It was late, I was dog tired, and I had to get up in 3 hours for my daily round of chores and lessons.
I had been repeatedly told, reminded, and told some more that practicing magic when overtired was a bad idea. That even the Masters would stop and get a good, non-magic-induced rest, if they reached the threshold they had very carefully discovered for themselves – always testing as their powers grew. Even they wouldn’t try even so simple a spell as this, in my state of body and brain exhaustion.
But I was to be tested on this spell tomorrow, and everything else left me so little time to finalise the nuances.
So I went ahead anyway.
In the stories – at least those written by the non-magically inclined – there’s often all sorts of dramatic stuff. Runes and circles and pentagrams and candles and chanting. Then everything erupts as the spell takes very obvious shape.
Now I’m not saying that nobody does all of those things. I’m just saying it’s all for show. Window dressing. Something to feed their conceit or impress clients. Some of your story writers know that. You can find the magic users amongst your storytellers, if you pay attention. But I digress, it’s not for me to divulge other people’s status.
I’m not saying that spells don’t create some visible effects at times, of course, but only specific – and dangerous – ones. You have to be pretty violently wrenching reality to make firework displays.
My spell didn’t need anything but one candle, and that was only there so I could put myself into a focus trance.
Now I’m a full sorcerer, I don’t need that – at least not for most things. I’m be able to drop – or rise, depending who you talk to – into my spellstate at will.
But…I was still a trainee. And a late blooming one at that, my magic didn’t show til I was 11. For most people, it shows around 5 or 6, the years where they’re really getting a grasp on themselves as an entity, and the world around them as separate. But sometimes the magic lies dormant in someone (and comes out next gen, or a few gens down the line) and other times – like mine – a traumatic moment can just kickstart it.
You don’t wanna hear about my traumatic moment, anyway. You wanna hear about my spell.
I was planning to create a glamour, and I’d been practicing for weeks, every spare moment I had. Being the late bloomer isn’t great, you know? Your mind is less pliable for new stuff, and also people younger than you can run (or fly) magical circles around you. It sucks. You have to work twice as hard for less respect, which honestly makes zero sense to me. Late bloomers who are actually succeeding deserve lots of respect, as far as I’m concerned. But there it is.
Oh yes, also, being black when most Western sorcerers are white, and being queer when they really really love their cishetery and all that nonsense – that doesn’t help. So now I’m having to work 4 times as hard for about 12 times less respect, or something like that. I did the maths once, I can dig out my equations another time if you’d like.
So my glamour, like everything else, needed to be incredible. Subtle, nuanced, with minor touches, and a spellweave so tight it could catch a ten ton boulder falling into it at terminal velocity without so much as a wobble.
So I had to practice.
And because I had nobody who’d volunteer, and no familiar at this point, I could only practice on myself. Which, actually, adds a whole extra layer of difficulty – I can’t see what I’m doing as I’m doing it, so a successful glamour? Even more impressive. And I knew that at least the teaching sorcerers (some Masters, most not – they’re usually aspirants to Master status, there’s a whole bunch of rules, one set of which includes bringing along the next gens) were on my side. They wouldn’t stop the bullies unless they used magic at me, but they made sure I knew they saw my work and my skill, and tried to give me lighter chores so I had extra time for study.
Except for one. Processor Mythika. Not only did she have the worst sorcerer name I’ve ever heard (yes, we choose our own when we graduate from trainee), but she was right there in agreement with the “late bloomers suck and should be tormented” crowd. Fortunately she was not my teacher, and never would be as long as I kept certain admin folk on my side (protip – baking. A tray of cookies that make their magic hop and their minds expand is worth a whole lot of goodwill, so long as you are super clear on what’s going to happen, so it’s not a surprise).
Unfortunately, not being my teacher didn’t stop Mythika from setting chores. The Professors took turns to assign the weekly chores, and when it was her turn to schedule, she would give me all the ones that her faves didn’t want to do. They took forever, they were exhausting, and I would ache for days into the following week.
It was usually an unspoken rule that a trainee having a test got a few days of light chores only, so they had the extra study and rest time they needed. Usually even I got that, but it was her turn to assign chores for that week so I spent days doing the worst, longest, and most painful, high-energy jobs she could think of.
