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Images and their Meanings

“And God said to Terae, ‘Why do you cry? For I have made you in my own image, and I have placed my spirit within your spirit, so that you may know me as you know yourself.’ But Terae continued to weep.”

-from ‘Second Song: Terae’

Aymon chapter banner

Aymon Sandreas was considered by most people to be the second most powerful man in the populated universe. He was standing in a dim antechamber at the Academy. By his side was the head of the Academy, a diminutive woman in a long black robe edged with dark blue.

"I'm shocked you're finally exercising your right to choose apprentices. I've been asking if you wanted to for years,” the woman said.

"I know you have, Marca, since you ordered every graduate who works near me to bug me about giving you a call," Aymon responded.

She laughed loudly. "I wouldn't call it ordering, so much as strongly suggesting."

"The effect of bothering me at work is largely the same."

"So what made you change your mind, Aymon?"

"God told me," he responded simply. "I got the message that this was the right time." This was an answer that no one, specifically no one at the Academy, could argue with.

Marca hummed in agreement. "I figured the time would come at some point, though I am a little disappointed that I can’t take credit for your change of heart. Do you want to go in now? Everything is set up."

Aymon sighed. "Might as well get this process over with."

"Don't make getting apprentices sound so much like a death sentence. Everyone else seems to enjoy the experience."

"Being saddled with a bunch of kids for five years?" Aymon asked.

"They're twenty, hardly children."

"Yes, but they know absolutely nothing."

"They've been in school for the past ten years. We certainly wouldn't graduate anyone who isn't competent. Anyway, you get to pick the most competent of the bunch."

Aymon sighed but said nothing further in protest. It was true that he was not exactly looking forward to the process of taking over the educations of several students, but it was also something that he felt that he needed to do, want or no.

"Here are your tags. Just put them in front of the projects of the students you are claiming. The names of the students will, of course, only be revealed after everyone has made their selection." The tags in question had a string of numbers written on them, presumably to keep the claimant just as secret as the student until later.

"How many should I claim?" Aymon asked.

"What is the maximum number of students you are prepared to take?"

"Five, but I would take fewer."

"Then I recommend that you only claim five. Your number can only shrink after the interview process, and it isn't in anyone's best interest to select many students based on the project and then only narrow down that number in the interview. We try to keep the interviews more for the students to reject the posting than for you to reject the student,” Marca explained. Aymon nodded.

"How long do I have to pick?"

"Take as long as you need- everyone else isn't coming until morning. You're lucky we could give you the exception of coming in the middle of the night."

"Luck had very little to do with it, I'm sure,” Aymon said. His dry comment also made Marca laugh.

"The projects are just in here."

She pushed open a heavy wooden door, leading into a massive hall. The room was dimly lit, with strips of ceiling lights turned down to the lowest setting, but the large moon shining in brightly through large panels of skylight. The hall was filled with row after row of tables holding student projects, some large, some small, all shining in Aymon's inner sight with a glow of the power used to create them.

"Shall I stay here or do you want to be alone?" Marca asked.

"Alone, please. You don't need to wait for me to finish, I know my own way out."

"Very well. I look forward to seeing your selection, Aymon." The small woman turned and strode out the door, quietly shutting it behind her.

Finally alone in the moonlit room, Aymon folded his legs underneath himself and sat down on the cold stone floor. The room was completely silent, which made his task slightly easier. Closing his eyes, Aymon reached out mentally to examine the projects.

Some people on the selection committee might choose projects by virtue of what they actually were, especially since students tailored their projects to match the type of career they wanted their apprenticeship to lead to. A student interested in engineering would usually create a proof of concept device of some sort, where a student interested in theological art would create something... less useful in Aymon's opinion. So those students with clear direction would easily be selected by one of those large teams, with plenty of jobs for apprentices, and plenty of people willing to train them.

People who came to pick apprentices for smaller, less well known, disciplines often had to judge projects (and therefore pick apprentices) by some other metric. Aymon had not walked into the room with a clear idea for what type of judgement he should use, but as soon as he began looking he found what he needed.

Projects shone like stars in his sight, some brighter than others, some larger, some swirling with more complexity. If he gently prodded at them, he could mentally interrogate what each one’s purpose was, or at least discover the spirit that its creator had worked on it in. But he was drawn to a few projects in particular, even without stretching his power fully, there was a feeling of being pulled across the room. This was how, he supposed, most people were able to make a confident selection of a few students out of hundreds.

