Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 2 - Sphere Magic
Circles are symbols of wholeness and boundary, but on their own they're too perfectly symmetric to exist in any awareness. Squares are symbols of distance and form, but on their own they are quickly stripped of any meaning by infinities and divided singularities.
The study of circles is zen, and the study of squares is mathematics. Physicists square circles and call them quantum strings, whereas magi circle squares and call it magic.
Imagination in motion gives form to magic - and sphere magic is the most basic tool in a mage's arsenal.
- Key Abstractions of Theoretical Magic,
"Stop dragging me."
The sky was full of stars and the starlight weaved its calm and delicate magic. In a much less delicate way, Kyle and Lyle were gripping Eric's hands and dragging him towards a nearby campfire.
"You're too slow! We're not dragging you - you are holding us back!"
Eric opened his mouth to point out the fault in their reasoning, but resigned to his fate, he closed it without saying anything. There's no point in arguing with people who can out-yell you. Despite his current predicament, Eric was grateful: true to their word, the boys showed him the many nooks and crannies of the Playground - and they did so at breakneck speed. It was much fun.
The fire burned with steady red and yellow flames. Two girls were sitting close to each other on the circular bench around the fire: the dark-haired girl was slightly taller than the smiling redhead. As far as Eric could tell, both were about his age.
Kyle dropped his backpack on the bench and gestured for Eric to sit. He cleared his throat in a grandiose manner.
"Dear Lucy, Eric and Rose! Lyle and I have decided that from now on, you three are best friends!"
As Kyle paused for dramatic impact, Eric looked for telltale expressions: the black-haired girl had a mild look of disapproval, while the red-haired girl's eyes sparkled just a bit more. Neither of them said anything, and Eric chuckled. They too know not to argue with these two forces of nature!
Kyle continued, "To celebrate this magnificent occasion, we have bacon!"
"Really? Where did you get the bacon?" Lyle asked, whispering.
"Yes, really. From Joe. Got some bread too. Maybe we should give him some stickers in exchange," Kyle whispered back.
Lyle nodded. "Let's get sticks for the bacon."
As soon as the brothers departed on their quest to gather pointy sticks of wood, the red-haired girl's smile turned into laughter. It quickly infected the other two and they all burst out laughing.
"Unbelievable!" The dark-haired girl was shaking her head and laughing at the same time.
"The little devils are so hilarious!" The red-haired girl wiped a tear from her face. "Eric, it is very nice to meet you. My name is Rose, and this is Lucy. It's delightful to have new best friends," she chuckled.
"Hello, indeed," replied Eric with a shy smile. He spent a heartbeat searching for other words to say. "Have you been in Dream Camp for long?"
"Not too long," Rose said. "I was here first, and the two of us met at the Playground few days ago."
"Most of the kids there are younger than us," Rose continued. "The deeper you go into the Playground, the younger they are. It's fun to play with toddlers; their dreams are shiny and they're so awed by everything... but... it gets boring after a while."
"Quite boring," Lucy affirmed.
"When we met, we decided to team up and look for something more interesting to do... How about you? When did you get here?" Rose asked.
"Recently, I think. I was in a nightmare being chased, and then..." Eric was interrupted by a loud chanting noise.
"Ba-con! Ba-con! Ba-con! Ba-con!"
The brothers returned with a huge pile of pruned and sharpened sticks. "Turns out there was already a bundle just over there," Lyle said with a mixture of triumph and sheepishness. "Let's eat bacon! Ba-con! Ba-con! Ba-con!"
Lucy smiled and Rose rolled her eyes.
Bacon trumps conversation. Eric realized that some facts of life just have to be accepted at face value and joined in on the chanting.
* * *
Things simmered down considerably after the food disappeared completely into the bellies of the bacon fellowship. Kyle and Lyle were mucking around with their stickers, and the others were able to maintain a conversation without being interrupted by too many loud noises.
"Classes?! What do you mean, 'classes'?"
Eric felt his sense of balance tip unpleasantly. I spend my days in school; I don't want to spend my nights dreaming about it too! Eric didn't exactly hate school: his grades were good and he loved learning together with friends. However, what he didn't like was memorizing things he would happily forget the next day - that was just meaningless and boring. Dreaming about school is a special kind of nightmare altogether.
"Don't worry, you don't have to attend. We sure don't..." Lyle said without looking up.
"It's true," Lucy said. "There are classes, but there are no classrooms or even an actual school building. No obligation to attend, no grades, and anyone can start a class if they have something to offer. Let me just check..."
Lucy pulled out her copy of the Dreamer's Handbook and flipped a few pages. "Yes, it's here in the introduction: no tests either except for the three nightmare classes. If you pass the final test you may visit the Outpost or go on missions to help others battle their nightmares."
Battling nightmares? Now that was more like it! That was a thought that spoke to Eric's warrior spirit and made his blood boil! The not-too-distant memory of running from jagged goblin teeth was still a sore spot; a thorn in his side...
