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A note from argusthecat

Put the comments in the bag and the chapter doesn't get hurt.

Unnamed - Apparatus Of Change

Available Power : 4

Authority : 4

Bind Insect (1, Command)

Fortify Space (2, Domain)

Distant Vision (2, Perceive)

-

Nobility : 3

Congeal Glimmer (1, Command)

See Domain (1, Perceive)

Claim Construction (2, Domain)

Empathy : 3

Shift Water (1, Shape)

Imbue Mending (3, Civic)

-

Spirituality : 3

Shift Wood (1, Shape)

Small Promise (2, Domain)

Make Low Blade (2, War)

Ingenuity : 3

Know Material (1, Perceive)

Form Wall (2, Shape)

Link Spellwork (3, Arcane)

Tenacity : 2

Nudge Material (1, Shape)

Bolster Nourishment (2, Civic)

Twice in this new life I have seen combat. Once from afar, and once up close and with my own involvement. Though it’s worth admitting that my true body being buried a quarter of a length underground does make the real risk of battle slightly less, even if it’s happening overhead. But if I’m going to admit that, I should also admit that losing the people close to me would hurt just as much as dying would, so it’s not much separation.

Both fights I have lived through were fast, brutal, and lethal. Brief moments to make life or death choices, scrambling to wrap my immaterial hands around any tool that could tilt the balance, barely enough time to process what was happening as injuries mounted and blood spilled.

I thought this fight would not be much different.

Then the creature, which had fixed its motions onto the camp as soon as it breached the treeline, took a few steps forward, placed too much weight on a portion of covered ground, and plunged a length straight down onto the barbed wooden stakes I’d made earlier.

I could hear through my dwindling Bind Insect connection that there were noises being made, but they all seemed to be from the camp itself. Children crying as the old fear came back, adults shouting for the same reason really. But I didn’t hear anything from the monster itself.

It just sat there, legs obscured by the dirt it had plunged into, the top of its curved body poking out into the air, black fur and waving ‘hands’ swaying in the breeze.

There was a moment where the bowman on the wall might have paused. Maybe considered the almost comical anticlimax of the event. But if I was coming to understand Kalip at all, as a person, it was that he was profoundly uninterested in that use of his time.

An arrow sprouted from the top of the creature’s body, its form jerking back in maybe surprise, maybe pain. Then another. A third arrow whished by as Kalip fumbled the shot, and through the beetle I had perched on the wall, I could hear a vibration from him that I was absolutely sure was profanity.

Four, five, six, seven. Over and over he pulled the string back, took aim, and hit the target. His aim getting more precise as the tension drained away.

It was a napping yessik, stuck down in that pit trap. It couldn’t even move, much less defend itself. And Kalip took advantage of the free time to spend his whole quiver on it.

And then we waited. I let go of the eyes of my bees and beetle, as Bind Insect approached empty and I needed to conserve my strength to stay awake. But I could see the exact moment the monster dies within my range. Because, in this state, focusing on its death, I can see the veritable bloom of power that washes off it. Also as Know Material gave me a clear count of the increased units of meat, fur, and silk.

A tiny, tiny amount of silk. But it was there now, the smallest number on my magical ledger. I added a warning about it as I burned the last dregs of Nudge Material to write a message into the wall. Monster dead I scribed in thick letters, blind of everything but the knowledge of the wall itself without my bees to guide me. See Domain and Claim Construction were suddenly a lot more valuable than I had expected as I used them to direct my writing, and hoped that someone would notice it. Silk is poison, avoid.

We’d have to puzzle out what to do with that later. It was possible the strands of gossamer material, which was silk I suppose, were only dangerous when the monsters put their own magic into it. There was every possibility it was safe when the creatures were dead. But I didn’t particularly feel like it was good idea to ask any of the refugees in the camp to touch it and find out if it make them take leave of their senses.

Of everyone here, I would be the safest to handle it. But I was so rapidly approaching being empty of all my powers, that I could feel sleep pressing in like black lines in the edges of my mind.

I didn’t actually know if I needed sleep, the way a human or demon did. I’d been awake for days at this point, using short breaks as periods of introspection and worry to let my spell constructs recharge. But not sleeping, really.

