The World Vein was alight. Smoky gray tendrils of energy seeped from the gargantuan stone beneath Lorcan’s feet, giving the air around him a melancholy, solemn radiance.
“Focus now,” spoke a voice from over Lorcan’s shoulder. Dyn Hysbys spoke in a low, quiet voice, his hands clasped in front of him, staring intently at him. “Let your thoughts flow naturally. Control them, but don’t stifle them. You will only succeed in tiring yourself. Know your thoughts; be mindful of each individual one.”
Lorcan stood quietly, still as ice, blocking out his surroundings. His mentor was teaching him Vaultmind, a Soul magic technique. His mentor had pointed out that seemed the only times Lorcan had willfully controlled his powers was in times of emotional stress and physical danger. It was powerful, yet volatile and unreliable. He needed to learn to control his emotions, funnel them through his mind. It was also traditional to learn Soul magic first, so as to learn to control the mind and summon magic from within oneself.
He gritted his teeth, trying to close out his senses, trying to reach into his mind. There always seemed to be this barrier in his head, taunting him, keeping him from the power he sought.
“Think of a tree Lorcan,” said Dyn. “Your thoughts are branches, growing, reaching out and becoming new thoughts and ideas. But, you mustn’t let them grow unchecked, or they will crowd your mind. Watch the branches grow, trim them, keep them in check.”
“Lorcan’s fingers tensed in irritation. Think of a tree? He didn’t need to focus on one more thing right now. Instead, he went back to exploring the wall in his mind. He thought back to Haute’s Den, how he’d thrown the demon across the room, how he’d willed gold to cover and chain Haute. It had been simple, natural. How had it been that easy? He imagined Haute as the wall, sneering, bloodlust in his eyes. He was in danger, others were in danger. He needed to win. He NEEDED to.
Lorcan felt the wall crack. He pushed, hard. The barrier seemed to groan, and give way before him. ‘Come to me now.’ he thought, and pushed again. The obstacle shattered, and magic burst exultantly through Lorcan, filling his body. Lorcan greeted the energy, basking in it, but only for a moment. As he broke down one wall, he built new ones. The power and techniques that had seemed so alien to him now felt natural. How did he not understand this before? He reformed the barrier around his mind, around himself now, refusing unwanted thoughts, pushing away all his emotions until he felt nothing at all. He stood quiet and resolute, his concentration and cool emptiness giving him a sense of total control. He must have stood for only a few seconds, but it felt like minutes, serenely watching his emotions and thoughts coming to him, letting them pass by or be deflected by the wall. So this was Vaultmind? In a way, it was pleas-
A thought slipped in, shattering Lorcan’s Vaultmind, throwing him out of his focus. Just like that, the magic was gone, like a breeze racing by on a hot day, before slipping away.
Lorcan groaned, stepping away from the Soul symbol on the ground. He turned to Dyn Hysbys, who stood watching him with great interest. “I’ll never reach Vaultmind at this rate!” He trudged angrily to the side of the platform and sat down, the mental exertion completely draining him.
Dyn Hysbys slowly walked over to him, and took a seat beside him. He stared off into the trees, clasping his hands in his lap. “Actually, you were doing remarkably. In most cases it takes one weeks to even enter Vaultmind for the first time, much less hold it as you’ve done. And, after just a few hours training. Very impressive.”
Lorcan grimaced, hesitating. “Thank you. I just, I need to do better than a few seconds. I need to be able to do this, or I won’t get anywhere.” He looked up at Dyn Hysbys. “I know in my head that I’m learning, but it doesn’t feel like I’m learning fast enough. Do you know what I mean?”
Dyn Hysbys nodded. He stood, stepping off the World Vein, and offered Lorcan his hand, which he took, and lifted him to his feet. “I do understand,” he said. “You always feel you need to be better than you currently are. No matter how much you learn or do, it’s never enough. You want to know you can do something important or feel that you can be strong when others can’t, and the fear that you can’t do that makes you feel guilt. Who cares if circumstances are out of your control? You should have been able to do something anyway.” He smiled sympathetically at Lorcan. “Ambition, a desire to do good, dedication, all of those are good things. They will drive you to heights that less motivated men will never understand. But, you must not let your passion override your judgement. It isn’t dedication or intelligence or power you lack. It’s patience with yourself. It’s a valuable skill that many overlook in their quest for self-improvement, and the same principles must be applied to magic.
Lorcan sighed, scratching the back of his head. “Yeah, I suppose. I just…” he held out his hands as if gripping something tightly. “I just, I know that I’ve been given power, and I need to be better so I can stand by myself when others can’t stand with me to help me. I don’t want to have to rely on others’ accomplishments to help me succeed.”
The old man studied Lorcan for a moment. He looked off into the trees. Eventually, he motioned with his head for Lorcan to follow him. They stepped away from the World Vein, and walked back into the woods. Lorcan followed silently as his mentor led the way through the forest. The minutes rolled by as they walked, and all the while Lorcan wondered what Dyn could possibly show him now. He had been ignorant of the World Vein, could there be some other great power hidden in these woods?
At last, they came to a stop. There was another small clearing between the trees, just a few paces in each direction. In the center, sat a boulder. It was unremarkable, dull, and (obviously) heavy. But, it seemed out of place. It had no mold or moss growing upon it, and the air about it seemed to shimmer ever so slightly.
Dyn Hysbys turned to face Lorcan, pointing behind himself at the stone. “This stone here was placed by Titania herself,” he said. “Supposedly, it serves to guard a valuable treasure that the Fae Queen herself didn’t dare possess. She’s placed powerful spells over this boulder to ensure no one can have it. No fae, demon, wizard, or any magical power can move it. I’ve tried myself, to no avail. So!” Dyn Hysbys clapped his hands together. “Move the boulder.”
