Chapter 1 - Blind
The worst decision the world ever made was to uninvent mages. Mages didn't exist in the strictest sense, but when science caught up to the present, then the mysticism of abilities ended. Fire mages became pyromancers, water mages to hydromancers, and healing mages to vivamancers.
Seti Tutt liked the word mage and magi far better than the mancer titles. It was a mistake to change those names, just like it was a mistake to force students to report to the office at year's end.
The office door opened and a student came out. From the office behind him, a man's voice called, "Cole." The student counselor.
Another student went into the room and closed the door behind him. Only half a dozen students remained in the hall.
Seti sighed. He realized his foot was tapping unconsciously so he forced it down, only to have it start up again. This wasn't even a serious meeting; it was just the end of the school year wrap up.
What was it that you want to do after you graduate the university? What people have you contacted so far? And Seti's personal favorite: You have potential. The same thing was said to every student with a slight variation to make them think the counselor took each one seriously.
And yet Seti was still nervous. Maybe it was an authority thing, though he preferred to think it was human nature. It was times like this where he used a trick to calm himself down. Seti closed his eyes, slouched forward in his chair, and turned the palm of his hand towards his face.
A light breeze started to flutter from his hand.
This was his ability. Moving air with his hand was something Seti had been able to do since he was young. It helped focus and ground him. He felt the features of his face with more definition when he controlled the air.
Everyone had something. Some people could breathe fire, others could create energy blades, and there were those who could heal the body. But everyone had something. The question was how strong you could be with that power
Seti was remarkably weak. This was exactly why he had decided to not pursue any careers that made use of his abilities. If there was one thing he knew the counselor wouldn't say, it would be that he had potential to grow as an adept.
The office door opened again and Cole stepped out.
"Seti," the counselor called out.
Seti stood, took a deep breath and walked in, shutting the door behind him.
Henry Adams read the plaque on the front of his desk. The counselor had his certificates lined up on the walls to each side, a shelf of books, and basic family pictures. The usual teacher's office look.
"Mr. Adams." Seti nodded.
"Please, call me Henry."
Seti sat opposite him. After a brief silence Seti realized that the counselor wasn't going to start the conversation. Was he trying to act like a therapist?
Seti made himself comfortable in his chair, clasped his hands together, and spoke in a deep voice. "So how may I help you today, Mr. Henry?"
Henry smiled. "As you know this is your final year here at Lambsgard University. I wanted to talk about your prospects and plans for the future."
"To ensure the school looks esteemed with the careers of the alumni and the alumnae?"
"To set you up for success," Henry corrected.
Seti shrugged and slouched into the chair. "Not sure what to tell ya Mr. Henry, I'm the last person you have to worry about. I'm going into my dad's business after, and I'll be set for life, really."
"The 3D visual business. Event Horizon, was it called?"
Seti nodded. He was curious to hear what the counselor would say. Would it be that he had potential in a different field? Was he going to ask if Seti's interest lay elsewhere and not in his father's technological business? Or was he simply going to break the usual script and say that Seti should be proud of taking the opportunity he had before him?
It was none of those.
"Have you considered attending school after the university?" Henry asked.
"School? There's nothing after the university. This is the last stop."
"I'm talking about Prestige Academy."
Seti snorted involuntarily. "Okay let's get real," Seti said. "I get you're supposed to tell the students that they have potential, should aim higher, or whatever other crap you've been paid to say, but that's just outright absurd, maybe even insulting. Not to mention I can't even attend the school anyway. I'm a tier one wind adept, see?"
To drive the point home, Seti raised his hand and faced his palm towards the counselor. He manipulated the wind forward and grazed the counselor's face.
"I couldn't even mess up your hair if I wanted to. Tier one." Seti stressed the number and stopped his wind. "You can't get any lower without simply being unable to discover what your ability is."
"I'm aware," was all Henry said in response. Then silence. He was apparently content not be the one to break it.
Again, Seti was being played as if this was a therapy session. He leaned forward and grabbed one of the pens on the desk.
"Okay, Mr. Adams," Seti said, twirling the pen between his fingers, "then are you aware of the minimum requirement to attend Prestige Academy?"
"At least tier five."
