Brian W. Antoine
May 28, 1995
Given the life I lead, I've learned to appreciate the simple things that help you forget the chaos. Someplace near the top of my list of things to just sit back and enjoy, is swinging slowly in a hammock during a beautiful summer day. The fact that the sky peeking back at me through the gaps in the trees above was green instead of blue, altered what I felt, but didn't diminish it. What did serve to tickle my sense of humor was the fact that I was feeling both warm and comfortable at a time when the rest of my rather odd family was holed up in our house where it was cooler.
All that is except for my son, who was resting in the grass beneath my hammock and talking quietly to himself as he did his homework. He alone had decided to join me outside when the temperature climbed into the low 80's.
The rest of the family were finding ways to stay busy in the underground levels of our home where it was nice and cool. I also expected that they were plotting revenge against me for my offer to shave their fur off so they could join me outside. They hadn't found my little joke the slightest bit funny, which was another reason I was outside at the moment.
Velans have a very active sense of humor. It's their outlet for the aggression that they are genetically incapable of unleashing against their own kind. Being Human though, I'd found myself the target of practical jokes that they would never have played on one of their own, for the simple reason that those safeguards didn't apply to me. The fact that I was more fragile then they were just made it important that I try to stay one step ahead of them since they didn't always scale back the physical jokes to account for the difference. Out of necessity, I'd given free reign to my own sense of humor just to try and fit in.
So, I lay there in my hammock, enjoying the light breeze that was blowing through the undergrowth and taking occasional sips from my lemonade, as I thought about how to outwit my mate at her own game. It wasn't something I could take lightly either. In all the time I'd spent here over the years, I'd learned that it wasn't /if/ they would design a practical joke to get even with you, it was /when/. What I hadn't figured out yet was how they kept score.
I don't remember falling asleep, but my son, Lan Louis, must have decided that I wasn't paying attention when I didn't answer him. Being rather direct, he simply poked me gently in the back with one of his claws to wake me up. "Da?"
"Huh?" My eyes snapped open and I lay there confused for a second as I tried to figure out what had gotten my attention.
"Da, you were snoring again," came the comment from below me, along with a hint of a giggle in his voice.
Rolling over in the hammock, I looked beneath me and saw my son looking up at me from the datapad he had been working on. The expression on his face was half annoyance and half humorous and I chuckled myself. My life was a lot of things, but simple wasn't one of them.
The three foot tall fox based anthropomorph that still called me "Da" just drove the point home. It was obvious that I couldn't be his real father, or "Da" as he'd mangled the English word he'd learned as a small wiggling bundle in my arms. It had also become obvious as he'd grown that he didn't care. I was the male that his mother had taken as mate and one of the people who was raising him. That to him was all that mattered, with the possible exception that I was better at math then Kalindra -- which might have been why he was outside with me instead of in the house.
"I've told you before, I don't snore," I said and I stuck my tongue out at him. The expression on his face as he tried to copy me just got me laughing again. "Besides, if I had been snoring, your mother would have been out here beating the stuffing out of me," which was more true than I cared to remember. I'd adjusted, more or less, to sleeping with the entire family in the same room, on what looked like a large fluffy cushion. They however hadn't adjusted to me quite so easily. I had been informed in language that could not be misinterpreted that I was either going to stop snoring, or I was going to swallow my pillow in the middle of the night.
He thought about that for a moment, which included a quick glance towards the house, then he smiled. "Ok, you were not snoring. You should make sure though that the bug you just swallowed wasn't poisonous because it was making a terrible noise as it died."
"Thank you, I'll keep that in mind," and I started to roll back over to resume my 'thinking'. I only made it about half way though before I got stopped again.
"Da?" I stopped in mid-turn and looked down at my son with one eye as he stole another glance towards the house. "Can I ask you a question?"
I rolled back onto my stomach and said, "Sure, you know you can always ask me anything." Something was up, that much was certain from the expression on his face. With a flick of his claw, he shut down the datapad he'd been working on and pushed it aside as he glanced towards the house yet again.
"Can you teach me to be a Mage?"