So there I sat. 3 hours until my next set of chores, which would exhaust me even further before my test in the afternoon, yet needing one last practice to try and get that one, tiny bit of spellweave that’s currently slightly out of place, tucked in properly.
So. Light candle. Stare at flame. Try not to nod off. And again. Aaaaaand again… Finally I made it into the trance and started weaving.
I’d gotten pretty efficient by that point, at most of it. Basically what I was doing was replacing my face with an entirely new and unrecognisable one.
So I made the basic net and placed that over my face. Then I started tweaking and adding, and that’s the harder part, getting everything perfectly in place.
I was going along pretty well, but there is one really important thing you should never do whilst weaving.
You should never fall asleep.
Because magic is alive. The weaves we make are drawn from the strings that make up our entire universe. We pull them out – there’s so many, beyond any number we can imagine, that this goes unnoticed, even by the universe. And of course we always return them, once we’re done, provided they aren’t damaged. And if they are, the universe just makes a new one, so, again, even a huge, multi-sorcerer spell wouldn’t have any effect on the stability of the universe’s strings. Just so that’s all clear.
But, like I said, they’re alive. Not like you or me, but a single string possesses enough consciousness to take its place in the universe and be whatever it needs to be – a little like stem cells, only constantly able to keep changing.
So, if you lose focus, even for a moment, the strings start to do something else. What that is varies. How dangerous it is, depends on both the spell, and whatever randomness the inbuilt chaos theory in these strings decides to do.
Right, so you’ve guessed by now that I fell asleep. Whoops, right?
I woke up to my phone alarm, telling me to get out of bed and start my chores.
Only I wasn’t in bed. I was still buried in the giant comfy bean bag I still use to cast, though it’s been through a few repairs and refills along the way.
I had a second one at school so I always had my system in place – students got to create a setup, which they could tweak as needed, and which would show up – as if by magic, hah – wherever in the grounds they need it for lessons or tests, it was a great system
But back to me. Waking up in my bean bag. Groggy. Confused. I looked around, saw where I was, saw the candle burned an extra 3 hours down and still flickering at me merrily.
I blew it out and sent a desperate plea – or prayer, if you like – to my ancestors, then to the Founders of Magic, then just in general, that the strings had just shrugged and retreated.
Dragging myself up from the bean bag was quite the herculean task. Everything was stiff and aching, both from the week of chores and how I slept. I took a few moments to loosen up, and tried to mentally prepare myself for what the strings might have done.
It could be my own face. Or my own face but with slight changes. Or some sort of composite of my face and the glamoured face I was practicing. Or it could have fallen into place and made that face. There was no time for me to drop into a trance and try to unpick whatever’s left of my weave, I’ll be late for my chores, then late all day, and facing punishment for all of it.
So I went with blind hope, and stumbled to the mirror by the front door.
I stood in front of it for a long moment, head down, my heart warring with itself. From: it’s fine, I hadn’t gotten far, the strings probably just unravelled and folded themselves back into the universe, I’d just have to spend the last of my stipend this month on something to keep me awake and energised for the day. To: it’s the end, they’ll have done something utterly monstrous and I was gonna get kicked out and have to spend my life trying to get by as a pathetic hedge wizard, putting on shows in the street and begging for coins in exchange.
I breathed deeply a couple of times, and steeled myself for the worst.
But in all my imaginings, good and bad, I hadn’t thought of this outcome.
I looked into the mirror and I didn’t see me.
I was gone.
My hands flew to my face.
I was gone!
Woah, wait, no, my head was gone, but my hands were right there.
I tore open the poppers on my tunic, throwing it off. I saw my arms and chest. Pale, growing muscle where I used to be just sticks and a flat board, unable to heft and throw a bale of hay, or jog around the campus carrying a heavy load of deliveries on my back.
I stripped down naked and moved backwards, jumping up to see my feet. I was all there. From the middle of my neck downwards, everything looked the same as it had yesterday.
OK. So it was just my face. I mean. That was still awful, and I was about to be in so much trouble, but at least most of me was still there.
Alright, so, I needed to call my Professor. Explain, apologise, beg for help and an extenuating circumstances postponement of the test. I’d even explain about Mythika purposely messing with me.
So I brought up her number – Professor View – and waited, with my invisible eyes closed.
