Once a Gray
Elínla’s last meeting was in the room they called the floating hall. It rested almost directly beneath the Candlespire’s Sanctuary, a round, shell-like room with so little light Elínla had thought the floor must be made of cloth when she first visited it. The room’s name came from the contraption hanging in the center of the space—twelve or thirteen steps above the floor, perhaps five paces each from any of the room’s round walls. Just high enough that one couldn’t wriggle free without suffering a hard landing, Elínla supposed. It was a holding cell for a mage, a room in which no one had ever managed to draw, or at least imbue, a glyph. There were similar rooms in other buildings but only this one in the Candlespire. Wurelna Tenemot hung there, suspended in leather bonds and metal locks, arms tight at her sides, neck held aloft in a forehead-wrapped cord, feet kept apart.
“Late today, Elínla?” Wurelna asked from her perch in the dark air.
“A bit. When did they bring you?”
“An hour ago, I’d estimate. Not so long, though. You’d be surprised how comfortable it is up here.”
Elínla couldn’t see enough of Wurelna’s face to tell whether she was trying to be sincere or not. She’d put on an enormous amount of weight since they brought her in more than three years ago, leaving little slack for the tight leather bonds wrapping her from a dozen directions.
“Might as well get to the mud of it,” Wurelna said when Elínla remained silent. “What did you want to talk through today?”
“Awakenings,” Elínla replied.
“Not the first time, is it? I haven’t had much new experience on this topic since you last asked me anything.”
“Not first awakenings. Second ones.”
“Not a term I’ve heard before, so please tell me more.”
“You’ll recognize it when I describe it,” Elínla said. “I’m talking about the moment a mage discovers that Yulena will stall other sensations like thirst and fatigue.” The moment we realize we want Yulena, not for the sake of might alone but for its immediate jolt of… whatever it is.
“Interesting. Is that your own name for it?”
“I’m asking the questions here,” Elínla said. It wasn’t the first time Wurelna had tried to gather her own information in their weekly meetings. In fact, Elínla presumed her once friend had been trying since their very first session like this. “I’ve also heard it called Yulen’s melody.”
Wurelna snorted. “That sounds like only a scholar would name it—someone who’s never had any direct experience with Yulena, or with anything else, in all likelihood.”
“So you know what I’m describing.”
A pause. Then Wurelna said, “I think so, and I’ve heard a few other names for the same effect, if I’m correct in what you mean. There was a Gray six years back who talked about an amplification of his Yulena one day. Also, I once heard Adni Aman mention illumination on the subject of Yulena. I think he was describing something akin to what you’ve mentioned.”
“Because he said it happened right around the time he fought the Worenthi Witch. I, of course, didn’t even meet him for fifteen years after that, but I hear he was more than just shaken up by the experience. Other Grays who were there said Adni had a different set to his face every moment afterward.”
“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Elínla said, hoping to cover the interest she actually felt. “Why would fighting a duel cause a second awakening?”
“Alright, I’ll use your term. I’m not sure you can say what causes or doesn’t cause it, but I know plenty of mages who have experienced their own realizations—when they discover they can run longer or sleep less if they keep casting spells. Most of us enjoy the experience, after all, since it makes us stronger than we ever were before.”
“You haven’t answered my question, Wurelna.”
“No need to be sharp with me. There’s nothing I can do to cause you real trouble now.”
Was that really what she thought?
Her existence, her sickening betrayal of the Order, was proof of trouble every time Elínla remembered it.
“I can tell you, first off, that some mages never seem to have this second awakening,” Wurelna went on. “I think everyone would eventually, if they keep using Yulena, but I’ve known several older Grays who seemed so indifferent that I don’t believe they could have hidden something like a second awakening. I knew others, as I indicated, who would talk about it in veiled terms. It’s a bit like describing one’s interest in a drug, isn’t it? So most people avoid the conversation. I don’t think either Etelier Finar or Claravena Dohn realized it could happen, actually.”
Another point of interest to keep hidden. “And how long do you think it takes most mages to come around to it?” Elínla asked.
“Maybe two years from the first awakening for a typical Gray. Depends on how often you build and cast spells, I think. I was more curious than most, and I only lasted a year-and-a-half before mine came.”
And I lasted less, Elínla thought. Joined the Grays within a week of awakening to Yulena, worked like a cart horse to make sure I had it under control and would never harm anyone like great grandsire once did when he awakened by killing two of his own children with a glyph. It couldn’t have been four whole months before the second turn came for me.
It’s probably why I rose to power and prominence in the Grays so quickly, wasn’t it? Oh yes, everyone thought I was so damn driven to protect Foneth and prove myself the very best mage alive. Such a loyal fighter. What a perfectionist. So committed to herself. And I was. And I still am, every time I think of great grandsire. It’s just that I was hungry too, exhausted, depressed, terrified, and building the same glyphs over and over again—to the point I could make and cast every known spell without sweating or opening my eyes—just happened to banish all the things I wanted to escape.
That’s what made a skilled spellcaster of me. That’s what makes me so dangerous now, to everyone around me.
“Some of my old friends believed awakenings were location-based,” Wurelna added. “That anyone could awaken if they were taken to Old Vindil’s ruins, for instance.”
Another gem to explore. Later. “I’m not talking about the first awakening. Just the second.”
“Might be all the same, though,” Wurelna said. “There were some theories flitting around, five years back? Someone I knew thought the second awakening was connected to heightening the ability to hear Yulena’s hum.”
“Not likely,” Elínla replied. “People who aren’t mages can hear it too, sometimes.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. I barely noticed the hum until I came to my own moment of illumination, as Adni called it.”
“Anyone who casts hundreds of spells will likely start to notice the hum around them.”
Wurelna shifted in her tangle of harnesses and bonds. “It’s just a theory. When will this be over, by the way? I’m starving.”
“Yet you haven’t done a moment’s physical work,” Elínla said.
“My mind’s been working. Every moment you have me strung up like a flag, I’m thinking.”
It was the closest thing to a threat Elínla had ever heard from her, over all their three years of regular interviews. Oddly enough, it made her feel nothing but a measure of pity for the immobile woman who’d once been her friend and fellow Gray.
I think too, when I wish I could be building spells and tempering everything I feel. I think until I can empty my mind and forget the second awakening for a moment.
Maybe that’s why you spend so much time drinking and eating now. Now just because, as a prisoner watched closely by mages every day, you have nothing much you can do for yourself. But because it could be your way of dealing with the pull of Yulena. Taste more. Experience more. Try to sate the hunger for power with other vices.
That thought made Elínla’s pity for Wurelna nearly double.
“Thank you for speaking with me,” she said, stepping back to where Wurelna might be able to truly see her in the narrow slit of light from the doorway. “I’ll have your escort bring you down from there momentarily.”
“One more thing, if I may?” Wurelna asked.
Elínla paused halfway through the room’s arched entrance. “Yes?”
“I’ve heard some of the rumors passing between the Glasseyes and Grays and Candles. They’re saying Yulena might get turned officially over to the Lances. For the war.”
They weren’t supposed to say anything around a captive witch, damn them all. “I’m not here to gossip,” Elínla said.
“Rich. Here I thought you only came to me for gossip.”
“Just think about this, Elínla. If a lot more mages start using a lot more Yulena, you can expect to see a lot more second awakenings.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“It might be worth you knowing that I was certain, from the day after my own second awakening, that I’d be leaving the Gray Order for good. And here I am, five years later, being guarded by the very people I once was. So step carefully, if you have any say in the matter.”
Two threats in the same two minutes. Elínla tightened one fist, buried her curiosity once more, and left the dark room to Wurelna alone.
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