That was the /last/ question I'd expected to get asked and I learned right then and there that standing up in a hammock just doesn't work. Without even blinking, Lan grabbed his datapad and rolled out of my way as I spun sideways and landed face first in the grass. He at least had the good manners not to laugh as I raised myself up on my elbows and spit a chunk of grass out before I turned to look at him.
"Excuse me, was that one of the questions I'm not supposed to ask you?" he asked me with just a hint of apprehension.
It took a moment for his question to sink in, and it just added to my confusion. "What are you talking about?" As I lay there watching, my son made a point of checking out the area around us and then looking towards the house.
"Well ... I don't think I'm ..." and I watched in puzzlement as my son argued with himself. He was nervous, that much was obvious from the way he was reacting to the smallest sound coming out of the forest around us. What he'd said though told me that he was trying to reconcile his natural curiosity with something somebody had told him.
"Lan, I think we need to talk," and I rolled over so I could sit up and face him. "Son, I need to make sure you understand something here. There is no such thing as a question you can't ask me. You are free to ask me anything you want, at anytime. The worst that I'll ever do is to explain to you why I won't or can't answer you." Reaching up, I grabbed the hammock and swung it out of the way so I could get comfortable as I folded my legs beneath me. "First though, I have a question of my own. Who told you that you weren't supposed to ask me certain questions?"
I watched as he thought about it for a moment, then smiled to myself as I watched his curiosity and youth win the argument he was having with himself. Even at the age of six, which was halfway through his basic school years, Lan never failed to surprise me with the things he simply understood without having to ask. "Who do you want to know about first?"
"There is more than one?" I said with restraint. Lan nodded, and I told him to "Start at the top of the list" with a sigh as I worked to keep my temper under control.
Even as upset as I felt, I had to chuckle as he started ticking things off on his fingers. It was one of several Human quirks he'd picked up from being around me so much. "Well, Lythandi says I'm not supposed to ask you about why Penny can't go back to Earth with you anymore. Penny says I'm not supposed to ask you about the unicorn story she told me about. My mother has told me that I'm not to ask you about anything having to do with my other father," and as he continued to list topics he watched me to see how I was going to react.
It's tough to react when you're in shock. I haven't managed to keep the title of ArchMage all these years though, by not continuing to function anyway when in that condition. It became quickly apparent though was that this conversation was going to take a lot more time than I'd thought moments ago. Grabbing my pillow from the hammock, I scooted over next to the closest tree and settled in for the duration. "Ok, I meant what I said earlier. Are there any of those questions that you'd like to ask me now?"
"Yes ..." and he wouldn't look me in the eyes for a moment.
"Ok then, ask away," I said as I prompted him. Somehow, I knew just which one bothered him the most.
"Do you know who my other father is?"
I was right, and I was also sure he wasn't going to like the answer. "No, only your mother knows that and I've never asked her. I still remember the look on her face when she learned that my skill as a shapeshifter didn't extend to making us genetically compatible. When I suggested that she find someone honorable to give her the child she wanted, she about threw me through the nearest wall. I've never brought up the subject again." I then watched as he thought about that for a moment.
"Ok, do you think you know who my other father is?"
I looked at the twinkle in his eye and made a mental note to myself to avoid debating with him as he got older. "Yes, I have an idea who he is," and I waited for the expected question.
"Is he an honorable person?"
I almost answered the wrong question, then caught myself before I said the name I'd been thinking of. In the same situation, I'd have asked /who/ my father was, but my value systems are slightly different than a normal Velans. To them, how they were thought of by others was more important then who they were related to by birth. Only when they joined another family as an adult, did they begin to include others in their personal definition of honor. That fact continues to surprise me even after I've lived here all these years.
"Son, if I'm right, he's one of the most honorable people I know."
Lan looked at me for a second, then accepted my answer with a nod. Given the number of male Velans I knew well enough to say that about, he probably had no trouble guessing who I was talking about. As that thought occurred to me, I nodded back and then chuckled as we both silently agreed to drop the subject. Holding my arms out I invited my son into them. With a smile he accepted my offer and hopped into my lap where he could hug me back.