Lorcan stepped back, his expression that of pure bafflement. “W- move the boulder? Move the boulder sealed by a queen of the Fae Folk? The two-ton piece of stone guarding a forbidden treasure?”
Dyn Hysbys smiled slyly. “That’s the one.”
Lorcan scoffed. “I… I couldn’t possibly!”
The old man’s smile faded. He raised his eyebrow. “Says who? All I said is that an incredibly powerful being has sealed something shut. If you’re going to quit every time you come up against something stronger than you, you might as well stop learning magic now. As a matter of fact, you might as well go live in the woods by yourself, because overcoming impossible obstacles is what this life is all about.” Dyn Hysbys stood resolute, looking sternly at Lorcan, seeming to grow slightly as he spoke.
Lorcan stood silently for a few moments, looking despairingly at his mentor. He shrugged. “Okay, I’ll do my best. Do you have any idea how I can move it?”
Dyn Hysbys’ smile returned. “That’s a little more like it. As a matter of fact, I know exactly how to move this boulder. It’s something that Titania herself couldn’t understand, that you can.” He got an evil glint in his eye. “But, you’ll have to figure it out by yourself. I brought you to this boulder for a reason. I want you to keep thinking on this boulder, and try everything you can to move it, and not rest until you figure out how.”
Lorcan sighed. “Great. All I need to do is outwit the queen of the Fae and move a large boulder which is supposedly impossible to move, all to retrieve some kind of terrible treasure that even Titania felt was too dangerous to use, and may not even exist.” He turned to Dyn Hysbys. “Does that sound about right?”
The old man nodded. “Yes, I’d say you summed it up nicely.”
“Wonderful.” Lorcan strode over to the boulder and gave it a tentative shove. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. The stone sat impassively, looming over him, staring disdainfully at him in his frustration.
Dyn Hysbys cleared his throat. “I would, however, like to ask you something, if I may.”
Lorcan turned to face him. “Yes?”
the old man studied him for a moment, a look of pity and concern in his eyes. “For a moment, I sensed you were indeed in the Vaultmind, and a powerful one. You held it for several seconds, but then you suddenly broke concentration and lost it. What happened?”
“I’ve…been having dreams,” Lorcan began, shifting from foot to foot. “I mean, I’m used to having nightmares, but these…these feel different, real. Ever since I drank from Mimir’s Well, I’ve been having these vivid dreams, sort of like acting out old memories. This latest one, when you found me unconscious in the church, it’s still weighing on me.” Lorcan looked down. “I feel that these dreams are trying to tell me something, but I don’t know what.”
Dyn Hysbys strode forward, gripping Lorcan’s shoulder. He beckoned for him to sit down, which they did, leaning back against the boulder. His mentor spoke softly. “Tell me about this vision of yours.”
And so Lorcan began, describing all of his dreams of revisiting the monastery. He related all he could remember, the details of what had happened that night, the killings, Dorian’s death, the freak storm, and his powerlessness to stop all of it. He wanted to talk about the dark forest as well; the dragon, the antlered creature, the dark shadows in the wood, all of it was just as fresh in his mind, but perhaps that was for another day.
“…and a woman, someone I’ve never seen before, she told me to wake up, and that’s when I came back.” Lorcan ended his account, sighing heavily. I don’t know who she is, or why I’m seeing her, but I think she’s tied to all of this somehow.”
They sat in silence for several minutes, both men pondering deeply. Finally, Dyn Hysbys spoke. “This woman. Describe her, and under which circumstances you see her.”
Lorcan furrowed his brow, recalling all the details he could. “She’s…tall, and her hair is very dark. She’s beautiful, but terribly so. Her eyes are as dark as her hair, and powerful, and mournful, as if she has seen too much. She’s always in a red, flowing dress, and she’s barefoot. Every time I’ve seen her, she’s walking in a battlefield, strolling amongst the dead, while a dark shy boils above us, and black birds swirl around her.”
Dyn Hysbys made a small noice, his eyes widening slightly. “Oh…” he whispered.
Lorcan looked to him excitedly. “Do you know who she is?”
The old man hesitated. “Yes, I think I do. Lorcan, if I’m correct, this is a summons. If I’m correct, you have a goddess requesting your presence, and she cannot be refused.” He looked uncharacteristically worried, putting Lorcan on edge.
“A goddess?!” Lorcan exclaimed. “What would a goddess want with me? I mean…” he hesitated. “I…I think I’ve met a god before, maybe. Ul’vade thought it was Odin, and then there was that statue in Mimir’s Well, and that might have been Mimir himself, but-“
“You met the Allfather?” Dyn Hysbys focused intensely on Lorcan. “The King of Asgard himself visited you personally?”
“Well, yes, I think so,” said Lorcan, nervously. “I think it was him. He helped me find Mimir’s Well, and since then I received a visit from a talking raven, but I wasn’t sure at the time.”
Dyn Hysbys’ eyes grew dark and troubled. “Haute, Odin, Mimir, now this…” he looked up, gazing piercingly into Lorcan’s eyes. “Boy, I haven’t the slightest idea why, but it seems the gods have taken great interest in your life. They want something from you, and I fear that whatever it is, they’ll get it. This woman who is calling you, I cannot tell you who she is, but you must go to her immediately.”
Lorcan bristled. The gods? What did he care about the gods? What did they care for him? He was a priest! A Christian priest! The time of the old gods was ending, and he’d never believed much in them anyway. What could they possibly want from him now? “Where do I even go? Where could I find this goddess?”
There was great pity in Dyn Hysbys’ expression. “I think she’s already shown you where to go. I’m sorry my boy, I truly am. But, I fear that you’ll find her at the place she’s shown you in your dreams. You’ll have to return to the monastery.”