Chapter 36: JamianDiscuss
Forces pulling from the center of the earth again, I can feel it...
Magic. The word made Jamian twitch, and he refused to think too hard about the concept behind it. Magic either meant that everything going on was irrefutably real, or that he’d gone off the deep end and was heavily medicated in a psych ward somewhere, where doctors could poke at him and write papers on how, genetically, hermaphroditism in men was linked to anti-social behavior and psychotic breaks; right now, he was rooting for the psyche ward.
The call-and-repeat didn’t seem as if it would be too bad. Maybe it would give him a chance to get his mind off of the gnawing urge to find Ty and apologize, grovel if necessary, beg Ty to make it better.
“Begin,” Dr. Regine said.
Professor Pelletier said “Eperu,” and he, and the rest of the class repeated it.
Before he’d even finished the strange not-word, shivers were running down his spine. By the time the last long “oo” sound was out of his mouth, his whole body was shaking; the earth itself was shaking.
“Again,” said Professor VanderLinden, standing somewhere behind him.
Again? Was the man insane?
Professor Pelletier repeated the word, and, against all common sense, Jamian repeated it as well. His feet felt as if they were encased in mud – he had to look down for a moment, to be sure he was still standing on the hardwood floor, to be sure he still had feet. His skin felt as hard as rock. His whole body was part of the earth; even his hair was just long strings of pebbles. It was both terrifying and exhilarating; a feeling of constancy, permanence.
He barely heard the rest of the words; he repeated them, after a fashion, but Eperu still controlled his mind, and his voice was gravel over sand.
Then Professor Valerian said “Tuapeka,” and calm settled over him as he repeated it.
“Again,” VanderLinden said, and he repeated the word again.
“Tuapeka.” It seemed the perfect word, the perfect solution to everything. He wondered what it meant.
The teachers took some notes, and then VanderLinden pointed Jamian at Professor Pelletier. ”I’ll be seeing you later,” he said, “but go with Shira – ah, Dr. Pelletier – for now.”
“Yessir,” he murmured. He was still murmuring “Tuapeka” under his breath as he found Dr. Pelletier.
She smiled sympathetically at him. ”Eperu is a strong Word to gain proficiency in first. I remember what it felt like when I first Worked it – wait until you get out of this tin shell and into the real outdoors!”
“Um… okay?” he said hesitantly, wondering what she was talking about.
“We’re just waiting for… ah, there she comes. You know Kendra, of course; she’s in my Biology course with you.”
He nodded, even more confused now than he had been a couple minutes ago, but found, somewhere, a smile for Kendra. She looked different today, he realized, her hair back in a headband, her clothes sloppy, dark circles under her eyes. He wondered if she’d been sleeping.
She smiled back at him, though. ”Kool-Aid,” she murmured, smiling. ”Thanks.”
He chuckled a little bit, glad she remembered, and a little worried about her. ”My pleasure,” he answered. “Soaking Phelan for you was the highlight of my day.”
“I’d recommend diet soda,” Dr. Pelletier murmured. ”The aspartame is a real bitch to get out of your clothes.” At their slack-jawed shock, she merely chuckled. ”My daughter was First Cohort here,” she explained. “I know how things are.” Before they could recover, she shifted gears. ”Now, let’s go outside and work on the Eperu.”
“Outside?” Kendra squeaked. The professor nodded, and began walking briskly out the back door of the Hall, Jamian and Kendra scrambling to keep up.
Outside? Jamian thought about the long drive through wheat fields to get here. If they were out of the school, could he run away? Where would he go – he couldn’t really go home, could he?
“Don’t try it,” the professor murmured quietly, as she turned into an access hallway Jamian was pretty certain hadn’t been there before.
He gulped, and glared at the back of her head nervously.
“I’m not reading your mind,” she said without turning around. The hallway was long and grey, constructed of unpainted concrete blocks and a poured-concrete floor. ”As I said, I have a teenaged daughter, and I know what goes on around here.”
“Oh.” He gulped, and shared a look with Kendra, who looked equally guilty. ”I…”
“We won’t, Dr. Pelletier,” Kendra said softly. ”But don’t you think sometimes it’s the best idea?”
Jamian looked at her sidelong, wondering what – or who - was haunting her, and what he could do to stop it.
“…No,” the professor said after a moment. “I think learning to defend yourself against your enemies is more productive, and generally safer.” She turned to look at both of them, her expression serious. “I know that this place can seem weird and frightening. But there are things that you will learn here you won’t be taught anywhere else.”
“Like Eperu?” Kendra asked. From the look on her face, the word had made her head feel funny, too.
“Any Mentor would teach you how the Words are used, but here at Addergoole, you have teachers actually teaching the Words they’re most specialized in. You get a wider spectrum of experience than you would from an old-fashioned Mentor-Student relationship.”
“You sound like a brochure,” Jamian said unkindly.
“I imagine I do; I’ll stop. If you two could just focus on this crystal for a moment…” She produced, from the pocket of her lab coat, a shimmering prism that seemed to be deeper than it should be, with a core of shifting colors. “Tempero intinn optico Jamian, Kendra,” she murmured, three times, while he stared into the prism. “Walk forward now, please.”
Still staring into the eddies of color in the crystal, Jamian walked forward, Kendra so close to him that their shoulders bumped.