"I'm a tier one. I was told if I tried very hard, the most I could ever become would be tier three. More likely I'd end up as a two by the time I'm buried in the ground. Do you know what this means? On a scale of one to eight, I'm a bottom feeder."
Seti's finger twitched and he lost control of the pen, letting it flip to the floor. He opted to not pick it up. Irritation took him now. Would Seti attend Prestige Academy if he had the chance? Of course, he didn't like the whole ride-the-father's-coattail thing anyway, but it was a secure way of life. Thing is, life doesn't let you choose sometimes. Sure, he daydreamed about being able to make tornados with his ability, or whatever the tier eight people could do, but it just wasn't physically possible. So why did Mr. Adams bring it up?
"There is something known as the Exceptions Program," Mr. Adams said, also opting to ignore the pen on the floor. "A university could recommend a prominent student to the academy even if they don't meet the minimum tier requirement."
"Those only apply to tier four users, like Aiden. That's only one tier lower. They would definitely not let me get in. Someone like Aiden could actually do something with his abilities."
"Someone like Aiden," Mr. Adams repeated before continuing, "I think people focus too much on the numbers rather than the potential." There it was. Potential. All scripted. "For example, could you tell me the length of time for one million seconds and one billion seconds?"
"One million? I guess it would be…" He didn't want to get the answer too wrong. There were sixty seconds in a minute, and sixty in an hour… and twenty-four hours in a day… who in the world would even try to math this out without a calculator? "A month? And I guess a billion would be a few years. Probably off a bit because who does math in their head."
Mr. Adams smiled. "One million seconds is about twelve days. One billion seconds is about… thirty-two years."
Seti shelved his irritation momentarily as he tried to visualize the difference.
"Okay, so? Anyone with free time can go surf the web and look that up."
"That's not the point I intended to make. You see our sense of value with numbers can get skewed when it becomes so large that it's incomprehensible. We put so much emphasis on the scale of power, but I say that true strength can't be measured so easily. Especially not with numbers."
"I'm not sure I follow how that applies to attending Prestige Academy."
"Consider for a moment if you went to a wind temple for proper classification and training. The wind temple of Maybell, for example, could really be a boon if you wished to explore this route. Don't say a door closed before it actually is."
Seti didn't say anything. Instead, he held up his palm once again and sent a gust of air towards Mr. Adam's face. Seti was sad to admit that he was trying very hard to be annoying enough to make the man squint from dry eyes. It wasn't working.
"Your hair doesn't even mess up when I do this. I have more in common with the ants than to any of the upper echelon tiers."
Mr. Adams might not care about the numerical classification of ability users, but the world certainly did. Anyone that was tier five or above received their mancer title. Everyone else was just an adept.
"Let me give you an example of your potential," he said even with the wind blowing in his face. "You mentioned Aiden, yes? What do you think about him?"
Almost on cue, the ground shook as if an anvil slammed into the ground a distance away. Aiden was fighting someone in the school right now.
Seti spoke. "Aiden is the only tier four user in Lambsgard University. Easily the strongest. Everyone knows the school already recommended him to Prestige Academy, but even so, it's not guaranteed he'll make it in."
"What about him as a person?"
"As a person?" Taken aback, Seti put his hand away. "I guess people are scared of him? When he walks down the hallway people get out of his way. They don't even make eye contact because he wants to start a fight with anyone that does. Ah, this isn't me snitching; he's not doing anything wrong in my opinion."
Mr. Adams nodded sagely and smiled. "So that's what you think about him. Now with that said, I'm curious, why does Aiden avoid eye contact with you?"
Cops and Robbers. Cowboys and Indians. Shepherds and Mafioso.
Seti watched the TV in the lounge, not wanting to return to his dorm just yet. On the TV there was a reporter interviewing a Shepherd. Just hours ago a skirmish broke out between the Shepherds and the mafia in some far away city. A destroyed building loomed in the background.
The Shepherd discussed how worse events had been prevented during the battle. He wasn't a superhero as some might portray them, yet the Shepherds were regarded as such simply because they were mancers that could lift pebbles or breathe fire. To emphasize the point, the cameraman showed the second Shepherd telekinetically lifting debris as part of the cleanup. A geomancer.