And I did feel strain, now that I focused on it and didn’t just push through to try to accomplish what was needed. There was a pressure building in my mind, a pain I had ignored for convenience, but that was growing and gnawing. Sleep… if I was lucky, sleep would drive it back. If I wasn’t, then this was something else. Something a nap wouldn’t fix.

It wasn’t as if I had much choice but to check, though. I had exhausted too much of my magic. And while some spells still sat waiting to be used, the others produced a whirlpool for my thoughts as they pulled like a drowning woman into their emptied reservoirs. I could force through, if I truly needed to, and drive off sleep for a bit longer. But I could also let it come, and actually be ready to act when I woke up, instead of an exhausted shell.

With an inner sigh, I loosened my grip on my magic, letting the various spells slip from my control one by one. And then I let myself slip away too, sleep coming up to claim me so swiftly I don’t even feel it until I’m fading away.

The last thing I notice is one of the glimmer I made shattering, a rush of grey beginning to congeal in my form just as I fall asleep.

_____

Available Power : 8

I wake up, refreshed and instantly alert, and feel the new points of power inside me like distant stars. The tension and slowly growing mental ache are gone, and in their place, I am free to cleanly feel the worry and trepidation that I have a good reason for.

My magics respond to my thoughts like I have been doing this my whole life. Which, on a technicality, I am allowed to say I have been. Know Material and See Domain are the simplest, and they come to me first, filling my mind with scraps of incomplete but still useful knowledge.

They are also as far as I need to go to assuage my fears. Yuea and Jahn are both back within range of See Domain, and instantly the fresh worry I built up immediately upon waking vanishes. Whether or not their strike was a success, they are back and alive.

I continue through my spells, finding my connections to the remaining glimmer and the surviving blades I’ve made. There are more glimmer than knifes, and I again feel that personal shame about the magically enforced low quality of my creations. Through See Domain, I check on the walls and buildings I have taken in with Claim Construction, a growing familiarity letting me see their actual use as well as just their existence. I should advance my Nobility so as to improve the focus of See Domain. Perhaps that will give me a better option to help defend my people as well.

And then I make it to Bind Insect. My most cherished magic, really. It comes to life, tethers spinning out in my mind to bring me bundles of the sensations of the twenty bees and one large beetle under my purview.

They’ve gotten bigger while I slept, I think. About half the spell is reserved just for them now, keeping them bound to me and keeping them growing. Not just growing in size, but growing in general; I can feel it, now. How they are being reshaped.

My mind again goes to monsters.

I touch another of my spells. Small Promise. Here is one that I haven’t had call to use for some time; it isn’t good for communication without weight, or the exchange of information. But now, I cast, and make a promise. Not for anyone in particular, but to myself. To the creatures under my magic. To the world.

I will never force you to change as you do not wish.

It will be the easiest oath to keep. Right up until the exact moment it isn’t, the memories of the cleric nudge at me. But I will keep it. And from that layer of intent upon the world, I can already sense small motes that make up my power shaking loose, and drifting toward my core. My body hungrily taking in the source of my magic as will and action meet in a promise.

There will be time later to decide how I will spend my power. For now, I open my eyes through my bees, and begin to survey the camp while disrupting their pollen gathering as little as possible. Though I do commandeer one of them to find Yuea and see what I can learn.

What I learn is that Yuea is injured. A bloody hole in her collar, held together with the last of the camp’s bandages. But she is sitting up, and eating, so the worst has not occurred. She gives a nod to the bee as it lands on the wood bowl she is eating out of, as if she’s been expecting me to drop by.

Bolster Nourishment goes into her porridge today. She needs it, no matter what she thinks.

Through writing back and forth in the dirt, and with help from the demoness teacher Seraha, I garner a report. The soldier’s memories make the process almost too familiar, and I start to wonder what Yuea’s actually job was before… everything. Before this.

But for now, I know what happened. She and Jhan sortied out, found the monster, and killed it. And it absolutely was not that simple, she leaves out a number of details of the fight, including how she was injured or why Jhan seems like they’re nursing a headache and Yuea won’t meet the demon’s eyes. She spends more time detailing the landmarks between the camp and their target, and as I do mental math to sort out distances, I use Shift Wood and the senses of my beetle to update the map that has been placed near their campfire.