Kyle brushed away his stickers and held up his handbook. A big sticker with the words 'assistant teacher' dominated the back cover. "We got it from Mr. Smith for helping with the advanced nightmare class!"
He flipped through the back pages of the book, showing off a multitude of affixed stickers, many of them labeled 'mischief'. Even lines of text from the last chapter have fallen prey to the invasion of stickers.
Lucy nodded. "Assistant teacher, impressive!"
"Are all the adults here teachers?" Eric asked.
Rose shrugged, and Lucy looked to Kyle.
"No," Kyle said, "but, those who aren't... I think something is wrong with them."
"Like that ghost we saw, right?" Lyle asked.
Kyle nodded reluctantly. "Adult students occasionally attend some of the classes, and those adults talk and behave like normal adults do. Rarely, we see adults who are just walking around and not paying attention to anything - it's like they don't believe they're really here or something."
Lyle jumped up with an excited expression and pointed at Lucy. "I remember! Joe said they have been Lucy-ed!"
Kyle frowned. "He said 'lucid', it's a word. He said those adults aren't lucid enough. They just walk around and then they're gone." He shook his head. "Poor adults, something must be really wrong with them."
"I see," Eric said.
Adults often acted like they knew everything, but Eric had a growing suspicion that they don't really know all that much. They just pretend to know. Many times when he asked a question, he was told the question is stupid and to shut up. In the beginning, he thought it was his fault for asking stupid questions, but sometimes other adults did give answers that made sense and then the questions didn't look stupid at all. So why tell me to shut up? Even if I'm stupid, how should I get smarter without asking questions?
Eric's contemplative mood was broken by Rose.
"You know... I already went to one class," Rose said.
"Really? How come you didn't tell me?" Lucy asked.
Rose shrugged. "It didn't come up and you didn't ask."
Lucy and Eric looked at her attentively, encouraging her to continue the story.
"Well, it was sphere magic class. The teacher talked on and on... it was interesting, but I forgot most of what he said. I know sphere magic is the most rudimental of all magic - once you shape a magic sphere you can make fireballs and whatnot out of it."
"I remember reading about this..." Lucy consulted her book. "Got it! Page 23. 'Sphere magic forms the basis of all of the following magical techniques or disciplines, but is not limited to them: fire, water, air, earth magic and all secondary as well as tertiary elemental magic (e.g. storm or lava magic), portal magic, focus magic, elementary healing, basic conjuration, time travel, protective magic, transformation and transmutation...' Wow, the list goes on for more than half a page." Lucy looked up from the book. "Sorry, please continue."
Sounds exciting, Eric thought.
Kyle gave a long yawn.
"Yeah, that," Rose confirmed. "Anyway, here's how I understand it."
Rose picked a twig out of the fire. "This point is imagination," she pointed to the smoldering tip, "and this is movement." She waved the twig around fast, and short, fiery, curving lines became visible. "When you move imagination very fast, you give shape to magic." This time she waved the twig very fast in a circular motion, and a seemingly unmoving fiery circle appeared. Rose continued with that motion for a while, after which she put the twig down. "My arm is getting tired, but I hope you get the idea. A circle is a basic stable shape and so is a sphere."
Kyle and Lyle grabbed sticks of their own and began mimicking the motion. Lucy and Eric nodded reluctantly.
"It's not that hard, but so far I've succeeded in creating a magic sphere only for a short while. Do you want to see it?" Rose asked.
"Of course! Yes! Sure!" They answered at once.
Rose stretched her arms and straightened her posture. She lowered her hands into her lap, palms facing upwards one over the other, and took three long and deep breaths.
Kyle and Lyle put down the twigs. They watched Rose attentively, waiting for the magic to appear. Only the crackling of the fire and a faint chirp of crickets could be heard.
Eric rubbed his eyes, but he couldn't yet see anything. As time passed, everyone assumed the relaxed pattern of Rose's breathing. There! Eric thought he saw a faint blue light above her palms, but wasn't sure until it expanded into a small blue globe of light. The watchers held their breath; Lyle even bit on his lip. The sphere turned, rotated and grew a bit more... but after a few heartbeats it turned into magical mist and dissipated.
"Whoa! One more time!" Kyle and Lyle started clapping vigorously, and were joined by Lucy and Eric.
Rose smiled wearily. "Thanks. I don't think I can do it again so soon. It's not hard, but it takes a lot of concentration and I need to train a lot more... Well, you know what? I can teach you and then we could train together if you want."
Fervent nodding was the group's response.
Rose extended her left hand in front of her, palm up, and pointed at it from above with her right hand. "So, just imagine a little blue point at the tip of my finger." She slowly started making a circular motion with her index finger. "Just one little point."
I hope this works, Eric thought.
Lyle clenched his fists and his face contorted a little as he concentrated.