"So, is that all you wanted to know?" I asked him, before I blew in his ear to tease him.
After tickling me a little in revenge for his ear, Lan turned so he could look up at me and said, "Would you tell me about the unicorn?"
Even as ticklish as I am, the memories that question invoked brought my laughter to an abrupt halt. The silence, and my hugging him tighter, told my son that his simple question had touched on something important to me. "I don't really need to know," he said as he hugged me tighter in return.
"No, that's OK, but you could have forgotten that question and I wouldn't have objected," I said as I thought about it. "I don't suppose there is any reason you shouldn't know, and it might help put the whole thing to rest finally. If not that, it at least might help get Penny to drop the matter and quit making more of it then there needs to be." Lan just nestled his head under my chin and listened.
Even with the passage of time, I still remembered how I'd felt that night so long ago. "Years ago, just after Kimi had decided to retire and I became the ArchMage of my world, I managed to work myself into a real good depression. Everything seemed to be falling apart in my life at about the same time, -- then the lady I was sure I loved told me that she didn't want anything more to do with me." I paused as the memory of the anger I'd felt that day echoed faintly through the years, then continued. "I'd just recently started keeping a journal of what happened in my life, and one lonely night in my lab I sat down and wrote the story of 'The ArchMage and the Unicorn' as a way to help me work out what I was feeling. What I didn't know at the time was that Penny had become aware enough to be worrying about me and that she was reading everything I wrote."
Even had I known, I probably wouldn't have done anything. At that time, I'd still thought she was nothing more than an AI that I'd created using magic. It was years later before I found out what had really entered my life, or what it was that had decided I needed a friend to watch out for me.
"But why a story about a unicorn?"
I looked down at my son and chuckled. "Have you read enough of the stuff in my private library to know what the unicorn stands for in Terran mythology?"
"I think so," he said and I saw him try to figure it out. "They are symbols of purity and are only supposed to allow themselves to be touched by someone who has not yet shared of themselves with another."
I had to laugh slightly as I listened to my son translate things into something that made sense to him. "That's close, but you're missing something, or at least you didn't mention it. Think about what you just told me and then think about what it means to the unicorn. To me, it meant that a unicorn must live a terribly lonely life, and a Mage on my world has a similar problem. We have all that power, but we are both restricted by rules we can't change from ever really getting close to another person. Because I was forbidden to tell anyone what I was, I was well on my way to becoming a hermit before your mother entered my life." Maybe he understood and maybe he didn't, but I tend to believe he did. Whichever it was, he seemed satisfied with my answer and was content to just sit there in my arms with his thoughts for a moment. Then my son, an alien born on a world a thousand light-years from my own, changed the way I'd remember that story forever.
"At least it had a happy ending," he murmured as he started snooping around in one of the pockets of the vest I was wearing.
"Huh? What do you mean?" I asked as I batted his hand away from a couple of the pockets that he didn't need to be exploring.
"If that other lady hadn't decided that you were not acceptable as a mate, you would not have been available for my mother to chase."
It took a moment for that to sink in.
Lan meanwhile, took the opportunity to track down the pocket I kept my candy in while I sat there and wondered why that thought had never occurred to me. Even more, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made and the small emerald fire that flickered in the heart of my mind reminded me of all I had gained the day Kalindra had asked me to spend my life with her. However lonely I'd been before, it had been driven into the shadows when the empathic bond I shared with my mate had formed. When that bond had been tempered in the heart of a star, the loneliness have vanished forever. I don't think though that I'll ever understand what it was that I did to deserve being rewarded with the family Kalindra asked me to help her form.
"Son," I said as I smiled and lowered my head so I could look at him. "Thank you for ... Hey!" and I grabbed hold of the muzzle that was busy making the contents of my candy pocket vanish. "Those are hard to come by around here!" His muzzle trapped by my hand, Lan just looked up at me and tried to look repentant. Keeping a close eye on him, I slowly released his muzzle so he could withdraw it from my pocket. I couldn't avoid laughing though when I spotted the jellybean hanging from one of his teeth, a jellybean that vanished the moment he could open his muzzle and pop it into his mouth. I just shook my head and sighed as he giggled and nestled up against me again trying to get comfortable.