There’s a few large flat pieces of bark around the map, too. Seraha tells me that the children were competing to find the best one for me to add, and I feel a warm bloom like a smile spread through myself as I decide to use all of them when I need them.

I make adjustments to the map, noting the new landmarks for navigation and making a clear indication of the position and range of the enemy near us, using the margins to sketch an image of one of the long-legged monsters.

A small cluster of the adults have gathered around the map by the time I’m done, and I’m getting close to making out words in their conversation with the beetle. But they still write to help me keep up, Seraha acting like a scribe rapidly sketching the important part of their words to me.

“We need to leave.” Kalip says, pointing to where I’ve marked the source of the monsters. “It’s right there. We almost walked right into it, we have to leave.”

“To where?” Jahn asks. “Came from different directions. Both our people, hunted.”

The abbreviation of words there catches me off, and it takes me more effort to puzzle out that they mean that the human and demon parties both arrived from different directions, but were chased by different forces. Meaning that both those directions are locked off for any potential fleeing.

“We can’t run.” Yuea says, reiterating her stance from when they first arrived. “The spirit can’t follow.”

Spirit. Me. She means me. The conversation pauses as they look to the beetle I have sitting on the map, representing me in the discussion.

I don’t really hesitate that much to trust them as I draw more in the dirt. I can leave. I say. If that is what we decide. I want to say more, something reassuring or meaningful. That I meant it when I promised them I would abide by the group decision all those busy days ago. But I’m saving my arcane stamina. Nudge Material is still limited.

I really should improve Tenacity. The cost is a pittance, now.

“You can move?” Someone has asked as I refocus. I did not see who was pointed to as the speaker, I think I heard Kalip through the beetle but voices are hard to distinguish.

Yes. I say. I am not a spirit. I am buried under the camp. A small stone.

I absolutely hear profanity this time, clear enough I can understand the curse through the beetle. The old pink furred teacher recording words for me on reflex before abruptly stopping. “It’s a…”

The people around the map have pulled back, the writing to me stops, the noise of arguing reaches me.

They are afraid. I’m not a fool, I can see it. They are afraid of me.

Because they know what I am. And in my crystal heart, I know I was correct. That I know where the monsters are coming from, that I know why there is a domain that tastes uncomfortably familiar out there.

There are a lot of stirred up memories at the feeling of this moment. Of being betrayed, or hated. Of being an outsider when one of my lives thought they had finally been included. I can see through my bug’s eyes that some of the humans are putting distance between themselves and the demons in the camp, and I remember that they are only here because I asked for them to be included. My own nature now casting doubt on them as well.

I have trusted too soon, and pushed a situation of desperate and scared people over the edge.

And then Yuea responds to something that one of the other humans says - Malpa, I think is his name - by ramming a scarred fist into the man’s stomach.

There is a silence that even I can hear as Yuea, face twisted in pain from the move that pulled at her bandages, slaps a hand against the smoothed bark of the map I have made, and starts yelling something at them. I don’t catch the start, but when she has their attention, she speaks her next words so clearly that I can catch them through the nervously vibrating beetle that is perched on the edge of the map and ready to run.

“We!” She tells them, and I ‘hear’ her voice well enough to understand for the first time. “Are! Dying!” She sweeps her gaze and a pointed finger around all of them. Continuing on to say more in a voice less clear to me, but drawing the people back from their immedient retreat.

To the side, as the people stop arguing and are drawn in by her words, the old demon reaches out a finger to add a question of her own to the dirt. “Are you going to hurt us?” She asks.

I don’t have a heart, but the resigned nature of her action and the question breaks it all the same.

Never. I write back.

She takes some time to consider the word. But eventually, she nods her horned head. Looks up, tells the others something.

Their conversation keeps going, but I ask my beetle and bees to leave for now, leaving behind a reassuring message in the dirt. I will give them space to talk, and when they are ready, they can make a decision.

The singer has a lot of memories of running away from conversations like this. But I can learn from the people I once was, and I think this time I will actually come back. Not only because I am tethered to this place, but because no matter how much it hurts to be feared by the people I have been trying to help, I do still care.

But I will give them time.

Now seems like an excellent opportunity to distract myself with magic.

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About the author

argusthecat

Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, there's a bunch of other short stores on my patreon or over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!

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