A short, thin line of starlight appeared to follow the tip of Rose's finger. "Great! Now let's do it with more speed!" She waved her finger a bit faster and the blue line strengthened and became longer. "Even more speed!" The end of the line reached its beginning - the line became a glowing circle.
"I'm going to take my hand away now, but you keep concentrating on it." She did, and the small circle of magical energy remained floating above the palm of her left hand. "Okay, this was the easy part, but we're not done yet. Now we'll have to make many more circles and put them together."
"Keep concentrating on this one, but also follow the tip of my finger as we make another circle." Rose moved her left hand a bit to the side, and with her right hand she started pointing away from herself then back in a circular motion. A magical circle appeared obediently as the group got the hang of it. She waited a little, and then gently pushed the new circle onto the old one. "Next one!" The third circle came into view as she was waving from left to right, and then combined it with the other two. "It's starting to look like a sphere, nice work so far!"
After nine more circles, Eric tried to keep blinking down to a minimum - lest the magic goes away if he's not looking. His thoughts and feelings were flowing along the lines of the many circles he was observing. He never concentrated so deeply in his life before.
"Good job!" The surface of the magic sphere became visible as the circles revolved and meshed into one another. The sphere was about the size of a small juicy melon and it shined and sparkled with magical energy. "We did much better together than I could do alone!"
Rose's praise went unnoticed as no one made a response. She saw their intense expressions and pondered her next move. "Forget this, look there!" Her right arm flung high into the air, pointing somewhere far away.
As their eyes followed her finger, she quietly turned her other hand upside-down and thrust the magical sphere into the fire. Blue energy turned to red; the fire gave a loud crackling sound and flamed up for a moment... then it subsided.
They all just sat there, blinking.
"Hey! Give us our magic ball back!" Lyle was first to regain his senses. "That's not fair! Not fair at all! Why did you do that?!"
Smiling, Rose presented him with her best 'innocent angel' face.
Kyle pulled at Lyle's arm and whispered something in his ear. Lyle protested, but Kyle didn't let go. Slowly, Lyle relaxed and nodded.
Kyle cleared his throat. "You have pranked us, and as a token of recognition we present you this sticker." He poked around in his backpack until he found a sticker, and then gave it to Rose. "Our revenge will come, buahahaha!"
"Thanks, I guess," Rose said.
Eric took a deep breath. As he breathed out, he could feel the tension of concentrating for so long leave his mind and body. He breathed in again, and laughed. He noticed Lucy smiling faintly and scribbling something in her notebook.
Rose was eager to continue. "Now you know what I know. Let's train for real!"
* * *
Eric decided to take a short break. After practicing for hours he was tired, but not as tired to be the first one to admit defeat. If they can do it, I can do it! He looked around to see what kind of progress his friends were making.
Lucy steadily juggled a few elongated circles of magical energy - it didn't look like a sphere, but it wasn't prone to disappearing either. Kyle and Lyle each went through the same cycle rapidly over and over again: a small blue sphere appeared, grew, wobbled for a second, then grew a bit more and dispersed. Rose fared best, as she managed to hold a decent-sized ball for almost eight seconds before losing concentration. She was taking longer breaks between attempts too.
Eric sighed. Making one is easy, but keeping it from falling apart is damn hard! Frustration, rather than exhaustion, was his main enemy.
Eric composed himself and gave it yet another try. A magical sphere grew in his hands, withered down to only several light blue circles, became a full sphere for a short moment, wavered, became a sphere again, and disappeared as his concentration ran out. Again!
It wasn't long before one of them snapped and gave up - it happened to be Kyle. He held up one of his short-lived spheres and hurled it at Lyle. The sphere dissolved about halfway, but Lyle didn't need any further encouragement: he threw one right back at his brother.
Eric observed the shadowboxing of the fledgling mages for a while, and an idea hit him with full force. I got it! I got it! He made a small sphere, and quickly started bouncing it from one hand to the other. The sphere was wobbling, but it did not disappear. "Look! This is working." As his back-and-forth throwing motion became less crude, the trembling steadied as well. Oh, I'm a genius!
Eventually the throwing distance diminished, and the magical sphere floated steadily above Eric's hand.
"There!" Eric exclaimed as he lifted his hand. "Just imagine you're rolling around a marble in a bowl!"
"Sphere in sphere, motion in motion," Lucy murmured under her breath as she reached for her notebook.
The others immediately started bouncing from one hand to the other. As soon as Lyle replicated Eric's success he threw the sphere at Kyle, which ruffled his hair slightly.
Eric felt a sense of achievement. It wasn't a trick; I did real magic. They cheered each other on, and there was jubilant clamor when all of them succeeded.
The mood became more relaxed and elated for the rest of the evening, but they called it a night soon after. Eric, believing he was on a roll, had the bright idea to combine their spheres and make a huge one.
When they did manage to make a huge ball, it promptly fell into the fire and extinguished it with a shush.
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 2 - Sphere Magic