Crossing the bottom of the col, Swenga recognized the Patterns straight away. Time had not dulled the memory of faint geometric colours which now moved all around her, forming and reforming on the icy rocks. Her journey must be nearly over.
Moments later she spotted a door set into the mountainside, and it opened as she approached, revealing a tall figure silhouetted in firelight.
Custom dictated that the visitor should speak first.
“The blessings of the village to you, Joy.”
“Swenga!” responded the tall figure warmly. “A pleasant surprise indeed!”
“You remember me.”
“We fought together.”
“In our own ways perhaps, but that we certainly did.”
“A warrior seldom forgets her companions in battle. How is life on the plains?”
“Better than you’ve ever known it. We’ve had no invasion in four years, now.”
“Do you fear they’ll come back?”
“I guess that’s partly why I’m here.”
Joy nodded, slowly.
“But I am being rude! You must come inside.”
After days of travel, any shelter at all would have sufficed – yet the cave dwelling substantially exceeded that requirement. A bright fire burned in the corner; oil lamps flickered on the wooden walls. Joy had transformed the isolated cave into something you could almost call an ordinary home: ordinary, that was, apart from the occupant.
Jo spoke again.
“When we last parted ways, I offered to teach you the magical arts. But it would take time, many moons. Have you long enough?”
Joy returned Swenga’s gaze.
“Desire to help your people is laudable, but it may not be enough.”
“Invasions or none, I’d still want to be here.”
“I stand by my offer, then. I think you’ll make a good apprentice.”
Swenga awoke in sunlight. She hadn’t noticed the windows in the dark of the previous night, but now she sat up to a view of mountains glowing yellow in morning rays. They defied her sense of scale. Often when Swenga travelled, she liked to envisage familiar landmarks in front of the unfamiliar: the temple in the village dwarfed by the spires of the Faith in town; those spires in turn tiny compared to the foothills of the mountains. But how many times would those hills have to be stacked atop one another to equal this lofty summit? That, she could not say.
“I suppose we’d better begin” said Joy, once they had finished a leisurely breakfast. “But where to start?”
Swenga waited expectantly for the answer to this rhetorical question, yet silence prevailed, and as time passed, the awkwardness grew. “Perhaps some basic spells?” she prompted. But Joy hummed quietly to herself a while longer, before suddenly seeming to make up her mind.
“Do you know the Capture Game?”
“The one children play with stones on a board?”
“Surely such things are a little simple for a wizard?”
“Nothing is too simple for a wizard. And besides, we’re not going to play the game. The game, under our direction, will play itself.”
Joy produced a board and some stones, and set them out in the opening position. “I’ll take the rough stones, you the smooth”. She advanced her first stone into a position of offence.
“Now, how would you respond to that?”
Swenga made the obvious response by moving one of her stones sideways to dodge the attack.
“Fine. You understand the game. Now tell me, what if I had moved my first stone here instead?”
“Then I’d have moved mine there, to defend.”
“Very well. So let’s teach these stones the rules.” Joy produced an ebony box, plain except for a light coloured panel on its lid. “Put that one in here”. She picked up a small stick of charcoal, and proceeded to draw – inscribing the positions of the stones on the board, directly onto the top of the box. She finished her picture with a cross to mark the correct move for Swenga’s stone. Swenga watched with fascination as the inscription glowed brightly for an instant, then disappeared completely.
Joy opened the box and replaced the stone on the board. The stone seemed to sense its surroundings, and propelled by an unseen force, slid itself immediately into the correct position.
“What is the source of this?”
“The box itself. But all we need know is that it works.”
Curious, Swenga pushed another stone forwards, to see how the enchanted stone would respond – but nothing happened.
“We have only taught it one move, remember. Now, it is up to you to teach the rest.”
“I can use the box and quill as you did?”
“Just as I did. It works for anyone.”
Swenga set to drawing.
It turned out not to be so easy.
One by one, she started enchanting stones by placing them in the box, drawing pictures to illustrate all the possible situations that might occur: if a stone is here, and another stone is here, then go here; conversely if the stone is there, and another is there, then go elsewhere. But she soon realised there were thousands upon thousands of possibilities to account for.
