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Akari stepped out of the bathroom and into the hotel she shared with Relia. She’d changed into a tank-top, and that revealed some harsh tan lines around where her shirt collar had been.

Sunburn. Well, that explained why the water had stung so much in the shower.

The room itself looked as old as the bar downstairs, with creaking wooden floors and dark plaster walls. An old chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a fancy stone archway led out to the balcony. The curtains hung wide open, giving them a clear view of the town’s skyline.

Relia sat cross-legged on the bed, cycling her mana. She’d borrowed Akari’s extra tank-top. But unlike Akari, she had no tan lines.

“What the hell?” Akari blurted out.

Relia’s eyes snapped open.

“How did you not burn today? You're a ginger for Talek's sake."

“Oh.” The other girl gave a guilty shrug. "Apprentice body.”

Well, that was bullshit. Akari looked mostly Shokenese, but she hadn’t inherited her mom’s tan skin. Instead, she was almost as pale as Mazren. Especially this early in the spring.

She itched at her neck, then scowled. “Any chance you can heal mine?”

Relia considered that. “Okay, but just don’t tell Kalden. There’s not enough mana to go around.”

“Really?” Wood creaked beneath Akari’s bare feet as she stepped closer to the bed. “Figured this would be pocket change for you.”

Relia hovered her hands near Akari’s face, and green-gold light flashed between them. A tingling sensation followed, and a smell like fresh rain.

“Other healers train for endurance,” Relia said, “but I’m more of a heavy hitter. Either I use a bunch of mana, or none at all.”

That made sense. Kalden’s friend, Maelyn, knew how to heal wounds, but her endurance sucked too. That explained why she needed more training to work in a hospital. They didn’t want healers who ran dry after an hour.

But Relia had clearly trained this way on purpose.

“Is that because you’re a fighter?” Akari asked. “No sense in going slow and steady on the battlefield?”

Relia gave a lopsided shrug. "It's not like I grew up wanting to fight. But you’ve seen the trouble my master gets into. Besides, bigger techniques mean quicker advancement.”

“Wouldn’t say no to that,” Akari muttered.

They’d both taken their showers now, so they washed their other clothes in the bathtub. Akari tried asking Relia more questions as they worked, but she kept changing the subject.

Apparently, Life Artists weren’t popular because of the whole ‘silent killing’ thing, but that seemed like a dumb reason to be embarrassed. Sure, killing people was never sugar and rainbows, but what if you had no choice? Might as well make it quick and painless then.

Once they had their clothes drying on the curtain rod, Akari headed for the door between the hotel rooms. It hung open part way, and she peeked inside to see Elend sitting shirtless on the nearest bed.

Kalden sat on the opposite bed in the same cross-legged pose, almost like he was trying to imitate the Grandmaster.

Akari pushed the door open and cleared her throat.

Elend cracked open an eyelid and grinned. “Come to say goodnight to Kalden? I can step out if you’d like.”

In a rare show of diplomacy, she resisted the urge to flip him off. “Came to see you, actually.”

“Right.” Kalden cleared his throat as if that would erase the past few seconds. “We were talking earlier—while you got the room keys.”

“Ah,” Elend said. “You want me to expedite your training.”

Akari nodded, but she found her gaze falling to Elend’s bare stomach. Talek. Old people weren’t supposed to be that ripped.

Elend chuckled, then he shot a burst of mana from his hand, forming a transparent sound suppressor around them. He conjured another technique around his upper body, forming the same tropical shirt he’d been wearing before the fight.

“Say no more, lass. I said I’d teach you lucid dreaming, and there’s no reason we can’t start tonight.”

Lucid dreaming. That was his plan to help them unlock their memories. Especially how they got to the Archipelago, and who they’d been before. That was important, but should it be their main goal?

Akari drew in a deep breath. “That dragon almost killed us today. Dreams and memories won’t keep us alive.”

“I think you underestimate dreams and memories.”

“Combat training might be a better investment,” Kalden said. “At least while we’re trapped here.”

Akari gave an eager nod. “A Construct would have been nice earlier.”

“I can’t teach you Constructs overnight,” Elend told them both. “These things take months to learn.”

Akari turned to face Relia who had just stepped inside the sound suppressor. “Isn’t that what you said about advanced shaping?”

Elend gave her a look that seemed to say, “Don’t get cocky, lass.”

Akari held his gaze. Cocky students didn’t ask for help in the first place. But there was no sense in sailing around the storm either—she and Kalden learned faster than other Mana Artists. That was just a fact.