"If you don't have anything else to ask me, I have a question for you now."
"I think I've asked enough questions for one day," he replied as he shifted in my arms slightly.
"Ok, then it's my turn," and I pulled him away from where he'd been resting and sat him down in the grass where we could face each other. "You asked me earlier to teach you to be a Mage. Before I even agree to test you, I want to know why you want to be a Mage." Sitting there in the shade, I watched as he thought about it carefully and was pleasantly surprised to find he didn't have an immediate answer available.
"My answer is part of the test, isn't it," he finally replied.
"Yes it is" I told him. "If you had tried to give me a quick answer just now, I'd have probably figured that you weren't taking my question seriously. Son or not, my response would have been to refuse your request."
"What if I had figured out that you might ask me that question and had worked out my answer ahead of time?"
I added a second mental check mark next to the promise never to debate with my son. "Then you would probably have had to explain that to me and hope I believed you. That isn't what happened though and I still need an answer." Thinking about it for a moment, I added, "and don't try to misdirect me with something that just sounds good either. I may be getting older, but I'm not stupid."
Lan snuck a quick glance towards the house, then grinned. "The male who can survive living with my mother and Lythandi is anything but stupid. After hearing you offer to shave both of them though, I am forced to question my father's sanity."
"You heard that little comment?" I asked as I reminded myself that I still needed to think of a way to avoid whatever they were certainly planning. "Consider that a lesson in why wisdom and intelligence aren't the same thing then, and I still want to hear your answer." The expression on his face told me that he had indeed been trying to change the subject, but I was willing to forgive him. "Would you like some time to think about it?" He nodded, so I shifted to a more comfortable position and waited.
For about a half hour I sat there and watched as my son agonized over my question. That he couldn't explain just why he felt the way he did, made me believe that his reason was in fact based more on feeling then thought. That was something in his favor as far as I was concerned. How he felt about something, as opposed to how he thought about it, was less likely to change as he got older. Sitting there watching him though, I started remembering what my answer had been all those years ago when Kimi had showed up at my door.
She'd taken months instead of weeks to track me down once my ability had manifested. The delay had negated the chance I had to decline the changes that were occurring and have them, and the memories of them, fade away. Since she couldn't ask me if I wanted to forget what had been going on, she'd asked, "By what right do you expect to become a Mage?" She still gave me a bad time about my answer even now. Somehow, my telling her that, "I'm already a Mage. Now I want to become a good one," had convinced her to take me on as her student instead of figuring out where to hide my corpse.
With an inward laugh about times long past, I pulled myself back to the present and the son that now worked at his own answer to that question. At least twice while we sat there he started to say something and both times it died in his throat before really getting started. Then at last he gave me the only answer he had.
"I don't know," he told me as his ears dropped in despair.
"Fair enough, it isn't an easy question to answer as I well know," and he looked up at me in surprise. "I'm not going to just drop this though, because I believe it means a lot to you, even if you're not sure why. Instead of telling me why you want to be a Mage. Try and tell me what you think a Mage is."
The smile that lit up his face told me we were on the right track, even if only one of us knew it. "That's easy, or at least I think it is," he said. "A Mage is someone with a special skill who uses that skill to make things better for everyone around them."
"And why do you think that?"
"Because I've watched my mother and you do exactly that for as long as I can remember," he said with that aura of certainty that comes with youth.
"Your mother and I have also screwed up a lot over the years also. Do you think that being a Mage makes you less responsible for the problems those mistakes cause others?"
"No, I don't. I think that part of being a good Mage though is that you will try to correct those mistakes when you can, and my mother and father have always tried to make those corrections with honor."
"So you think Mages are honorable?"
"Good ones are, my parents are, and I'd like to prove that I can be too."
It wasn't a direct answer, but getting it from him when he didn't know he was giving it, made it worth more. "Then I expect you should get your chance, don't you?"