Intelligent laziness was one of Swenga’s virtues, so, lacking patience for a tedious task, she stopped to think how she might do it better.
“How can I tell the box that stones always move diagonally?”
“What does ‘diagonal’ mean?” responded the wizard.
“That you can only move to squares that touch your own at the corners, not those that touch at the side.”
“Draw a stone and the surrounding squares, then, but not the rest of the board. Put a cross on the places where it may go. And write ‘diagonal’ by it.”
Swenga did so, and her drawing flashed and disappeared.
“You have given the meaning you desired to the word ‘diagonal’. Whenever you describe another move, you may use it.”
“Didn’t ‘diagonal’ mean something already?”
“Not to the stones and the box.”
“So I could have used any word at all to describe those squares. Like ‘escape’, or ‘freedom’?”
“You could. But why, when you already call this relationship ‘diagonal’?”
Swenga had to teach the stones many other meanings. She often found that, although she knew exactly what she meant by a given thing, she struggled to express it in diagrams as Joy had showed her. Even within the confines of a simple children’s game, her diagrams would often be misinterpreted. Yet she could sense a certain underlying logic, and somehow felt that the blame for any mistakes lay with her, not the magic. Expressing her own thoughts precisely, without leaving any room for confusion, was hard; but once she had done so, the game was simpler to explain. “Diagonal” was followed by “jump”, “approach” and of course “capture” – the last two being harder as they could not be described until the stones understood the meaning of “player” and “turn”.
Six hours later–Swenga had hardly noticed the time go by–she proudly set out all the stones in front of Joy, and invited her to move a stone. Joy moved the stone on her front left, threatening a capture; Swenga watched—pleased–as her own stone responded by moving itself diagonally to the edge of the board. That was, however, as far as the game went, for the stone didn’t stop at the board’s edge. Instead, carried by an unseen force, it slid onwards, pushing aside Joy’s drinking cup, and continuing rapidly in the same direction! Yet a moment before it seemed certain to break some tableware, the stone seemed to lose intent and abruptly stopped.
Swenga turned back to face Joy.
“You forgot the edge of the board”, she said.
“What do you mean, I forgot the edge? Of course no stone should leave the board.”
“You know that. The stones don’t.”
By the following day, Swenga had finally succeeded in making the game play itself, as Joy had asked. Joy was pleased.
“Enough. You have done well.”
“These stones play as well as a child of seven years, now.”
“But are they as alive as a child of seven?”
Swenga paused for thought.
“No, because they follow only the rules I described.”
“Exactly. All magic, at least all I have ever known, shares something in common with our own thoughts – but it doesn’t share the thoughts themselves. It knows only what it is taught.”
The next day Joy said they needed to fetch food and water. Together, they walked down from the cave to the forest through which Swenga had arrived. Snow-capped peaks shone in the midday sun.
“It’s good to have some company for once”, said Joy. “But you’ll be here a while – will you not miss your home?”
“I don’t feel like I belong there any more. My parents live with my uncle now, since his farm was raided. I don’t get on with him, though.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. All of it, I mean: for one thing it sounds like your uncle should do more to make you welcome.”
“It’s ok”, said Swenga. “Maybe it was time for me to find my own path in the world. I’ll see my family again, though it’s strange to think how much might change beforehand.”
Joy paused. “There were invasions after I left, though. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help.”
“You can’t be everywhere at once.”
They came upon a group of trees carrying fruit. Swenga climbed up to retrieve some, but as she reached the top, noticed that Joy had already collected several pieces without leaving the ground. She watched as Joy reached her hand towards each tree in turn, made plucking motions at the air – and the fruits above detached themselves from the trees and fell to Joy’s satchel.
Swenga laughed, and returned to the ground.
“I should have known better. Is this another lesson?”
“Look closely. Do you see anything?”
Although she had first presumed the force to be invisible, Swenga saw she was wrong, for the trees were covered by Patterns. She took a sharp inward breath. In bright sunlight they were faint and harder to spot than in in the gloom of the first evening, but no less beautiful. And Joy controlled them! When she reached for something, they seemed to concentrate slightly around it.
