“Well, Yrza, how are your studies going today?”
I look up from the book and see Master Grandall standing there, stroking his long beard.
“Okay, I'd say.” Having gotten as much as I could out of this one, I close the book and stand to return it to its place on the shelf. “I think I've read everything you have on this subject, but it's still not enough.”
“I take it you're talking about the Ghost Hurricane?” Grandall asks. In response to his question, I nod. “I should have guessed.” He rubs his forehead, seeming a bit tired. “I swear, you're obsessed with this, my boy. Half of the time I see you in this library, that's what you're reading about. If not that, then you're usually studying the maps so that you can go traveling across the Corpse to learn more.”
“I mean, personally, I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't be fascinated by it,” I say, finding the empty spot and putting the book back where it was. “The whole incident was just so mysterious, don't you think? I just hate how there's so little information about it. Like it's just... another thing that happened.”
“When you get right down to it, couldn't you say that that's all it was?”
“Do you not think there's more to discover?” I ask, watching the old man's expression. His calm face is the same as it always is. “For a storm like that to appear out of nowhere, cause so much destruction so fast, and then disappear without a sign... even you have to admit that's strange, right?”
“Indeed, that's not normal,” Grandall says, “but see, there's a reason there's not a lot known about it. I believe I've explained it to you before but in case you've forgotten, the Ghost Hurricane had hit in The Last Days of the Clawscar Empire. That it was strange would be enough reason for it to be hard to learn about, but remember, at that time, the arts of the intellectuals... the historians and all the rest, remember that in The Last Days that was dying out. Almost no one was writing about any of what happened in those days. No one was thinking about the future. Everyone was just caught up in enjoying the present.” He lets out a long sigh, as if meaning to expel his sorrow through it. “Surely, you understand where I'm going with this, right?”
“Yeah, you told me this before, Master,” I say, feeling a bit insulted that he feels the need to remind me, but trying to put that aside, “and I understand. Still, isn't that exactly why it'd be good to go and learn more about it, now?”
“Good point,” Grandall says, with a nod, “but where would you start to look? Remember, the Ghost Hurricane was said to come completely from nowhere, and then, suddenly, disappeared to nowhere again.” He shrugs. “Where would you even begin looking for information on something like that?”
“That's what I intend to find out. That's why I've been learning as much as I can. When I get out there, I'll be the one to record the truth of the Ghost Hurricane. I'll do it the hard way if I have to.” I smirk. “What's to stop me from combing the entire Corpse for answers?”
“You dying,” Grandall says, with a chuckle. “I'll admit, you're learning pretty fast. You know your way around a sword, no doubt, you've been getting good with the Runic Arts, and you were already a survivor when I met you, but trust me, you're not ready for a journey like that, yet. Not even close.”
“Oh, come on, old man!” I shout. “Just you watch, I'll be ready to handle the Empire's Corpse before you know it!”
“Oh, really?” Grandall asks, now smirking, himself. “Well, how about you come and impress me, then? Now, let's go catch a speedscale!”
“What!?” Oh no! Maybe I've run my mouth a bit too much. “Uh, hold on, Master Grandall, that was... I mean--”
“Come on, where did all of that confidence go?” He laughs. “You'll never get far without a speedscale, you know?”
“Er, I mean, yeah, but--”
“Well then, show me!” He starts walking out of the library, knowing I'll follow. “If you can do it, I'll stop making fun of you.”
Ugh, he's got me... time to go make a fool of myself. “Yeah, here I come.”
Here, outside our house in the northeast corner of the continent, we get quite a few speedscales, really fast, big lizards, running around in the open field. Enough life has returned to the land that green, healthy grass is growing, and quite a few of the trees out here have lived a while, too. I wonder how the rest of the Corpse looks? Well, anyway, the two of us have found some rocks to hide behind. I have the lasso with me and can throw it at any time.
“Remember, they're not gonna run around near here forever, Yrza,” Grandall says. “If you don't eventually make a move, they'll be gone for the day.”
“I know, I know,” I say, my eyes darting around, watching them as closely as possible. It's not easy, though. The speed of these things really is no joke. I can't exactly keep up with them.
“What's wrong, Yrza?” he asks, smiling smugly at me again. “You actually can't do it after all, can you?”
“I... I got it, old man! Ssh! You're breaking my concentration!” Seriously, this is difficult enough as it is.
I watch them for a while. The crowd's starting to thin a bit. Curses, I don't have much more time before they all leave... wait!
One of them is coming within the range of the lasso. I gotta take this chance! Preparing the rope as quickly as possible, I start to spin the lasso over my head. Just a bit longer... just a bit longer... now!
I throw the rope at that perfect moment. I should have him. I grip the rope tight, ready to wrangle 'im in...!
...only for the rope to land on the ground.
“Ha ha ha ha!” Oh come on, old man. I know I look pretty stupid right now, but can't you please give me a break? “Yeah, I had a feeling this would happen.” As I watch the rest of the speedscales go running away, Grandall stands up from where he was. “Y'know, Yrza, you're still making that same mistake.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, legitimately unsure what I'm doing wrong.
“You keep throwing your rope for where the speedscale is,” he says, gesturing directly ahead, “but the creatures are too fast for that. You need to try throwing it where they're going to be.”
