"Did you hear the news, Neredos?" Alazyn said as she burst through the door of Neredos' one room apartment in Thalom proper. She had been living here for over a month now, sleeping on a pile of cushions in the antechamber. She hadn't complained once about the accommodations, much to Neredos' surprise, and treated the place like home. That meant bursting in with excitement whenever she had something to tell him.
He didn't mind this behavior so much, unless he was studying for something important. Usually her exuberance thrilled him, made him see a light he so often ignored. He spent so much time in his books, and had for so many years, that he had rarely taken the time to truly appreciate life. Alazyn changed all that just by being around.
"Afraid I haven't, Zyn," Neredos said, putting down his pen and shifting in his seat to face her. "You know I have an exam tomorrow, so I haven't exactly been outside much."
"Speaking of that," she replied, "have you eaten yet today? You look like you haven't had a meal in weeks."
Neredos bit back a retort, knowing that she only meant well by her teasing. Besides, he was skinny. "I haven't eaten yet today, but it's only noon. I ate dinner last night, so I'm not hungry yet."
"And did you eat anything other than dinner yesterday?" Alazyn said, crossing her arms over her chest.
Neredos sighed and turned away from her. "No, I didn't."
"Well then, I'll run out and get you something as soon as I tell you what I found out today," Alazyn said, walking up to his desk and plopping down on the edge of it, nearly knocking over a stack of books.
"Well you better get on with it," Neredos replied, glaring at her. "I have a lot more material to get through today."
"You're cute when you're surly," Alazyn said, stroking his cheek. "Maybe I should anger you more often."
Neredos blushed as much from the anger as from her attention. She had flirted with him from the beginning, though he had never been able to tell if she was serious about it or not. It wasn't so much that he didn't find himself unworthy of her attention, but rather that it seemed like she only meant it half the time.
Not that he would know what to do with her attention anyway. He found her beautiful, had even thought about kissing her, or what it would be like to hold her close. The first day he had wondered what she looked like without all those bulky clothes on, but that curiosity had been put to rest the same night. Alazyn had no reservations about nudity, and had stripped down without a care in the world as soon as she had the opportunity to get out of her snow-covered clothes. Neredos had blushed for a week, until he grew to see the behavior as normal.
None of that had ever made him want to have sex with her. He found her attractive, certainly, but he never had the thoughts that so many other men his age were said to always have on their mind. To him, Alazyn was a work of art, to be appreciated as an expression of the artist. In the case of a person, the work and the artist were largely the same, though sometimes artists went out of their way to damage or change another's work. Some wore the scars of other artists on their flesh, and some wore it on their soul.
But Alazyn did neither. If anyone had ever harmed her flesh, Neredos could not tell by looking at her. Her body was covered in tattoos from the neck down, but Alazyn wore them all with honor. They were a part of her, a representation of who she was inside. She had as many unique designs floating through her mind as she had on her body. She displayed these with equal enthusiasm whenever Neredos took the time to listen and observe.
Even the exile from her people no longer seemed to bother her much. It had healed like all fresh wounds do when they receive the proper care and treatment. A minor scar remained for now, but Neredos would be surprised if it remained on her forever. She had already integrated the pain into herself, letting her soul heal it in a natural way. Whenever Neredos had asked, she had spoken about it openly. It was as if the moment he'd gained an ounce of her trust, he got all of it. He loved that about her. He loved everything about her.
"Tell me what the news is," Neredos said, sighing dramatically, though he felt nothing but warmth. Being next to Alazyn was like a warm day in winter. He might curse the sun and the way it reflected off the snow, but the longer it stayed, the more it worked its way into his bones and reminded him of how much he needed it. "You have my full attention, Zyn."
Alazyn stared at him for a moment, and a rare spot of color tinged her cheeks. "There's something different about you today. Something fresh and vibrant."
Neredos raised an eyebrow but couldn't help but smile. "I suppose I'm just getting used to the winter," he said slyly. "It might even be my new favorite season. Though I do miss my Southern summers. I haven't seen one in two years."