Joy removed a pendant from around her neck and gave it to Swenga, who examined it cautiously. The front was plain and amber in colour. On the surface, the Patterns flowed. The rear was inscribed with a single word:
“Try it yourself.”
Nervous, Swenga put on the pendant.
“You have nothing to fear.”
Reaching slowly for the fruits above her, the previously faint patterns slid into sharper focus. Swenga could see clearly where they went – seeming to mimic and extend her own arms. And as she reached into the distance, she felt the fruit in her hand despite it being far beyond her grasp. It was surprisingly easy to work as Joy had done. Branches, water and small rocks, all could be shifted, so long as they were not too far away; large rocks seemed to resist moving.
“The magic works through this object, then?”
“Yes. You can keep that for the time being; I have another.”
“Does it do anything else?”
Over the next few months Swenga learned to use the pendant. At Joy’s instruction, she commanded it by whispering spells – mainly in everyday language. Enchantments had to be said in a certain way, however, or they would not work. Although at first it appeared to understand the language of humans, the pendant’s magic was like that of the box; if it had any thoughts, they were nothing like her own. Joy’s early lessons in the capture game had prepared her well.
Another day out gathering food, they stopped for lunch by a patch of ferns.
“Look at these”, said Joy. “See how each small part of the bracken has the same shape as the whole thing?” she asked.
Swenga nodded agreement.
“Magic often works like that. Here, let’s use the pendant to arrange some dust into the shape of a fern.”
“As the small parts are themselves similar to the whole, we tell the pendant that the way to create a fern, is to create many small ferns surrounding a stem.”
“But how could it understand that?” objected Swenga. “For it still doesn’t know what a fern is, big or small.”
“So we tell the pendant how to create the smallest possible fern. We’ll do that with a single speck of dust, as both are so small you would not know the difference.”
Swenga did as she was instructed, and to her amazement, the dust beneath her started to resemble the shapes of ferns.
“The spells are simple but the pattern isn’t. How can that work?”
“To create a large fern, the pendant first creates many small ferns. To create each of those small ferns, it first creates an even smaller one. And so on, until the fern it needs to create is so small it may as well be dust. Then it can finish the ferns just larger than the dust, then those larger again, until finally it finishes the whole.”
Swenga paused to contemplate, then Joy went on:
“Much in magic is like that. And not only magic, but knowledge itself: the harder you look, the more of it appears.”
“Very well. But look again at the real fern, Joy, not the dust we created. It’s not quite the same as you said, don’t you see – the small parts are not exactly like the whole. They are greener in colour and they become more rounded. Sometimes I think your magic deceives you into thinking the whole world fits its patterns.”
Joy picked a fern and examined it.
“Yes, you are right aren’t you. Of course our spell simplifies the real thing … it’s easy to forget.”
She turned it over in her hand, but somewhat inattentively, her thoughts drifting elsewhere.
“I know I come across as distant sometimes. Do you think that’s why the villagers didn’t like me?”
“Of course we liked you. You came to our aid when we needed it most.”
“Yes of course, I mean… ‘like’ is the wrong word. But I never quite felt like one of you. I don’t think they felt that of me, either. Not you, Joy, but some of the others.”
“I think they feared you. They knew you helped, and they’re most grateful, still, to this day. But they didn’t understand how… nor did they know, really, what the battle was like for you?”
Swenga was questioning herself, searching for answers.
“I mean, I don’t know that either”, she continued, “but then I’ve seen a lot in this world. It doesn’t trouble me to see something I don’t understand.”
“Probably the Faith has its influence as well, teaching that magic is to be distrusted.”
“There’s probably something in that” agreed Swenga. “I mean, few of us really pay much heed to it, but what you’re taught as a child is hard to shake off.”
The enchanted box, that Joy had shown her on the first day, continued to interest Swenga.
“Can those pieces do anything, so long as I can describe it in simple terms?”
“They can do many things.”
“So could you have used them seven years ago, when you fought alongside us?”