He stood up, still with his eyes closed, and let the project that he felt most drawn to guide him over. His fine shoes made a soft sound on the stone floor as he walked towards it. He could tell that the project was of medium size, about a foot and a half in all dimensions, took a person an unbelievable amount of power to create, and was brimming with complexity. Feeling oddly excited to see what this masterwork was, he opened his eyes.

Aymon was shocked to find that the project in question was a fishbowl, with a single goldfish swimming peacefully among some aquatic plants. It was a fully closed glass sphere resting on a base, so more a contained environment than a bowl. Thinking that perhaps it was some sort of illusion, Aymon reached out to touch the glass of the bowl. It was indeed glass, and the fish inside reacted to his finger, shying away from the sight of it.

One of the primary rules that governed the use of the sacred power was that it was impossible to create life. Yet from what he could see, here was life, swimming along right in front of him. Aymon reached out mentally and began to explore the threads of power that went into creating the project.

It was indeed created with the sacred power, that was clearly visible. And it wasn't, as he had first thought, alive. However, it wasn't an illusion as had been his second assumption. The entire bowl was more like a computer program than anything else. The inner and outer workings of a fish had been faithfully recreated, but instead of each of its cells moving under its own impetus, each of the neurons in its fish brain firing on its own, each molecular interaction happening naturally, all of that was guided by careful lines of power invisibly inscribed on the inside of the glass bowl. In reaction to outside stimuli, and as part of its general routine, every part of the fish was controlled by a set of pre-created responses. It was no more alive than any computer, but it would have fooled anyone who didn't have the power to examine it.

It was a clever and masterful creation, which clearly had immense amount of work, talent, and dedication poured into it. Aymon could also feel a sort of joke coming from it, the spirit in which the work had been created. It seemed to be saying "I am not God, but..." and there were a million things that could have finished the end of that sentence. It was irreverent, and silly, but almost kindhearted. Even just taking the premise of imitating life: what life had this student chosen to imitate? A goldfish swimming peacefully around and around, forever.

Aymon placed one of his tags in front of the goldfish bowl. He still had at least a few more projects to select, so he closed his eyes and let another project call him over.

This next project was massive, about nine feet tall, and had to be placed on the floor next to the display table rather than on it. It was a statue, made entirely of various metals. The statue depicted a larger than life human figure holding a sword above its head, about to strike. The figure lacked visible markings of gender, and its face, wrought in gold as opposed to the heavy iron making up the rest of its body, was tilted heavenwards.

An unusual thrill of fear passed through Aymon as he considered the statue. Looking at it, there was a definite sense that the sword holding arms could spring into motion at any second and strike down the person standing before it. Carefully reaching out with his mind, Aymon studied the project.

He wasn't wrong to feel afraid. That was the prime component of the project; the statue was actively transmitting that feeling. He also wasn't wrong that the arms were movable. The figure had clearly been designed to swing its sword, and there was a thread of power that held that command. The only thing that was missing from that line of power was a trigger; Aymon felt a deliberately empty space where a condition for moving should have been. The intent from the student was clear, but it was an interesting choice.

Aymon debated with himself for a moment about placing his tag. Certainly this student had some good ideas about fear (and had a decent artistic and theological stance), but seemed to lack the follow through that may be necessary to actually work with Aymon.

The deciding factor for placing his tag at the base of the statue was that Aymon could not decide what he would have preferred the triggering mechanism to be, so maybe the student had the right idea.

Tag deposited, Aymon started walking down the rows of tables, towards the last project that he felt any calling towards. The call from the third project felt oddly muted, and he didn’t hold out much hope that he would like it enough to select the student. It wasn’t screaming out with intentions as the first two projects were.

He took his time, examining plenty of other projects on his way. Statues seemed to be the trend this year, for whatever reason, a full five percent of the projects seemed to be statues of some sort. Thinking back to his graduating class, the most popular project type back then had been music related. It was strange how these trends could come and go between graduating classes, especially considering that everyone (in theory) was working independently and keeping their projects as secret as possible. Presumably the cohort of masters in charge of the class throughout the years had a big influence on what the students saw as worth pursuing.

Aymon would have to live with statues, because he saw as he continued his approach that the project that was pulling him in was another statue. More like a wax figurine, he noted. It was life sized, translucent and white, a perfectly smooth humanoid figure, nude except for a generous amount of cloth wrapped around its waist. The cloth, Aymon observed idly, was not power made, it was just what looked like a long red tablecloth that had been snagged from one of the campus dining halls. The statue was holding out its hand, palm up.

