Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 5 - Fire Attunement
Heat and light? Burning passion and consuming intelligence? The fire element is violent change and the fuel of willpower. Thirst after self-discipline for restraint, and aspire to wisdom for direction!
- Fire, Dreamer's Handbook
"Come on!" Lyle's words were a break in an otherwise continuous stream of inarticulate yelling. "We're almost there!"
The brothers were riding Duke and being their usual loud selves a short distance ahead of Eric and Rose. They were adamant about showing off their new discovery: a nearby place with huge flames that don't burn. Despite the brothers insisting on haste, Rose and Eric were walking at a leisurely pace.
"Where is Lucy? Is she coming?" Eric asked.
"I don't know. She mentioned an upcoming exam in real life... perhaps she's staying up late to study," Rose said.
"Studying at night? She should be sleeping."
"Maybe she's studying in a dream."
Eric shuddered at the thought. "That sucks..." Spending half a day in school, the other half studying and doing homework, and then dreaming about the very same thing at night was not Eric's favorite thing. "That's one of the worst nightmares."
Rose thought for a moment. "I don't think so. If you dream about the things you learned and not about studying itself, it can be interesting. And sometimes things make more sense in dreams, don't they?"
Eric shrugged, and kicked at a grassy lump of earth.
"Maybe she's having a nightmare about failing the exam," Rose said.
"Lucy, failing an exam? Not even in a dream," Eric waved dismissively. "But... having a nightmare about being only second best? Quite possible."
"Hold it!" The shout came from ahead and Duke obliged. Kyle and Lyle dismounted and ran back to Eric and Rose.
"Hi! Hello!" Lyle waved his hand in front of Eric's eyes, as if to see if he's paying attention. "We're here!"
"Yes, I can see you," Eric said.
"Ehehehe," Kyle simpered boastfully and pointed somewhere to Eric's left, "There!"
Eric turned around slowly, and as he did, a sensation of heat struck him. What...
The heat came from a huge pillar of flames! The flames sprung up from a circle with inlaid pebbles, but there wasn't any wood or coal fueling the fire.
Eric's jaw dropped and remained so until he processed what he saw. "I don't get it. We just came from that direction, how could we not see it?" He directed the question to Rose, but she answered only with a look of disbelief.
Kyle stroked his imaginary beard. "Sometimes you can get someplace only if you know where you're going... or if you're awesome explorers like us!"
"Exploration, ho!" Lyle added with a raised fist, and ran towards the fire. Kyle turned around and joined him.
Eric wasn't so eager to go anywhere. The flames were imposing, majestic even - he couldn't help but stare. There was something about the dance of bright, shifting hues that was drawing him in...
Eric's mild trance was broken when Kyle and Lyle reached the fire, and charged straight into its center with a battle cry.
Are they okay? Eric wasn't sure he could distinguish their battle cry from cries of being burned to death, but the brothers were alive and well, improvising dance-moves amidst the flames.
Eric spotted several wooden benches spread around the bonfire, facing it. A young man was waving to them invitingly from one of the benches. Rose nudged Eric and beckoned in the same direction.
Eric mumbled in agreement and they walked over to him.
"I hope you're not planning to rush in like those two." The young man stood up to greet them with a handshake. "Hi. Ohlson."
Ohlson was wearing dark green jeans and a white t-shirt. His hair was cut short, but just long enough to be uncombed. Both of them shook his hand.
"Hello. I'm Rose, and this is Eric. We weren't really tempted to. What's all this anyway?"
"That fiery pillar? It's a high-end training supplement, used mostly for fire attunement and occasionally for cleansing rituals," Ohlson explained. "Good for meditation, too."
"What's a fire attunement?" Eric asked.
"You don't know?" Ohlson scratched his head. "Well... if you try to use fire-based magic without some kind of attunement, the result can be unreliable and volatile. These flames were made for easy and straightforward attunement. It's just a little help so you notice the fire within, and accustom your mind to the conscious use of the fire element."
"Is that what you're here for?" Rose asked.
"Me? Oh, no. I'm planning to hold my first class soon, and I came here to think and prepare. Watching the flames relaxes me and makes thinking easier. To be honest, I'm not sure what I should teach!" Ohlson laughed nervously. "I have several ideas floating in my mind, but I haven't decided yet... When I figure it out, will you attend my class?"
Rose and Eric hesitated, and Ohlson continued. "I promise to do my best! If I see some friendly faces maybe I won't get crushed by performance anxiety..."
Eric exchanged looks with Rose.
"All right, we'll come to your class, just stop with the puppy eyes," Rose said.
Ohlson clasped his hands and his smile grew wide. "Great! My first students. Thank you! You won't regret it!"
Eric nodded, and his attention wandered back to the flames. "Does that fire really not burn?"
"You can give it a try if you want. Walk around the outer circles of the fire, and when you feel like you can't take it anymore, just back down. With practice you'll be able to go all the way. This fire burns your mind but not your body."
They nodded. Eric was getting excited to see for himself.
