Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 6 - Air Attunement
Let's skew the air / earth continuum and take a slice of it. Then, we could say that the earth element is that which has more form, while the air element that which has less form. However, there's much more to it than quantitative differentiation. Form is not simply discrete - there is always the interplay between form and awareness. When approaching either extreme, one splashes over into the other: much like background becomes foreground or existence becomes distinct from non-existence.
The attitude which takes the polarized extremes of the sliced view, puts them into boxes with markings such as 'matter' and 'dimension', and sweeps everything in-between under the rug is... questionable, and at times indicative of loss of mental function.
Such a view might be acceptable to a bored philosopher or a young mage on the hunt for limitations. For a physicist it's borderline idiotic; even medieval cartographers at least marked where the dragons are. For an elementalist, ignorant hauteur is outright dangerous: scientists may tend to go insane, but hardcore elementalists often skip that step and go straight to being vegetables.
- Form, Function, and the Four Elements,
"What a sorry bunch - it pains my eyes to look at you."
Eric was exhausted. He was looking at Master Joe, but also staring past him into the pillar of flames. Rose, sitting next to him on the bench, was no less weary. Lucy's eyes were off-focus and she looked as if she was about to collapse and fall down from the bench at any moment.
"Is the biggest idiot the one who jumps in first?" Master Joe raised a bony finger and pointed to Eric.
Eric thought about possible replies, but didn't come up with anything noteworthy. He cast his eyes down.
"Is the biggest idiot the one who follows an idiot?" Master Joe turned his finger to Rose.
"I didn't follow him; I just let him go first," Rose said.
"Hmm... is that so?"
"Yes," Rose said defiantly.
"Well... Perhaps the biggest idiot is the one who follows two idiots despite seeing the outcome?" Master Joe lowered his finger, but looked intently at Lucy instead.
A slow blinking of eyes was the only reaction from Lucy. The attunement pretty much wiped her out. Master Joe waited for a response, but she didn't sound a word.
He looked at each of them as if it were a staring contest. Eric bowed his head slightly to avoid eye contact and twiddled his thumbs. Still, he could feel Master Joe's gaze, convincing him of his own idiocy. Fire attunement takes many attempts, how could I be so arrogant to think I would master it in one try?
Master Joe sighed. "Stupidity is contagious, no doubt about it. I'll tell you who the biggest idiot is: the one who allowed you three idiots to march into the flames and wreck your elemental equilibrium."
Eric gathered his courage and looked up. "But, sir, it wasn't Ohlson's fault, he did prepare-"
"I'm not talking about Ohlson," Master Joe waved dismissively and laughed.
Eric felt the weight of the stare lift from him.
"Willful and gutsy, charging through walls with those thick heads of yours... You three may be idiots, but you're my kind of idiots: stubborn, with the right amount of stupid. No, Ohlson did all right. The biggest idiot is me for allowing you to be idiots of your own."
Master Joe held up his hand. "Just don't tell Maeve I said that, 'cause she'll want it in writing! Let's keep it our little secret, shall we?"
Eric found Master Joe's change of attitude surprising, but welcome. He nodded.
"We won't be needing this anymore." Master Joe lowered his hand, and as he did, the flames behind him toned down until they disappeared completely. The pattern inlaid with pebbles became visible: seven yellow concentric circles with three red spiral arms curling into the center.
"Using the head-through-the-wall approach can be successful if your head is strong enough, but that doesn't mean it won't hurt like hell afterwards. I have to rub your noses in it, because there are always consequences, and carelessness is not the same as bravery. Got it?"
Not waiting for an answer, Master Joe turned to Lucy and took her hands into his own. "Young lady, attuning to fire with a personality predisposed towards the water element is not easiest thing in the world. The consequences can be dire. Follow the energy from my hands and allow me to fix you up."
Lucy was still pale, but her eyes gradually gained some strength. She sat up, straightening herself from the slumped posture she was in.
"It's a temporary fix, mind you. Elemental attunements work by removing a part of subconscious defense mechanisms and encouraging the conscious part to balance and integrate more closely. Going too far in one direction can be... bad." Master Joe stood up and let go of Lucy's hands.
"Thank you," Lucy formed the words with relief.
"You're very welcome. How about the two of you? You look like you'll be fine, but I can give you a little boost if you want."
"I'm okay, sir," Eric said.
"No, thank you," Rose said. "I'm already feeling a little better."
