Chapter 7: Forbidden knowledge
Lyssana awoke from a dreamless sleep. Moonlight filtered into her room through a crack in the heavy curtains and she stared at the light in silence. The Corpegara were not awake yet, so she rolled over to look up at the stars. An unfamiliar feeling of melancholy washed through her, as they were so different from the night lights she had used to navigate the islands. Then she remembered the pain of her stay and it fell away with the crash of reality.
Sunrise was a few hours off yet and she tried to fall back asleep, but her mind was racing over what knowledge Cavit could possibly know and why he was willing to share it with her. What would be his price? Instead of sleeping she got out of bed to start her morning. A few hours of meditation would give her the ability to collect herself before the meeting.
Centered was her being and balanced was the energy that flowed within her. Her mind was blank and free of all worries. She was the magma that flowed through the veins of the earth. She was the lightning that crackled in the sky. She was one with the energy inside her body and with the air around her.
She could feel the warmth of the sun before it had even begun rising over the horizon and when she opened her eyes, the sky was only a shade lighter than hours before. She rose from her kneeling position and stretched her arms over head to open the wardrobe. Clothed in an orange silk dress, she opened the doors of her room and started her day.
Cavit was waiting for her when she arrived behind the courthouse, despite it being a half hour to full sunrise. “You’re early.” She stated, mildly irritated she was not the first to arrive.
“I always am.” His voice was as steady as her own, though he threw in a smile to warm it up. “I hope this place you told me about is as secure as possible, we’re going to need to keep everything I tell you today a secret. You need to swear you won’t tell a soul.”
“I swear it.”
They walked in silence as she led him through the outskirts of Istima, navigating through the rocky alcoves of the floating island. The static energy of the Storm Sea grew more erratic as they drew close and she could tell Cavit was growing more nervous. “Don’t worry, we aren’t going into the clouds, only just to the edge of them.”
“I’m not worried, just curious as to how you found this place?” His voice rose slightly and she pursed her lips at the tone.
“I stumbled upon it my first week here.” It was not a lie, and it was all the answer he would get until she got some answers of her own. The energy in the air vibrated as she began to descend the steps to the cave below, and the chill grey clouds enveloped her as she scaled the stair. Once her foot hit the platform to the cave entrance she stepped aside to let Cavit join her, though she had to pull him into the alcove as he must not have seen it and nearly continued past her to gloomy oblivion. “This is it.” She stated flatly, leading him into the darkening fog.
“What is this place?” His voice was little more than a whisper as they continued forward and she offered him a shrug.
“Istima is full of hidden places to study and practice. You just have to know where to look.” The sun could have been completely overhead and they would have never known, as the light penetrating through the clouds quickly dimmed until Lyssana had to produce a bright flame to light the tunnel. Cavit quickly followed suit and strained his eyes to look ahead, almost eagerly.
She offered a smile as he looked around with wide eyes. She let her flame wink out of existence and gestured to him to follow suit. They stood in complete darkness before the pinprick lights along the ceiling began to glow like an underground constellation.
The table Neal had made during their previous visit was still in the middle of the floor at the edge of the pool and she placed her satchel on the ground beside it, eager to begin learning. “So what knowledge is so secret that we had to go to the underground heart of Istima to discuss?”
Cavit took a deep breath and sat on the ground in front of her, pulling out notebooks from his own satchel and placing them in a pile. “This is going to be complex, so I’ll need you to let me know if I lose you at any point along the way, okay.” She nodded and he continued, handing her a notebook that looked ancient. The pages were yellowed with age and a flowing script labeled an illustration of a vague humanoid outline and what looked like two reflections of that outline slightly overlayed. Each layer was labeled as follows:
Layer One: The innermost layer of an elemental magical being, the Acrocor, is the most primal base of magical energy. This energy defines the individual from birth, resonating with the elements around them from the moment they enter the world. It is the base of their identity and cannot be altered.
Layer Two: The second layer is the physical body. This is the protective layer to keep the Acrocor safe from elemental damage as the mage grows and matures. The physical body can be altered, as it can manifest from the energy of the Acrocor.