“Avay, good morning, you’re up early for a test day,” View herself sounded like she was barely awake.
“Hi, sorry Professor, I really need your help. Can you come to my apartment? I would come to you, but…uh…well I promise you’ll understand when you get here why that’d be a really bad idea. And I promise I can explain what happened and why, but I desperately need your help, and I hope when you hear everything you’ll allow me a few days postponement. I’m sorry, I’m babbling, I’m kinda in shock, but can you please come?”
“Of course. I’ll be there in half an hour. I’ll help with whatever you’ve done, then you can explain, and then I’ll decide whether I can set a new date for your test.”
“Oh thank you, so much. The door’ll be unlocked, just come right in.”
View said goodbye, and I went to unlock the door. I lived in a crappy two room apartment with a bunch of other poor folk – some students at the Uni, some just not able to afford better even with two or three jobs. I don’t think there was another sorcerer trainee in here though; or at leastI never crossed paths with anyone I recognised; which might have been coincidence as much as it could have been someone glamouring themselves so nobody could recognise them.
I was pacing the floor, purposely overthinking this subject to try and keep my mind off my other problem. I looked at this apartment through the eyes of View – or tried to. It was mostly clean, a bit messy but that was mostly my studies . I worked at an all-night off licence, and my clean uniform was hung up, ready to go. I always washed my uniform right away, the second I got in, because they took forever to dry and I was only meant to use magic for stuff that’d been ok’d by my Professors. So that was stuff I’d either already passed, or was currently studying. I could try the spell to create warm air, but I hadn’t had any practical study on that yet. I’d read the Theory in my own time but I was waiting for an opportunity to request it as a specific study. I’d hoped to fit it in after this test. The school was pretty free with extra studies, so long as you passed the core stuff they scheduled you for.
So nothing was bad enough to give View any issues, I hoped, as I paced round my apartment, counting the steps it took – something I did a lot to help me calm down and focus. If I was ever too wired for the candle; to sleep; or to sit still and read my study books; this was my routine. Still is, actually. I have a run of particularly soft carpet in my office, placed in perfect pacing directions. I go in, barefoot, and I pace. The softness is comforting, and the pacing and counting settles me.
Oh, an old person does get off track, eh? I paced until View arrived. She came right in, closing and locking the door behind her – she knew the neighbourhood, alright!
When she saw me she didn’t even flinch. She looked me up and down, quirked an eyebrow, and made a valiant effort at concealing her laugh.
I didn’t mind her being amused – it was better than her being angry!
She sat me down and told me to stay still. I did, and she did something to put me into a light trance state, explaining that it’d help my brain not interfere.
I sat there for what I later saw was about 2 hours. View dropped into her trance and slowly, carefully, picked out every mischievous strand, sending them back to their previous state. I watched the net unknit itself, and the second View undid my trance and sat back, I rushed to the mirror.
There it was. My own face. My own head. Staring back at me, pale and wide-eyed.
I turned around to see View, clearly exhausted, pull herself into my armchair. I raced around, finding drinks and food, to restore some energy for her. Casting is draining enough, but fixing someone else’s botched weave? That’s – sometimes literally – a killer. And afterwards, well you can restore bodily energy pretty easily, but the rest takes a while longer.
As she recovered, I explained what happened and why. I was surprised to see that, tired as she was, she reacted with anger. Not at me, but at Mythika. Normally you’d never have seen or heard a Professor give an opinion on another Professor, and even tired, View would normally have been able to conceal it. So her level of anger, just, it must have been huge.
I’m not entirely sure what happened after that. I got a new test date two weeks out, I even got an apology from the Head. And Mythika disappeared from the school. Oh, she was still out there, but she never came near the school – at least while I remained – or, to date, me, ever again. I tried to ask View a couple of times, but she waved me off, so I took the hint – she wasn’t talking. And neither was anybody else.
I passed my glamour test on the second chance, and I did get to study that warm air trick along with my next set of assigned studies. There are more stories from back then, if you’d like them, but you wanted to begin with an amusing tale of my trainee days, so I obliged. I promised total honesty, and that is what you shall have – though I fear you may regret it, when we come to some of the other stories you’re likely going to want. Still. You’ve been warned, and if you return at our next scheduled time, I’ll have another story prepared for you – just let me know what strikes your fancy, hm?
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