“You mean, to hurl at somebody, or otherwise attack them? No.”
“Why not? That stone was powerful when it moved.”
“Try it and see.”
Hesitantly, Swenga placed a stone in the box. Then she sketched out a picture of Joy, and the stone, and an arrow going from the stone towards Joy. She showed the sketch to Joy, who laughed.
“Aim at my head if you like.”
“You sure about this?”
Swenga released the stone and it skidded along the table, picking up speed – but just before hitting Joy, stopped and dropped to the floor.
Joy mocked surprise, and Swenga sat in thought.
“So the stones refuse to hurt anyone?”
“Yes. And the pendant as well.”
“You said the magic of the stones is simple, and knows only what it is taught. Did somebody, then, teach them not to do that?”
“When I first used the box, how did it know the meaning of my pictures and arithmetic?”
“I don’t know for certain. But perhaps we would be wise to guess that someone or something else taught it that, too.”
“One far better than I.”
Swenga turned the box over, and noticed for the first time, that it wasn’t completely plain, for there was a faint inscription on its underside, subtly different to the one on the pendant:
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“I don’t know that either, but I saw it written occasionally in the Farland.”
For a moment Swenga said nothing, and when she spoke, she did so quietly.
“The men said you’d been there.”
“Ha. No wonder they were afraid of me.”
“Is that where you found them? The box, and the pendant, I mean?”
“So the Farland has wizards?”
“If there are any still, they do well to keep hidden from robbers and worse. But I did find some books. So far as I know, all of our magic comes from there, and if any wizard remains, they would have an understanding far beyond my own.”
“Is that what you went to seek?”
“Would you seek them again?”
“I don’t want to go back there, no.”
After six months had passed, Swenga thought herself fairly proficient in magic. Joy had taught her not only more spells, but entirely new tongues she could use to command the pendant, in ways vastly more powerful.
One morning Swenga was making tea. For the sake of practice, she would do this using spells alone, trying different techniques each time. Reading from Joy’s books, she cast several invocations she had not tried before, using them to put leaves in the pot, add water, strain it and throw away the used leaves.
The result, to her surprise, was not a cup of tea but a cup of hot water.
Odd, she thought. I must have made a mistake invoking the leaves. She put the cup down and opened the jar of tea leaves, to find inside–no tea leaves–but instead an enormous number of tiny cups; each itself as small as a dried tea leaf. The effect was quite beautiful, if somewhat unsettling. Swenga puzzled over the cups, wondering where they had come from. Perhaps an illusion – were they leaves in disguise?
Tentatively, she took a teaspoon of the miniature cups and put them into the hot water.
During her practice of magic, Swenga had never seen or heard an explosion – but now she was to experience something much stranger, and considerably more dangerous. It started with a quiet “click”, which began to echo and echo faster and faster until it formed a tone, several tones, each twice as high as the last, yet somehow twice as low at the same time. The tones rose and fell higher and lower, eventually growing to an awful screech, during which Swenga started to realize that not only were her ears reporting something quite unusual, but her eyes as well – the entire room was filled with an army of teapots! The last thing she remembered was cups within cups within cups – like the ferns in the forest, the closer she looked, the more she saw.
Then the fear came, and then the darkness.
When she came to, the cave was clean and the kitchen in order – the cups sat in the right places, and there was only one teapot, though she regarded it warily.
Something else had changed, however, for hovering above the table there was a bright, shimmering blue ball, about a foot in diameter, and of course covered in Patterns. Joy was arriving to see the commotion.
“What’s that?” said Swenga, pointing to the blue ball.
“That, my dear, is a watcher of invocations.”
“It stopped my spell?”
“Yes. It put everything back as it was before.”
A while later she had calmed down somewhat, her fear supplanted by curiosity.
“Was it always watching?”
“As far as I know. And just as well, by the sound of it.”
“What did I do wrong?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know, I was asleep.”
“But if this orb was watching me – does that mean we can ask it?”
“It doesn’t know either, because it doesn’t understand spells. It can only see when they alter things they should not. Think now, what were you doing?”
“I was making tea. Commanding the pendant with the new tongue you have been teaching.”
