The druids were throwing a pretty normal party, part picnic, part concert. The music was nice, but the overall vibe wasn’t calling to Kaolin. He drifted around, watching couples and families do family things. Most were dressed pretty conservatively, Corp drones, making sure to not upset their masters too much. A few had gotten creative. He eyed one teen girl that had nailed the cuteness meter to nine. Cat ear headband, bright smile, perky hair, red sweater buttoned over a light blouse, the girl even had whiskers painted on her cheeks, radiating out from her button nose. She laughed at a friend’s joke as he walked by, a bright free sound. Not a care in the world had she, like so many other of the meeting attendees.
Kaolin drifted around more, listening to the music, and trying to find some reason for staying. As he neared the edge of the park, a movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. Just behind a building across the street a tail was disappearing. Kaolin crossed the street and looked around to see a kitten, boldly walking down the sidewalk. It playfully pounced on a spare paper for a minute, until it skittered away in the light breeze. The cat played its way down the street, chasing after this and that. Amused by the playful antics, Kaolin followed and watched the little feline.
After a while, the cat turn another corner, and Kaolin hurried to follow. He’d learned that the young cat could be hard to find, if he didn’t keep up and keep it in sight. He was also concerned as the background count had been growing for a while and worried that his little kitten friend might run into something dangerous. Turning the corner Kaolin froze at the sight. Somehow he’d drifted into a more industrial area. 3 story buildings formed a narrow alley that gave way to a small, hidden courtyard. The kitten was playing with some trash strewn around an upset can. But what caught Kaolin’s eye was a large magic anomaly, floating in the middle of the space.
It was kind of spherical, but with many planes showing, and disappearing. It didn’t seem to have color, or reflect color, more like a pile of perfect glass, all shattered, but floating in mid air. Spikes would extend out from the sphere then draw back. As he watched the planes and shapes changed constantly. Shifting, growing, shrinking, sliding, fading in and out, the sphere constantly changed. Kaolin felt that there was some pattern, some order to the chaos, just out of sight. He stared at it, long and hard. After a minute he felt a wait land on his shoulder and he felt a warm, soft body press against the side of his head. He couldn’t look away from the Alchera, for fear that he’d miss the meaning it held. A purring noise, loud as a Harley-Davidson motor, but soft as a mother’s lullaby filled his ears. Then suddenly he felt a sharp pain on his neck, searing sharp pain that drove into every corner of his mind. The cat had scratched him deeply.
As the pain faded, he became aware of the Alchera, and it was as if Truth had been written before him. He could see it, he could feel it. A description of magic, so clear, so complete, Layers over layers of meaning and power, and definition. There were three Paths laying across the top, on the left lay the magic of stuff and in stuff. The middle path spoke of beings, of other worlds and drifts in time and space. On the right lay change, power applied directly, form without substance. The other paths were intertwined with these three, but he sensed that these were closed to him. Choices and Fate had blocked his access to the path of self, and the path of existing.
Under the paths lay Principles. Some Principles only connected to some paths, others were more universal. The provided shape and limits to the magic, they determined the destination and the options for the magic. Below the Principles lay a shattered, mind-bogglingly complex morass of Effects. Kaolin could see how the path, flowed through the Principles to form the Effect, but trying to keep hold of all the Effects or even many of them was too much. The whole overwhelmed him, lost in the rapture, the beauty of the whole. He KNEW magic at that moment, from the start to the finish, in every detail. And it was beautiful. And it was too much to comprehend.
Kaolin had no idea how long he stood in rapture. Slowly a distance interposed between him and the experience. He let go of the Effects; there were far too many to hold onto, and slowly he became aware of his surroundings.
The kitten was gone, as was the Alchera. Kaolin was walking down a new street. Industrial buildings walled the street, but not businesses he knew. And still Kaolin watched the world around him, feeling the Principles and the Paths in his mind. There was still some distance between his mind and the concepts, but they were still bouncing around, flavoring all he saw and touched.
He wandered as he pondered the Paths and Principles. Not caring (or really paying attention to) where he was going, he was just enjoying the feeling of motion. It was a different sense that focused Kaolin on the here and now. Some instinct, a remnant of his time alone in the Outback perhaps, warned him that he was being watched. He was standing, facing the side of a building covered in graffiti. Still new to the city, Kaolin hadn’t had time to get familiar with the local tag language, but he was pretty sure that some gang symbols were mixed in the random words and drawings on the wall. This area was claimed, and he was being watched. Furthermore, his Colors declared him a non-neutral party, and the owners of this area wanted to be sure he wasn’t going to be getting into their affairs.
