The Importance of the Impossible
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Chapter 5 of Gravity’s Revenge

Posted by A.E. Marling in Uncategorized

Chapter 5

The Grindstone

The Grindstone

Hiresha opened the door of the lecture room to find Minna already close to tears. Another novice was taunting the girl. The heckler seemed too engrossed in her sport to notice the inrush of the enchantress’s gowns through the doorway.

“…nomad men all wear veils. Are you a shiftless nomad? Are you a man? The Minister of Orbiting Bodies is a man, too, but you’ll have to hide it or they’ll expel you. The nomad’s blue veils stain their faces. Did yours stain your face yellow, Yellow Face?”

The enchantress was pleased to see Alyla holding Minna’s hand in support. Hiresha waited in the doorway, hoping Minna would stand up for herself. Or at least feign disinterest. Hiresha had learned the power of ignoring bullies after an adolescence of being called “lazy idiot” and “sleep for brains.”

Minna pressed a hand over her veil, cowering over herself. She drew her legs to her chest, sitting on the carpet among the other novices.

Hiresha sighed. She thought Minna might have more in common with the timid Alyla than the enchantress had hoped.

The enchantress strode to the front of the room where a window opened on a view of a glass-domed building. The structure slid out of sight to be replaced by sky.

The hems of Hiresha’s gowns fluttered over the sitting women and girls. As the enchantress carried the fennec past the bully, the fox flattened his ears and gave a muffled bark.

The heckler had a narrow jaw and compact mouth so that her front teeth resembled an ivory beak. She was seemingly undaunted by the presence of the enchantress and continued speaking to Minna.

“You should love to meet Emesea. She’s a prude, too. Won’t even bathe with the rest of us. I think she’s scarred under her cotton, that her matron beat her for getting into trouble too often and left her hideous. Is that right, Emesea?”

The bully cocked her chin at a woman of squat build who wore her novice wrappings all the way up her neck. She shifted and fidgeted though she held her chin high. She was gazing out the window that now displayed the Skiarri Mountain Range. The white peaks pointed downward in relation to the classroom. By then all the rest in the class were looking to Hiresha.

The enchantress had stared down embalmed horrors in tombs and defeated soul-trapping sorcerers, but she still felt a twinge of nerves when confronted with a new class. All but one of the students were younger than she, some prettier, most more wakeful, and the bully looked down her nose at Hiresha even from her sitting position.

“You must be a princess,” Hiresha said.

“My father is King of Nagra and—”

“Where is not important,” Hiresha said. “What does matter is today’s topic of applied magics. We call this ‘hard enchantment’ because it requires a physical vector of jewel, precious metal, or stone. In addition, its study requires more dedication than the average princess can scrape out of her royal husk.”

The princess bared her beak-like teeth. She opened her mouth, but Hiresha spoke over her.

“Princesses most often study ‘soft enchantment,’ the practice of self exploration through lucid dreaming. In this way they may better accept the frilly concavity of their squandered lives.”

Startled noises hissed and spluttered from the class. Hiresha was relieved to see she had captured their attention. Though the novice with the high collar still stared out the window, her lips curved into a secret smirk. She crossed and recrossed her legs and flicked her hands open and closed. Hiresha now thought she did not fidget out of nervousness but an inability to sit still. Like a leopard with an ever-flicking tail. Behind her, the princess appeared to be trying to light Hiresha’s gowns on fire with her glare.

“The majority of applied magic can be understood with two principles.” Hiresha stroked the fennec’s golden fur as she paced in front of the window. The panes now shone white, sliding through snow on the Academy Plateau. “Although this room is angled downward, we can sit and stand on what would be the wall because of Attraction forces enchanted in the stone. Attraction is a First Sphere ability and primary power of enchantresses.”

Alyla’s head bobbed with understanding of the concept. Her dark eyes still skirted away from Hiresha’s when the enchantress cast her an encouraging smile.

The fennec yipped, and the novices grinned.

“The Second Sphere, or secondary power, of enchantresses is Lightening. By cutting gravity’s hold on this structure, the Grindstone can turn on its axle with the ease of a watermill. The same enchantment allows us to feel right-side up, even sitting on a wall.”