“How am I supposed to do that, Master? I can't see the future, you know.” You haven't picked up one of the prophets, old man. I am sure of that much.”
“Well, I can't tell you the trick, but remember that I'm no prophet, myself, yet I can still catch a speedscale of my own,” Grandall says, and he is indeed telling the truth. I've seen him catch one before with my own eyes. I still don't know exactly how he did it, though. Everything happened so fast.
“You can't even give me a hint?”
“It's really not that hard, Yrza,” Grandall says, smiling, genuinely, this time, “you just need to keep practicing. I'm certain you'll eventually understand what you have to do.”
“Here's hoping you're right about that.”
“Please, when was the last time I was wrong, Yrza?” He says, with a laugh. “Well, let's head back inside and get another look at your skill with the runes. You seem to do better with that.”
“Yeah,” I say, still looking out at the field.
Behind me, I can already tell Grandall is starting to head back. After one last glance, I follow him. I swear, I am going to get that right eventually.
“Say, Yrza, I never did tell you exactly how these runes work, did I?”
“Huh?” I look up from the paper rune seal I'm making. This one I'm working on has a Fire Rune Complex drawn on it. I really should be making some seals other than this, but for some reason the fire comes naturally to me. Plus, I can see myself getting a lot of use out of fire Runic Arts. Cooking, a torch in dark places, etc. Maybe I could say that about the other elements, especially water, but for some reason I'm not good with that. “Personally, I thought it was enough to know that our spirit energy charged the symbols.”
“Hm, you might be right about that,” Grandall says, looking at a book about the runes, though I would personally assume the man knows all there is to know about them already. Perhaps even he has to refresh his memory every once in a while. “but I feel it'd be helpful for you to know how far runeology has come. Plus, you must have some interest in knowing more, right?” He points to the piece of paper in my hand. “What do you think of the one you just made?”
“Like, what does it mean?” I ask, unsure of where he's going. I hold the seal up with two fingers. “This? It just symbolizes fire, doesn't it?”
“That's the simplest way of looking at it, and you're not wrong, but that's not entirely correct, either.”
“Yrza, think of the world, the way it works... as if it were a complex machine of some sort. Normally, everything in nature works the way it always has, but with the Runic Arts, we can make that machine work for us, in a specific way we ask it to, even if it's only for a moment.” He looks at me, as if awaiting my input. “Don't you find it all very fascinating?”
“Yeah, it's interesting stuff and all, but,” I say, scratching my head, “I'm pretty sure you've said as much to me before.”
“Take another look at that paper seal, or your left arm,” he says, pointing once more. “Sure, you understand that that is 'fire', but do you really understand what all the runes in that Complex mean? Do you know what each part of what you're looking at does for the Art?”
“Hmm, you're right. I don't know what all of this means.” Well, duh, I probably should have figured it's called a “Complex” for a reason. I guess, with all these parts, these runes working together, Rune Complexes are kind of like machines, themselves, huh?
“Anyway, Yrza, what I'm actually getting at is,” Grandall says, waving his hand around to gesture towards the book he was reading, and the rest of the books of runeology he has. “It would not be easy to make something like that work reliably, right? Runeology has a long, complicated history. There are all kinds of old chants and rituals that we don't use anymore, because we started discovering all kinds of faster, easier methods, finding shortcuts, eventually leading us to the Rune Complexes we use now.”
“It's a bit hard for me to imagine the Runic Arts being any different from what I've been using all this time.”
“And yet, it once was. We've made a lot of progress with Runic Arts over centuries and centuries... but there are still plenty of places they could still go.”
“How do you figure?”
“Well, there could be even more efficient methods that we haven't discovered, yet. Plus, there are things that our current Runic Arts simply can't do, like reverse time or show us the future.”
“I take it you don't believe the prophets were Rune Masters, then?”
Grandall shakes his head. “I don't. That's beside the point, though. What I'm saying is, even though we've made a lot of progress, I still believe we're nowhere near the apex of what we can achieve.” Something about the regret I see on his face tells me...
“...you're not just talking about Runic Arts anymore, are you?”
“Right. One of the reasons The Last Days came about was because we mistakenly believed that our society could not be any better than it was at that moment. We allowed ourselves to stop growing, and of course, you've seen the result of all that.”
“Always remember that you're never done learning, Yrza,” he says, getting out of his seat. “Even I, as an grey-haired, eighty year-old man, am still looking for answers to this question or that. Hopefully you, too, will keep this in mind.”
“I definitely will.”
“That's good enough for me,” he says, yawning. “I'd suggest you take a break from training with the sword for today. You've already gotten so good at it that I don't think I have anything else to teach you, anyway.”
“Are you sure, Master? I wouldn't want to get rusty.”
“Your skills won't rust over in one day,” Grandall says, laughing, “besides, it would be good to give your body a chance to rest, I think. You've been going at it awful hard, lately.”
“Well, I guess you make a good point.”
“Hey, like I said, when was the last time I was wrong? Ha ha ha!” Grandall finally leaves the room. “Now, the rest of the day is yours. Use your time wisely, and remember not to stay up too late.”
Feeling no need for words, I just bow in his direction as he walks away.
“Alright, give the sword a rest, huh?”
Well, I guess I could keep exercising my mind if not my body. For now, I'll head over to the library to read some more.