her shoulder long enough to scan a paragraph or two on why it was absurd to compare illusions to calligraphy. "All right, I suppose it depends on the theory. And on what you want to do." He settled into the nearest chair. "Most people can operate a variety of magical items without having or learning much magic themselves. Many can learn specific spells by rote with little grasp of how they work; it's actually possible to become fairly formidable that way, and you'll find some who consider it cheating to explain and believe the best way to learn magic is to learn more and more spells until you begin to discern patterns." A smile. "My tutor didn't approve of that approach. It would have taken years longer before I could begin to analyze and perhaps design spells myself, and that was what I was expected to do, far more than performing them."

     "But when you need to use spells, not design them, does it really matter?"

     "That depends on how many times you're willing to risk getting them wrong."

     Lisha frowned. "But you spend just as much time, or more even, studying the theory, so what's wrong with spending that time practicing instead, even if you do get it wrong sometimes?"

     "That," Darigan said wryly, "depends on what happens when you get it wrong."

     "...I guess so. It just seems like a waste to not being doing spells you're perfectly capable of doing!"

     Darigan looked around the library. "Are you doing spells in here?"

     "No. Well, one lamp spell when it starts getting dark. But that's just because I don't even know where to start. And I thought you'd probably get mad if I started casting more spells on the Citadel without you knowing about it."

     "I'd really rather you didn't," Darigan allowed. "It seems to have entirely too many on it at the moment anyway."

     "That's what I thought you'd say. So I have to just read about it."

     He paused. "What is it you want to be doing?"

     "...Fixing things."

     Darigan looked away from her for a moment. "Jeran tells me you've been trying to find out how to remove the curses on the Citadel."

     "Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

     "I think more people might ask why you would." He smiled ruefully. "I am grateful. But I think this is one of the cases where there is no preexisting spell that will solve the problem, and... I would not ask you to exhaust yourself in the search."

     "But there has to be some way to fix it," Lisha protested earnestly. "And there may not be a way somebody's already figured out to do it, but somebody might've already figured out part of it that we can use. Or they might at least know what won't work."

     "I don't doubt that portions of the solution exist, but... Lisha, they're more likely to be in the principles, in the background, than to be spells themselves. Some existing spells will be useful, yes, and have been already, but they'll have to be found for purposes, not purposes found for them."

     "I can help," Lisha said stubbornly. "If this won't help, tell me what will. I'm the only one who can even see the spells. You need me."

     "I've been trying to find a way to see them for myself--"

     "Is it working?" Lisha interrupted anxiously.

     "Not yet."

     "Then you still need me. What can I do if this won't help?"

     "I can find a way," he said gently. "You don't have to do this." A small smile. "But I am not quite too proud to welcome your help if you truly want to give it."

     "You need my help," Lisha repeated stubbornly. "It'll take you twice as long if you have to figure out all the stuff I've done already before you can start actually working at it."

     His ears twitched back. "That doesn't make it impossible," he said shortly, "and we have lived with it this long."

     "...But..." Lisha looked down at the table in front of her, looking absolutely crestfallen.

     There was silence for the space of several breaths before Darigan sighed. "I apologize," he said quietly. "Being reminded of what I have not been able to do stings... but it's true that this would be easier with your help."

     Lisha looked up hopefully. "Then you'll let me help? I know I can."

     "If you can promise me one thing...."


     Darigan blinked, as if perhaps that had been a little more enthusiasm than he was expecting. "Don't spend all your time researching. I have a bad habit at times of burying myself too deeply in my work," he said, mouth quirking up, "and at least one of us needs to be thinking clearly."

     Lisha grinned at him. "But you have General Galgarrath to throw you out a window when you get too buried, so that shouldn't be a problem."

     "That's no excuse for you." Darigan smiled back. "Promise me?"

     "All right. I promise I won't spend all my time researching." Just most of it.

     "Good." Apparently Lord Darigan was not a mind-reader. He drummed his fingers on the table, looking around the library. "Although you may not be too pleased with what I say next, since you seem more inclined to spellcasting itself than to studying it."

     "I've been studying it for two weeks straight," Lisha pointed out.

     "No wonder Jeran complained about not seeing you lately. Yet a few minutes ago you suggested it was a waste of time."

     "I didn't say it was always a waste of time, just when you can be doing something else. Neither of us knows what spells to use, so what would I be doing but researching?"

     Darigan leaned forward and peered into her eyes. "I'd suggest a nap, myself. You look tired. More directly applicable... there was a reason my early training was focused on understanding magic before doing it," he said gently. "You seem to be thinking it was a restriction, and I suppose I felt that way at times, but the purpose was to be able to work more effectively later on. I can't say this specific situation was foreseen, but it is still, in essence, exactly what I was trained for."

     "Then why haven't you fixed it yet? Don't say I can help and then say I can't!"

     His wings rose. "Because it takes time to analyze -- more, granted, when I can't see what I'm doing -- and will take time to work out how to make the changes. I'm not telling you that you can't help. I'm trying to tell you that stopping to understand what you're doing isn't a waste of time; it's exactly what we need to do right now." He folded his wings again and smiled wryly. "That said, there are established ways for one magician to share or borrow another's perceptions. At least half a dozen, actually, and at least one should work, depending on the exact reason I can't see the spells myself. If you would allow me to use one, that alone would help immensely."

     "...If I let you use my perceptions, you're not going to try to stop me from helping any more than that, are you?"