“And what exactly were you doing when the explosion happened?”
“I was throwing away the tea leaves.”
“What word did you use to describe the tea leaves when you first took them out from the box?”
“I had to name them first, that the pendant might know what they were. So I just called them ‘tea’.”
“How did you tell the pendant to discard them?”
“Un Da tea”.
“But ‘tea’ referred to the dry leaves, did it not? Are the leaves you tried to discard dry?”
“No, they are wet.”
“Is that the only difference?”
“Well, the flavour has gone from them, it’s dissolved in the water.”
“So you tried to throw away something that didn’t exist.”
“I thought the magic would discard wet leaves like anything else?”
“In this tongue? No. The meanings are powerful but primitive, running deep beneath other things you may take for granted.”
Swenga paused for thought. The experience had been intense, and she was still trying to adjust to what had happened.
“I saw so many tiny cups. Why was that?”
“Once a spell is out of control, there is no telling what it may do.”
“I tried to put them in the water.”
Joy laughed. “When Swenga encounters something she doesn’t understand, there is no telling what she may do either!” She paused, then added: “Remember to take care how you name things, Swenga. Giving something the wrong name can lead to all manner of confusion.”
“It confuses the magic?”
“No, it confuses you. The names you give shape your own thoughts, for better or worse.”
By the time a year had passed, Swenga had learned a great deal, and started to consider what she might do next. When she had first sought out Joy’s tuition, if the truth be known, she was in search of an escape from her life on the plains as much as anything else. Yet somewhere beneath her everyday concerns, the Patterns had inspired a curiosity which continued to burn.
Of course, wizardry was not without its uses: indeed, she might one day use it to help defend the village. But as she now considered her eventual return home, she also pondered the boundaries of her newfound skill. She would need to keep the pendant Joy had so generously lent her, and moreover, what if she lost it? How could it be replaced?
Joy didn’t know the answer to this question, and that in itself set off another train of thought: with Joy’s knowledge having limits, what other magical secrets remained to be discovered? Perhaps spells powerful enough to protect not only the village, but also the town, the rest of the plains, and even whatever lay beyond? Much though she loved Joy, Swenga had begun to tire of her slow and laborious approach. And much though she had learned, she felt she was still no closer to understanding the true nature of magic: the Patterns themselves remained as mysterious as ever.
“You want to go to the Farland, don’t you?” said Joy one day.
Seek the source. Perhaps that was the answer.
“You’re a bold woman, Swenga, a lover of action before thought. I once lived the same way: no patience for long investigation, for exhaustive search of possibilities; I wanted the greatest answers, and the Farland was the place to seek them.”
“Would I survive there?”
“You are not yet ready, but I can help you prepare. The dangers are great: wars have gone on for as long as anyone can remember. No order, no peace, and every inhabitant fights for themself alone.
“You and I first met defending your town from their kind. But did you ever stop to think why they made such journeys over the mountains, all for the sake of a few animals and cornsacks?”
“They have nothing better?”
“Not to return to, that’s for certain.”
A look of worry crossed Joy’s face, taking Swenga by surprise. Much though she sometimes lacked patience, Swenga respected Joy, in particular because of her calm in facing Swenga’s often dangerous mistakes with magic. If Joy was worried, it certainly meant something.
“If you would travel there”, she said slowly, nursing her thoughts, “…your best hope is to stay hidden. You are accustomed to walking alone in this land, and I know you have new powers now, but the danger is still great. Complete one final task before you leave my charge: arm yourself with spells to sense when others approach from afar. That way you can hope to travel in secret, avoiding danger before it finds you.
“You have become skilled at invoking spells”, she continued. “Spells that move objects, play games, solve problems”… Joy spent some time counting through the many things Swenga had learned. “Even spells that make tea – sometimes! But what I ask of you now is without doubt more serious than your other lessons. It may seem a simple task, but there can be no room for mistakes.”
“Mistakes in magic are so easy to make”, replied Swenga.
“And so you will learn to prevent them, so far as possible.”
