Arvid just stares, unable to believe his own eyes. "Yes, as you see, it worked" smiles Avdyra. "The Craft is open for everyone who masters the Lore." "But look at it! A tiny glimmer of light. After that ... cosmic feeling, this is all! I felt as if it should blaze like a sun. I felt as if I could have moved planets! And this is what I get!"

Avdyra laughs, a happy carefree laugh. "This is what you asked for! Each invocation, each verse in the song, has its own magnitude and direction. In general, the first invocation is weak and very spesific. Even though you draw on a force that could indeed move worlds, the invocation only asks for the force to produce a small glow of light. This way, the first invocation can be used securely even by the novice and those untrained in the Lore. The following invocations increase quickly in power and freedom. From the fourth invocation, you will have to shape the effects in your mind. Many people never progress that far."

Of course. Arvid nods sheepishly. He has seen her use the same song before. The effect was the same. It was just that it felt so terrific - cosmic, that is the only word that really comes close. He felt as if for a brief moment he was more than human, half godlike, with a power and a freedom he could not have dreamt of. And a pure joy ... no, joy is too fleeting and trivial a word. It was so deeply meaningful, it was as if this was what he had been born for. A deep sense of absolute fullfillment.

"Let me sing the second ... invocation, now." "No!" Avdyra lays a hand on his arm. "You must not even sing the first again today. Today was your First Song. You are a stranger from a strange world, Arovid. You do not know these things full well, for we have hastened your training in our fear for the land. But you should know that First Song is a special day, one to celebrate. We will go back to Anleistone and when you wake up, we will have a celebration in your honor. We are hardly in a position to follow all the traditions of the Lorestudy, but this much we can do. For now, however, the very longing that you feel is proof that you must refrain. Come, let us make haste back to Omareim ere the sleep overtakes you!"

Arvid shakes his head. "I'm not sleepy at all. In fact, I think I have never been less sleepy than this!" "Be that as it may, come with us now. Our quest for today is ended, but many more are ahead of you." She leads him by the arm, and he follows, bemused.

"I did not know you had traditions connected to the magic." "We had, but all traditions are faltering after the Shadowfall. Before, things were different." "How different?" "Ah" she says, and the tone of her voice is soft and remote. "When I grew up, the paths of the forest were safe for all, even for children. No living thing threatened man nor serpent, we were the twin orbs of creation, beloved by birds and animals, wood and stone. All along the paths were fruit trees and berry bushes, like a long garden, and beautiful flowers. The enchanted path went from the southern plains to the northern mountains, winding through as many villages as it reasonably could. And in the middle of the kingdom, the wonderful city of Asi."

Her voice grows stronger. "Once in my childhood did my grandfather and my mother take me to that city, when I was ten. I had been proud of our village, for Omari who raised so many of its homes was great in the Stonelore, and people from all over the land had begged him to aid them. I thought that Asi would be like Omareim, only larger. Perhaps that every house would be like Anleistone. Ah, but was my breath taken away from me as we stood on that hill in the clear spring light. The towers and spires of mighty Asi filled our sight as soon as the wood gave way around us. Gleaming white and pink and twinkling blue, inlaid with veins of silver like rivers of light! The broad regular streets, the wide courtyards dotted with shaped trees, and every home a palace. Asi, the city of wizards! Never have I seen its like, even in the worlds of dream!"

"City of wizards?" "Yes, that is one of its many names. Jewel of the Forest, Heart of the Goloks, Eye of the North! In days of yore, wizards were often called Asir, those who belong to Asi. And the reason for this of course was the mighty building that throned on top of the central hill. Asireim, the Undervisity, the repository of our ancient Lore. Young boys and girls from all of the land - and some from other lands even - came to the Undervisity to learn the Stonelore, the Treelore, the History, and the Lore of all living things. Two mighty arms stretched out from the top of that hill. To the south were the rooms of men, and to the North were the caves of serpents. There was always a friendly rivalry between us, but ..." "Us?"

"Forgive me Arovid, for I have forgotten myself. As I must do when my thoughts go back to the brilliance that is the city of Asi and the palace of palaces, my home for seven years, the Undervisity of the Goloks. This is why your question spurred me to tell of that place: For it is only after First Song that a young boy or girl is sent to that place, to study the Lore of the Ancients. So it was with me also. I had studied the Lore of Letters under my grandfather, and it soon became clear that I had a talent for the Stonelore. In fact, my First Song was the exact same invocation that you performed today! Nigh on twenty years ago I stood in that very same circle, trembling with excitement. All my hopes and dreams were pitched on this. Twelve wizards from the neighboring villages stood along the circle, and my aunt was guiding my tune. And then I sung, forgetting myself in the delight of the invocation - the heavens opened and the earth seemed to shake - it was a feeling like passing through locked doors, riding the rainbow far above the world. Never had I known a delight like that, not in my wildest dreams."

"Mhm" comments Arvid. Funny how empty his head feels, so light and fluffy. It seems surprisingly hard to get his thoughts together. "I guess I know that feeling." "I would think so! My parents and my aunt and my grandfather were all so proud of me. They said I had the strongest First Song they had ever felt. And it was truly so. While the Craft is open to all who master the Lore, not all have the memory or the confidence or the abandon to perform it well. I did excel on that evening and later in the Undervisity. Though I am young and inexperienced, still ..." "Ten years, did you say?" "Nay, it was nigh on twenty years ago." "I mean, you said you were ten years old."

Avdyra laughs happily again. "Oh no. I was ten years old when I first saw the City with my mother and grandfather. I was fifteen to a day when I sung First Song in the Circle of Stones." "You must be kidding! You cannot be thirtyfive!" "Thirtyfour winters and thirtyfive summers have I lived in this fair land, Arovid. Does that surprise you?" "Well, yeah. You look younger." "As will you. The Craft protects those who wield it against the ravages of time to some extent. Some of my teachers were several hundred years old, though none of them was a thousand. It has been thought by some that a thousand years is the outmost limit of the span of days for man upon this earth, but nothing has been proved either way."

There are so many things he would ask her. About the University, about the city, the country, the Goloks - whatever that may be - and the Serpents. But his mouth is too heavy to open, his feet are too heavy to lift. He staggers. "Oh, the Sleep is coming" says Avdyra. She rushes to his side and supports him. "Do not worry, we are almost at the village. See, there it is already." But he cannot see it. The whole forest is dissolved, blurring into darkness. And the gentle touch of the thirty four year old enchantress becomes the familiar touch of his bedclothes even before he opens his eyes to the new day.


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