Text version

the comic's manuscript, without pictures

14. Silence

Behind closed eyelids, Adrien calmly watched the endless light of his spell - a pool of shimmering brilliance extending in all directions, quivering with immense energy. He maintained his focus for a little longer, then lifted the staff and opened his eyes. The light faded away, and he breathed out.

"Very good", Val said with a nod of his head. "Very, very good".

"Thank you", Adrien smiled. He grasped on the staff again and breathed in. "Is it time for a pause?".

"If you are asking for it, then it is", Val smiled. "Let's go downstairs and eat something".

Each took his usual seat in the main hall; Val moved his fingers and set the table for Adrien to eat some bread and prosciutto, then magicked up a cup of tea for himself. Between sips, Val would leaf through the pages of his little journal and take some notes.

"Yes", he started, "I was thinking that your training in Light magic could be considered complete".

Adrien ate the last bite of his bread and wiped his hands on a napkin. "Really!", he said. "We're done?".

"For now, yes. If you'd like, we can already start with Darkness after the break".

Adrien's mind blanked out. "We -- we're doing Darkness magic?".

"Yes, of course", Val calmly said. "Why should we not?".

Adrien held his breath for a few seconds before answering. "I... I'd assumed that we wouldn't be doing that", he mumbled. "It's -- it's Darkness magic".

"And what is the matter with that?".

"And what -- Everything is the matter with that!", Adrien exclaimed, his eyes wide. "It's not -- it's not something you just -- learn!".

At the other side of the table, Val seemed to be taken aback for a moment; Adrien looked away, suddenly bitten by sharp shame - regardless of his opinions on the topic, he felt horrible to have lashed out at Val like that. But while Adrien's face turned gloomier as he looked for the apology he owed, Val's eyes had taken a soothing, gentle light. "Darkness magic is not something you just learn", he echoed, weighing each word. "Why not?".

Adrien exhaled. He didn't think the answer to that question to be anything less than obvious. Still, when he spoke again, he did so in a quieter voice. "Knowing what Darkness magic is", he said, "I didn't think this would be something I'd be learning how to do".

Val tilted his head downwards. "What is Darkness, Adrien?".

Adrien swallowed. "It's... It's the nothingness", he said. "It's the void. It's death".

Val nodded, and Adrien thought he saw the shade of a smile appear on his mouth. "All of these are aspects of Darkness", Val said. "They are also not all that Darkness is... And they are also not always to be feared".

"How do you mean?".

Val ran one finger on the handle of his teacup as he collected his thoughts. "Darkness is an element", he said. "The elements are -- that which is essential to us living beings. They are the foundations of what we are - and of what we need. We exist amidst these forces. We need all of them. We need the night as we need the day. And is the sunset not as delightful as the sunrise?".

Adrien breathed out as he let Val's words reach him. "Yes", he then said. "Yes, but... Darkness magic is... destructive".

"When we studied abstract defense magic, I had you practice by defending against a fear spell. That was Darkness magic. Would you say that the use of that fear spell was destructive?".

Adrien bit his lip. "No", he admitted, "but..."

Val smiled. "Did you know that a lot of healing magic is Darkness magic?".

"Really?".

"Yes. Darkness is also the element of rest and peace, and it can be used to lessen pain and to soothe. On the other hand, you could use any kind of magic to cause harm. Air magic can be used to steal someone's breath. Fire magic can be used to bend someone's will. And Light magic can be used for necromancy. Darkness magic is not any more destructive than any other kind", Val explained. He folded his arms on the table, a smile appearing on his face. "It all depends on your intent. Whether the force of Fire is positive or negative depends on what is being burned".

Adrien gasped. "That is...!".

"...Something that you said a few months ago", Val said with a broader smile. "Do you still think the same?".

Adrien chuckled, his cheeks a bit red. "I do", he said. He breathed in. "What you're telling me now makes sense", he started, "but if that's how it is, then -- why is it that I haven't read anything about this? Most books about magic that I've read only touch on Darkness magic as something that shouldn't even be discussed...".

"Well", Val started, "the Darkness is the unknown. To use Darkness magic, you have to delve within yourself, towards your deepest truths... by definition, this is not a comfortable process. People can be so frightened of their own unknown that they would rather deny it completely, and so they shut out Darkness magic as a whole. As a result, not many sorcerers are willing to explore it and understand it, and even fewer are open about practicing it. My publisher didn't even let me write about it any further than as a theoretical subject...".

Adrien lowered his head. "I see", he said. He looked up at Val. "...You won't get in trouble with the Council for teaching me Darkness magic, right?".

"Oh -- no, don't worry", Val smiled. "Many master sorcerers agree that Darkness magic does not deserve its common treatment. We had a vote, a while ago -- now the teaching of Darkness magic is recommended as part of the official apprenticeship program".

"Recommended, even!", Adrien grinned. "I didn't know that".

