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  • Charm 2: Laying the Groundwork

    2014 - 02.02

    Day 1

    Sezithorum spent most of the afternoon poring over his new acquisition, punctuated by more releases of charm. Beyond those brief orders, barely more than grunts, he scarcely said a word to them. He was typically taciturn, and he’d gotten absorbed in books and projects before, but never to the point of completely ignoring them. Even when telling them to get him off, he didn’t look at them, and didn’t seem to notice or care which of them it was.

    Tiska’s arousal, frustration, and aching jaw drove her eventually to arrange herself across a couple of high stools in front of him under the table. Being pinned between the table and stools limited her mobility, so she had to get Roji to help their otherwise oblivious master get himself positioned and inserted, but it was worth the extra effort to set up. She got some satisfaction, and they both got to rest their mouths. It also meant that Sezithorum had to do most of the work himself, which kept him occupied for a while and delayed his orgasm as he kept getting distracted. Tiska didn’t mind, she simply kept her fingers working across her clitoris, and let him go at his own pace.

    She was also careful to use his released charm to heal him each time. Chafing and rubbing him raw would be counterproductive.

    Tiska fed the animals while Roji prepared their evening meal. The apprentices sat and ate silently, watching their mentor and exchanging occasional uneasy glances. He ate absentmindedly, though he carefully avoided dribbling anything that might stain the book.

    They watched as he reached toward the empty plate, bumping the scaly face of the rebik that had been licking the residue from it. A moment later, he did it again, still oblivious to the rebik as it hissed and bared its teeth. The third time the hand approached, the rebik snapped at it, sinking its teeth into two fingers. Sezithorum jerked his hand away, blood dripping from the wounds, and glanced back and forth between it and the reptile that stared blankly back at him from what had once been his plate. He curled his hand into a fist and said a few words under his breath. He opened his hand again, flexing and extending his fingers, and wiped the blood away from the unbroken skin. Finally looking up, he met his apprentices’ eyes. “We must perform a summoning.”

    Tiska jumped up in excitement. “Marvelous,” she grinned. “What are we summoning this time? The water spirit again? She was amazing, neh?” Her eyes unfocused as her hands ducked inside the open front of her robe and her knees buckled slightly.

    The old wizard’s mouth twitched up at the memory. “Not this time, although remind me once this ordeal is over, and we shall conjure her again. No, unfortunately we must summon a warrior.”

    “A what?” Tiska’s brow furrowed at the strange word. It had no odd tones or accents, beyond what was typical of his speech. The sounds fit with the language she had spoken her entire life, yet it was unfamiliar. Roji moved to look at the tome, taking advantage of the old man’s distraction. He flipped the cover up and Tiska could read the title, worked into the leather cover in simple silver letters: Codex of Conjugal Cross-Planar Conjuration. He dropped it again, and returned to the page his master had just been examining.

    “You have heard stories of the Sekiune to the southwest, and how the denizens there attack their neighbors, in order to collect food and such. Those are warriors, people who make war.”

    Tiska wrinkled her nose. “A violent man? That could be fun. But one who’s not allowed to have sex? Why bother?”

    “We are not summoning one of those in particular. They are little more than untrained rabble. We must call a much more powerful warrior from another world.”

    Roji stood up from looking at the Codex, clearly not understanding anything he was seeing. “But why do we need a warrior at all?”

    Sezithorum turned to him sadly. “Because war is coming. Great and terrible war.” A shiver ran down Tiska’s spine. “We must avert it if possible. And I have no intention of allowing either of you to become corrupted by it. But the fact remains that when war comes to you, you must defend yourself.”

    Roji was shocked. “So you’re summoning the warrior to protect us?”

    “After a fashion. But protecting ourselves here in our little demesnes will not aid anyone else, and their myriad warriors would eventually overwhelm our lone defender.” As Tiska watched, their mentor seemed to age thirty years, his face growing gaunt, his normal confidence evaporating. She’d become so used to his faint accent and formal manner of speaking that she didn’t notice it anymore, but just speaking about this “war” was agitating him enough that his accent became more conspicuous and his speech more halting. She exchanged another silent glance with Roji.

    “Unfortunately, the only way to avoid the necessity of everyone becoming warriors is to send our own warrior out to confront the impending danger, before it grows beyond our ability to quell.”

    After a pause, Tiska spoke up again, in a tremulous, childlike voice. “So we call up this warrior, send him off, and then we’ll all be safe here, neh?” She stared plaintively into Sezithorum’s face, but he wouldn’t meet her gaze.

