The Bright Children, Chapter 4-4, “Lessons”

Aphella lost her sense of space. Vertigo threatened to empty her stomach for her, and her true vision came roaring back. The room flickered into reality. Grey stone, colored vessels on bronze fittings, and the cool face of Shaenyll spun by, blurry and yet harsh in their clarity. She looked at stone that was familiar and yet strange. Shaenyll’s face filled her frame of sight.

“Exhale. Breathe out, Aphella.” The teacher’s voice was soft, almost gentle, and yet there was an urgency behind it; a quaver that might have been anger or even fear.

Aphella complied, and found herself unable to relax her diaphragm and the muscles of her ribs. Her breath fled from her lips slowly, bringing forth hazy light that blurred to white the scene around her. Slowly, almost as slowly as her breath left, the perception of pain and cold entered her.

“That’s it, just relax,” Shaenyll said.

She placed her hand on Aphella’s chest, and Aphella realized that she was lying on the cold stone floor of the chronarium. The back of her head began to throb, the pain increasing with each heartbeat and the passing of air. She felt a pang in her chest, as if she had taken a blow to her stomach that had knocked the wind out of her. She inhaled sharply. The pain intensified, but she no longer felt as if she was drowning. The field of what fog above her blew away like smoke, wisps curling around the beams of the ceiling.

“What happened?” Aphella’s voice creaked and scraped, and felt dry as sand.

“Just try to relax a moment,” Shaenyll said. “You… fell down. You shouldn’t have tried to incant and hold onto so much magic.” Shaenyll frowned. “What on earth were you trying to do?”

“I… was trying to feel the connection. In… whatever the empty space out there was. I was just…” Aphella took a breath. “I don’t know what I was doing.”

“It almost looked like you were pulling the light of the chronolathe into yourself. Drinking it, for lack of better description, as if such a thing were possible.” Shaenyll’s frown deepened.

Aphella, feeling release in her breath while the throbbing in her head took over, pushed herself up to her elbows and peered over to the chronolathe. The white sphere glowed as it had before, though next to its blue and pink neighbors it seemed muted. The room as a whole appeared dimmer somehow. Whether it was her eyes adjusting, comparing the infinite glow of the light rivers in the void to soft reality, or the sphere had really dimmed, she could not say.

“My head hurts,” Aphella said, moving into a sitting position and rubbing the back of her skull. A bump was already forming there.

“I daresay it does,” Shaenyll said, in a more familiar harsh tone. The time keeper had moved beside the chronolathe, her old, bright eyes searching over the twisting copper gears and searching the spheres of magic. She did not turn when she spoke speak. “Often you are too headstrong; too willing to push yourself. This time though I can take part of the blame. I should have prepared you better, though I did not expect this. In the future, be cautious of that which is new. Even seemingly stable and innocuous leys may hold hidden danger.” She said the last part almost to herself.

“My head doesn’t feel very strong right now,” Aphella said, moving to stand next to her teacher. “I feel like a thousand bells just went off in my head.”

Shaenyll cracked a smile and looked at her. “I will heal it for you. After, of course, you have had enough of a headache to remember the lesson.”

Aphella started, her shoulders hunching almost on their own, as a feeling was added to the headache. A tingling, or a sudden feeling of discomfort, that seemed to tickle her from the nape of her neck down her spine. She shook her arms and grunted and then looked up to see Shaenyll’s face staring grimly at her, the elder’s glowing focus readied in her hands.

“You felt it, then,” Shaenyll said.

“What was that?”

“The warding in the hallway has been snapped. A thief approaches.”

“A thief?” Aphella moved quickly to seize up her spear, and breathed into it a heated light.

“Or a fool. Both, most likely.”

“One of the caravaners.”

“We shall see. Come over here, Aphella.” Shaenyll grabbed Aphella’s wrist firmly and pulled her toward the far edge of the room. “I’m going to cast a spell and weave a pattern that you should not speak about outside of this room. Do you understand?” Aphella nodded. “Good, now stand still between these portals. I’m going to conceal us. You must stand very still, or the illusion will not hold.”

Shaenyll flicked her wrist, and Aphella felt a burst of energy, though she saw nothing. Her skin prickled and bumped. She looked to her right and was surprised to see her teacher gone. In her place was… Aphella found herself looking out the window, then at the floor. Then the chronolathe, and the ceiling. She took in the images, but each one seemed to catch her unaware. Why was she looking at the ceiling?

“It is done,” Shaenyll said. “Now quiet. This weaving distorts the perception of sight, but not sound.” Aphella thought she caught a sight of her near at hand, but found herself once again curiously looking at the window.

Aphella acknowledged the request by fulfilling it, letting the gentle purr of the chronolathe fill in the silence. Slightly beneath the sound was a faint hum, almost a resonance, that was felt rather than heard. I suppose that’s the weaving, Aphella thought to herself, taking deep, slow breaths.

Footsteps became audible among the soft noise. Aphella froze herself still, gripping tightly her spear, which had leaked out her previous incantation and stood dull and smooth. She had to make a conscious effort not to breathe light into it for fear of breaking Shaenyll’s illusion. The footfall grew louder, and the echoes of them grew closer together. Whoever had tripped Hamon’s ward was now walking up the stairs.

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