The smile that lit up his face was worth the trouble I'd put him through when I told him, "If you still want me to test you now, I will."
It vanished just as quick as it had appeared though when I told him, "But I have one more tiny little question to ask you. Are you sure you want me to do this instead of your mother?" For whatever reason, he had to stop and think about that before he smiled and answered me.
"I want you to be my teacher because my mother would tell me I'm too young to be thinking about an apprenticeship. Also, you don't seem to have as many rules that I'd have to start memorizing."
"Did you ever consider she may have a point? You've still got a couple of years of general studies left before you're supposed to decide what you'll do with your life. As for my not having as many rules, don't you believe it. I had to memorize the same set of rules you're talking about when I asked Kalindra to teach me her style of magic. When everything was all said and done, I found that we believed in a lot of the same things. I just don't make my students memorize my rules."
"You have rules too?"
"Of course! You're just expected to figure them out by thinking about how and what I teach you, instead of having them given to you directly," and I gave my son my best 'terrorize the apprentice' smile. "And I test you to see if you're learning them also."
Lan's ears twitched just slightly in dismay, then he looked over at his datapad where it lay on the ground. "Do I have to study more math and stuff?"
I had to laugh in spite of myself. "Yes, you still need math, physics and a lot of other stuff you'll grow to hate. But, you need to know it to be a really good Mage. When you're tampering with reality, the more you know about how things are supposed to work, the better you will be at changing how a specific thing works with a spell. Now, do you still want me to test you?" With a sigh that all parents come to understand, Lan nodded in resignation.
"Then the next thing we need to find out is if you even have the talent to work magic. Move a little closer to me and hold your hands out in front of you like this," and I cupped my hands in front of me like I was trying to hold water in them. When Lan had moved close enough so that I could hold his hands in mine, I told him, "Close your eyes now and try to clear your mind."
Yeah, right. A six year old kid who has just been told that he might get his wish to become an apprentice Mage was just going to clear his mind of everything and relax. My mate was going to give up lemon candy too. He couldn't even keep his eyes closed, I found, as I spotted him sneaking a peek at me when he thought I might not be looking. "Lan, I'm serious, you have to be relaxed for this to work."
"You're not going to play a joke on me?"
"I'm trying to test you to see if you have any talent for magic. Why would I play a joke on you?" I asked feeling a little puzzled.
"The last time I heard you tell Lythandi to close her eyes and hold out her hands, you filled them with honey and ran," said my son as he kept one eye half open to watch me. "It took her two days to get it all out of her fur."
"Lan, I'm not going to play a joke on you. You asked me to test and teach you and I'm trying to do just that. I can't do either though if you don't trust me or won't relax and let me continue."
Both eyes opened and stared up into mine. "Will it work better the more relaxed I am?"
"Yeah, I suspect so, why?"
His immediate answer was to raise himself off the ground and flip his tail out of the way as he spun around so he could sit in my lap. As he nestled his back up against my chest, he looked up at me and said, "I'll relax more if I feel safe. Every time I close my eyes I keep hearing things in the forest behind me."
I didn't say a word, but the pride I felt at that moment would remain with me forever. "OK then, put your hands in mine and try to relax," and I curled my arms around him and cupped them where he could reach them. Without the slightest hesitation, he cupped his hands together and laid them atop mine, then closed his eyes and waited. "Son, I want you to clear your mind now. If you can, feel me breathing and try to breath in sync with me. Just concentrate on my breathing; in, out, in, out, in ..." and I slowly felt him fall into sync with me, as the tension in his arms melted away. I didn't want to push it, so we just sat there together while I droned on in a monotone and waited. When he stopped reacting to the noises coming from the forest around us, I got ready to perform the actual test.
"Lan, you don't have to answer me, just listen." He hummmm'd to himself, but didn't answer me. "I'm going to put something in your hands and I want you to hold it very carefully. Think of it as a large soap bubble that might pop if you hold it to tightly, or maybe like you were holding sunlight in your hands and it might pour out if you thought about it too hard."
