One More Step Chapter 1
Although his breath was labored, his clothes disheveled, and his hair more mussed than he preferred, Blue's mind remained poignantly sharp. His strong psyche, forged over the searing flames of incantations and hardened in an utterly icy and sterile emotional void, was relentlessly locked in his sole purpose's trappings.
No longer burdened with the imbalanced psychic weight of his mundane companions, his mind felt peculiarly refreshed in contrast to his physical body's exhaustion. A small bonus in lieu of his lost comrades. Now, in the profound silence that surrounded the magician, there was time to reflect. Blue would not allow himself to be distracted from the task at hand, however. Distraction leads to permutation, permutation leads to disorder, and disorder almost always results in a magician's downfall. Repeating the mantras of his childhood had always kept his brain safe and detached from the disorder around him. Dogma: the only way to deflect those pesky electrical impulses from making any un-wanted detours in the brain.
Had Blue the presence of mind to smile, he might have.
The ascent to the world above proved a formidable task. Without any of his magic at his disposal, Blue was left with nothing but the strength that had been naturally bestowed him by genetics and masculine biology. These things had proven most useful in the mangled remains of what had once been either a path to Hell or what served as a seal. Having traveled through the first time with transport magic he could not place his exact location in relation with any place he had already been. Also, he thought as his hand landed in a puddle of formerly biological ooze, the landmarks have changed since the battle. Before the underground had been somewhat familiar, with drainage pipes and the statues still somewhat intact. Now it was highly unlikely Blue would find anything he recognized from his previous trip through.
The magician's hands were now raw from the jagged walls of the massive cavern, and he couldn't help but recall an old professor's words...
"Your hands," Professor Verstein stated," are precious instruments indeed. As are your voices, your tools, and, most importantly, your minds."
Each boy in the large classroom listened with un-divided attention. The stately educator didn't even need an incantation of dominance to impress his will into the young magicians. Everything in his manner and voice communicated a deep knowledge of what he spoke of. He was not unlike any of the other professors in this respect. Blue was privileged to attend this particular academy. Or so he had thought.
"If you are very careful of how you treat your instruments," Verstein continued," they will serve you well. Remember this."
The bell rang with uncannily profound timing, leaving Professor Verstein's words hanging in Blue's mind as he made his way to the banquet hall. It was time for supper, and Blue realized that his stomach was cramping in hunger. In his studies he had neglected to notice his body's demand for food (which had been lately more frequent and severe, Blue noticed with some alarm.)
Blue approached the male food vendor, purchased a sandwich, thought for a moment, then added a side of a dibble fruit, a banana, and namble juice. He turned around quickly to avoid the raised eyebrow he knew was following him as he hurried up the stairwell to the dorms. He couldn't stand to eat around others at the banquet table under normal circumstances, and he definitely didn't want to be in the presence of others as he satisfied his body's copious demands for food.
Even in his hurry to reach his room, Blue couldn't help but admire the arcane artifacts and tasteful decor of the inner academy. In the dim light of the evening lamps, the corridors seemed almost comfortable. However, it was less relaxing to know that the evening lamps were intended to make you drowsy through the magic techniques used in blending their tinted panes of glass. Yes, it was a pity he knew this. The calming effect was very nearly ruined by this knowledge. Ignorance truly is bliss, Blue mused to himself.
Blue was at a crossroads. A tunnel had appeared in the midst of his path, going in a thirty degree incline through the metal and rock wall of the cavern. It was difficult to discern whether the gentle glow emanating from within was in truth an exit or wishful thinking. Other possibilities crossed Blue's mind, but he shook them off. Difficult enough to choose a path as it was, without any imaginatitory beasties. Up... or in?
Blue took a final glance into the seemingly endless black space above him, adjusted his pack, and entered the tunnel.
Blue ate solitarily, reviewing the day in his mind. Although he had been taught nothing truly profound or exciting yet (a few simple spells of defense, telekinesis and the prefunctories of travel), the academy was obviously preparing the Magic Kingdom's most promising youth to excel in all manner of magic. Blue was one of the fortunate born with an above average affinity with magic, and so he was taken out of the barracks earlier than most and brought to stay at the academy.