    “I must accompany him. He will be unfamiliar with our customs, and possibly even our language. And if the summoning works well, he will have no facility with manipulating charm, which means that he will need the support of my arts as well.” His face brightened, though his eyes remained sad. “You two, however, will remain here, safe and protected.”

    A pause, and then Roji and Tiska stumbled over each other, their words blending together in their fever to argue with their master.

    “No, take us with you!”

    “We can help too!”

    “–can’t neglect our studies!”

    “More eyes and ears–”

    “Silence!” the old man boomed, the braziers flickering. The apprentices held their tongues and looked abashed. He hardly ever got that tone, and when he did, you obeyed, instantly and without question.

    When he began again, his voice was barely above a whisper. “War is something no person should ever be exposed to. It erodes the mind and soul. I do what I must, to protect you two, and every other living being of Canera. I have no desire to be part of it again, and I will not allow you two to become tainted by it.

    “We have no time to train someone to become a warrior, nor any materials, nor trainers. The person we must call forth will already be a master of the art of war, and will bring their own tools. Now come. We must prepare. Tiska, get a copy scroll. Roji, collect and arrange the usual summoning equipment.” He turned back to the book, and began flipping pages.

    They both moved away, and a moment later Tiska returned with a blank roll of parchment. Sezithorum turned to an intricate diagram, and moved out of the way. “That is our circle.”

    She unrolled the parchment and held it flat against the page. She spoke a few words and the lines and curves began to bleed through, from the book onto the parchment. When it seemed to have stopped, she pulled it away, and compared the two. “Pretty good, neh? I’m getting better at that. This is really complicated, though, I’ll need to check it against the book itself when I’m done.”

    “I will verify it myself. Go,” he commanded, already turning pages again and mumbling to himself.

    “Yes master,” she said meekly, and darted away.

    The ritual room had a barrier across the doorway that allowed people to enter or leave, but kept the myriad other critters that roamed the house at bay. When Tiska arrived, Roji was already setting out candles, braziers, and other arcane accoutrements around the walls of the room. The center of the floor was clear, having been scrubbed clean after the last ritual. She looked at the parchment again, trying to get her bearings. Tilting her head to the side she, muttered “East,” and walked to stand with her back to the west wall, opposite the door.

    Roji watched her as she continued staring at the parchment and brought a basket of chalk and strings over to her. He stood in front of her and looked over the top of the page. “Wow, that’s pretty ugly. Think you can do it?”

    “It’ll take a while, I may not finish tonight, and I’m sure I’ll have to redo a few bits to get them perfect, but I can do it. Most of it isn’t really all that intricate, there are just lots of parts that all have to be there.”

    “If you say so.” He shook his head and left the room, returning a moment later with another armload of gear. Tiska rummaged through the basket Roji had brought her, searching for string of the proper length. It seemed counterintuitive, but any ritual circle had to be drawn by strictly mundane means. Any residual charm left in the markings themselves could interfere with the casting, and skew the results unpredictably. In this case, the warrior might not be powerful enough – or not even a warrior – or it could send all of them there rather than bringing the warrior to them.

    She found the bundle of string she needed and slipped one hand inside her robe. She collected some moisture from her slit, and could tell by the texture that she had grabbed some semen as well. Good, that would make it easier, she thought, as she rubbed one end of the string between her moistened fingers. A word and a bit of pressure was all the further encouragement it took to get the string to stick to the floor in the center of the room. On the other hand, any charm that was removed before the ritual began would have no effect.

    Another pinch of her fluid attached a lump of chalk to the other end of the string, which she slowly dragged around the room. The room was square, and oriented with the four cardinal directions. At its nearest approach, the string was about five handsbreadths from each wall, providing a walking path around the periphery of the circle.

    Tiska wound the string back up and selected another one, scribing another circle two handsbreadths inside the first one. Then more circles, centered at various points, and a series of lines scattered across the circle in assorted orientations.

    The floor of the ritual room had been specially fashioned into a single slab of rock, so that variations in height between adjacent stones and the mortar separating them couldn’t disrupt the accuracy of a circle layout. Tiska was glad of that, as she carefully drew the very precise symbols and sigils arrayed around the circle. She was also glad of the rag and bowl of water Roji placed next to the chalk basket. She knew what most of the symbols signified by now, having prepared for past rituals, but there were some that meant nothing to her, and which took multiple attempts to get correct.