“You make a fair point,” Elend said, “but it also proves mine. You mastered Missiles quickly because you’d already learned them. Because you tapped into your old memories. Will Constructs be the same way?” He shrugged. “We don’t know. It depends how old you were before. You could have been fifteen, or five.”

“My mom died on the island,” Akari said. “I was thirteen when that happened.”

Elend hummed in consideration. “You’re absolutely sure about that?”

“It’s the clearest memory I’ve got. Everything before it is fuzzy though.”

Relia gaped at her in wide-eyed wonder. “You don’t remember being a kid?”

“Not really,” Akari said. “Just bits and pieces.”

The other girl stared at her as if she were a talking raptor. Even Kalden looked surprised. It had never seemed like a big deal to Akari, though. You couldn’t miss what you never had in the first place.

“I remember playing with my friends.” Kalden furrowed his brow in thought. “I was definitely a kid then—probably ten or eleven. ”

“But what about the island?” Elend asked him. “Are those memories tied to a specific place?”

“I think so.” Kalden frowned, revealing his own uncertainty. “What are the odds that I had the same friends before?”

“Aye,” Elend said. “That’s the question, isn’t it? Your Archipelago had over a quarter-million prisoners. I doubt you were all chosen at random.”

Talek, he was right. Their enemy hadn’t just brought individuals to the island. They’d transported entire families. Why not extend that to friends? But where were the boundaries? Had Akari’s family actually done something to end up there, or were they just unlucky?

Elend waved a dismissive hand. “Speculation will only get us so far. Better to unlock your memories first. Then we’ll have actual evidence to study.”

“What about aspects?” Akari asked. Elend had piqued her interest, but she wasn’t letting him steer the boat that easily. The Grevandi might come back tomorrow for all she knew. Her pure Missiles had been next to useless last time, and aspected mana seemed like the fastest way to grow. Agent Frostblade had only been a Gold, but his Missiles could break through bullet-proof glass. Along with … other things she’d rather forget.

“You've seen my videos,” Elend said. “You can't rush these things.”

“Hardly seems like rushing when I’m ten years behind.”

He shook his head. “You’ll need to train hard to catch up, but you also need to be patient, and remember that Mana Arts is a marathon. Today is just one day in the grand scheme of things. If you’re too eager to destroy things, you’ll be the one who gets destroyed.”

Great, more fortune cookie wisdom that wouldn’t help her survive her next fight. But Akari wouldn’t prove him right by acting more impatient. Instead, she took several deep breaths, choosing her next words with care. “I just want to take the first step. That’s all.”

She turned to Kalden for support, but he seemed content just to listen. He did that a lot—always taking things in.

“I’d rather see you take the right step,” Elend countered. “Don’t forget that I knew your parents. I trust they did their research and found an aspect that suited you.”

Space and time. The aspects from her dreams.

“And if we unlock your memories,” Elend continued, “we might just be able to find it.”

Akari swallowed. “What if I already know?”

“Patience,” he said again. “Your previous dreams might have contained fragments of real memories, but I suspect they’re mostly your imagination—how you saw yourselves rather than how you were. That’s the nature of dreams.”

He glanced between Kalden and Akari. “Until now, you’ve only had vague impressions of your old lives and techniques. I can help you relive real memories. They’ll be as clear to you as this moment. You’ll feel your body performing more advanced Mana Arts, and you can carry those techniques back with you to the real world. Trust me—this is your best chance for growth and survival.”

Akari felt goosebumps creep up her bare arms, and she couldn’t help but nod along.

“Okay,” she said, “when do we start?’

Elend smiled. “Right now.”

 


 

Kalden listened with interest as Elend described the lucid dreaming process. It was surprisingly simple, with little conscious work on his part. Apparently, Elend would send dream mana into their brains, and things would just … work themselves out.

Honestly, it sounded too good to be true. He realized that Elend was a recognized dream expert, but this went against everything he knew about Mana Arts.

He trusted the man to an extent, and he agreed with him about aspects. Akari was being too reckless in that case. You couldn’t rush a decision like this, regardless of how urgent it seemed at the time. He should know—his mother had almost forced him into a career as an alchemist, and that would have led to a lifetime of unhappiness.

"So let me get this straight," Kalden said. “You're going to stick dream mana in our heads, and that guarantees our dreams will be actual memories?"

"Guarantees?" Elend replied. "No. No, that's too strong a word. My mana will put you in a trance-like state while you sleep. This will cause your brain to act in specific ways—recreating memories and suppressing the imagination. But of course—like any trance—it's possible to break. Either on purpose or inadvertently."