He stood at the wall for a while, looking it over. The artwork was pretty decent and worth admiring, but more than that he was trying to make sense of the icons and pictures, and to memorize them in case he needed them in the future. Slowly, he pulled off his jacket, his colors and folded the jacket with the colors inside. A gesture of respect, he was saying… “I know you are there, and I respect this is your territory. I won’t interfere with your land.”
After a few minutes he turned and walked on down the sidewalk. He was still thinking about the Paths and Principles, but was careful not to lose awareness of his surroundings again. The sense of being watched faded, and he considered where that sense had come from. As he wandered, he applied the Principles to the sense of being watched, and started to understand how to apply what he’s picked up.
The streets in the area funneled down into a single passage, then opened back up. In the narrows of the funnel, he spotted some young people idling on the side of the road. It was late enough that they were calling out alarm bells, just by being there. As he walked by he checked them over, and didn’t see any signs of actual membership in any group in their clothing or tats. Astrally, they looked like normal people. After a moment’s hesitation, he turned on the AR in his glasses. As he fought off the nausea AR always gave him, he check out to see if they had any gang flags visible in AR, and they seemed clean too. Kaolin turned off his AR and continued walking by. He guessed they might be wannabes. Not quite old enough to be full gang members, they were likely trying to prove themselves worthy of whoever controlled this territory.
He looked them in the eye, but not long enough to be a challenge, he wanted them to know he knew they were there, but that he wasn’t worried about them, so he just slowly continued on. About 2 blocks further, he turned a corner, and was out of their site without a confrontation.
It was the singing that he noticed first, in the dimming light. Then she stepped into a streetlight ahead, singing and dancing. Her cat ear headband and red sweater were a dead giveaway: it was the cute teen from the concert/picnic. She was dancing along and clearly not aware that she had gotten into more dangerous territory. Kaolin thought fast. It was pretty clear that the wannabes were waiting for just such a morsel. But Kaolin had, in essence, promised to not interfere when he entered the territory. He thought furiously about how to warn the girl, to keep her safe. He’d have to be subtle, or risk bringing the gang down on him or the Outlaws. Kaolin just wished she had more awareness of the danger she was in.
In a flash the situation combined with the thoughts he had been having about how he knew people were watching him, and the Paths and the Principles. The three combined into an Effect, a spell. He quickly plotted out how the spell would work, how it would flow, what was needed to cast it. Then, as he and the girl passed each other, he subtly brushed the back of his hand against her, making contact and casting the spell. He felt the magic flow out from him, and new that it had worked. The Paths in his mid shivered, the two on the left more than the one on the right. In the back of his mind, he felt one of the Principles settle in, almost clicking. It was solid in his mind, now. He could feel the gestalt of it steep into his mind.
He walked a few feet past her then quietly turned around and found cover were he could be hidden. Silently, stealthily he followed her, using skills honed by hours of work for the Outlaws to stay undetected, and watched the girl. And sustained the spell he had just created.
Beyond her, he could see the wannabes. He watched as they spotted her, then spread out laying their trap. Kaolin could see when the spell kicked in and she became aware of the danger. About 50 feet short of the trap she froze in her tracks and then turned her head to the right until she was looking the lead wannabe dead in the eye. She glanced to her left and then took off running. Her sudden backtrack caught the wannabes off guard, and she got a good lead on them as she ran for the corner. Apparently one of the would be street toughs had a rich parent, as he drew a pistol and started firing at the girl.
She didn’t even see Kaolin as she ran by him… he was no danger to her. Soon the would be gang members blew past him too. Rich Boy kept firing that pistol until he emptied the clip. Kaolin followed quietly and tried to keep track of the girl; she wasn’t out of the woods yet.
After a few blocks, Kaolin knew he needed to change his tactics; he’d fallen behind and lost track of the girl. He climbed up a building, and was able to follow faster there. The buildings were fairly close together, and he could run on the roofs and leap from building to building while staying out of site.
The girl had made a couple quick turns, and was actually running back towards him when he found her. Then she turned at right angles to him again, down a short road. There was a fence with a gate at the end of the road, and she was clearly trying to get out of sight and to hide. He was able to get up to a corner that could look down on the gate, as she hit the gate at a full run. And bounced. The gate was closed. She quickly worked the latch, apparently it wasn’t locked, but still couldn’t force the gate. From his perspective, Kaolin could see that there was a bar across the gate, forming a primitive lock. He stared at the bar, trying to figure out if there was a way to move it, remove it. The center path flared in his mind, then sputtered as one of the Principles flowed past. Grabbing the Principle and using it with the right path, he flung an Effect at the bar and felt his magic flow through him. As if struck by some giant’s baseball bat, the bar thrust through its brackets and crashed down several feet away.
