The Dream was similar every night… every night they caught him, and every night the blade flashed…
There was no ‘here’ or ‘now’. Those things did not matter, for the watcher knew them, and thought of them every day. No, this was not any place, or any time. All that mattered was the event. The actions.
They surrounded him. Boys, older and stronger than he, towering above him. He cowered in the middle, hunched in on himself as if that might possibly deter them, but still the blows rained down. When he tried standing, preparing to flee, a fist caught him in the stomach, winding him, before a leg lashed out at the back of his knees and he fell face down on the concrete. Yes, that he remembered well: the taste of the ground on his lips, the lurching unsteadiness that threatened to overwhelm him.
This he was used to, this he could cope with. Another night, a bit more evasion of his parents to stop them asking difficult questions, a few more aches as he got up the next morning. But today, there was something different. One of his assailants had a strange glint in his eye, something beyond the usual pointless anger, something that scared him to his very soul…
There was a click as the blade of a pocketknife snapped into place, and the next thing he knew was a burning pain in his cheek and something hot and liquid pouring down his face…
Conor woke up with tears on his face. The light coming from the other side of the curtains was still vicious, sodium orange, meaning that it was still dark outside and that it was much too early to get up. He sighed, made his way downstairs and pored a glass of milk, hesitated, then added a small amount of whisky from his Dad’s decanter in the dining room. Anything to help him sleep, even if it wasn’t strictly allowed. On his face, the scar that was the result of the events he had seen for the thousandth time in the dream ached. It had never properly healed, even though the actual event had been five years ago, partly because he had tried to keep the whole event a secret and had therefore not got anyone to look at it. He had just wiped the blood off with a tissue and stuck a plaster over it, thinking that he could explain it away as a scrape caused by something totally innocent, but everyday when he had replaced the plaster the wound had looked worse, and when the pain became so bad that he had had to go to his Mum and show her, the damage had been done. He would have the three-inch scar on his cheek for the rest of his life.
He drank the milk quickly, thinking that then the whisky might have more of an effect, and went back up to bed. He read for a while, and finally sank into a dreamless sleep.
Of course, because of this, he overslept, and was woken up by his mother’s voice calling him.
“Conor, where are you? You’ll be late for school.” Cursing, he washed quickly, pulled on some clothes and jammed his school tie into his pocket before dashing out of the door, a piece of bread in his mouth. On the way to the bus stop he went through all the subjects he should have today: English, Latin, Music. The full house. How wonderful. As he ran, he murmured some Latin words through the corner of his mouth, and his tie came out of his pocket and tied itself neatly under his collar. Magic was a definite plus sometimes.
At least these days, for the most part, people left him alone. He was in year 13, top year, and was quite tall for his age, so for the most part people didn’t bother him. First, he made his way to the Music Block. His form teacher, Mr Bradley, was head of Music, which meant that Conor’s form room was the large and comfortable lounge attached to the Music Office. The Music block had once been the boarding house, when the school had still taken boarders, which meant that there was plenty of room and plenty of piece and quiet.
Thankfully, registration hadn’t quite started. Conor took his usual place by the window, staring out at the bright blue sky. This kind of weather was really bizarre. It looked hot and beautiful, and while it was beautiful, it was also freezing cold with a bitter wind slicing through anyone outside. Blossom was appearing on the trees after the long cold spell, but most of it was being blown off in a far-too-cute-looking snowstorm, or a scene from a Japanese cartoon.
‘Hi, Conor. How are you doing?’ Conor pulled himself away from his contemplation of the weather and looked round, grinning at his best friend. Mickey was in his Music and English classes, though not the others, and for that reason they didn’t get to see each other very often. They had only just come back from the Christmas holidays, so it was a while since they had spoken.
‘Good Christmas?’ Mickey threw himself down in the next chair, as cheerful and full of energy as ever. He was short and stocky, an almost complete antithesis of Conor, who was not only tall and slightly willowy, but who also had pale blond hair which grew long at the sides, framing his hair in odd, downward spikes, and misty blue eyes. Mickey wore his dark hair very short, and his eyes were a bright green, full of mischief. Suffice to say, they looked almost comical when together, and someone had once rather rudely described them as ‘The Sublime and the Ridiculous’, although this was rather spoiled when Mickey had said the next person to call Conor Sublime would feel the Ridiculous’ boot on their backside.
‘Not bad. Practised magic, mostly. Watch this.’ That was the other thing about this school. They had a very forward-looking view of mages: those born with the ability to do magic. All mages were exempt from assemblies and games lessons in order to attend special classes to develop their magical skills. Conor was quite powerful for his age: that was what had made him a target five years beforehand.