"That's the spirit!" Master Joe bent down and touched his fist to Eric's jaw in a mock punch. "By the way, I'm no 'sir'. Just call me Joe - or Master Joe if you prefer."
Eric nodded. He reevaluated his first impressions about Master Joe. I was off the mark. Master Joe did have an aura of authority to him - was it the moderately long gray hair or the simple robe? - but the way he moved and talked was not an old person's way of moving and talking. His eyes were intense, as if he could shoot lightning bolts out of them, but also warm and caring. Timeless, Eric thought.
"Right now, you're like a sword which has been tempered in fire. Our task is to hammer you into shape, and later quench you in water. This way the elements within you will be in balance once more." Master Joe stroked his beard in contemplation. "A few tenets of elemental magic have to be consciously understood and then sunk down, so to speak, to your subconscious. Feelings and reflexes play a large role. You must acquire an operational intuition, which means that you have to trust the conscious and subconscious parts of yourself to work well together. This will further your skills as well as the healing process."
Master Joe clapped his hands. "Air or earth? Which one should we cover first?"
Rose chuckled. "Whichever is easiest."
"Compared to what you went through with fire, they're both relatively easy. Lucid dreaming is associated with the air element, and you're already doing it. You also have intimate knowledge of the earth element thanks to your physical bodies in what you call 'real life'. Pick!"
"I like air more," Rose said and looked questioningly at Lucy and Eric.
Eric answered with a shrug.
"I'm okay either way," Lucy said.
"Air it is then! Stand up and take my hand."
Eric stood up and stretched. Resting on the bench felt good, but the fire in him despised it and wanted to engage in any activity. Eric suppressed that feeling and took Joe's hand. Lucy and Rose reached for the same hand.
"No, not like that. Both hands; form a circle," Master Joe said, and they followed his lead. "Ready?"
"Are we doing some sort of air attunement? What are we supposed to do?" Lucy asked.
"Attunement to the air element isn't really necessary for you. Dreams and this realm in particular is associated with air, so merely by being here you are able to do basic forms of air magic. The magic sphere? It's air magic by default. Flying? Air again. However, mastering more difficult magic such as teleportation, portal magic, invisibility, or the high level meta-geometry of multidimensional identity management requires more precise understanding of the air element."
Lucy gave a reluctant nod.
"I just need you outside of yourselves while I tweak your elemental balances. Your task is to fly upwards - don't worry about the rest, I'll take care of it."
* * *
There was a popping sensation and Eric felt himself jump upwards. He was a distance above the ground, floating in the air. Seems easy enough so far.
He looked up, then lowered his gaze again. It was late morning and the sun didn't rise too high in the sky. Eric figured that flying directly up into a midday sun was unlikely to be the goal of the exercise - but an interesting idea nonetheless.
He spread his arms to try to feel the element he will be getting to know more intimately. He expected to feel a light breeze, but there was none. He looked at his hand, but he saw only a bundle of shining light stretching away from himself. What the...?
Eric looked down. He saw pebbles forming the large circle where the big fire was. He could see Master Joe not far away from a bench, holding the hands of two girls and a boy. He floated a bit closer. The girls were Rose and Lucy, there was no doubt about it. He looked at the boy, and the face he saw was his own. The eyes were closed and the body was still, except for the slow rhythm of breathing.
Should I panic? Eric asked himself in a detached manner. No, this must be part of the exercise. What was it Joe said? I should fly up.
Eric flew up high without much effort. The trees below him became smaller and smaller. He went higher still, and the area below seemed to shift and change when he wasn't focusing on it directly.
He flew higher and higher, but after a point, the distance didn't increase. He could still see the camp ground and even individual treetops if he focused intently. He put in more effort, but after a while of trying to get higher, he got the same feeling of sluggishness he had when he was running away from the goblins in his nightmare. There was no dread in this case, but he grew frustrated with the fruitlessness of his efforts.
Eric mustered his attention to make a powerful and speedy breakthrough jump. Like a bullet, he flew up - and for several seconds the Dream Camp shrunk to an almost unnoticeable point - but his attention was yanked back by an unknown force and he returned to the same distance as before.
"You're trying too hard. Let me help," Eric heard Master Joe's voice from somewhere.
Eric felt being propelled upwards with great speed and his vision became a blur. He entered a cloudy mist and gradually lost the feeling of movement. Am I flying? Am I moving? He couldn't tell since any point looked as the next one. The mist slowly dissipated. Eric was left in what he could describe only as emptiness.