As the girl jumped to her feet and flung herself at the gate again, it opened, and Kaolin felt the left path shiver, and thin in his mind. She burst into the yard, some kind of nursery, full of plants in pots, and shelves of hand tools. The girl turned, and closed the gate, then slowly faded back into the depths of the plant life. She tucked herself in between a few trees, trying to fold down between the buckets. Her heaving sides slowed as she tried to quiet her breath.
From his high vantage point, Kaolin could see that there was another opening to the nursery yard, and that Rich Boy had come in through the unlocked gate. He wasn’t going to step on her, but as he passed he would have easy sight of her. The buckets and trees shielded her from sight in 2 directions, but not the one closest to the wannabe. Kaolin considered the Paths, and the Principles, and this time it was easier to make the Effect. This principle was familiar to him somehow, and shaping the Effect with it was easier. Kaolin bent the light around the girl, weaving light and shadow to prevent the wannabe from finding her.
Slowly the wannabe wandered through the yard, stopping now and then to beat at plants, or peer into darker corners. Kaolin watched him intently, not trusting the spell he was sustaining on the teen. “Hey!” the loud shout startled Kaolin. He hadn’t heard the leader of the wannabes walking up to the far gate. “What are you doing? Forget about here, Talon want’s us,” he continued. With a wave of his arm, he summoned Rich Boy, and then left into the darkness.
Kaolin crouched on the corner of the building. In his mind the right hand Path shone, strong and true. The middle path was a mere wisp, nearly gone, and the left path pulsed and shifted. A soft noise from the nursery drew his attention back to the girl. He saw her sprawled on the ground. Then he noticed the pool of blood seeping out from beneath her. That stupid Rich Boy with his pistol had hit her.
Kaolin never remembered getting down off the building. The next thing he was aware of was kneeling beside the girl. He muttered curse at himself as he checked her over for wounds. It looked like the bullet had grazed her, making a long cut along her ribs. He regretted that he had been putting off getting a med kit. He’d have to talk to Duck Tape when he got back about where to get one. And maybe some lessons on how to use it. The he set those thoughts aside and concentrated on how to help the girl. He thought about how some plants were good for medicine, but that was also an aspect he hadn’t learned much about. The only other options that came to mind were calling in a Doc, or maybe he’d pull off another miracle. He was well aware that you don’t just create spells out of nothing. But he’d done it three times now. Maybe a fourth?
He reached into his mind. The Paths were fading, and the Principles were slipping aside from him. He concentrated, so far he’d only used the right hand path, if he let go of the other two, would that make the third strong enough to help? Worried that the girl would die in front of him, he let the two go, and new in doing so that this would be forever. Fine. If it saved the kid, it would be worth it. Of the principles, two still were present enough to concentrate on. He let the rest go, and concentrated on holding the two remaining. The two seemed somehow opposed, but not. He looked at the girl, and tried to think of the Effect he needed. It was a more general need, but still very specific. Healing, it only applied to living things, not to, say, cars. It needed pulse, and flesh, and life to stitch. As he considered the Effect, he saw how it’s need called to the Principle, and that, even as the Principle shaped the Effect, the Effect mandated the Principle. He set the remaining Path to the Principle, and started to cast the Effect. It was a long casting, taking a lot of time, and a lot of magic flowed through Kaolin. Finally, he finished with a touch to the girls shoulder. She gasped and drew in a deep breath, then settled into a normal rhythm. He checked her pulse, it was hard to find, but regular when he found it.
Kaolin slumped to the ground, exhausted, but happy. The girl was going to be fine. After a bit of rest, he was strong enough to consider how to get out of there, and how to get the girl back to her people. A quick dip into the hated AR, revealed that they had gone in a big circle. They were only about 5 blocks from the park where the concert had been. Kaolin lifted the girl up in his arms and carried her back.
The concert was winding up and staff on the edges had started to clean up in preparation for leaving. He tucked the girl in some nearby bushes, then subtly pointed out the girl to one of the audience. As the audience member ran off to get staff, he faded away, collected his bike and headed out. He worked his way out of town and to a nearby hillside and set up camp. He wanted some solitude while he practiced the 4 new spells, and made sure he had them solid. It was a good thing he had those scrolls with him that he’d gotten from SK, maybe they’d make more sense now.
As he watched the last bits of sunset fade into the ocean, he wondered, felt one last Principle rattling around in his head, waiting to come out. It was there, he felt it. He just wasn’t skilled enough to bring it forth.