Hiresha delved next into the cavernous theory behind why Lightening spells also decreased an object’s inertia, an advanced subject that tended to baffle students less bright than Alyla. The following topics strayed to the teetering edge of impracticality, concerning the little-used tertiary and quaternary powers of enchantment. As Hiresha neared the conclusion of her lecture, the window to her side once again displayed the Crystal Ballroom.

“Using but the first two spheres, a student of hard enchantment can create wonders. The blocks of pyramids are Lightened by our magic. The empire’s merchant ships are enchanted to weigh so little they can sail over the desert dunes. Some say the Mindvault Academy holds the empire’s greatest treasures, not in jewels or gold but in the women who dedicate themselves to the study of magic.”

Hiresha had some difficulty saying the last part, knowing that many present would never attain even a single enchantress gown. They would go back to their respective palaces and lounge away their lives.

Today, though, the girls and women were showing remarkable attentiveness. Hiresha made a mental note to reprimand princesses at the start of more lectures. “You may now ask your questions.”

She rather hoped few would, though most times she enjoyed discussing magic theory. After the chilling Skyway climb, she felt she needed to sleep. She disdained soft enchantment as a rule, but a little lucid dreaming would help her sort through the onslaught of emotions of seeing a woman leap to her death.

Several novices bowed, more than Hiresha expected from an introductory class. The enchantress called on the first, and she lifted her head to ask her question.

“Is that a fennec fox? From Oasis City?”

“Yes.” Hiresha scratched between the fox’s ears. The tuft of his tail stuck up from the crook of her arm. He made chirping noises, along with an occasional breath of a purr. “Next question.”

“Is that fox the Golden Scoundrel?”

“Absolutely not. The sacred animal is in the capital, and it’s inconceivable for the Incarnate of the Golden Scoundrel to be on a remote clifftop of the Skiarri Mountains.” Hiresha frowned over the novices who remained bowed. “Any questions concerning applied magics?”

A girl who had half lifted herself sucked her cheeks in with embarrassment. She still asked, “What’s the fennec’s name?”

“‘Fennec’ serves well enough when he is the only one in a hundred miles. Now, I will only answer questions pertaining to hard enchantment.”

Hiresha gazed with desperation at the novices. One of them has to care enough about magic to have a real question. Alyla tapped her fingers against her lips in a thoughtful expression.

“Novice Alyla, do you have a question?”

The tall woman blushed and crouched lower on the ornate rug. Beside her, Minna had a withdrawn look. Likely still reeling from the heckling, poor dear. On the other side of the room, the novice wrapped in teal to her chin had a spark of intelligence in her eye. When she changed sitting position, which was every second, she did so with grace, and she met the enchantress’s eye with boldness. Hiresha hoped Alyla and Minna would grow up to be like her.

“What was your name, novice?”

“Emesea, Elder Enchantress.”

“Novice Emesea, I judge you have a question.”

“Some say the Mindvault is a prison for enchantresses.” Her voice filled the room. “That once trained in hard enchantment, a woman may never leave.”

Hiresha took a step back onto her skirts. “Nonsense. Enchantresses often leave the Academy, with spellswords to guard them. That is, to be their bodyguards. The Oasis Empire goes to great lengths to secure our safety because of our importance to the stability of its mercantile alliance.”

Novice Emesea held her expression firm, but her eyes seemed to smile in a manner Hiresha did not find entirely comforting.

The enchantress rested a hand on one side of her face, feeling at once too tired. She mumbled something she hoped would be taken for dismissal then stumbled from the room. For a gut-twisting moment, she felt she was indeed walking on a wall and would fall and break a bone.

The moment passed, and she was soon outside the Grindstone, holding Spellsword Fos’s arm as to not suffer the indignity of tripping in her jungle of gowns. She also handed him the fennec. Fos scratched his white belly, and the animal yipped in delight. The spellsword’s face had a pensive appearance, eyes alive with kindness. His lips were bright in the air’s nip.

A pack of novices passed them, and a few tittered at Fos. The voice of the princess rose in a loud whisper.