Calling a small mage-light into existence I floated it a few inches above our collective hands. With a tiny thought I changed its size so that it would just fit in my son's hands, then slowly lowered it until it just began to brush the tips of his fingers. "Son, I'm going to put it in your hands now. Just hold it and remember to relax," and I lowered it into full contact with his hands. As expected, he startled just slightly at the contact, but I held the light together with my own talent and just let him get used to the feel. I also checked to make sure his eyes were still closed. I didn't want him to be watching it and start trying to think about what it was. It would just have gotten his mind racing again, and would have ruined the test.
"It's warmmmm ..." he rumbled quietly, and I could feel the vibrations in my chest as his words faded into the forest around us.
"It can feel that way, yes," I said in agreement, "but it can't hurt you. I just want you to get used to the holding it and staying relaxed." If Lan had any talent for magic at all, the last part of the test would show it. At the moment, I was supplying the energy that kept the mage-light existing, and it showed because the small ball of energy was glowing the light blue color that was my personal signature. When I released control of it to my son, it would either fade from existence, or begin to draw its life from the untrained sources of power he might have available.
"Son, I'm going to slowly drop my hands from underneath yours. I want you to continue to hold what I put in your hands and to continue to relax. Think of the soap bubble, thin, beautiful, shimmering slightly in the light and fragile. Just hold it ..." and I slowly began to lower my hands.
I didn't completely loose contact with my son's hands. Instead I stopped just at the point where I could feel the feather light touch of his fur against my palms. Then I slowly began to release control of the bubble of light that my son was holding. Ever so slowly, I began to decrease the energy I was feeding it that let it maintain its existence. When it started to flicker, the moment of truth was at hand. Now, it would either vanish with a silent <pop>, or find a new source of power. That power would be my son.
"Son, when you feel you're ready, I want you to open your eyes and look at what you're holding." My attention was divided between watching the bubble that floated before me and watching my son. I missed seeing him open his eyes, but I didn't miss the smile on his face as he saw the pale gold bubble resting in his outstretched hands. "It's kind of pretty, isn't it."
"What is it?" he asked in a quiet voice as he stared at it.
"It's a mage-light and it's adjusting to the change."
"But I thought they were supposed to be blue?"
"Only mine. It would appear that my son's signature is gold instead of blue like his fathers." Relaxed as he was, it took him a couple of seconds before he realized what I meant. When he did, I could feel the tension return to the muscles in the small furry body that rested in my arms, and a second later the mage-light vanished."
"It went away! Does that mean that I'm not ..."
"Oh no!" I said as I interrupted him with a hug. "If you didn't have the talent, it would have been gone before you ever opened your eyes. No, the magic runs true in our family, my son will be a Mage just like his parents." That son also went just slightly nuts in my arms as my words registered.
"How do I bring it back? Can I make it bigger or brighter? What are you going to teach me next? Can you teach me how to ..."
"Whoa! What a minute here," I yelled between laughs as Lan squirmed in my arms. "Yes there are other things you can do with a mage-light, but I need to explain some stuff to you first." I took Lan a moment to calm back down, but then he sat quietly in my lap and did his best to be serious. "OK, before I teach you anything there is one rule that both your mother and I agree on, and it is important enough that I'm going to tell it to you." Taking my son from my lap, I turned him around and sat him back down in front of me.
"The quickest and most spectacular ways to kill yourself all involve magic. You can always tell where a Mage that didn't know what they were doing has been, because they leave a crater where they were standing when they made their last mistake." I had to be sure Lan understood the dangers involved here because there were few if any second chances. "Magic is a way of playing with probability and energy. Neither of those things likes being played with though and the more you have to effect probability, the more energy it takes. If you don't control it, that energy will effect you instead."
Twisting my hand in the air with a flourish, I called up a small mage-light again. "Creating something like this doesn't take a lot of energy, which is why I use it for testing. It's also why it will be the only thing you work with until you learn to concentrate and control what you're doing."
"But that's such small stuff, why ..." and I saw realization cross his face and he fell silent.
"Small things work best for teaching small people," I told him as I sent the tiny globe zipping around his head. "Even playing with something like this though will cause small changes to start happening around you and you'll have to learn to control them along with everything else."