Kalden nodded. "You said there were only three techniques before—Missiles, Constructs, and Cloaks." Everyone here already knew this, but it helped him to think out loud. He didn't have a way to take notes, and this was the next best thing.

"Correct," Elend said. "In this case, I’m putting a Construct inside your head. A Missile would work too, but Missiles aren't built to last."

"So it's a Construct." Kalden glanced up at the transparent dome that still surrounded them. "And that's a Construct." His gaze fell on Elend's shirt next. That was probably a Construct too, but it didn't resemble mana at all.

Then he remembered the Grandmaster’s other techniques, and things seemed even crazier. His Missiles could become anything from ink on a page to helicopters in the sky. Those even moved on their own, with no apparent effort on Elend's part.

"Your videos didn't cover this," Kalden finally said. "I thought aspects were the only way to change mana. But you do different things with the same aspect."

"Aye.” Elend smiled. "You're talking about intention—controlling mana with your mind."

He knew it had to be something like that. "And I'm guessing only Masters can do this? That's why you didn't bother mentioning it?"

"Yes and no." Elend raised a finger, and a tiny blue Missile appeared at the tip, no bigger than his thumbnail. The mana drifted slowly upward, then it began spinning in circles, like an electron moving around a nucleus. All the while, Elend kept his hand perfectly still.

“You kids couldn't do this without moving your body. Your mana responds to your soul, and your channels. That's how you control it."

Elend's Missile broke off from its pattern, soaring behind a nearby lamp, then between the curtains.

"The Apprentice and Artisan ranks are all about improving your body—forming new channels through your cells. Naturally, this gives you more options with your mana."

Well, that explained how Elend could shoot mana from his fingertip, while Kalden could only do it from his palms.

"The Master realm is all about improving your mind." Elend's Missile paused over Kalden's bed, then it grew in size, shapeshifting into something with fur, pointy ears, and a tail.

The cat stepped gingerly across the bed, rubbing its head against Kalden's elbow. It felt as real as it looked. It even purred.

"Obviously," Elend said, "we don't have time for a full lecture on theoretical Intention. I teach an entire class on that subject."

"He's not kidding," Relia cut in. "It's literally called Theoretical Intention."

"So here's the short version. I've spent decades controlling mana with my body, and my mind has internalized those patterns. For me, imagining the movement is as good as performing it." He gestured to the cat which still seemed eager for Kalden's attention. "Techniques are a conscious effort at first. Take this a step farther, and my subconscious mind takes over. I know what a cat looks like—how it feels, and how it acts. I'm not imposing my will so much as I'm channeling the idea of a cat."

Kalden nodded. It was a lot to take in, but it explained how Elend's mana could achieve a specific effect inside their heads. Showing them their own memories wasn't so different from showing them an illusion like this.

Akari cleared her throat for the first time in several minutes. "You said non-Masters can do this too?"

"Aye," Elend said. "Everyone can exert their will on mana. Go ahead, try it."

Kalden frowned as he scratched the cat behind its ears. "How?"

"You believe you're petting a cat right now. Stop believing.”

Kalden furrowed his brow in concentration. The cat seemed as real as any cat he'd ever seen. He felt the soft fur beneath his fingers and the vibrations as it purred. It even smelled like a real cat.

And yet, he knew it wasn't real. It was just dream mana. It was just Elend altering his perceptions.

Kalden's hand fell through the cat, collapsing on the bed beneath it. The image blurred and faded until nothing remained.

"Woah." Akari blinked several times. "We could have done that the whole time?"

Elend went on to explain the relationships between different ranks. It was easy for a Master to fool someone in the Foundation realm, but harder to fool someone of his own rank. He also could have poured more mana into the technique, making it impossible for them to oppose.

But that was only true without the unbreakable cuffs and collar he wore. With them, he was barely stronger than an Apprentice in terms of raw power. Fooling the Martials had been easy, but these Grevandi were more of a challenge.

Apparently, aspected Artists also used a cruder version of intention in their basic techniques. That was how Fire Artists like Hector could protect themselves from fire. It was also how Relia used her life mana offensively, causing harm rather than healing.

Elend finished the lessons around ten o'clock, and they were all struggling to stay awake at this point. It had been a long day and an even longer journey between here and Arkala.

Still, it was good to be training again. And now they had a chance to train in their sleep?

Yeah, he could definitely get on board with that idea.

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A note from David Musk

Thanks to everyone who helped beta read this chapter and the next one. (Especially Heridfel who left the most detailed comments!)

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About the author

David Musk

Bio: Hey everyone. I'm a web developer and fantasy writer from Grand Rapids, MI.

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