Layer Three: The outermost layer is the Aura. The Aura is a reflection of the Acrocor, seen as the energy passes through the body. Many mages see only a mirage of an Aura, as it appears to be a nimbus of color surrounding an individual. The intensity of the Aura is directly related to the energy capacity of the Acrocor.
She took all the information in, eyes scanning over the image and rereading the notes over until the knowledge was ingrained in her mind before handing it back. “Why have I never heard these terms before? If these are notes related to elemental mages, shouldn’t it be common knowledge?” She was more confused now that she had been when she knew nothing.
“I agree with you, the basics of this drawing should be common knowledge to elementalists, and there are some that speak of the glowing nimbus of color they see around others when they are at their most powerful, but there’s a reason this knowledge is forbidden. Apparently, it is possible to remove the Acrocor from another mage and take it for yourself.” He paused to let the words sink in before continuing. “Now, if the Acrocor is the origin of elemental magic, then this means the mage that steals the Acrocor from another can now have access and be proficient in multiple elements. It also means the mage that had their Acrocor stolen can no longer manipulate any element.”
She listened intently and felt her face reflect the horror growing in her stomach. “So you’re saying it’s possible to steal another elementalists magic. Against their will? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is this a joke you’re playing because you think it’s funny to make fun of the new student?” Anger flared in her chest and she glared at him, fists clenching at her side.
“No, I swear this is the truth!” Cavit put his hands up defensively and his eyes pleaded for her to listen. “That’s the reason this knowledge is forbidden, because stealing another’s Acrocor is beyond illegal, it’s barbaric. To strip a mage of everything that makes them who they are, it would take a monster to do that. Don’t you see? If anyone had the knowledge to identify and steal an Acrocor, they would be unstoppable.”
She allowed herself to calm down at his rise of emotion, but the pit of horror in her stomach did not subside. “But…wouldn’t the body have a limit to the amount of energy it could hold before it just…burned up?” She was at a loss for how to explain her thoughts in an eloquent manner, but Cavit didn’t seem to mind.
“And that’s what a lot of ancient mages believed was Ascension. One’s very soul becoming so powerful it could only exist on the plane of energy. They would shed their bodies and exist at a higher level. Of course it was at the cost of countless lives, but they didn’t care.”
They stared at each other in silence while Lyssana processed everything. To kill countless beings for the personal hope of living as energy was something she could not even fathom. “Is all this in these notebooks?” She would want to read them all several times.
“Yes. This is what I’ve been able to gather in all my time at Istima. This is what I came to this school to learn about. I know there are mages out there with this ability and I want to know how to stop them.”
For the first time, she looked into his eyes and saw conviction, and she believed him. How easy it would be to lie about the use of this knowledge. He could have been wanting to learn so he could collect the Acrocors himself, but in that moment she did not think he was lying.
“I think I will help you gather more knowledge.” She spoke slowly, her words precise as she watched his reaction. “This issue is bigger than us, bigger than Istima. It’s something that could affect mages all over the world if it got out. We can be keepers of this knowledge and hopefully find a way to keep it out of the wrong hands.” Cavit looked like he was about to cry.
“You have no idea the relief I feel to hear you say that. I knew you would be the person I could trust to help me with this. Here,” he handed her the stack of books at his feet. “You’ll need to study everything here before we can continue. Just make sure no one ever sees the content of these books, or we may both die for simply possessing the knowledge. It’s been stripped from the libraries. Every time I got close to finding something about it, the pages would be missing from a book, or the book wouldn’t exist at all. This knowledge is being covered up and I don’t think I want to find out what would happen if we got caught.”
She nodded agreement before stashing the notes in her bag. “I’ll read these this week and we can meet here again next weekend to figure out how to move forward.” He agreed and they went their separate ways. Cavit left the cave first and she gave him to the count of one hundred before following to avoid any possible suspicion of them being seen exiting the cloud line together. Not that she believed anyone would be looking at the cloud line, but paranoia settled heavily over rationality.