"Decide who goes first, and I'll herd the break-dancers out of the fire." Ohlson stood up and walked towards the flames.
Eric bowed slightly, "Ladies first!"
"Hahaha, I don't think so. You're the brave one, go ahead," Rose waved him off.
"Ha! That was my plan all along!" Eric said, and strolled after Ohlson.
* * *
Eric stared at the string of white pebbles in front of his feet. The small stones marked the boundary of the pillar of flames, and Eric was reluctant to lift his gaze. The heat from the fire came at him in waves; each demanding his attention and acknowledgement. He knew if he looked up, he might change his mind about doing the fire attunement ritual. One step at a time.
The thought of taking the first step itself wasn't so frightening; the short, yellow flames along the outer perimeter were almost imperceptible. Furthermore, Kyle and Lyle's fearless charge into the center of the pillar proved it could be done. If they can do it - I can do it! Eric didn't think of himself as a quitter, and knew if he took the first step, he would take all the other steps as well until he reached his goal. In his mind, with the first step he would commit to a decision.
Eric inhaled deeply. Let's do it! He felt hot air fill his lungs, and as the air left his body on the exhale, he stepped inside the circle. The stones and pebbles beneath his bare feet were warm, but not searing. The yellow flames danced over his skin, causing no pain or harm. The heat got upped by a notch and he found breathing a tad more difficult.
"Good! Don't stop - always keep moving! The yellow pebbles lead you around in concentric circles, while the red ones spiral into the center. Walk around, take your time, and when you feel ready, move closer and start circling again. Just keep walking and keep breathing!"
The yellow line was there and Eric began following it. One foot after the other - not so difficult. Just to be careful and avoid mistakes, he walked a full circle following the outermost yellow line. He grew accustomed to seeing the dancing flames and feeling the heat, and a pang of boredom tempted him to head straight for the center. Ohlson expressly advised against that route; he said it's only for masters and hotheads.
Eric sought out the red line and decided it's time to ramp up the difficulty. Heading closer to the center of fire made it more difficult to breathe and move, but it was well within his level of tolerance.
Step after step after step.
Maybe he got carried away or just plain forgot, but Eric kept following the red line instead of transitioning to the next yellow line, or the one after that. It wasn't a conscious decision. His eyes might have been looking, but his attention was turned inwards.
Slowly, the heat around him ceased to be a sensation reported by the nerve endings on his skin, and instead became a presence - a reality which weighed down on him and burned his lungs from within. Soon enough, Eric found out that the secret is not in taking a step closer, but in being able to walk and remain conscious in that particular domain of fire.
Each step became an accomplishment in itself. The heat was no longer outside of him - it was within him. The flames didn't burn his flesh, and the body felt no burning pain. However, the flames burned his mind, his sense of self, and became a wall to be breached. Just breathing in and out required more and more effort. Eric was no longer walking a spiral or a circle; he was climbing a steep, fiery mountain with will alone!
Dangling thoughts had to go; burned away by the fire. Producing a thought only gave the inferno something to burn. As his concentration became more and more focused, his self-awareness allowed only two things to exist in his universe: breathing and movement. Breathing in and out was the only thing that assured Eric of his own consciousness. Distance was the other thing he was acutely aware of - every small movement had its cost and consequence on the 'self' which was burning away.
Going forward, his immense focus turned into something else. Breathing, his only confirmation of self, turned into a bright flame. Distance and resistance became not an obstacle, but a fuel for the fire that was now him.
He let the bright flame from within ablaze and burned away the illusionary flames of the fire pillar.
Eric opened his eyes and saw that he was standing in the middle of the circle. The pebbles felt cold beneath his feet. The dance of flames around him had a magical motion, a magical tune to it. Yet, there was no fire other than his own.
With measured steps, Eric walked out of the circle, holding in his awareness the fiery shape of his own will. No thoughts or emotions were left dangling.
* * *
"That was totally irresponsible!" Annie was furious. "Why did you allow them to rush in unprepared like that?"
"I mentioned it's best to make a few circles and back down, but..."
"Mentioned?! You think mentioning something in passing will help them make an informed decision?!"
"If you put it like that, I guess not, but kids who find this place on their own are ready to..."
"But they didn't find it on their own, did they? They were led by fire-dominant brats to whom such attunement is trivial. Even if it weren't so, this careless behavior of yours-"
Ohlson held up one hand. "All right, I get it. I'm truly sorry. I made a mistake." He took a breath. "What can I do to help?"
Annie opened her mouth to continue the scolding, but several seconds passed before she said anything. "I'll get Rose out of the fire and figure out what to do next."
"Wait! She's already halfway through. Perhaps she'll back down on her own, and if she doesn't, yanking her out forcefully will cause more complications than letting her complete."
Annie nodded reluctantly. "You're right. Then... I'll go look for Joe or Maeve, they'll know what to do. Since you're better with fire than I am, help Eric get rid of excess energy. Okay?"
