Chapter 6:

6

Wistful Dandelion


Like most technical systems, a learning process is usually involved to introduce new ideas. A series of steps designed to integrate the known with unknown. The buffer between chaos and order.

But the word process attempts to describe an environment as easily distilled into certain movements. Plenty of magicians have found results through their own ideas, one of the reasons why it is so captivating. Anything can be done and no single solution exists for a given problem.

At least, that's what I'd like to say to justify myself right now.

"No Max, for the third time, you cannot mismatch the reagents like that! Please, treat the process with more respect."

Silence grips the class as the students turn to witness the current spectacle. A few muffled laughs poorly disguised as coughs emanate throughout the room.

"I'm sorry sir, I'll be more careful next time."

He turns around, perusing the progress of his other pupils. But not before I catch him shake his head in disappointment.

I let out a deep sigh, wondering how things ever got to this point.

It's no secret within the magical community that I was tapped by the Magician's Convocation as having "extraordinary potential". At the time, the news spread around town as though a savior were born. To be stifled at such an intermediate level leaves everyone involved with a bitter taste.

"You really are worthless when it comes to these things, huh? The water a bit too heavy for you?"

"…"

I turn my head to confirm the body whose voice just spoke. Unsurprisingly it's Gene, one of the students who tried poorly to disguise his laughter earlier. He's the kind of person that would be better served with two mouths and one ear. Just the other day I heard him shamelessly flaunts his superiority to the other students, and he seems to take special interest in reaffirming this to myself.

Gene walks over and examines my work. I can't help but be slightly embarrassed as he analyzes the results. 

"The water rushes through and reaches out, but hears no response. It continues to call as it was taught to do, but again, no reply. Confused, it returns to its default state and awaits further instruction."

He frowns after scanning the results and looks sharply over my way, while simultaneously pointing in one smooth motion. I return his gaze with as much confidence that I can muster.

"Again with the failed Septin call. It's like the teacher said, you can't match the patterns consciously. It needs to flow through the unconscious mind to smooth the transition."

I grit my teeth at his explanation and turn that frustrated energy into an unsightly grin.

"I'm aware of my own faults Gene, perhaps instead of pointing them out you can provide advice at what I can do about it?

Shocked at my rebuttal and strange expression, he counters with his own retort.

"This is just a simple exercise in manipulating water, there's no advice to be given. It's like asking me how to walk. Need I remind you that our work here will eventually be carried out in the ongoing war?"Bookmark here

Hmm, this could be a dangerous. I better not let my emotions take contr-

"SHUT UP."

"I was just trying to-"

"SHUT UP. DON'T TALK TO ME YOU &*#*$*%# ONE DA^$ YI WI-L-LL~~@#$. I SWEE#$$%R~!! #$*%&#*$*@ FAXXCFG@&#& !!! - - - . xx... .... "Bookmark here

Oops. Guess it felt too good ranting that out. I'll probably pay for that later. Only silence and a few stunned glances are cast my way. A soft sigh can be heard in the background.

Well after that mindless reply, the only recourse is retreat. I rush out the room and slam the wooden door on the way out. Bookmark here

Pausing for a few seconds to recollect myself, I decide to head to the bathroom to think in isolation. After a minutes walk and sitting down on the toilet, my head immediately feels clearer. My emotions and thoughts flood through without distraction.Bookmark here

...

I hate it. 

I hate this weakness that I've developed recently. I've never had the type of personality that could easily blend in others, but I always took some pride in my magical abilitie. But now, even that is seeming to fail me. An identity built on such a frail foundation that is beginning to collapse. An abyss waiting for the right moment to devour me from underneath.Bookmark here

...No. I can't think like that. It's too alluring to sink into that spiral of depression. For now, I need to separate the what from the why.Bookmark here

Looking back at the situation, it's likely that Gene's right. I can admit that now that I'm alone. The task itself was fairly simple: make the water flow through the dirt path and elevate it to the directed location. I wasn't paying too much attention to my peers, but they all seemed to grasp the idea intuitively. If I can't do this, there must be something fundamentally wrong with my understanding. There's no way I'll be productive like this on the battlefield.

But am I really so hopeless? I swear that at one point I was able to perform a simple manipulation task like this. I can't remember when this became so difficult. Maybe the concept of war and its consequences are finally starting to settle in my mind? I suppose the idea of practicing in a risk-free school environment to be carried onto a battlefield does create some dissonance in me. Particularly at the thought of murder.

Come to think of it, why did I even choose to specialize in magical warfare?

It was only a few months ago that it happened. Sure, I've been exposed to the magical realm since I was young, but it's well known that this profession doesn't attract the kindest of people and was ruthless in its exploration. Many a mage have been willing to throw away their humanity in their obsession. I don't at all consider my personality a fit for this type of work. Was it simply because I was told that my talents lied there?Bookmark here

I try to remember my initial motivations but am unable to do so. All these questions and not enough reasonable answers for them. Guess I'll leave the soul-searching for another time. Bookmark here

Knock Knock.