Seti Tutt didn't like the Shepherds. They were a national defense group that consisted of only upper echelon tiers and their name was Shepherds. Since Seti was born and raised in the town named Lambsgard it was hard to not take offense. It was as if the Shepherds were named to help the lambs along, with him being the weakest.
The lounge was empty except for Seti, who sat slouched with his feet set on another chair. Usually, there would be students studying or simply hanging out, but the year was over, exams finished, and all that remained was the graduation ceremony. More accurately, today was the last day of school.
That was when Aiden walked in. Poorly dressed, unkempt hair, and sometimes bad hygiene. Seti recalled a time when that wasn't the case, but a desire to focus on his tier four abilities had made Aiden forget the basic necessities of public appearance. Seti could not wear such a look, especially with his father being who he was.
"Aiden, come over here," Seti called out as he sat himself up, recalling the conversation with the counselor.
Aiden stopped and looked back at the door where he came through longingly. Seti thought he was going to make a break for it when instead he made his way to the table.
"Howdy," Seti said with a raised hand.
"What do you want?" Aiden asked. He didn't sit. His attention was on the TV.
Seti noted that Aiden opted to watch the TV rather than make eye contact. Or maybe he was reading into it too much after what Mr. Adams said.
Seti had never actually talked to him at length before. They were from different worlds. Seti was the son of a successful businessman, yet weak in his abilities. Aiden came from… well, Seti didn't actually know any background information for the guy, but he was probably poor. Despite that, Aiden was easily the strongest person in Lambsgard University and the one most likely to make it to Prestige Academy.
"Do you actually want to be a Shepherd and all?" Seti asked. "Since you have the desire and talent to attend Prestige."
"Apparently I don't have the talent. I've already failed the entrance exams twice and the third one tomorrow is my last chance."
"Oh. Well, that sucks. You've studied up on where you've failed?"
Aiden sighed and finally turned away from the TV and sat down. With eye contact, or as much as he could make with the hair in his face, he said, "You don't know how Prestige works, do you? It isn't a written exam but a practical one. The Exceptions have to prove why they should be allowed in even though they don't meet the minimum requirement of being tier five. They don't seem to think my force palm is anything special."
"Even though you're the strongest student here?" Seti asked.
"That's the same as being the tallest midget."
"Well don't be bummed, there are other ways to become a Shepherd than going to Prestige."
"I don't care about becoming a Shepherd. I need a way to make a living with my talents. You don't get it, do you?" Aiden turned away and faced the TV once more. "You've had your life planned out from the start. Even you being here at this university was just a formality. You didn't actually need to be here. The life of a rich kid."
After a moment's awkwardness, Seti nodded. "Yeah, you're right, I don't understand. I'm just a rich boy who can get money from his pops like a vending machine, yeah? Poor you, life must be so hard because your classmates have more money, or whatever it is you tell yourself at night. Let me guess, you need to pay some hospital bills for some family member? I'll write you a check. Boom. Life problems solved."
Aiden slammed his open palm down on the table. With a loud crack, the table snapped in half and collapsed on itself. Seti flinched back in his chair.
"You're an idiot," Aiden said as he stood up. For a moment Seti thought he was about to get into a fight that he wouldn't be able to win, but then he saw Aiden smirk. The tier four student seemed satisfied to see Seti recoil. So much for the theory that Aiden was afraid of him. "And you're annoying, too. You always blow that stupid unnatural wind at people who piss you off and walk around as if you're untouchable. And for the record, no there's no hospital bill or any family emergency. Life is more than money."
"Unnatural wind? This?" Seti said automatically, his mind caught up with that statement. He pointed the palm of his hand towards Aiden and propelled out what small amount of wind he could. "If my wind is unnatural then what is your force palm considered? You slap things around and things suddenly get crushed."
"I mean it's unnatural because no wind feels like yours," Aiden said as he stepped away from the feeble gusts. "I've fought a lot of people, some of them wind users and some of them from the underground, but yours is the one that makes me sick." He put his hands in his pockets and started towards the exit. "Whatever. You're annoying. Talk to me again and I'll put you in the ground, rich daddy or not."
Once he was alone Seti realized his shoulders were tense. He relaxed them and turned his hand towards his own face. The manipulated breeze allowed a sense of calm to sweep over him.
Unnatural? Did that line of thought have something to do with why Aiden avoided eye contact?