There was nothing. Nothing except the bright light that was himself.
Eric wasn't sure if time passed. Maybe it did. A feeling of loneliness grew within him, but there was also a growing sense of familiarity: I was here before. Many times.
Eric felt a pulse, followed by a rhythmical in-and-out motion. The pulse was a heartbeat, and the rhythm was a lung expanding with air and contracting as the breath left the body. The awareness hit him: this was his own body! His real, physical body lying on his bed, resting in the state of sleep. He could feel the tension in some of the muscles, the slight cold in his feet where the blanket was brushed aside, his eyelids closed, but waiting to open. His nerves gradually offered more of themselves, passing sensations and readying to receive commands...
Many times he went through this process before in his life, so many times in fact that his consciousness didn't even bother remembering being here after being awoken. Eric kept as still as he could; he didn't want to wake up. I'm not yet finished with the dream; think about something else! Think about something else!
The memory of the dreamworld was still fresh in his mind. He imagined being back by the bench, holding the hands of Rose and Lucy. He remembered the sound of rustling leaves and swishing grass; the feeling of gentle sunlight caressing his skin. He imagined opening his eyes there, and momentarily tightening his grip to see if his sense of touch was working.
It worked! I think.
Eric felt like he was balancing on the tip of a needle. He was a bundle of light in the emptiness. He was a sleeping consciousness in a physical body, lying on a bed. He was a boy holding the hands of his friends in a dream setting he has grown to love. He knew if he lost focus just for a moment, he wouldn't be able to maintain this state and might wake up.
The needle tipped. Eric was back in the emptiness, his presence receding from his physical and dream bodies. Yet, it was not quite the same as before. This emptiness isn't really so empty, Eric thought. His mind worked to latch onto anything to experience himself, but Eric forbade it to go in the direction it just came from. He was determined not to risk waking up just yet.
He became aware of two other bundles of light in the emptiness. He was moving towards one of them at high speed, reaching out to it - he couldn't stop himself. His light began to merge with it. A strange sensation... A flash of experiences surged through him, but he didn't have time to make sense of any of them. He felt a heartbeat, a breath, and eyes opening only to provide him sight that seemed somehow off. The eyes blinked once, twice- I'm looking through the eyes of another person! What...
A powerful, blinding light suddenly hit him from somewhere else and he was knocked back into the emptiness. It spoke to him: "Whoa there, tiger. There'll be time for that kind of grokking later. Just stay put, we're almost done."
Eric obliged the best he could. It was easier now to just exist there, but this state didn't last long. Eric was falling at great speed; first he went through a mist, then he saw the ground and four specks holding hands before he crashed into one of them.
His hands clenched, then relaxed. He opened his eyes, and saw Rose, Lucy, and Master Joe.
"Hhhhhhhhhhuuuuu," Eric exhaled audibly and sat down on the grass to let the vertigo pass.
* * *
"What the hell was that?!" Lucy cried out, obviously startled.
"Well, that was fun! In a scary way," Rose remarked cheerfully.
"Don't worry, such restlessness is common. That's what you get when you have too much fire," Master Joe said.
Eric felt... flat. The vertigo passed, but there was still a lingering emotion of being not quite here. It was a strange experience, and Eric was processing it.
"Fun? How could that be fun?" Lucy asked Rose.
"What are you talking about? How was it not fun? Didn't you find it interesting?"
"Hmpf." Lucy crossed her arms. "You're an adrenaline junkie!"
"Well then, you're a comfort-zone hugger!"
"What does that even mean?"
Master Joe held up his hand. "I'm happy to see you girls feeling better already, but if there's going to be any yelling here, I'll be the one doing it... All in all, it went better than I expected. I guess you won't need any tweaking from the earth side, but let me just double-check."
Master Joe lowered his arms and closed his eyes.
Eric's feeling of not quite being here faded away, and slowly turned into a feeling of being grounded; of being himself and also being part of something. It intensified, and turned into a feeling of being inside himself, a pressuring, claustrophobic sensation that made a ringing noise in his ears.
"Oops, I overdid it, let's just back up a little bit."
The pressure on his psyche receded and Eric was back to feeling grounded.
"Is that it? Are we done?"
"That's it from me, but you're not done yet," Master Joe said. "I'm shipping you off to Maeve for the quenching part. Listen to her, and try not to vex her too much - she's scary when she's angry!"
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 6 - Air Attunement