"You want to go home?" Alazyn asked, her eyes twinkling with curiosity.
"I already am," Neredos said. "Even though I do think you can be a little aggravating at times." He wanted to touch her, and his hand twitched, aching to reach out and grab hers.
She met his eyes, her eyes flicking down to their hands before returning to his face. She nodded slightly, the color in her cheeks deepening. Needing no further encouragement, Neredos placed his hand over hers and simply rested it gently there.
Alazyn turned her hand over so their palms were touching. She then continued speaking as if nothing had happened. "The news I want to tell you; it's big, Neredos."
"How big?" Neredos asked.
"The war with Ultaka . . ." Alazyn said, her voice becoming almost a whisper as her fingers intertwined with his. "There's a cease-fire. A temporary treaty was signed this morning. The war might be over. We have a chance . . . To live in peace."
Neredos breathed a sigh of relief, then stood, cupping the back of Alazyn's head and pressing their lips together. It was quick and urgent, a brief but frantic communication of all the feelings that had slowly built up over the last month. Good news had given him the courage to follow through where he would not have dared before.
He pulled back, noticing the look of astonishment in her eyes which soon gave way to a pleased smile. Emboldened further, Neredos said, "Then let us live in peace together. I know you've been looking for another place to stay while I've been studying, but why not stay forever?"
"Have you fallen for me, or is this merely some ploy to get inside me?" Alazyn asked teasingly.
Neredos recoiled at the idea, surprised that she would think such a thing. "To get inside you?" He echoed with confusion. "Do you think I'm some politician's son who mistakes sex for love? Who learned all his life to manipulate others with words, who learned that a lie is better than the truth as long as it gets you what you want in the moment?"
"So, you're saying your intentions are pure?" Alazyn said. Her eyes narrowed suddenly, and she ripped her hand away from his. "I've seen the way you look at me, that adoration . . . I will not be worshiped either. If you want me then you want my bed. That is the way love works. The least you could do is admit it." She hopped off the desk and started towards the door.
"Have you ever known me to lie to you?" Neredos asked quietly.
Alazyn paused, her hand on the door. She didn't move, but her ears twitched as if she were intently listening. Seeing this, Neredos continued, his voice steady though his body trembled. "You are like magic, dangerous and mysterious, a force that transforms everything it encounters. I studied some magic in pursuit of the sciences, but not much. We humans have a very limited knowledge of it. But you . . . you taught me what the word means. Every single thing you've done since we first spoke has made me see the world differently, has changed me. You think I want your body? You are beautiful, your physical form mesmerizes me. If I thought it proper I would trace every line with my eyes, that I could keep the memory of it forever. But I do not fantasize of what I could do to it." He paused, and she slowly turned toward him. Seeing her eyes, confused and curious, he continued. "I do not worship you, not in the way that you mean. Though I think I'd likely do anything, if you said it would make you happy. I don't mean I'd kill for you or do anything else that would compromise my own morality, but that's because I know you would never ask me to do that. I trust you, because you are you, and that is more important to me than anything. The thought of sex . . . there's nothing wrong with it, but simply being near you is what fills me with joy."
Alazyn nodded, finally wiping away the tears that had sprung during Neredos' speech. "So . . . Maybe you are different from the other human men I've met."
"Will you stay?" Neredos asked.
Alazyn cleared her throat, blushing even more deeply than before. It was starting to happen so often, Neredos wondered if he'd broken her somehow. "I'll stay," Alazyn said, keeping her eyes on the floor, "but, I'm curious . . . you don't want to have sex with me . . . but would you let me share your bed?"
Neredos chuckled. "I can never tell if you're flirting with me or teasing me."
"It's always been both," Alazyn replied. "Part of me . . . part of me was hoping you did want me like that."
"It's not that I'm unwilling," Neredos said, "it's that I don't feel the urge. I never have, toward anyone. I might find them beautiful, handsome, maybe even comfortable sometimes, but I simply never had the urge. I'd be willing to have the experience though, if that's something you ever want to try." His eyes twinkled a bit as he added, "it's not against my morality."