Joy smiled. “The same way you already know – spells! Use spells which test your other spells. Make invocations to check Swenga’s invocations still work when Swenga invokes something different.”
“Magic to make magic?”
“Yes. You met one such example before.”
“The watcher of invocations?”
“It seems so much to do for a simple task.”
“Being certain of any spell whatsoever is no simple task.”
“It also seems like a long task.”
“It is. If I had my way, you would not venture beyond the mountains at all, but I know I can’t persuade you otherwise. Please at least let me persuade you to delay your departure, Swenga, if you would return again.”
Swenga longed to be travelling through the mountains: the gradually changing scenery, the views, the challenge of clambering over rocks along the way. Although her learning progressed faster and faster, she felt the months drag.
One night, dreaming deeply and intensely, she believed herself to be awake and trying to pick fruit from the nearby trees, but unable to.
The task seemed so complicated! For she now perceived the full set of relationships between every object in the scene. The fruit pulled downwards on the branches, which in turn held the fruit up. Her hands were supported by her arms, in turn weighed down by her hands. Each apple hanging from the tree was an imperfect instance of some ideal apple; which in turn was only one kind of fruit. But how to manipulate the scene? Should she command her hands to pick the fruit, or the fruit to be picked by her hands? How would she even command herself to command something of another object?
When she woke, Swenga felt stupid. Of course, reaching out to pick something up was easy! Only her training in magic had made her see it as hard. She told Joy of her dream.
“It’s a good sign”, said Joy. “You are aware of the complexity hidden in simple things.”
A few days later, Swenga finished her spells for sensing. They sat indoors for a long time as she explained them to Joy, who questioned her thoroughly on every aspect of their function, and all the ways they might fail.
“Am I ready to go?”
“Who could ever be ready? But your spells are as complete as can be. Now, return the pendant to me, for I have something more powerful to give in exchange.”
Reverently, Swenga handed back the pendant, and Joy returned it to a drawer. Moments later she returned with a ring; not shiny but dull in appearance and dark in colour. Inscribed within it was a different word;
Joy spoke slowly, with emphasis. “It works the same way, but there is one difference. I have no other like it. This ring will not prevent you from harming others.”
Swenga paused, thinking of the implications.
“You’ll be alright without it?”
“Your need is greater.”
“Thank you, Joy. I’ll do everything I can to bring it back.”
She looked her in the eye, and then turned her gaze to the window.
“I hardly need teach you how to fight with the ring; you can devise your own techniques as you travel. Make yourself ready, for tomorrow brings the full moon.”
For days Swenga climbed over mountains so huge that the one on which Joy lived seemed a mere foothill in comparison. She relied on the ring to collect food and water; to kill small animals and cook them for eating. As she went the magic followed her; the ever-shifting Patterns adding to the beauty of the majestic views either side of her path.
Ten days after leaving Joy’s cave, the ring began to buzz and tremble slightly in her pocket. This, as she had planned, was a warning from her spells that others were nearby; the pattern of vibrations told her that a man and woman approached on the same path. Nearby was a derelict, roofless building, and she hid inside.
Nervously waiting, she examined her surroundings. From the layout it looked like a temple of the Faith. But unlike any temple she knew, this was wrapped in an extra wall which seemed not to square properly with the inner layout. Instead – where was the sun? – the outer wall faced the corners of the compass, in the style of the mountain people. Perhaps captured in warfare, then converted for the worship of different gods? Swenga chuckled to herself. Either the victors considered their gods unobservant, or else believed they would appreciate the ingenuity of the adaptation.
Back to the present, though, the couple were close now. As they came into view, Swenga saw their gaunt figures; maybe close to starvation, for they appeared to be searching for food. Farlanders beyond doubt. In spite of her own fear, she felt sorry for them, and resolving to help, slowly stood up and waved.
“Blessings of the village to you.”
They stopped and turned to look at her, muttering things to one another that Swenga could not understand.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m a friend.”
They looked at her, puzzled. Slowly they approached, but at the last minute, jumped forward and grabbed her.
