The smile is still there when he opens his eyes to the gray stone walls of Anleistone, the castle-like house that Omari Stonefriend built for Anlei the Ugly, a thousand years ago. In a dream.
Well, the dream has got to end some time. Arvid rises and pulls on the strange clothes that are his in this dreamworld. He has decided. He must tell the two wizards that enough is enough. He needs to sleep at night, to do his homework and get good grades. It was fun for a while, but now it is just boring. Perhaps he can come back later. It was sort of cool to tell that witch how he had seen magic stones and stuff. But now he needs a few nights off. He used to have that in the start, after all, so it can't be that difficult.
"Greetings, Arovid! You look well rested." "Not too shabby." Now, how to tell her? She does not wait for it. "Let us have some food and be off to the Circle of Stones!" "The circle? Why?" "Have you forgotten? You are to try your hand at the song you have learned." "Oh! The light song. Yes, by all means."
How could he have forgotten? This was what he had been reading, after all, and she had taught him how to fasten an image in his mind while reading the words. Now, this should determine whether he needs to stay here or not. If the magic does not work for him, then he is off the hook. The strange thing is that he would almost miss it. But it shall be good to get some real sleep again!
Arvid eats and drinks as much as he can possibly shuffle down. It's not like he is going to grow fat from eating in a dream, after all! Marisfar joins them towards the end of the meal, and seems as eager as anyone to be off for the Circle. After rumors of serpent sightings, Arvid is worried that they might take along the insufferable Arman, king of good looks and bad behavior. But they do have their wits about them to not even mention him, as they have not since the day the two of them clashed out on the practice field.
Marisfar is holding his staff high as he walks first along the path. It seems to be later in fall than Arvid remembered. How long has he been there and studied? His waking mind says three nights, but it feels a lot longer. And evidently the forest agrees with his feelings more than with his mind. Most of its leaves are already shed, so the forest appears more open but also more naked. Even the smell is changed: The spicy tang is subdued now, mixed with a darkly sweet scent of decay and earth.
Arvid turns towards Avdyra. She seems very alert, and holds a black stone in her right hand. Jet, unless he is much mistaken. Blackstone, in their parlance. 'Blackstone is calmstone, shieldstone.' In a strange reversal of what he had expected, black magic is here the softest and most passive of magics. Even so, he has no doubt that Avdyra could wield it to good effect if needed. He had planned to ask her a question, if she could summon Kate to this world too. It seemed reasonable at the time, but he dares not ask her now. She seems to expect a Serpent at any time. They continue in silence, until finally they break out in the open and see the ring of stones in the large glade.
"The circle of protection!" Avdyra's very voice is smiling behind him. Quickly they enter the stone circle, and Avdyra places her Jet on the stone block in the middle. Raising her voice in song, she calls upon the color of magic. And for the first time in his life, Arvid sees black light. First it is only a dark glow - that's the only way he can describe it. The darknes of the stone intensifies, becomes deeper, almost vibrant. Then, rays of shadow as the song goes on, until a half transparent veil of shadow hangs around the whole circle. Smiling, Avdyra wipes her forehead, the way she often does after a song, except for the very short ones. She takes the black stone from the stone cube in the center and places a yellow stone there instead.
"Do you need the scroll, Arovid?" "Nope. It's just a few words, after all." "Well then. I will sing the melody for you at first, though." "Please do." Her voice is quite beautiful. She isn't too bad looking, either. But those clothes only hint a lot, they never quite tell it all. Great, just get distracted and make a fool out of yourself.
"Nana, nana nana na;
nana, nana nana na.
Nana, nana nana na;
nana, nana nana na..."
According to Avdyra, the spellsongs have a lot of redundance built in. Just mis-spelling or transposing a few words will not make a spell blow up, it will just not work. It is possible to make an unintended spell song, but it is highly unlikely. This is in marked contrast to white magic, where exact pronounciation is quite important, at least in the final stage. So, no reason to worry. Just go with the flow, man. He clears his throat. The heavy, overcast sky seems to be waiting for him to shed a little light. He calls forth the image in his mind, the one he has fastened there while she taught him the words and the melody. OK, here goes.
"Ainu, kea leni da,
eini, kea leni ta..."
Suddenly, the world lurches. The skies open - except, it is not really the skies. It is like the walls of the universe itself dissolve, and there is something else, something other outside it, and his mind expands much much faster than light, reaching the end of the universe in a heartbeat. Suddenly, it is all inside him: The world, all of it, the countless stars and galaxies, though he does not really see them. He just feels the absolute oneness with all things great and small. And he knows, knows in his very bones. The thing that rushes through him is as sweet as the smell of spring flowers, as clear and crisp as the air on a winter morning, bright as dawn. He is vaguely aware of every hair on his body standing right up, an immense wave of pure joy, of raw emotion, of pleasure beyond any worldly lust. It fills his mind, his spirit, till it threatens to burst. And then, as he remembers the mind-picture, it flows through him, into the picture, into the stone. He sinks to his knees, suddenly empty, suddenly weak, shivering. The echo of the beauty reverbates in his memory, and his eyes fill with tears and darkness.
He is not sure how long he has been lying there, his eyes closed. The first thing he notices is the soft words, telling him that it is OK, that he is safe. Then he feels the tender hands holding him. He opens his eyes. Avdyra sits on the chilly ground, and he is lying in her lap, she is gently rocking him and speaking to him softly. He looks up, and she smiles at him. "It is OK, Arovid. You did fine."
"Avdyra? What ... what was that? I did not expect ..." "First Song is not the same for all. For a Stonesman, it is often stronger than for a Woodsman, because they usually start with Blackwood. But even for us, it is rare to have a First Song like yours." "You did not expect this either? Do you know what it was?" "During Song, the mind opens to the Power. It is always sweet and beautiful, wonderful beyond words. But the first times, when the mind is still untrained, it can be overwhelming. Your mind must be very large to connect with so much of the Power."
Warily, Arvid lifts his eyes to the stone block, afraid that the overwhelming power has shattered both the Lightstone and the stone cube. He stares in disbelief. In the overcast shadow, he can see a small glimmer of light, like a candle deep within the stone.
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