Eric heard the dispute, and watched Annie depart. He was sitting on the bench Ohlson brought him to after helping him out of the fire. Or did I walk out by myself? Eric wasn't sure. He was feeling very powerful, but also exhausted and frail. It was like there were two or more of himself, moving within him at different speeds. They were telling him to move move move, but all he wanted was to sit still in silence. His head felt like the different versions of him were trying to break out, and he winced with pain.
"Can you stand?"
"I think so. What was that about?"
"Annie can be overprotective at times, and I should have prepared you more. Don't worry about it. You're not the first to complete fire attunement in one go, and you won't be the last either. But, there are unwelcome consequences and we should try to get you through as safely as possible."
Eric stood up slowly. He was hoping the sharp pain would stay away if he made no sudden movements.
"Let's go with the traditional fireball first. We start with an air-based magic sphere, like this." A magic sphere appeared in Ohlson's hand. "Next, we push our fire into it and let the sphere carry it away. Watch - I'll do it slowly."
Ohlson stepped back with one foot and drew the hand holding the sphere close to his body. Flames glowed inside the center of the sphere and began growing. Ohlson stepped forward, turned his palm outwards and pushed the sphere away with both his hands. The flames intensified and the fireball floated away with moderate speed. It had a short, flaming tail. After traveling some distance without hitting anything, the flames burst up and dissipated.
"Well, that's the traditional spell. A moderate amount of fire energy is externalized in raw form, using only a modest air-based sphere for containment. Once the containment is removed or broken, the raw energy transfers in an impact or disperses. You try it now."
Eric stepped back with right foot and drew his right hand close to the side of his body.
"Bend your knees just a little bit; you want to be alert and flexible. Yes, that's right."
Eric willed a magic sphere to appear in his hand. It was a bit wobbly, with blue and red hues.
"Good enough. Now, the fire you feel inside - push it into the sphere and let it fly away from you."
Eric stepped forward, backed his right hand with his left, and let go of some of the tension he felt inside. The sphere became crimson red, turned inside-out, and a multitude of flames sprayed forth from Eric's hand. The release felt good and relieved some of his mental burden.
"Well... the bad news is, that's a very lousy fireball." Ohlson put on a frown. "The good news is, it's a decent flame jet spell for a beginner, it just needs a bit more direction. The externalization of the fire element went well; that means your elemental balance will stabilize if we get you exhausted. A flame jet is a very fire-intensive spell used in close-combat; unfortunately, it's also less versatile than a fireball."
Eric nodded. A part of him knew exactly what Ohlson was talking about.
Ohlson thought for a bit. "Perhaps we should try a spell which uses water for containment? For example, the traditional energy beam. Hmm... This one is quite tricky to do slowly, pay attention."
Ohlson raised his hand, palm facing outward. A magic sphere appeared in front of the hand. The point closest to his palm pushed into the sphere, turned it into a donut, looped around, and became sphere just a little bit farther away. The sphere once again turned into a donut, looped back into a sphere, and so on. It reminded Eric of those airplanes that break the sound barrier, but here it was done repeatedly and periodically, with a rhythm of its own.
Ohlson sped up the process. Waves appeared, then a shining energy beam burst forth from his hand in a straight line, inclining only slightly.
Eric clapped his hands. "Awesome!"
"Did you see how I did it?"
"In this case, fire is not contained in a fixed shape, but in a repeated, self-propagating motion. The spell creates its context through which the fire moves. By changing the type of energy you run through the center of it, this spell can be used as a conduit in complex spells, or serve as a basis of many other beam type spells. For example, by making slight changes to curvature and quantity, we get the subcategory of magic missile type spells. Give it a try... maybe the water element works better for you."
Eric closed his eyes, took a breath, then opened them again. He tried to mimic Ohlson's stance, but realized Ohlson wasn't using one this time.
"It's okay, take your time."
Eric raised his hand, his palm facing away from him. A wobbly, crimson-dyed magic sphere appeared. It turned on itself, as before with the attempted fireball, and sprayed forth flames. However, the fire subsided and resurged several times - like his hand was vomiting flames.
Ohlson laughed. "All right, that was even worse than before! Water isn't your strong suit, but you sure have a lot of fire in you! On the bright side, you might have just invented a jet pulse spell... although I have no idea what it might be good for."
Eric smiled awkwardly. He cast his head down and looked at his toes.
"Don't worry, control will come easier with practice. Let's stick with the flame jet then, we'll get to a fireball eventually. Try to keep the jet within an imaginary arc. Even if this isn't the best way to train, we have to get rid of the excess fire energy."
Eric assumed the stance, and repeated the moves. The result was the same too.
"Good, take a few breaths and do it again."
It was discouraging that he couldn't make a proper fireball, but Eric didn't have the time, energy or presence of mind to spare on failure. He did his best to let go of his expectations, and focused on practice.
He repeated the process several times. Although the result was no different, he was getting the hang of it.
As Eric practiced, more and more of the fire left him, and he recognized just how feverish he was feeling. He was tired, but there was still enough fire to mask the fatigue and push him forward. I'm parched...
"May I have some water?" Eric asked. "I could drink a lake..."
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 5 - Fire Attunement