Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 9 - Blade Magic
Attitude is everything. A keen observer may predict the doom or triumph of any endeavor based on the attitude of the person who undertakes it. Be wary of fixed points, and mastering the attitude of no-attitude will grant you unpredictability.
- From Attitude to Magic,
"Thank you for coming with me!" Eric was excited.
"Of course, we promised Ohlson," Rose said.
Eric enjoyed sword-fighting scenes in movies, and especially liked ones with samurai swords. First he thought Ohlson's class would be about some boring subject, but his indifference vanished when he found out it was about blades.
"I didn't promise anything and you still dragged me along," Lucy said.
"You'd just be mad at us again if we left you out," Eric said.
"That may be true, but you promised me I could pick out the next class we go to, yet here we are... in a class not of my choosing."
"Come on, look at how happy he is," Rose pointed to Eric. "He's almost drooling. Besides, did you actually say which class you want to attend next? I bet you haven't even decided yet."
"Well..." Lucy stomped her foot, "that doesn't mean I don't want to be asked!"
"You're such a wuss sometimes." Rose moved closer to Lucy and whispered loudly in her ear. "Admit it, deep down you know it's true. Say: 'I'm a crybaby!'"
Lucy chuckled. She leaned aside, grabbed Rose by the forehead and playfully pushed her away.
They were standing in a clearing with about a dozen more kids. Ohlson was hauling a large watermelon from a nearby cart to a large, wooden table. A few kids ran to help him unload smaller melons; the atmosphere was more that of a picnic than a class.
Eric was eyeing those juicy melons - but he wasn't the only one doing so.
"Yes, these are for you," Ohlson answered the kids clamoring around the table, "but only after class is over! First we study, then we celebrate. Go! Go!" Ohlson shooed them away from the table.
Ohlson pressed down nervously on his palm. After tiptoeing around, he raised his hands, cleared his throat, and yelled out: "May I have your attention please!" The commotion quickly subsided. "Uhmm... This class is about blade magic... and, this is my first class ever as a teacher... so I hope we get along and learn a lot together!"
Ohlson paused, expecting some kind of reaction from his audience.
There was no fidgeting and everyone's attention was on Ohlson - until Rose started clapping and the group burst into cheer.
"Thank you! I'm not sure I deserve it, but I'll do my best."
Eric was happy to see how such a small gesture eased Ohlson's tension.
Ohlson grabbed a shining sword from the table and held it in front of him. "This is my friend and mentor, Dancing Feather. He's the real teacher of this class, and he'll help you see the possibilities of blade magic."
He's talking about the sword as if it were a person...
"To understand blade magic, we have to take a look at the parts, sometimes called aspects, of a blade. The four notable parts are: the point, the edge, the flat and the handle."
Ohlson pointed to the tip of the sword with his empty hand. "The point is for stabbing, piercing, or puncturing. While not all blades have a point, such as the chakram, most of them do. The point provides precision and versatility."
"The edge is for cutting and slashing. It is the defining part of the blade - if there's no edge, your tool or weapon is not a blade. Mastery of the edge is difficult and wrought with peril, but worth the effort."
Ohlson tapped the side of the blade lightly with a knuckle. "The flat or face is the part that holds the other three aspects together. It is the material part of the blade, but it does not necessarily have to be of the earth element: lightsabres, flaming or vorpal swords have other substance."
He pointed to the handle of the sword and gripped it more tightly. "The point, edge and flat are the wholeness of the blade. The handle breaks this wholeness by adding an interface to a greater wholeness: the user of the blade. Good bladesmen regard the blade to be an extension of their bodies, while great bladesmen regard themselves as extensions of the blade."
Ohlson swung the blade around several times, making modest, but deliberate movements.
"A master of blade magic is not a specialist in the way swordsmen, lumberjacks or surgeons are. A master blade mage uses the essence of the blade rather than a particular implementation of it - such a master can cut without slashing, puncture without piercing and grasp without holding. For us less capable blade magic users, a blade also serves as a focus item."
Lucy raised her hand. "You mean, like a wand?"
Olson frowned. "Wands are for weakli-- never mind, I take that back. Yes, a blade can do everything a wand does, and more. Why anyone would prefer a wand instead of a blade is beyond me... Everyone, stand up and spread out! If you have shoes or socks on, take them off. We'll practice a simple kata."
Eric stood up, and he was snickering.
"What!?" Lucy exclaimed.
"Nothing," Eric said. "Isn't it obvious that wands are silly?"
Lucy put her hands on her hips and stared at Eric. "Oh, really?!"
In books and movies it was always a clumsy kid vanquishing dark monsters with the flicker of a wand - and Eric hated that. There's no gracefulness. It's like they pretend the magic is in the wand, and not in the person.