    She was aware of Roji still moving in and out, and she appreciated that he was trying to move and set things down as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb her. He didn’t seem to notice his whistling, however, but it was pleasant enough that she just smiled. Mostly “The Farmer’s Daughter,” though she caught snatches of “The Wandering Bellfounder” too. He was a nice kid, and had a lot of potential, but he was still a kid. If he was ever going to be a good wizard, he needed to be more deliberate and aware of himself.

    Despite the long days of late spring this far north, she was still working when the sun disappeared, and Roji lit the braziers to allow her to continue.

    Her mind wandering, she thought of herself as a duva at harvest time, how they start out lithe and active. As time goes on, and they work their way across the field, feeding continually, ingesting the entire crop a few stalks at a time, the duva gets fatter and fatter until it’s just waddling awkwardly along on stumpy legs. Just as the duva digests away the shaft and chaff and deposits piles of bare grain in fertilizer, she was leaving droppings of chalk sigils as she crept across the floor. Then the people come along and either distribute the manure to reseed the field, or wash it off to collect the grain. Either way, once the duva has been through, it leaves behind only what’s useful.

    She could see how the duva might have evolved naturally, up to a point, but there must also have been some artificially-selecting breeding program to get them to their current form. Like their binge-and-fast feeding method, how they go from little more than skin and bones at the beginning of harvest time to a grossly obese ball that is occasionally unable to walk because it’s eaten so much. That made sense, in a way, that they should take advantage of the food when it’s available, and live off of their fat stores when it’s not.

    And their reproductive cycle coincided with their activity level. When they were getting lean, they got more active, and more amorous, and the females came into heat. Then they gestated during their post-prandial torpor, the young being born just in time for the following year’s harvest.

    Other aspects of their physiology were just too perfect, however. Like how their teeth were too soft to crush the grain itself, but they were able to grind the chaff away. The teeth therefore had to keep growing, but only when they were being worn, not while the duva was fasting. If the teeth grew continuously, by the time harvest rolled around again, their mouth would be completely filled with teeth, and they wouldn’t be able to eat at all. And then there was the way their digestive enzymes were able to break down the chaff, but leave the grain unmolested.

    Tiska snapped out of her reverie, and realized that she’d doodled a duva grazing on parts of the symbol she’d just finished. She sighed. Cute as it was, she sat up and reached for the rag and bowl to remove it.

    Returning the bowl of water outside the circle, her eyes came to rest on the brazier next to her. Even it mimicked the fires lit in the fields to help keep the birds away and prevent them from devouring all of the grain before it could be collected or planted again. Of course the birds would get some, they have to eat too, but not too much.

    After a moment, she realized that her eyes were drying out, because she’d stopped blinking. She sighed again and squeezed her eyes shut, rolling them behind their lids. So much for being deliberate and aware of herself. Just like the duva, she was becoming progressively more cumbersome and less functional. She was tired to the point that she couldn’t focus her mind or her eyes anymore, to draw the symbols correctly or even to read the more intricate of the unfamiliar ones. Any other assignment, she would push on through and finish it anyway, but not this. There was too much at stake, and too many ways for it to go wrong, and need to be fixed, and take up more time.

    Tiska replaced the parts of the glyph that the duva had eaten and extinguished the braziers. She emerged from the ritual room to find a plate of food waiting for her. A slab of deenx with mixed vegetables, kept warm by a heating incantation on the plate. As if in response, her stomach gurgled. That was probably why she’d had such a hard time paying attention to the symbols too. Even if she wasn’t feeling it, her body was running low on energy. She sat, holding the plate on her lap, leaning against the wall next to the door, and began fueling it.

    The master was once more standing over the tome, this time furiously scribbling notes on a sheet of parchment. Roji emerged from beneath the table again, wiping his mouth and stretching his jaw. Looking around the room, she could see that the animals had food as well, so he must have taken care of those outside too. She smiled. He was responsible, at least.

    When the wizard paused to turn a page, she swallowed quickly and tried to get his attention. “Sir? Sir? Master?”

    He looked up and blinked at her. “Yes? What?”

    “It’s late, I’m exhausted, and I don’t know a lot of these symbols. It would be better and safer if I finished it in the morning.”

    He glanced out the window at the moons. “Yes, it is late. Very well,” he sighed. “We will continue with the preparations tomorrow. Tonight, we must rest.”

    As he turned to retire to his chambers, Roji asked hesitantly, “Master? Can you tell us more about what’s happening in the world? Why we must summon this warrior?”

    “Yes, I suppose,” he sighed. “There is no harm in that. Come.” The wizard turned away again. Roji, shocked, looked over at Tiska, whose mouth was also hanging open. They both jumped to follow, eager to take advantage of their mentor’s uncharacteristic candor.

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