Taped to the floor in front of the waxy figurine was a note, written on a sheet of paper clearly torn out of a student's notebook.

"INSTRUCTIONS: PLACE HAND ON STATUE'S HAND TO TRANSFER ENERGY. WITHDRAW ENERGY AT ANY TIME TO CANCEL."

These instructions were as enigmatic as anything, but Aymon didn't feel any harmful intent coming from the figure at all. In fact, aside from the instinct that he wanted to approach it, he felt absolutely nothing coming from the creation. So, following the instructions, he placed his hand on the statue's and sent a tiny trickle of power flowing into it. Immediately, the statue's form began to warp and shift, changing color to a flesh tone, the face assuming Aymon's likeness.

Aymon withdrew his hand, and to his surprise, the statue did as well, taking up the same bodily stance that he stood in. It was a mirror, apparently. The statue was exact, down to the long scar that vertically crossed Aymon's chest. He understood now that the stolen tablecloth was for modesty.

Experimenting, Aymon leaned forward. The statue leaned forward as well. The two motions happened at the same instant, with no lag between Aymon's movement and the statue's. Aymon took a couple steps forward. The statue's legs moved as if it was walking, but it did not move forward. Looking more closely, Aymon noticed that the statue was actually floating slightly off the ground, giving it freedom to move without running rampant around the building.

"Hello," Aymon said, and the statue copied his voice at the same instant that he said it. It was odd, hearing a perfect recreation of his own voice coming from right in front of himself.

Having enough of the the mirror, Aymon pulled back the piece of power that he had loaned to the statue. Immediately it lost any semblance of life, and returned to being a completely smooth, blank white figure, holding out its hand.

Oddly enough, Aymon found it impossible to determine what the student who made the project's thought process was. The entire apparatus was so mirror-like that it resisted investigation, and only seemed to bounce back Aymon's intentions for investigating. Even the threads of power were cleverly hidden. This was more interesting to Aymon than the original mirroring concept, though that had been moderately impressive to begin with.

It was strange that this level of detail and thought had gone into the project, yet the student had resorted to covering up genitals with a stolen tablecloth and writing instructions on notebook paper with the fringe still on it. It was a strange combination. Still, the talent of the student was clear. He placed his tag in front of the statue.

He had been thinking that he would choose five students, but none of the others were calling out to him as these three had been. It was better, Aymon thought, to take three that he felt confident in and connected to, rather than three good ones and two with less promise.

He closed his eyes one last time and reached out for the bright spirit wandering campus who was Marca. He prodded her gently and sent along a vague feeling of completion.

He received a mental smile in return and a sense of approval from the older woman.

Satisfied that he had communicated his message to Marca, he closed the line of communication. He returned fully to his body and swept out of the long room, barely glancing at the rest of the projects that he passed. He had gotten what he came for.

As he re-entered the foyer past the large wooden doors, he found his bodyguard, general assistant, and closest confidant, Halen, waiting for him. Halen was a massive man, a full six and a half feet tall, and wide as well. He was extremely pale but with a permanent flush on his face that made him look constantly upset. He was wearing all black, but not the standard cassock or cloak that Aymon preferred- just a simple but neat shirt and pants. Halen was a sensitive, and quite a powerful one, but not an Academy graduate, and Aymon knew that he tended to eye the Academy with suspicion.

"All set? " Halen asked.

"Yeah, I picked three."

"Any potential in there?"

"I hope so. Let's head out. What time is it?" Aymon asked.

"Two twenty six."

"I have that meeting with Admiral Vaalks at seven, don't I?"

"Yes." The pair started walking out of the foyer of the building and into the night. It was cold out, but they only had a short walk to get to their vehicle. The entire time they were walking, Halen kept his power out and alert, scanning the area for any danger. Aymon could feel it around him, since he was so used to Halen and his power, just as he could feel the comforting presence of the large man at his shoulder.

The vehicle they were headed to was a small electric car, with only two seats. It was inconspicuous for when Aymon wanted to travel without an entourage, since it looked exactly like every other black car on the roads. On one hand, Aymon saw the practicality of being under guard, but on the other hand, he could very well defend himself, especially with Halen's help.

Halen got in the driver's seat as Aymon sat in the passenger's side. The two buckled themselves in before Halen drove the speeder out of the lot and into the road, almost recklessly fast through the nearly deserted streets of the city, the Imperial Center.

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A note from javert

Thanks again to the wonderful Lydia (@eternalsdeck on tumblr) for the beta read.

Update 8/23/18 - added banner

edit 7/6/19 - added title


About the author

javert

Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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