"So, what is it you want, then?" Alazyn asked. "If it's not sex that motivates you, then what?"
"To be able to feel magic all the time," Neredos said. "And maybe save the world."
"I can help you with one of those," Alazyn said. She smiled, and her eyes showed a hint of mischief. "After your exam, meet me at the top of North Hill."
"It'll be the middle of the night!" Neredos protested. "It'll be freezing!"
"Just meet me there," Alazyn said. "And I'll show you what magic really is."
The last bell had rung at the Thalom Cathedral nearly an hour before, signifying midnight, but still Neredos trudged through the snow toward the top of North Hill. Despite its rather uninspiring name, North Hill towered over everything nearby, rising above the town of Thalom just behind the University.
He grumbled the whole way. Even though he had spent two years in the area, he still wasn't used to the cold. Southern Oligan wasn't nearly as warm as either Ultaka or Lodan, but it still had winters that were more rainy than snowy. It was rare to see snow anywhere other than the mountains during his youth, but in Thalom it carpeted everything.
Thankfully the trail to the peak of the hill was well-worn. There had not been a fresh snowstorm in a few days, and many-both local and not-climbed the hill for a good view of the area when they'd had time. No one climbed it at night, however, at least not in winter. He hoped Alazyn had a good reason for bringing him up here.
After trudging up a steeper section, he paused briefly to catch his breath. It was a clear night, and the soft electric lights of Thalom below him did little to diminish the impact of the stars above. That was something he preferred about the north; the smaller cities and settlements that made him feel closer to nature. While not much of an outdoorsman, he drew clarity from natural wonders, and wished he had more time to partake of it.
The moon was rising, half crested over the distant mountains. There was a slight orange tint to it tonight, but it was full. Soon it would bathe the entire world in its light. He smiled at the thought, started up the trail again, and cursed the snow beneath his feet once more.
Alazyn startled him as he crested the final rise. The moon had just cleared the horizon and its light pierced through a break in the tree line to illuminate Alazyn directly in the center of the clearing at the top of the trail. She was naked, though she didn't appear to be suffering any effects of the cold.
She turned smoothly as he approached, her bright eyes catching the moonlight and seeming to glow. Neredos stopped abruptly, realizing that her eyes were, in fact, glowing. He had never seen Gor eyes do that before, but he did not know enough about the race to know if glowing eyes were uncommon.
"What are you waiting for?" Alazyn asked. "Are you going to come here or not?"
Neredos ascended the rest the way to meet her, though he paused a few feet away, noticing six small stones arranged in a circle around her. While snow lay about her in every direction, blocks of ice had formed beneath the rocks, and seemed to be spreading out slowly.
"Don't be afraid of coming inside the circle," Alazyn said. "It's quite warm in here. In fact, you might want to remove your coat first."
From this close, Neredos could see the sheen of sweat that covered her. Sweating! He stepped within the ring of rocks and immediately understood why. It felt like a sauna inside the circle. He wondered why the snow beneath them wasn't steaming at the intense heat. He immediately removed the scarf and hat protecting him from the cold, finding their presence stifling.
"How are you doing that?" Neredos asked. He removed his gloves next, and started unbuttoning his coat, the heat already beginning to make him sweat. "I've never seen magic like this!"
"That's because humans rarely practice it," Alazyn replied. "The church in Oligan considers magic heretical, and the Ultakan Fedain would never let their human populace get their hands on powerful magic. That leaves Incaria and Lodan. Some Lodani still remember a few of the ancient arts, but they are passed down through family lines and never taught to outsiders. Incarians know quite a bit of Gor magic, though the southern Gor tribes keep most of that knowledge for themselves. It helps maintain the balance of power, after all."
"Yes, but . . ." Neredos said in wonder, "producing that amount of heat without a catalyst of some sort . . . It seems impossible."
"The catalyst is all around you," Alazyn replied. "There is energy in so many things, and all you have to do is tap into it. All you have to do is understand. You are a man of science, so that means you know how things work. That can easily become magic if you apply it correctly."
Neredos eyed her skeptically. "So, how does this work then?"