     Darigan gave her an odd look. "What is it you want to do, exactly? I don't wish to be rude, but your enthusiasm is getting a little disconcerting."

     "I want to help. I just don't want you to decide that if you can use my perceptions to see the curse then you don't need me to help for anything else." Lisha crossed her arms stubbornly in front of her chest. "Because if you DO, I won't let you use them."

     Darigan recoiled slightly, ears flaring, and stood rather abruptly. Lisha stared at him, baffled and a little alarmed, while he looked down at her with arms folded. After a long moment, he shut his eyes and drew a deep breath, then sat back down. "Lisha," he began slowly, "I think... I believe that I have reason to trust you. If you will, remember that, and instead of being offended, understand that this is why I'm going to explain instead of leaving."

     "Of course you can trust me," Lisha protested, wounded. "I just want to help."

     "I've been offered help before," Darigan said wearily, "from sources that were not ultimately interested in anything but control. This is not what I believe of you, but you... are... baffling me. You insist you want to help, then say that you won't unless I involve you beyond what I asked you to do -- but much of the rest of it is likely to involve things you haven't been trained for, and for which you seem to find the training process unappealing." He spread his hands on the table. "I am grateful for your assistance so far. I cannot blame you for wanting to offer more of it only on your own terms -- but I admit to being perplexed. What are they?"

     "I want to do a spell that will let you use my perceptions, then send me off to take a nap while you do everything else. That's not helping, that's being used."

     Darigan's expression made Lisha consider checking her head, just to make sure she hadn't unexpectedly sprouted a third pair of ears. She restrained herself.

     "That wasn't my intention," he said after a moment. "I don't think I quite understand your point, though. You would be helping, with what you can do and I currently cannot. I don't mean to ask anything of you that is outside your abilities or that you find distasteful. I didn't intend this to be objectionable." He paused, looking thoughtful, and then focused on her with an expression that was now more speculative than confused. "I do seem to recall that you mentioned not having wanted to be 'sent off with the children' during the war. I should probably clarify that none of the spells I referred to would do any good if you were not looking, figuratively speaking, at the magic I wanted to examine." A faint, rather tentative smile. "I also meant for the nap to take place first. I haven't had occasion to use these spells before, but they're likely to end in the magical equivalent of eyestrain, and that's only going to be worse if either or both of us should be less than well rested."

     "...Oh. It just sounded'd do this spell and then you wouldn't need me to do anything anymore. I don't want that. I want to help. I know I can and...Meridell and Darigan are supposed to be friends now, right? Friends help each other."

     "...For which I thank you. Still, most people would not be relieved at discovering that what they intended to do was going to be more arduous and uncomfortable than expected."

     "I don't mind," Lisha said quickly and earnestly. "I want to help."

     "Yes," Darigan said, sounding a little bemused. "So you've said."

     "...Well, I do." Lisha looked down at her feet.

     "You've been quite adamant on that point." Darigan paused, then added gently, "is something wrong?"

     "Why is it wrong to want to help?"

     "...I don't believe I suggested it was."

     "You're acting like it is. I'm sorry. I won't...push anymore or make you nervous."

     "I was forgetting how young you are, perhaps," Darigan said quietly after a moment. Lisha looked up indignantly, but he waved a hand low over the table. "Young enough to half-expect people to dismiss you, assuming inexperience, rather than evaluating how capable you really are. And perhaps genuinely inexperienced enough," he added with enough humor to take a bit of the sting out of it, "not to have really intended the effect.... Reminding someone repeatedly that they need something from you tends to give the impression that you're trying to press an advantage."

     Lisha's face turned red. "Oh. I wasn't thinking of it like that. I just...want to help. I didn't mean to...Sorry."

     "I didn't think you intended that. But... I did have to stop and think." He seemed much more relaxed.

     "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I just...would like to help. However you think I can."

     "The first and most definite thing is to analyze the way the spells currently sit -- the curses, and whatever's still intact from before, and whatever is laid over them. I gather things are a bit tangled. After that... it will be working out how to get the curses loose without doing further damage -- and then doing it. I think that will be possible, but I don't know how it will be possible, or how long it will take."

     Darigan regarded her thoughtfully. "You do seem to have a certain feel already for adapting magic, but under the circumstances I hope you'll understand that I'd rather you not try anything without considerable planning. If you're interested in learning more of the background, however, a fresh perspective can be very valuable."

     She wanted to do more than that. But she didn't want to shake the Citadel again, and she didn't want Darigan to forbid her to do anything. So she nodded carefully. "I'd like to learn, and do whatever I can."

     "Thank you." He smiled suddenly. "It occurs to me that no one seems to have thought to perform enchantments on paper using the orb. I may still have some of the essays I had to write for my magic tutor. I can't promise they'll be immediately applicable, but they do describe some of the background material that rarely makes it into the spellbooks."

     "That would be great," Lisha said with feeling.

     "I'll try to have them found by the next time I see you, then. With luck, a little background will make reading about magic seem less futile."

     Lisha privately doubted that, but just smiled and said, "I hope so. At least it can't make it any worse."

     "Good." Darigan rose, then stopped for a moment and smiled down at her. "May I ask you to try to be refreshed by then? There's little point searching the texts until we've more idea what to look for, and I think your brother would like to see more of you."

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Curses, Inside-Out: Part One
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Two
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Three
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Four
» Curses, Inside-Out: Part Five
» Curses, Inside-Out

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