He let his vision become unfocused, staring at nothing more than a point in empty space, and moved his fingers in a certain way. Then he began the incantation.
Mickey, who was not a mage and loved watching Conor, watched, fascinated, as a shape took form in the air in front of his friend, who sat rigid, still, chanting, longish fair hair beginning to radiate away from his head in all directions. The shape became more focused, gained definition: a golden lion, perfect in every detail, prowled in the air, roaring at those around who saw it. The Lion burned with red-gold flames, but they did not cause it pain, and neither did they consume it: they merely burned as though a natural part of the Lion.
Suddenly, the Lion stiffened, looking towards the door of the room; it’s head high as if watching a new comer. And then something else appeared…
A bird, no a hawk, flew over the Lion’s head. They bird was silver, and as perfect as the Lion: droplets of silver rain seemed to be coming from its wings. It seemed to land on a level with the Lion, and for a while they both remained still, watching each other.
Then the images faded, and Conor and Mickey looked towards the door. A girl stood there, one neither of them recognised. Her hair was long and fair, except for a few thick locks right at the front that hung over her eyes and forehead: they were jet black. They heard the end of her incantation as she unlocked her fingers.
‘Avis argentums fiat. Avis argentums fiat.’
She stopped, looked over at Conor, smiled slightly and then walked away again. After a while Conor spoke.
‘Who was that?’
‘No idea. New student, maybe. Anyway, I expect you’ll find out during your classes.’
They had to stop at that point, as Mr Bradley came in to take the register.
The year 13 magic class was quite small; last term there had been only three of them attending, this term there were four. Conor got on quite well with Elly and Tim, and their teacher, Miss Lane, didn’t mind the friendly competitiveness of her three charges. She was, of course, a very accomplished mage herself, and could always arbitrate in any disagreement that threatened to get nasty. She was also their Latin teacher. Only the mages in the year learned Latin, since it was so important to their magic.
Today, however, when Conor came in, there was someone else: the girl from earlier. The whole room was strangely hushed. The conversations were slightly forced; everyone was being a bit too formal. Conor smiled at her, but she turned away, pointedly ignoring him. He hesitated slightly taken aback. Just a little while ago she had been joining him with her own magic, and now she was behaving like he didn’t exist? Had she not recognised him or something? Slightly puzzled, he sat down.
‘Good morning, Conor. This is Nicola, who’s just arrived, and she’ll be studying with us from now on. I hope you’ve all been working hard over the holidays…’ As Miss Lane proceeded to write the morning’s assignment on the board (using her own magic to move the pen), Conor glance at Elly and Tim. They were both looking slightly worried, and only stealing half-glances at Nicola, who was staring very hard at the board. Conor wondered what on earth was going on.
The assignment was fairly easy, designed to break them in gently after the winter break. All they had to do was cut a block of wood, a cube about six inches along each edge, in half. Reasonably simple: they would take it in turns. Tim went first, murmuring the words.
‘Caedo lignum. Caedo lignum.’ It took only a few moments. The cut was smooth and right down the middle. Everyone made small, appreciative sounds. Then it was Elly’s turn. The thing about magic was that it was also a test of the person’s knowledge of Latin. There was no fixed spell for any one effect: you just had to get the wording right for you. And the focus of course. After Miss lane repaired the wood, Elly tried.
‘Caedo arborem. Caedo arborem.’ This worked too. In a way. The wood fell neatly into two halves after no time at all… along with the table it was sitting on. Normally this would have been a cause for some hilarity, but only Miss Lane laughed, and the laugh was very strained at that. Conor looked again at Nicola. What had she done to make the others act this way?
Soon, he knew. She was a show-off plain and simple, who thought herself somehow better than other mages. When Miss Lane had repaired the wood (and the table) she stood up, cleared her voice, and focused.
‘Sculpo lignum. Sculpo lignum.’ Sawdust filled the air for a moment, and then the wood was revealed. Far from being cut in two, it was in fact now a small statue of a winged horse, exquisitely detailed, rearing, its wings stretched for flight. It was beautiful, but also very vain. Conor decided he would have to put this girl in her place. While Tim and Elly clapped politely, and Miss Lane reprimanded her lightly for showing off, Conor wondered how he should do this.
Then it came to him. He stood up, glanced at Nicola, winked at Elly and Tim, and then concentrated.