"Well, where does heat come from?" Alazyn asked.
"When energy makes the molecules in matter start moving faster," Neredos replied. "But, as I said before, there doesn't appear to be a catalyst. No heat source."
"For the sake of simplicity, consider my body the heat source," Alazyn said. "There's a lot more going on here, but that is the truth in a manner of speaking. Magic is all about energy and matter transference. It is control over the connections that already exist between all things. It is a cornerstone of Gor magic that anything is technically possible, if you simply understand enough about the processes involved to impose your will upon matter and can convert available energy to fuel your endeavors."
"What about the symbols I always see the Gor use?" Neredos asked. "I don't see any of those here, except for the ones on your skin."
Alazyn chuckled softly. "Everyone always thinks the magic is in the symbols. Unfortunately, that is the simplest way to teach. It helps our minds to be able to focus through something that we believe has power. The symbols form anchors for our will, but it is our will which creates the magic. Once you reach a certain level of understanding, you can do some amazing things without the runes." She paused, clearly amused by the skeptical look on Neredos' face. "But . . . I still have to use focuses, even if I don't use the runes."
"Okay, so what's happening here?" Neredos asked.
Alazyn bent down and picked up one of the stones. She shivered as if experiencing a sudden chill. "I connected myself with all six of the stones before manipulating the energy. This will probably seem gross to you, but I licked each one before placing it where I wanted it. That put my saliva on each stone, obviously, and with focus, I am able to believe that my saliva and the stone are one, meaning I and the stone are one."
Neredos nodded, following her so far. "While I still don't understand the science of how that works, I can see some logic in that explanation. But what I need to know is why you need to connect yourself to the stones in the first place."
"If I were a being of pure will, I wouldn't have to," Alazyn replied. "There is only one person like that; Ghayle, the leader of our people."
Neredos frowned at that. "I don't believe I've ever heard of her. Is she a priestess? How have I not heard of someone that powerful?"
"She is not a priestess," Alazyn said, "but a goddess. She has watched over the world for as long as history has been told among our people. She is the soul of the world, and with her chosen few, she guides the ebb and flow of the tides that shape our world. Only she is capable of acting on pure will."
"Great," Neredos muttered, "now we're bringing religion into this. Next you'll tell me that all the folk tales and myths are true, and that there really was a Kribara living in my window who would come alive if I got out of bed."
Alazyn's face darkened, and she looked as if she wanted to throw the stone in her hand at Neredos' face. "Ghayle is no myth. She is well documented in our records, and many see her still moving among the trees. She is a force which guides our world, as I said, and is a being of pure will. I brought her up to you to explain, not to preach. She is the perfection of magic, the ultimate ideal. If you wish to see her as nothing more than a symbol, that is fine, but you will respect that she is part of my tradition. I do not have to teach you, and you do not have to learn. Worship her or not, I do not care. But if you insult my beliefs, then we are done."
Neredos nodded slowly. "I apologize. I've always had a hard time believing what wasn't right in front of me, and I was quick to judge. I will retain my skepticism, but I won't use it against you."
"That is well enough, I suppose," Alazyn said. She sighed and turned the rock over in her hand, collecting her thoughts again. "The reason why I connected myself with the stone, is because it is easier to control whatever we believe to be part of ourselves. It takes significantly less focus, significantly less will. If I were to reach out and try to affect you, it would be very difficult to do with my mind alone. I'd have to touch you, connect you with me, to be effective. While some monks in the Order of the Mountain in Ultaka might train at being able to disarm their opponent with a glance, it requires perfection in technique and understanding. Magic works the same way."
"Okay, so you have to connect yourself, and the stronger the connection, the more effective the magic," Neredos summarized, staring thoughtfully at the stones still surrounding them. "So where does the heat come from?"
"Since the stones are part of me, I'm able to transfer heat through them the same way I would warm or cool my own body," Alazyn said. She handed the stone to Neredos. "Allow me to demonstrate."