Seti left contact information for Event Horizon, his father's company, on the chair next to the broken table. Then, he made his way to his dorm. Had he not left the note the university would no doubt check the cameras to see who ruined the furniture. They still might, but now they'd likely just accept the money his father's business would provide.
He took the scenic route, taking in one last look around the university. The graduation ceremony would be in two days and then he would be gone from the school life forever. He was a little apprehensive about beginning the first day of the rest of his life. Aiden may have argued that Seti couldn't understand him, but the opposite was true as well. Seti was going to have much responsibility placed on him, a burden that Aiden would never know.
He followed down the corridor to the male dormitory and found his way to his room. He paused when he saw that the door was open a little. It should have been locked. The sound of the TV within reached his ears and he pushed the door open the rest of the way. He had a full view of the kitchen and the living room. A teenage girl on the couch with the TV remote in one hand and a spoon in the other. She was eating ice cream directly from a box balanced on her knee.
"Oh, it's you. What are you doing here?" Seti asked.
"Tut tut tut," Sydria Tutt said in her usual annoying manner. "I should think you would know. You have it marked on your calendar."
Seti turned towards his fridge where he hung his calendar. On today's date, there was a colorful Best Sister Visiting with hearts adjacent, bleeding into the unfortunate days surrounding it.
"Pretty sure this wasn't on here this morning," Seti said.
"Pretty sure I'm the best sister anyway," Sydria replied. "Anyway, I'm visiting like I said I would!"
"You said you were coming last Friday. But not only did you not say anything when you didn't show up, you haven't said anything about showing up today."
Sydria placed the controller down now that she had found something decent to watch and gave more attention the ice cream.
"And that's my ice cream."
"I got grounded last week," she said. "Dad took my phone so I couldn't call or text."
Seti took a marker and crossed out the Best in Best Sister Visiting. "You got grounded? But I thought dad liked you. Did you murder someone? Or did you wear yesterday's fashion? Our ancestors roll in shame."
Sydria shrugged. "Forgot to do one of my homework assignments. I was supposed to write a paper on the founder of the Shepherds."
"No biggie. Everyone forgets to do their homework every now and then."
Then she muttered, though barely loud enough for him to hear, "Not me."
Seti joined her on the couch with a bowl and a spoon to help himself to his ice cream, which Sydria tried to keep away. Once the usual scuffle ended they binged on random shows she picked.
"I'll help you pack and stuff tomorrow," she said.
Seti would be moving back home now that he'd graduated. It was only twenty minutes away from home, but he would miss his dorm. He would also miss the random visits from his sister. To come to his dorm willingly meant that she liked hanging out with him. It was a feeling he'd come to appreciate.
Not that he would ever tell her that.
The day turned into evening and Seti fell asleep on the couch. He dreamed dreams.
In the first dream, he was in an office giving out orders and commanding people. He was the boss of Event Horizon. He had the bigger picture in his head and the underlings followed and obeyed. It felt fulfilling and paradoxically hollow at the same time. He had the power to control people in this way, but it wasn't what he wanted.
The scene changed. A destroyed building loomed in front of him with a cleanup crew trying to clear it out. A cameraman and a woman with a mic were interviewing him. He was a Shepherd. Respected. People wanted to be around him. Not to mention he was a tier eight aeromancer. Powerful enough to level towns if he wanted to. To be given special privileges. Invited to meetings like—
"What is this trash heap of a dream?" A woman materialized into existence.
At that moment the feeling of the dream faded, but the dream didn't end. Everyone but he and the woman vanished. There was no more interviewer and no more pedestrians. Seti came to his senses and grounded in the reality of this false place. He knew he was in a dream as if he had always known, but it only became obvious when the woman appeared. Her presence denied the dream of being a dream. It was like she was an alarm clock screaming that life here wasn't real.
Her blue dress swayed as she spun around to take in her surroundings. She was younger than him, but at the same time, Seti knew she was false in the same way that he wasn't actually a tier eight being. Her face was blurred; even squinting, he still couldn't place a shape to it.
"Let's see." She looked around. "Hey, isn't that building the Orator office? Didn't the Vescio family destroy it this morning? Oh wow, you're dreaming that you're the Shepherd who stood up to them. This is embarrassing."