"Max, are you in there?"

I stay silent momentarily, not having the energy to reply.

Knock Knock.

"Come on out, let's talk."

I see my friend Lila with consoling eyes as I open the door. Classes are still in session but she still took the time to check on my well-being.

Without needing any words, we walk towards a bench outside the academy and sit down. I lean my head on her shoulder as she softly strokes my hair. I immediately become more relaxed and feel a tingling sensation run down my spine.Bookmark here

"You've been acting strangely lately Max. Has there been anything that's troubled you recently?"

She pulls me by my shoulders and stares hesitantly into my eyes as she says this. I look away, wanting to avoid any direct confrontation at the moment.

I let out another sigh and try to condense my thoughts into conversational form.

"I don't understand."

"Don't understand wh-?"

"I don't understand why magic became so difficult for me. I know that I have the ability to produce results. But now it feels like there's a haze that blocking me from formulating any coherent instructions."Bookmark here

I look back at Lila, but this time she's the one withdrawing. She pulls her arms away and stares at the ground for a few seconds in thought. I fix my posture and lean slightly on the bench handlebars.

"Hmm, what you're describing sounds a lot like the symptoms of magical dysphoria. It's uncommon, but not unheard of."Bookmark here

"Magical dysphoria?"Bookmark here

"Yeah. It's like when you start to question the reasoning behind your actions, a certain lethargy that washes over you and inhibits productive behaviors. Sort of like..."

She trails off her sentence and pauses awkwardly, I look at her blankly, cueing her to further elaborate.

"...Like whenever you use your brain for anything, there's always points where you just run out of steam? It's only natural for that to happen in something as demanding as magic! Something that requires such a deep level of focus can't allow for any inconsistencies in thought."Bookmark here

"That... makes sense."

"It happens to me occasionally, but I have my own reasons for it. Usually trying to explain what's going on to multiple people helps me. But- aah, I guess that won't be as effective for you."

She's right. She already knows that I don't usually like to talk to people about my own problems. Lila is one of the few people I trust and respect enough to have this kind of conversation with. Someone who I can share silence and deep thoughts with. 

"...How about I come visit your place later tonight? It's been a while since I've seen your parents. We can go over what's causing your mental block together."Bookmark here

"Are you sure it wouldn't be a bother? I don't want to trouble you."

"Not at all! It's always a pleasure to visit. Ooh, I also want to see--"

I turn to look at her when she suddenly stopped talking. Her eyes slightly widen and she's covering her mouth with both hands.

She gives me a sheepish smile, assuring me that nothing is wrong.

"Aah-- I want to see what's changed in your house! It's been a few months since I last visited. I know you guys like to change the place around a lot."

".…I guess we do. Anyways, I'll let mother know you're coming. She's always happy to see you."Bookmark here

"Great! It's settled then."

I accepted her offer as I had no reason not to. Truth be told I wasn't sure if anything useful was going to come of it. I've never experienced a "mental block" before, but I guess there's a first time for everything. I know she really does want to help though, so I appreciate the gesture.

Who knows, she is the daughter of one of the prestigious members of the Magician's Convocation and a top student at the academy. These two things alone are probably far better equipped to solve problems then just myself.

Ahh, but I can't get too hopeful. I've been in this rut for a few months now, so time is probably not going to solve this one. I've always believed in my ability to objectively consider circumstances, but in this case, that mindset hasn't helped at all. The issue doesn't seem to be the type of problem that responds to reasoning. I feel something deep within me that is rejecting my current reality. I'll need to think outside the box for this one.

As I'm trailing this line of thought, the noon church bell toils and gives me a start, causing me to bang my arm against the bench. This doesn't go unnoticed.Bookmark here

"Pfft."

"…?"

"Nothing. I was just thinking. At least we know your reactions aren't the issue."

She then starts laughing at her own joke. Haha, very funny. After a while though, her contagious laughter breaks my foggy mood and I can't help but chuckle along with her.

"Hey.…well, I'm going to start heading back. I don't want to miss anything new happening. Got a reputation to maintain and all."Bookmark here

"Got it. Thanks for coming along to check up on me. It means a lot, really."

"Of course! You know I've got your back. Just promise me you won't get into any more trouble today, mkay?"

"Sure, sure."

She gets up from the bench, dusting off her pants and gives me a reassuring smile before heading back inside.

I delay my return as long as possible, wanting to only arrive at the very last minute. While I don’t want to neglect my studies, I'm seriously not in the mood to dedicate any mental energy to something as difficult as magic right now. Bookmark here

Ahh if only I could go back to the good ol' days where I didn't have any worries or responsibilities. Like my sister right now. I need to remind that brat how lucky she has it.

I suddenly get dizzy after thinking and decide I need to get up to exercise my body, then head back. It wouldn't do for anyone else to worry even more about my current circumstances. Certainly my time with Lila was enough dependence for one day.Bookmark here

But as I'm heading back inside the building, I think back to my conversation with her and wonder,

Didn't she seem kind of sad?Bookmark here

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