Why had she been so stupid? The thin arms were so strong! A brief moment of panic followed, before the warrior inside her awoke: Awareness, Learning, Focus. Moving a hand in the opposite direction to what they expected, she reached the ring in her pocket, and used its power to throw them far away.
Surprised, the man and woman stepped back, but did not run; instead they stood facing Swenga, awkwardly, each side unsure what to do next. Then the man pointed out something on the ground. Swenga could not see what it was, but slowly the others looked from it, to her, and back again. Hasty words were muttered, before without warning they turned and ran, almost falling over one another in haste to escape.
Swenga was relieved the encounter was over; she had been foolish not to wear the ring from the start. One of her hands must have been damaged, as her wrist throbbed with agony and she could hardly move it. Without the ring, she would certainly have been overpowered. She sat for a while, drank some water and examined the injury.
Only then did she stop to wonder what it was the man had seen. Cautiously she approached the spot from which they had run, and looked at the ground. Nothing seemed unusual to her. Except, of course… Patterns! They were more intense than usual behind this rock.
It was at this point that Swenga devised a new plan. If the Farlanders knew of the Patterns, perhaps they were common here, and some spells to seek out the Patterns themselves might lead her to her goal.
She already had the means to seek people, of course, so it was only a matter of adaptation. “A spell for the idea that must be changed”, as Joy would say. She must divide her seek-people spell into separate incantations for recognising a person, and seeking a thing. Then a new spell to recognize Patterns, combine with the seeker, and…
Quickly but carefully, Swenga cast spells to change her spells. Now more than ever, she was keen to avoid mistakes, so she added more incantations to test the new ones.
It took a few hours before she was finally ready to invoke, and immediately they showed what she had hoped. The Patterns were more highly concentrated to the East than anywhere else, so she rose and walked.
Swenga descended the mountains to the plains of the Farland, and along the way came upon many settlements. The houses here were far bigger than what she was used to, in many cases enormous. In some there were scores of people living but many, according to her spells, were empty. Occupied or not, all of them seemed to be in various states of disrepair, from slightly crumbling to outright dangerous. Sometimes she would sleep in vacant buildings at night, but never for long. The constant need to evade detection strained the nerves, in spite of possessing the ring as a last line of defence.
But what, she wondered, had destroyed this land? Observing the people from her hiding places, it was apparent to Swenga that nobody trusted anybody else. Groups of men would band together to steal or kill, but just as often, the mobs would turn on themselves.
Even here on the plains, which Swenga would have expected to be fertile, hardly anything edible seemed to grow. She was reduced to catching birds using the ring. Whenever she did so, Patterns would form on nearby structures; and when the Farlanders spotted these they were always afraid, some walking quickly away, others shouting and running. And they always seemed hungry.
On the fourth day the ring led her towards a tall building, the tallest she had ever seen. She saw it in the distance at first, and shortly after found a sign by the roadside, bearing the same words as Joy’s box and pendant:
As she followed the road towards the building – erratically, remaining hidden – the signs became more frequent. The Patterns were here as well, stronger than usual; and as she approached the building she saw they covered every surface.
Finally she had arrived, and at last could stand in the open, for with Patterns this strong, no others dared approach. The building towered in front, words written again on the gate. But this time the script was different:
MA’LO’TO’CO’, Manifest Logic Toy Corporation.
Swenga understood what a toy was, but “corporation” wasn’t a word she had seen before. Nor had she seen the word “utility” which featured on the next line;
MA’LO’UT’CO’, Manifest Logic Utility Corporation.
Half unconsciously, Swenga slipped the ring onto her finger. Faced with something she didn’t understand, she felt safer defended by MALOMILICO.
The temple in this story is inspired by the Red Fort in Delhi, which really does contain a mosque aligned to Mecca but hidden inside a ‘wrapper’ wall to preserve the geometry of the surrounding gardens. The cover image (of the vertically stretched Lofoten islands) includes a fern fractal drawn by a Python script you can find at https://trinket.io/python/e5fedb6b55
Thanks are owed to all who gave me feedback on earlier versions, especially Mark.
I’m open to more feedback, by the way.
© Crispin Cooper 2019. Please get in touch if you want to publish elsewhere.