“It’s not allowed for an enchantress to trade kisses with a spellsword, but the Provost of Applied Enchantment never needs her maid’s help to remove her gowns.”

The skin of Fos’s neck darkened to a mahogany, but his blushes never reached his face.

It suited Hiresha for the faculty and novices to speculate about her relationship with the handsome spellsword. A few times a week, it suited her splendidly to take him up the Recurve Tower, around it, and down again to her chambers. There, behind locked doors, it suited her to sleep while he played with the fennec.

The enchantress remembered little from that day’s walk. At some point Hiresha must have sat down and fallen asleep because her head jerked upright from a doze. She was being held in front of her doorway. The spellsword had carried her through the tower, no small feat considering the girth of her gowns. He also lugged a sword on his back gilt with scrollwork for the express purpose of increasing the blade’s weight with gold.

Now it was Hiresha’s turn to blush. Even after decades living with her condition, her sleepiness still could alarm her.

“Thank you, Fos.”

He squeezed the gowns enclosing her arm hard enough for her to feel his touch. “Thanks for getting Alyla to meet the new girl. They seem right for each other.”

The enchantress nodded, her eyelids drooping.

A portrait of Hiresha above the door had her eyes closed in an expression of contemplation. The living enchantress wished she too could be sleeping as peacefully as she had through the painting sessions. She motioned Fos to hold her to the right of the ebony door. When he did, the portal opened, an enchanted bolt within the door Attracted to Hiresha’s access amulet. Before Fos could take her inside, they heard a sound like a goose choking on a pebble.

The chancellor was clearing her throat, shielding her eyes with a gilt fan of ostrich feathers from the sight of Fos carrying Hiresha. “Provost Hiresha, one can deduce you have other matters on your mind than the welfare of the Academy.”

Gritting her teeth, Hiresha pushed herself from Fos to stand on her own feet. She could infer that the only reason the chancellor would speak to her again would be to point out a new perceived failing.

“Once again, Provost, you have neglected to inform the spellswords of your guest. I understand he suffered some delay while convincing the gate wardens to give him an access amulet.”

“My guest? I saw to Minna’s amulet myself, and she—”

He arrived this morning and has been waiting all day for your attention. Illuminate me. Is it beyond you to even recall the lord’s name?”

Hiresha dug a palm into her brow, felt points of hardness from within her gloves. “I can’t remember scheduling any treatments for—”

“He had a writ of admittance for today with your sign.” The chancellor’s smile was barbed by the downward wrinkles from accustomed frowning. “You might possibly remember him by name. Lord Tethiel.”

The Lord of the Feast. Hiresha’s drooping eyelids popped open. A bolt of tension tingled its way up her legs and spine, and she hid her anxious fingers in her draping sleeves.

“So you retain some fraction of memories,” the chancellor said. “One hopes you will recall what treatment the lord requires. It would not do to have the deficiencies of an Academy elder become the scandal of the courts.”

Before leaving, the chancellor also said in superior tones that the late hour would prevent Hiresha from treating the lord today. Arrangements had been made for him to stay overnight in a locked room in the tower. Hiresha hardly listened.

“‘Lord Tethiel’ sounds familiar.” Fos shut the door behind them and let down the fennec. The animal bounded across the purple rug in a streak of fur. “Was he at the last ball?”

Hiresha slumped against a bookshelf, relieved for the moment that Fos did not remember him as the Lord of the Feast. I’m the only one in the Academy who knows who he is, what he is. Hearing he would be under lock and key gave her a measure of assurance. A small one. With nightfall, the Lord of the Feast would come into his full power as an illusionist. False or not, his magic had scared men to death in front of her eyes.

The fennec hopped as he barked at a window, which shone with the sunset. From Hiresha’s perspective in the Recurve Tower, the horizon was upside down. A ripple of glaring red lifted into the snowcapped stalactites of the mountain range.

Hiresha knew she must confront the Lord of the Feast. He will not harm anyone at the Academy. I’ll not allow it. She worried, though, that he already had.

Lord Tethiel had arrived this morning. In the afternoon, she had seen an enchantress fall from the Academy. Provost Hiresha was no friend to coincidence.

Next chapter…

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