"Well then, guess which class we'll be taking next! Yeah, that's right; focus magic! You promised, remember?"
Eric frowned. He looked to Rose, hoping for some backup.
"I like wands," Rose said plainly.
Eric rolled his eyes. "All right..."
* * *
The kata Ohlson was demonstrating was a simple one, but it took Eric a while to remember the sequence of positions. There was a flow to Ohlson's movements, and Eric felt his own execution was choppy and disjointed - he very much doubted he was doing it the proper way.
He makes it look so easy.
Paying attention to posture, timing, and muscles flexing in unison was hard. Several times, Eric caught himself holding his breath while he concentrated on getting a single motion right. It was a small satisfaction that everyone was at least as terrible.
A funny looking kid next to Eric fared worst. He was wearing a small and colorful suit that was supposed to be a giant, cartoonish robot. He had a matching helmet on with only small slits for the eyes, and the boy could barely coordinate his own movements.
"Hey, I'm Eric. What's your name?"
The kid raised a fist and mumbled through his helmet: "I'm Atron, defender of dreams!"
"Oh, what a powerful title! Defending dreams is tough work, isn't it? Say, how about you take that helmet off to see better?"
"No, that's my head! You want me to take my head off?"
"Look, I'll help you, just..." Eric reached for the helmet.
"No!" Atron, the defender of dreams, dashed away from Eric. He looked back and tilted his head in the meanest way he could.
Did he just stick his tongue out? Great, that's what I get for trying to help.
Eric walked over to Rose, explained the situation, and asked her to handle it. After she agreed, Eric returned to his spot. He tried to get back into the rhythm of the kata, which was easy, because he didn't have much sense of the rhythm in the first place.
After more practice, the girl in front turned to him and offered the same sword Ohlson used for demonstration.
"Here, it's your turn! Take it!"
* * *
Eric gripped the sword. A refreshingly cool feeling swam up his arm, which was followed by a feeling of pleasant warmth. In several seconds, the alternatingly intense combo of sensations enveloped his whole body. He felt a jolt of electricity from the sword and a touch of radiant light upon his awareness. Instinctively, Eric straightened his spine.
"Greetings! Eric. I am the identity essence of the sword you are gripping, known as Dancing Feather."
"I see you are not overly familiar with telepathy or mental vocalization. That's allowable; you can proceed to use physical vocalization while communing with me on the conscious level. Are your existential attributes within the parameters of comfort?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are you feeling all right?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Excellent. To proceed with the teaching demonstration, I require your consent. If you agree, I will assume co-control of some of your physical, mental and emotional processes. This will be done mainly to present you with my perspective and focus your attention at relevant points. Do I have your consent?"
"Uh, I guess."
"Inadequate reply. To avoid any potential misunderstanding or control issues, I require a clear 'yes' answer to proceed. A 'no' answer or a similar one will abort our communion and the sword will be released from your hand. Yes or no?"
"Yes. Why are you talking like that?"
"I'm not talking, since I have no human speech organs, but I am communicating. If you're referring to my syntactical patterns, please excuse my deficiencies, as the linguistic context of your language is within my domain, but the social context is not. I will do my best to... speak... normally."
The light in Eric's head shifted a hue.
"If you ever encounter a cursed or demonic blade, focus on the handle aspect. It symbolizes your own distinctive sphere of influence, and can be used to curtail the intrusion of the channeled malicious entity. With me, a simple vocalization stating a desire to abort will suffice."
"I will now demonstrate three aspects of the blade: the face, the point and the edge. Are you ready to start?"
"He who dies by the blade, lives by the blade. This is the attitude of the blade." The voice paused.
With the blade extending horizontally from his hands, Eric raised the sword to his right and up to eye level. As he slowly turned it to a vertical position, the rays of the sun reflected - as if through a prism - from the face of the sword right into his eyes. He was momentarily blinded, and the touch of light upon his awareness engulfed his mind.
The moment passed, and Eric's mind struggled to categorize the insight of the previous instant: he saw himself as a collection of systems - the blood flowing in his veins, the bones of his skeleton, the muscles upon them, nerves branching out. Not only that, he saw a categorization of his feelings, a name and label for many of them, the map and imprint of language on his thoughts, and symbols describing his inner self. Eric's body froze as his mind did its best to deal with the overload of self-reflection. The memory slowly faded back to the realm of subconscious, and he regained his time-sense.
Eric placed one foot in front of the other, and the blade in his hands came down from up high and into a forward thrust.