A quiet knock at the door drew her attention from the kitchen and she greeted Abby and Neal with a welcoming gesture. They entered apprehensively, eyes wide as they tried to take everything in at once. “I feel like you’ve been holding out on us.” Neal whispered as his hands ran over the silk pillows in the foyer. He threw himself into one of the large chairs facing the fireplace and grinned in awe. “Okay, I could get used to this!”
“Please make yourself at home. Dinner will be ready shortly.” She stepped back into the kitchen and could hear hushed conversation from around the corner. She remembered her first impression of the room and chuckled at the look of shock that had been across their faces. A few minutes later they shuffled into the kitchen and Abby screamed as Sarpia lifted her head to the newcomers.
“What is that thing?!” Her hand pointed to the corner where Halvard now stood at alert, awoken by the scream. “Oh my, there’s two of them!”
“Didn’t you know it’s rude to yell at your hosts’ pets?” Lyssana murmured dryly, whistling the Corpegara to her and handing them each a large bone. They chirped happily and ran past her guests to their favorite spot on the balcony. “They are Corpegara and they protect my home when I’m away. The smaller is Sarpia and the larger is Halvard. They are completely harmless. To you at least.” She did not look up from her final food preparations as she spoke, but she could see the look of fear on Abby’s face turn to curiosity and back to an apprehension.
“Okay, it’s settled. I want to live here so bad.” Neal was watching the two creatures gnaw on their treats and shook his head in acceptance. “I’ve never heard of them, where do you buy them? A little extra security sounds like a pretty good idea.”
“They just followed me home one day.” Lyssana shrugged as she laid the fish she had been preparing in the center of the dining table built against the low joining wall of the kitchen and living area. Plates had already been set out and a bowl of leafy green vegetables mixed with a type of pasta cooled in it. “What would you both like to drink? I have water, wine and mead.”
“Wine for me please.” Abby gave one more glance at the Corpegara before turning back to the kitchen.
“I’ll be bold for once and go for the mead.” Neal threw Lyssana a charming grin that she pointedly ignored.
Abby snorted, “For once? You’re over the top all the time!” Neal threw her a faux look of hurt and she stuck her tongue out at him. Lyssana rolled her eyes while her back was turned, almost regretting the decision to offer them alcohol.
Lyssana put the glasses next to settings at the table and gestured for her guests to sit and serve themselves. She allowed them to dish their food first before serving herself. Neal laughed at the disgusted look on Abby’s face as she tried the wine and he offered her a sip of his mead, which she seemed to like better and got up to pour herself a glass. She passed the wine to Lyssana who enjoyed the robust red and chuckled at Abby’s look of dismay. “On the islands where I grew up, we made a drink from the Panat fruit, which has a very strong flavor, so I guess I enjoy full bodied wines.”
“Damn,” Neal chuckled, “I think that’s the most you’ve opened up since we’ve known you! My turn!” He drained his glass and slammed it down dramatically. “Hi everyone, my name is Neal and I’m just really down to earth. I just feel like I have a pretty grounded spirit. The ladies say I’m rock-hard.” He stopped abruptly, staring at the table in embarrassment. Abby spit out some of her mead in shock.
“Okay, that was too far and I apologize.”
Lyssana laughed, which brought looks of shock to her guests faces. “We should all get together and have mead more often!” Neal beamed, his transgression already forgotten.
Lyssana watched as her guests conversed and she chimed in when the conversation allowed her to be polite. The mead did not affect her as it did the other two; her tolerance to fermented beverages was higher as it had been an integral part of the Saakaran lifestyle.
This was not as bad as she had imagined it would be – having guests in her home and conversing with them. The Corpegara joined shortly after the three humans had finished eating and Lyssana gave them the remainder of the fish she had cooked, as she had no ice for the icebox to save the leftovers.
“So, what do your Corporegies eat other than fish and bones? And where do they poop if you live on the top floor of the tower?”