“Thank you,” Dr. Pelletier said after a moment. “And here we are.” Blinking, he looked up, to see that they were standing in front of a steel door, which the professor opened. Sunlight, the first he’d seen in two weeks, shone in, along with a light breeze. The door seemed to open onto a concrete slab but, as it swung open, he could see grass.
They stepped out onto a grassy meadow. Mowed paths led off over a hill in front of them, and seemingly into a rocky outcropping to their right; turning around, he saw the door they’d come to was set into another hill.
“‘I saw their starved lips in the gloam, with horrid warning gaped wide, and I awoke and found me here, on the cold hill’s side,’” murmured Kendra softly. Her face was pale and frightened looking.
“We are not stepping from Underhill,” Dr. Pelletier said gently, “and time passes the same within the school as outside of it. It’s just a exit from a subterranean facility.”
Kendra nodded mutely, her expression drawn, and the professor began walking, taking the right-hand path. Jamian shrugged at Kendra and smiled sympathetically; although he hadn’t recognized either her verse or the Professor’s reference, this place was weirding him out. He could have sworn there hadn’t been a door there before they’d looked into the prism, for one…
…but at least that, he’d seen Shiva do that more than once. That could be some sort of holograph, an optical illusion, just a hidden door. The way that word, Eperu, had made him feel… He shook his head, and stumbled as the ground changed under his feet.
At least I still have feet, and not hooves, he thought, a little uncharitably. Her little three-toed hooves had seemed cute before, but right now, they just seemed creepy and animalistic.
“Duck,” suggested the professor, and he started paying attention to his surroundings again. They had walked up to the outcropping of rock, which turned out to be a cave of sorts, although the entryway was chest-high on Jamian and not much wider than he was. The professor was just disappearing inside. He gestured Kendra in ahead of him, and ducked, remembering at the last moment to allow for his horns.
The cave was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, but it was still relatively small, a dome-shaped space with just barely enough room to stand, roughly circular. Benches had been carved into the sides, either by nature or by human hands, and Dr. Pelletier was lowering herself onto one bench. “Sit,” she said, smiling. “Get a feel for the place.”
A feel for the place? Shaking his head doubtfully, he sat, making sure Kendra had enough room as well, and looked around. The walls of the cave were bluish-gray stone, sharp-edged in places; a small hole in the ceiling let in a thin trickle of sunlight. The floor was covered in a buff-tan sort of sand. It was warmer in here, although that could have just been that they were away from the breeze.
“Start with Idu,” Dr. Pelletier said softly. “If you can manage it, it’s a useful Word.”
It was a short word, and it seemed like it ought to be easy, but Jamian found himself stumbling over it. His pride was only salvaged by Kendra’s equal ineptitude; they shared a look of frustration before looking back to their teacher.
“No?” She shook her head. “Okay, that’s not that uncommon. Idu is the Word that allows you to know what you’re working with – all the way through, so to speak. Without it, you have to navigate by feel. Luckily, at the lower levels, Eperu is rather forgiving.
“Try Tempero,” she added; Jamian, remembering that she’d said that word earlier, tried, but could barely get it to slide out of his mouth.
“It’s like the words don’t like me,” he complained. Dr. Pelletier gave him a strange look. “What?” he demanded.
“It’s not an inaccurate way of describing it,” she answered reluctantly, “but I’m always hesitant to personify the Words at all. It’s probably just superstition, but it still makes me uncomfortable.”
“‘Personify the Words…’” Jamian frowned.
“What, exactly, are the Words?” Kendra asked. “I mean, I know they’re the things we were saying down there in the Hall – but what do they mean?”
“A good question,” Dr. Pelletier answered, seeming to relax, “and one I could easily cop out on by saying ‘we don’t know.’” She smiled tightly. “Because, to some degree, we really don’t.
“That being said,” she continued, “the Words encompass eleven Domains and eleven Manifestations – that is, parts of the world that we can affect, and manners in which we can affect them. So Eperu is earth, and Tempero is control; together, the two would allow you to control the earth. The degree varies depending on your power level in general – that usually increases with age – and your skill with those particular Words.
“And that, we still don’t really understand. Some people are just better at some Words than others; for some, certain Words will be like tuning forks, making the world seem to vibrate perfectly.”
Jamian, thinking of the way that Eperu felt when he said it, looked at the professor in disbelief. This couldn’t be real. They weren’t really sitting in a cave talking about the ability to control earth, were they?
“No way,” he murmured. It was all getting to be a little much.
He jumped as he felt something tugging on his spine – not his spine – his tail, and turned to glare at Kendra, who was grinning at him.
“Kool-Aid.” He twitched his tail in her hand. “You pulled my tail.” He made a pouty face at her, and wiggled the tip of the tail a little more. It was weird, the way her hand felt on it.
“I did.” She squeezed lightly; it was a little bit like having someone hold his hand, and yet so very not. “You were spazzing out.”
“I was n-” At her expression, he caught himself. “Okay, I was. This is all a little bit insane, you know?”
“Just a little,” she agreed dryly. “But you can’t go off the deep end. This-” She pinched his tail, and he jumped again “-this is real, okay?”
He frowned at her. “Words that are tuning forks? Controlling the earth? Magic?”
“Tail,” she countered. “That guy you hang out with that’s made of shadows. Your girlfriend with the horns.”
Ty. He frowned at her. “Okay, I get your point. But it’s still…” He shook his head. “It’s a lot to believe.”
“‘Believe six impossible things before breakfast,’” she quoted at him.
“It’s almost dinner time,” he countered weakly.
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