Even though there was nothing but air in front of him, Eric felt the force of the stab disperse like thousands of tiny needle-stabs on and under his skin, each of them pushing and pulling energy in tiny to large vortices. It wasn't particularly painful, but the experience of how these points connected into lines was peculiar - like his sense of self was shaken then calmed again.
Eric stepped back, whirled the sword once around his wrist, stepped forward and carried the motion of the sword into a slightly diagonal forward slash.
This time, the cutting motion sliced and diced his sense of self into long, vibrant lines of energy. Each line was like the edge of an unseen blade. Rather than being a frightening experience, it felt like dirt being threshed out of a delicately woven carpet. The luminous lines not only divided, but also unified, restoring the sense of self - a new self! - and a degree of freedom and clarity. Dying by the sword now seemed like a purposeful, desired action.
At the end of the kata, Eric stood motionless. Yet, he felt it was not over yet, the momentum still carrying him forth.
Anger swelled up inside him. It caught him by surprise, since he was not generally prone to fits of anger, nor had he any reason to be angry. As the anger intensified, Eric saw it's not really anger, but rage. It came from a side of him he never encountered before, yet there was something base about it that was distinctly and recognizably a part of his identity. He struggled to contain it, but it grew even more powerful. It's not rage either. He stepped aside from its path, letting it through rather than resisting it. Aggression. Pure lifeforce. With recognition came acceptance, and the force acquiesced - becoming part of Eric again. He was one with himself.
"Awesome! What else can you show me?"
* * *
Eric focused on a watermelon at the table farther away. It was partly occluded by a smaller melon of the muskier kind. He gripped the sword firmly with his right hand and placed his left hand softly on the lower side of the blade. His stance was flawless; not even a strong push could make him lose his footing and a sense of purpose emanated from the way he was present in the posture of his body. Knees slightly bent; all the right muscles tense and ready.
As he concentrated on the watermelon, he noticed increasingly delicate details: this pattern here, that unevenness there. He could practically feel it under his touch; the hard, green exterior and the crunchy, tasty, water-filled interior. He knew what kind of sound it would give when tapped on, and how strong its internal vibration would be. The large fruit was alive, interweaved with lines of its own energies.
Eric looked within, and in his mind's eye, cut himself apart with a strong, clean slash. He pushed this feeling outside of himself, and accentuated it by letting the edge of his sword carry it. He stepped and slashed forward, following the momentum.
The watermelon on the table split in half without sound, and the halves wobbled slightly until they settled in a still resting state.
Eric let his focus go, and the distance became apparent to him once again. He lowered the sword, approached the table and inspected the watermelon. It was a clean cut. A few drops of juice dripped onto the table, but there were no cut marks on either the tabletop or the musky melon in front.
He smiled with satisfaction.
* * *
"Hand me over."
Dancing Feather has mostly withdrawn, and Eric felt like the light has been turned off in his mind; not completely dark, but certainly dimmed.
On one hand, the receding awareness faded out insights and this was an experience of loss for Eric. On the other hand, enduring the intensity wasn't easy - adherence to such a degree of perfection was also a burden. All in all, Eric felt relieved and welcomed the emptiness.
"I will. I just need a moment to compose myself."
It was interesting how little time has passed. The communion couldn't have taken longer than several minutes, yet Eric's mind was telling him that hours, maybe days, worth of experiences have passed.
Eric observed his surroundings, mostly to assure himself of his own place in it.
Ohlson kept demonstrating the kata, pausing a little between repetitions to watch over his students. No one seemed to be doing particularly better than before; Lucy practiced a single motion over and over, while Rose strung the beginning and end of the kata together and made a clumsy dance out of it.
Compared to what Dancing Feather showed him, differences between various attitudes and performances were glaring. Despite such knowledge, Eric wasn't sure he could do better by himself, since there were myriad details to pay attention to.
Eric noticed someone tugging at his sleeve. It was Atron, the defender of dreams - this time without the helmet. The boy had dark blond hair and freckles on his face. He was about Lyle's age.
"Who are you talking to?"
Eric raised the blade slightly. "I'm talking to this sword right here."
"Oh." The boy eyed Eric suspiciously. "You can do that?"
"Yes. This is a very smart sword; it speaks like shiny reflections in your head. It showed me many things, but says I have to learn to do those things by myself."
"I see... Well, I just wanted to say I'm sorry about before. My real name is Aaron, and this is just a costume. I hope we can train together or something... It was really cool how you cut that melon in two!"
"Thanks, Aaron. My name is Eric. I'd be happy to train with you."
"Mission success!" Aaron raised his fist high and stood in a triumphant-giant-robot pose.
"Do you want to talk to the sword? Here, grab it. Use both hands!"
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 9 - Blade Magic