"Who are you?" Seti defiantly asked.
She gave a mock bow. "Call me Dream Eater, youngling. I am here to fulfill a petty revenge that was promised in the waking world."
Seti became more aware of his heartbeat, of the air he was breathing, and of the ground he stood on. He knew he was in a dream, yet he felt the vital things that he could only feel when he was awake. Even though his heart and his blood belonged to him, his body was not his real body. He was still a tier eight being in this dream.
"Revenge? Did I do something to slight you?" Seti asked.
"Nope." Dream Eater began skipping backwards down the sidewalk away from him. "Wow, you have no imagination. That whole area is blocked off." She indicated behind him.
Seti turned and realized that only darkness and void was there. The city he remembered from the TV earlier in the day ceased when it came into contact with the void. It was so deep and so evident that he should have noticed earlier. There was no substance, no building to be had or street to walk down.
The darkness only lasted another moment before it filled in with buildings and streets. He knew his mind was the one that was making it, not from a memory but rather with a thought of what it might have looked like. He was in full control of the dream.
When he turned back to Dream Eater she was right in front of him, her fingertip resting on her lips. Seti's heart skipped. He should have flinched back, but his body didn't react.
"You're cute. Now I kind of regret my promise. See, I told her I was going to come and assault you, so here I am. Promised petty revenge."
"You tell me." She smiled playfully. Smiled? He couldn't see her face, yet he knew she smiled.
"My first guess would be my mother. She's in law enforcement and deals with scum on a regular basis. You look like scum."
"Now let's not say things we both know aren't true. I look wonderful. Anyway, enough playing around. You would never guess because you actually don't know her, or shouldn't." Dream Eater took a step back, held up her hand, and waved it around like a wand. "Hocus pocus, now I've taken your eyesight. Goodbye light!"
Seti looked around but nothing changed in his environment. He could see just fine.
"And now I probably should do something about that memory of yours. See, you won't remember any of this. There's no cure for your eyesight, but I'm sure it'll be fun looking for one. Part of the revenge. She adores you lots so this is how it has to be!"
She raised her hand again and prepared to do more wand movements. Seti had the urge to knock her down a few pegs. This was his dream after all, wasn't it? He willed her hand to stop moving.
"Ah." She looked at her hand stuck in place in the air. In fact, not just her hand but her dress and her entire body froze in place. It was as if time had stopped for Dream Eater.
"Enough is enough," Seti said. "I don't know who you are, and quite frankly I don't believe a word you're saying, even though this has got to be the strangest thing I've ever experienced. But I won't just let you do whatever you want. This is my world, after all."
"Yeah, you're definitely cute."
Seti called upon his power of wind. Not the weak tier one he had in reality, but his dream based power. He was a divine being while in this world. The sky—which had been void of anything this entire time—filled with dark clouds. Funnels appeared that called out to the ground to respond. The wind amplified and in a matter of moments, the area filled with no fewer than four tornados.
Dirt kicked up, pushed and pulled by each tornado. The area darkened considerably as debris accumulated.
"You're making it hard for me to concentrate!" Dream Eater shouted over the wind, still frozen in place.
Buildings began to evaporate into the tornado. A rush of power filled Seti. Each tornado, the towers of destruction, could be felt on the tips of his fingers. With a flick, he moved the towers. Another flick and he was floating in the air, hands outstretched. This was his might. Thunder roared. He was a tier eight being, the pinnacle of human power.
He clasped his hands together and each tornado rushed to Dream Eater.
[Well then.] A voice spoke clearly into his mind, a mental echo that demanded full attention. Silence lingered as the storm around him raged. Dream Eater vanished. [I hope you enjoyed playing the aeromancer, but they don't call me the Dream Eater for nothing. Your eyes are gone, and now you won't remember this. Goodbye!]
In an instant, the dream ended. Seti felt his presence return back to the couch in his dorm living room. His eyes shot wide open to a pitch black room. He must have fallen asleep while watching TV.
Since it was so dark, it was probably past midnight. He thought nothing of it and tried to go back to sleep, but had difficulty doing so since his heart was racing. The last thing he remembered was an emotional rush. A high. He likely had a good dream, one where he was less pathetic, and he wanted to go back to it.