"What kind of changes?" asked my son as he tried his best to be serious.
This was one of the disadvantages to being a Mage, but nothing in life was free, least of all magic. "I told you that magic and probability are related. Mages have to understand this just to perform the simplest spell. Playing with probability has a price and with magic the price is that the universe likes to get even from time to time. Have you ever wondered why we live just a little farther from our neighbors then usual? Or why we don't get as many visitors as other families do?"
"I always thought it was because my mother was the ArchMage and people didn't want to bother her," he answered after thinking about it for a moment.
"That's probably part of it, but there is something else too. Odd things can happen around a Mage, and over time people manage to figure this out. In my case, I seem to bring out hidden talents in people who live around me long enough. I haven't figured out just what your mother causes, but I'd guess it had something to do with attracting trouble." Given the adventures I'd had since meeting her, it was more than a guess, but it was also something that nobody except the two of us needed to know about. "What all this means to you at the moment is that your friends are going to be just slightly wary of being around you when they learn what you've chosen as a profession."
"Is there anything I can do to prevent the problems?" and there was no mistaking the worry on my sons face.
"Prevent, no, but you can learn to minimize them by learning your lessons well and never loosing control. Wild magic is the quickest way to get into trouble, which is why the first thing I'm going to teach you is how to concentrate and control what you're doing," and for the next four hours that's exactly what I did as the two of us huddled in the quiet shade at the forests edge.
I'd been completely serious about concentration being the most important thing a Mage needed to learn, and learn quickly. It would probably be months before my son would learn enough about his talent to consciously tap into the energy fields around us, so until then I would be helping him get things started.
To start things off, I handed him another mage-light so he could practice his control. The moment he had it, I yelled at him and watched it vanish and by the end of the first hour he was getting about as agitated as I'd ever seen him. Every time I'd hand him another mage-light, I could see his claws flexing from their sheaths as he anticipated my trying to distract him. Having seen himself manage it once though, he took a short break after noticing what I was looking at, and got control of himself. The next time I yelled, he just grinned and handed the intact mage-light back to me. From that point on he started to gain confidence in himself. Though he did get just a bit upset again when I had my pet dragon, Smaug, sneak up behind him and chew on his tail.
"That is cheating," he said with a whimper as he smoothed out his tail and glared at my miniature companion.
"You expect everything to be fair? What are you going to do when you step out our front door some morning and find the universe has come to teach you about fairness?" I leaned back so I could sweep my hands around dramatically and painted him a picture with words. "There I am on your right, frying evil aliens with bolts of pure energy. On your left is your mother, sending hordes of nasties to their doom. In front of us is their leader and he's looking at you like you'd make a nice snack. Just as you get ready to teach him not to mess with our family, the door behind you closes on your tail." Leaning over so I could almost touch his muzzle with my nose, I stared my son right in the eyes. "Will the history books record that our family died in dishonor because my son hurt his tail, or will you ignore the pain and throw the evil alien leader into the nearest star?"
I watched as he thought about it for a moment, then smiled as he answered. "Throwing him into a star would be too easy. I'd rather use him to beat the door into kindling," said my son as he pretended to be completely serious.
"That would work too," I managed to say before I broke into laughter. Within seconds, Lan started giggling as well and we both ending up rolling around in the grass trying to tickle each other. "OK, time to end the first lesson for now. I told you earlier that a mage-light could be used for other things and a couple of them can be kind of fun. Listen close and see if you can follow what I'm doing." Handing Lan another mage-light, I called up another of my own and let it float above my hands in front of me.
"These don't have to look like spheres, that's just the easiest shape for them to hold because it takes the least amount of energy to maintain. If you concentrate on it though, you can force it to change its shape." Looking over to where my draconic friend rested in the shade watching us, I concentrated for a moment on the sphere before me and molded it into a duplicate of my long time companion. When I was finished, there was a pale blue copy of him floating in the air between me and my son. "It works best if you try to shape it into something you're real familiar with," I told Lan. "When you get better at it, you can make them move almost as if they were alive."