The barracks were in many ways similar to the school. Many young, fair-haired boys playing games insidiously developed by the Magic Kingdom as a way to test their latent abilities; the girls holding a dolly, painting or even reading to avoid the ridicule of doing poorly in the games. The girls did not have the latent psychic power to make the magnet switch polarities, or begin a simple electric current through the conduction tubes. The excused counterparts to the rare but loathed "darky" male that would periodically appear among the children's ranks. A boy with brown hair, or black ( "like a girl's," the gifted ones would snicker), or an unruly red. A boy without any gifts. A mundane boy born in the Magic Kingdom, destined forever to be marked as useless. Most magicians would never understand their alienation, and would be invariably glad of it. Bitterly, Blue knew that he was more like the wretched, dark headed Have-nots than the multitude of arrogant Haves eating together in communion below him.
Now, as he ate his fortified sandwiches and Jutsu-restoring fruits, Blue longed only for the mediocre gruel of the barracks and Seth's soft voice and laugh. Seth whose smile blazed in Blue's mind when he smelled the warm breakfast honey bread. Seth whose primary classes ominously separated them. Seth with the ebony hair of a woman.
Blue struggled to discover what was producing the delicate, nearly indiscernible light within the tunnel. It had narrowed slightly, and the incline was becoming less difficult to traverse. Could the rock be smoothing out?
Blue impulsively looked behind him, half expecting to see Gen or Lute staring up at him, impatiently waiting to return to their lives. Each of them... climbing back to their lives in the world above...
Blue sighed resolutely.
Best not to think upon these things. The past is all that's gone, the future is yet to come. Now is forever. But what was now? The reality of the moment hit Blue. He was voluntarily ascending to the kingdom that had originally intended to sacrifice him. For the greater good. The past leapt up with a strange soundless voice, intimate and yet foreign. A brain's chemical interpretation of audible sound. Such strange effects that those synapses have on one's consciousness... to hear the paraphrased words of the ones who came before him. The ones who left before him, too.
Somewhere from the depths a pebble fell and clinked many times before the sounds became inaudible. How far had he climbed? It didn't matter now. He would not be making this trip again. The only distance Blue was concerned with was that which spanned between him and the surface... wherever that might be. Perhaps the path led to an opening close to the one he had entered. Perhaps it led to an entirely different region. It didn't matter. There wasn't anyone waiting for him. He had no place to return to. Without any synergy or humans left in the Magic Kingdom, it was hardly worth rebuilding. Truthfully, Blue would rather it stayed hollow and dead. He had somehow avoided the zealous dedication to the Magic Kingdom imparted in wizards....
Blue was nearly finished when a quiet knock rippled his thoughts. Normally, room inspections only happened once a month and Blue was certain he had been checked just last week. But, expected or not, an inspection was infinitely more likely than a visit, so Blue kicked his books under the bed as he went to the door.
He opened the door, expecting to see an austere figure of hygiene authority. Instead, a girl stood in non-chalant defiance of the males only rule in the dorm. Blue's mouth opened in shock. The rules were very clear and sternly enforced; no girls were to set foot on the academy's premises, under penalty of expulsion. He hadn't even thought it was possible a woman to get past the front entrance; yet here, daring chance with stark, unmistakably black hair, the woman had the audacity to smile at Blue as if there were nothing wrong.
It wasn't until the boy spoke that Blue realized what the true situation was.
"What's the matter? You look like you've seen a ghost..."
A tenuous, but most certainly masculine voice came out of the porcelaine-looking... boy. With relief the young adept un-tensed his rigid muscles. It was a boy. Fine features and meticulously smudged eye makeup (a stylish privilege of magic users only!) had masked his rougher male facets, and the cloak he wore concealed a chest that was un-doubtedly no more endowed than Blue's own. A handsome boy without magic in the garb of a magician. That was all. The relief previously felt was replaced by new apprehension.
What was a person without magic doing at an exclusively magician academy?