As Neredos took the stone, he was surprised at how warm it felt. Despite Alazyn holding it, it had recently come from a chunk of ice. Now it felt like bread that had come recently from the oven, cool enough to handle, but warm enough to make him think he was inside in front of the fire. As he held it, however, it suddenly cooled, becoming as cold as the ice he'd originally expected. He nearly dropped it in his shock.
"How did you do that?"
"It is simply a matter of telling the stone it needed to absorb your warmth. The stone did not become cold, despite what you may have felt. Instead, it was drawing on the heat from your body, because I told it to, and that made you feel cold as the heat left you," Alazyn explained.
Neredos nodded and returned the stone to Alazyn. "Can you teach me how to do that? Being able to transfer heat from a distance . . . That could be really useful in engineering."
"I think you have a little too much skepticism for me to teach you this method," Alazyn said, chuckling softly. "But that's why the runes exist, to make up for any faith that we lack. After all, if you can believe that symbols have power, then you don't have to believe as much in yourself."
"Like people believing in a God," Neredos said, "following dogmas laid out by others."
"I warned you about insulting my beliefs," Alazyn growled.
Neredos threw his hands in the air, his face frantic. "I had no intention of insulting your beliefs there, and I apologize. I was merely trying to understand the metaphor. How about I switch it? It's like the way so many people put their faith behind the president. If they let him make decisions for them, let him be the power, it removes some of their responsibility. At least in their own minds. That means all the strength doesn't have to come from them, that their will isn't completely complicit in his crimes."
"I suppose it is an accurate metaphor," Alazyn said. "The symbols the Gor use, they have deep spiritual meaning for us. They connect us with the divine, and allow us to draw on some primal strength we don't understand. This is what makes up for our lack of will. For you, I think it might be more appropriate to view them as tools. You might be able to build a house with your own hands, but it would take you a long time, and a great deal of focus. Having a hammer or a saw make the job much easier. The runes are like those as well."
"Then teach me," Neredos said. "And I promise I will put all my will behind it. I will be a faithful student, and I will not criticize your methods."
Neredos immediately regretted the words, as a mischievous smile crept onto Alazyn's face. But he would stand by them, because he had never lied to her, and he wasn't about to start now.
She stepped forward, placing a hand against his chest and pushing him backward, outside the boundary of her little stone circle. As he stepped outside of the field of heat, his outer coat still on the ground inside of it, he immediately felt the chill hit him.
Alazyn bent down and scratched a symbol into the snow just beyond the edge of her heated circle. "This is the symbol for 'heat'." She scratched another symbol next to it and said, "This is the symbol for 'transference'." She looked up at him then and added, "Memorize both of them. Do so now and scratch them into the snow."
Neredos sighed and crouched down, mimicking the symbols as best as he could. When he was finished, he searched Alazyn's eyes for approval. He found her expression unreadable, her eyes slightly hard.
"Very good, your memory has served you well again. Now, to test it once more," she said, kicking out with one foot to crush the symbols into the snow, distorting all four beyond recognition. "Now, draw them again."
Neredos nodded and did so without delay. When he looked up again, this time Alazyn was smiling. "Very good," she said. "Now, this is where the magic really begins. While magic may be done through will, it is powered by our emotions. Will is the engine, emotions the fuel."
"So, what do I do?" Neredos asked.
"Take off your clothes. All of them."
Neredos balked at the strange order. "But I'll freeze to death!" He protested. "At least let me back inside circle."
"Then you'll never learn anything," Alazyn said. "And didn't you say you would be a faithful student and not criticize my methods?" She added with a grin.
"Could you at least explain to me why I'm doing it?" Neredos asked.
Alazyn nodded. "Yes, that is an appropriate question. One of the easiest emotions to become pure, is desperation. If I make you cold enough, you'll need heat, and then it's only a matter of using that desperation as fuel for your will to find that heat." She leaned forward, her face inches from his as she whispered, "So strip; let your body bathe in the chill moonlight. Feel the primal grip of death seep into your bones and resist it with every ounce of your being. Only then will you discover magic. Only then will your soul find the freedom it desires."
Neredos stripped, stepping naked into a whole new world.
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