Closing my eyes for a moment, I started filling in the gaps in the image of Smaug I was manipulating. When I finished a short time later and opened my eyes, the small glowing image of my friend had started to breathe and rustle his wings like he was trying to get comfortable. "Remember, it is easier if you try it with something you know really well," and Lan nodded as he closed his own eyes and began to concentrate.
It took a fair amount of time before I even noticed a change in the gold ball that floated above his hands. Once or twice I caught him taking a peek of his own as he checked to see if he was having any effect at all. When the globe changed into a warped kind of cylinder, he nodded to himself and things began to change faster. At first I wasn't sure just who he was trying to create an image of, and even when I recognized the image of my mate forming, I had trouble figuring out why it looked so funny. Then it dawned on me that I was seeing her from a different perspective. I'm almost a foot taller then she is and I've never had to look up at her. My son was about two feet shorter then she was, and the image I watched form before me was from his point of view. As it continued to take on detail, a thought occurred to me and I decided it was time to let someone else know what she'd been missing by hiding inside all day.
*Hey, you in the house! Do you think you could drag your sorry self outside for a moment. I think there is something out here you should see." As I felt Kalindra open up to the link we shared, I caught just a flash of the view she was seeing before she blocked it away from me. She wasn't quite fast enough though to prevent me from seeing Lythandi standing next to her in the bedroom and the two of them doing something to my pillow.
*Are you trying to be funny again?* came her reply as I made a note to myself to start a pillow fight tonight and make sure she and Lythandi got hit with mine first. *It's only just now starting to cool off out there.*
*OK, have it your way. I was hoping though that the Klizan of the family might be interested in seeing her son working his first spell. But if she's too busy ...* and I let the thought fade into the noise of our link. I didn't have to hear her yelling in surprise, I could feel it. *If you change your mind though, I'd do it quickly. I'm not sure how long Lan Louis can maintain his concentration,* and I closed down the thread of thought I'd opened. Less then two minutes later I heard the faint noise of the back door to our house open and when I looked over I saw my mate standing in the doorway with Lythandi and Naldantis hovering behind her.
While I'd been busy twisting a tail or two, my son had continued on his own path. With almost the entire family watching, he now opened his eyes and looked at his creation. Floating there above his hands, crafted with all the skill he could muster, was a pale gold version of his mother with her tail swishing back and forth slowly. Then Lan caught sight of his mother in the doorway, and with a smile, he lifted his hands slowly to show her his creation. Where nothing else might have worked, that small offering based on love and honor finally got his mother to leave the house, and she left it gladly.
I spent the best part of the next hour sitting there in the shade and explaining to my mate just what had happened, and when she finished with me she started over with our son. When she finally ran out of steam, and had decided that it was too late to do anything about it, she gave in and accepted the fact that I was going to be Lan's teacher. "But I'm going to be watching both of you to make sure you don't teach him any of your bad habits."
"I don't have any bad habits," I told her as I swatted her. "Unless you count putting up with your cooking and not complaining about having to clean the fur traps in the bathroom every morning." She just puffed up and glared at me, while I sat there and laughed with the rest of the family at her reaction. I was just getting ready to remind her how ticklish she was when Lan tugged on the edge of my vest and whispered something into my ear. "Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me."
Getting to my feet, I motioned for Kal and Lyth to stand up also. They both looked at each other for a moment in puzzlement, and I swear they both looked just a tad guilty for a moment also. Talking to them about the surprise I expected to find in my pillow though was not what I had in mind as I stepped in between them.
Putting my arms around both of them, I ran my hands through their fur and got a solid grip on each of them. "Ladies, I'd like to talk to you for a moment if you don't mind," and I spun them around and started marching them towards the house. "Along with everything else that happened today, my son told me an interesting story about some things he'd been told he wasn't supposed to ask me."
I felt both of them tense up about the same time I gave them both a small shove through the doorway. Neither of them was going anywhere though because I wizard locked the door as I heard my son bet Naldantis his evening snack that, "My Da will win this one because ..." Hearing that, just strengthened my resolve. After all, I couldn't let my son down, now could I.