‘Lignum bifido, cistellam caelo. Lignum bifido, cistellam caelo.’ Again, sawdust filled the air. When it settled, the class saw two boxes, like small treasure chests. The lids were beautifully carved with patterns of dragons and swords, and both were opened showing the same work on the inside. For the first time, other than during a spell, Nicola spoke.
‘Very good. I’m impressed. Two commands in a single spell, that’s tricky.’ Her voice was light and pleasant, but she was barely concealing her dislike of him: he had bested her in every way, proved by the praises of Tim, Elly and Miss Lane. Conor should have been happy, so he wondered why he wasn’t. He had just performed difficult magic and proved himself in front of the new girl, but for some reason he felt disappointed. He sat down again, just as the bell went and it was time for their Latin lesson.
Updated 01 Mar '04
This is all I got so far. Please feel free to make comments: they'd be much appreciated.
I like it so far :) One thing - the start seems quite rushed. This is a fair enough writing style, but I found, when I tried to write stuff, that going back and adding descriptions made the whole thing read much more smoothly and feel less hurried. YMMV. Oh, and bother. Now I'm really going to have to watch my Latin :) - SunKitten
Yes, seems to have definite potential! Do you know where you're going with it, roughly, and a couple of things along the route of how to get there? (Note: I'm definitely not asking you to tell us what that is! Just to acquire a destination if you don't already have one, standard advice to most authors of a "First Part" of a story) I'm interested to see what you've got planned to do with him and his past and future. --AlexChurchill
I do have some idea of where to go with this. It's all abit hazy as yet, but I'll try and work it out. In fact, I'm really flattered anyone's evern bothered to read it so thanks to everyone who has. Maybe there is still hope... --PHL4IVI3R1D3R
Innteresting. Realistic modern-day school rather than a boarding school makes a change. I can't think of any fiction about school that has seemed realistic. I also approve of the fact that the weather outside my window in the WikiNow is exactly as in the story. Though I'd not describe it the same way ;) Let's see what else we can divine. Do sixth formers have forms sometimes? I know ours was much more relaxed about taking the register. It's hard for me to gauge the pacing or style, when I'm not sure where it is going. If you intend stuff to happen in the next fifty pages or so, then you're going too slowly. If you intend it to be the multi-volume novel-cycle you mentioned, then you're probably going too fast and skipping over things like physical descriptions (I sympathise, I loathe those) - and the non pov character. What else can I add? I like it, but I dislike the use of a couple of cliched bits of text. The description of a cut on the cheek seems like it's been copy and pasted into every pulp novella ever written, for example. But then, I just dislike using the same thing twice, so that may not be good advice. Cliches are there for a reason, after all. --Vitenka (Oh, and your quotation marks are from hell!)
Wow. Um, I kinda feel like I should apologise. And explain: what is there will change. Or disappear. Or something. What comes next will probably be just as bad as this, but it, in its turn, will change. Whether for the better or not you will have to decide. I'm afraid I'm not aiming for any particular length: I guess it'll get there when it get's there. Sorry about any cliches, they're probably subconscious. More physical descriptions are coming up. And there is not to be any particular significance to the scar other than the fact that it makes Conor look weird. The only other book I remember reading about a scar in is HarryPotter, and there is nothing remotely magical about this scar. Oh, and I don't understand the bit about quotation marks- have I got them wrong or something? --PHL4IVI3R1D3R
Phew. First off, don't take my comments overly seriously. Ever. If I sound like I know what I'm talking about, be doubly suspicious. The scar itself as a device is fine - though if you don't intend to write womething long and huge, a good rule is to throw everything that doesn't positively add to things out. In this case it gives you the recurring dream and an insight into his thinking - so I'd keep it. but I have often been told that if you start with something, you have to finish with it, or the story will just be left hanging. The HarryPotter connection is, perhaps, unfortunate - comparisons between two scarred boys who go to schools that teach magic are sorta inevitable. Also expect TimothyHunter? to get reference. The quotation marks are your word processor. --Vitenka
Also be aware that if you don't aim for a length, then you will end up writing book upon book. This is not necc. bad. --Vitenka
One heartening note, which is as well quoted here as anywhere. I have been told that one throws away the first million words one writes. --Vitenka (I fooled them though! I have a MarkovChain? generator!)
Dammit. What is the non-specific-personal-nonpretentious-pronoun in english? --Vitenka
Build one! From scratch, out of string, sealing wax and 'struction paper. --Requiem [waves to P-R; fiction good.]
OK, this is officially stalled. I'm working on something else now, based on an Exalted campaign I took part in with some friends that was run by Requiem. Look out for it. --07 Mar