Abby laughed at his pronunciation attempt and took another swig of mead before tentatively reaching down to pet the closest to her. Sarpia was happy to receive the affection and nuzzled the hand offered.
“The Corpegara convert their food directly to energy with very little waste. Sometimes there will be calcified nuggets around the apartment if they’ve over eaten, but generally they are so efficient at converting energy that there is nothing to clean up after. And they eat just about anything, but the bones are their favorite and seem to be the best for them, so I make sure that is the majority of their diet.” She recited, remembering the book she had read nights prior.
“So what exactly are they? I’ve never seen anything like them!” Abby was now on the floor with Sarpia and Halvard both vying for her attention.
“Unfortunately there is such little known about them that I cannot give you an exact answer. There is speculation that they are simply a form of golem that evolved after they were abandoned. Or there is the theory that they were once animals that had the misfortune of being experimented on by a mage. I was able to find only one book about them and it was very little fact and more so primary speculation.”
At this point Neal had joined Abby on the floor and they each had a creature sprawled across their laps. Neal traced some of the runes along Halvard’s wing and the small Corpegara hummed in contentment. “Well whatever they are, they seem to be good company. No one should be alone at Istima, even you Lyssana. I’m sure you’ve made some enemies at the school already and it would be a shame to go unprotected.”
“Not that you can’t protect yourself!” Abby added quickly behind his words. “But I agree that they seem good companions.”
Lyssana chuckled for a second time that night and turned to look at the four beings on her floor. “A companion was most welcome and they seem to enjoy it here, so we coexist peacefully. I am glad they like you both.”
“Me too, can we do this more often so we can see them again? I think I’m starting to love them!” Abby pleaded with flushed cheeks.
“No, I think that’s just the mead talking, but then again you do love animals, so it may be both things!” Neal’s words were beginning to slur and Lyssana handed them both glasses of water in place of the mead.
“I do not mind a visit, but I’d rather you sober up enough to get home without being murdered in the street.”
“I think the Winter Court is probably the safest court at Istima. I haven’t heard of a mugging or murder happen yet.” Abby suddenly looked concerned and downed her glass of water.
“I saw a mugging in the Summer Court a few nights ago and wouldn’t put it past someone to bring that behavior to our Court. We may not have such open hostility, but I fear our mages are just as dangerous and deceitful. They may just be sneakier about it. You need to watch each other’s backs.”
“Wait, you saw a mugging? Why were you in the Summer Court?” Neal suddenly seemed skeptical and she gave him a hard look.
“Why I was there is none of your concern, just acknowledge that the danger is very real here.” Hopefully throwing him into a wall had alienated him from her and the people looking to go after Lyssana would leave the other two alone, but there was never any guarantee. “I’ve already had threats against me and I’m sure as we progress in our classes they will only get worse.”
Her tone must have been sobering because the two people on the floor looked up at her with wide eyes and Abby gulped. “Don’t worry Lyssana, we all have each other to look out for us, right?” She turned to Neal and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder in comfort.
“I don’t think either of you could get rid of me. It’s already too late to make new friends.” He smiled drunkenly at them both and Lyssana rolled her eyes.
“It’s only been two weeks. I’m sure neither of you would have any difficulty finding new companions.” She would not use the word friend. “However, I will do what I can when I am around to ensure your safety.” Abby smiled up at her and Neal looked like he was about to cry from drunken joy. “I need you for group projects and don’t want to talk to other people.” The joy fell from their faces and Abby grimaced. Neal still smiled slightly and watched her carefully.
“You pretend not to like us, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to call us your friends by the time this year comes to an end!” He beamed at her and Abby, his face flushed.
Lyssana only scoffed and rolled her eyes.
The rest of the evening passed without incident and her two companions drank another glass of mead while she was indisposed in her bathroom. She ended up giving them blankets so they could spend the night in the living room and the Corpegara snuggled between the two warm bodies on the floor. She sighed in slight irritation before going to bed and closing her door
Still, she made a mental note to buy a plush carpet and more pillows at her next trip to market in case they needed to sleep at her apartment in the future. But they were not her friends.