"I'm not surprised; this decision came with little fanfare -- you can guess the politics at play... It is still a step forward, I believe. I am also sure that many sorcerers will find a way to disregard the guidelines, but -- what can you do", Val said with a flippant simper. "Their bad opinions will hopefully die with them".

Adrien snorted in surprise at Val's sudden harshness; then he laughed. He sat up. "Ah, well... So, what is my exercise going to be like?".

"You are going to learn the Silence spell", Val replied. "And you are going to cast it on...". He looked behind the back of his armchair, then moved his fingers; a small, shiny object flew out from one of the many bookshelves in the room. He passed it to Adrien. "...This", he said with a little smile.

The object appeared to be a small silver box, its surface intricately decorated with swirls and flourishes, a little key on its right side. Upon turning the key, a faint chime began to play as the top of the box gradually opened to reveal two mechanical figurines dancing within, their hands joined as they pirouetted.

"How pretty", Adrien commented. "And I'm going to make it become silent? It seems almost sad...".

Val chuckled. "Would you rather cast the spell on an alarm clock?".

"Oh, please, no!", Adrien laughed. "Then I'd have to listen to it ring nonstop until I can cast the spell...".

"That is what I thought as well", Val smiled. He took the last sip out of his teacup and set it down on the saucer with a clink. "See, it all depends on how you use the spell", he then said. "You could use it to silence words you refuse to hear... You could also use it to turn off your alarm clock".

*****

They returned to the practice tower and sat down on the stone floor, one in front of the other.

"So", Adrien said as he smoothed out the front flap of his black tunic, "how do I do this?".

"To channel the Darkness is to enter in contact with the nothingness, the void, and the unknown", Val started. "Within Darkness lies all which has not been grasped. To relate to the Darkness is to relate to the unknown; to use its energy is a wish to unravel it. Darkness is deep, slow, chaotic, yet quiet. So, when you meditate, try to connect with these aspects. Try to connect with mystery and curiosity... with all that is just outside of your grasp".

Adrien nodded. "I understand. I will try".

He closed his eyes and bowed his head away from the faint winter light that he could still perceive behind his eyelids. Then, he found himself alone.

He focused on the blackness within his eyes, pulsating and changing - shifting from yellow to green to red and then to colors he could no longer recognize. In time, the silence became thicker. He felt himself sink; and the void's arms sheltered him in his fall. He sank to where no light could reach him from above, to where all he could feel was himself - and the nothingness which held him. He breathed in sharply: he knew this place. He had been there before - he had been there when he had wished for his fears to subside - deeper inwards where he felt at home. He had been there in the moments before sleep and after sex - that feeling of weightless sinking, that absolute silence; the bliss of being unburdened at last. Within the void, he saw himself as if in a mirror reflecting his back. He felt lost, and yet as if this place had always been his home after all.

The music box played its song. Adrien closed his eyes and drew a spell around his feet to capture the echo that was coursing through his body. A night-like hush fell upon the room; the music box made no sound. He lifted the staff: the music box chimed again - its last few notes, then it stopped.

"Adrien", Val said, smiling, "that was beautiful. Could you do it again?".

Adrien nodded. He set his hands on the staff and spun again; and the music box fell silent a second time.

"Amazing", Val chuckled. "Show me again; this time, hold down the staff for longer than before".

Adrien cast his spell a third time. As he held his focus, he felt the echo grow through him. Only when he lifted the staff did the music box resume its tune.

Val stared at him, his eyes wide, speechless for a while. "You do this so naturally", he said.

"I -- I do?", Adrien gasped, wide-eyed. "...I guess I do", he answered himself. He breathed out and stared at Val, aware of the buzz in his own ears. Leaning with his back against a wall, he took in a deep breath, his eyes fixating on nothing in particular. His abyss was a sanctuary within his chaos; it was a place to which he could fall, from which he could rise. He knew that he had longed for its peace. Was this longing called darkness? Had it always been within him, waiting for a name?

"But why?", he gasped, "What does this mean?".

Val set the music box on the windowsill, then turned again to Adrien. "Let me ask you... Why are you here, Adrien? What made you decide to come here and study magic?".

The question startled Adrien; he swallowed as he collected his thoughts. "Well -- I've been interested in magic for a long time", he said. "When I -- when the restaurant where I used to work went out of business, I had nothing else going on, so I thought that it was a good time to try something new".

Val smiled. "So, what moved you was curiosity towards the unknown", he said. "You chose to leave all you knew to find yourself. These are all aspects of Darkness". He paused a moment before continuing. "I also think that you are drawn to it because you -- you are so much", he said. "You are always brimming with energy... sometimes more than you can hold. So, it is only natural that you would be drawn to silence, quiet, and rest".

A faint smile appeared on Adrien's face. "Yes, you're right", he finally said. "I think all of this is true".

After saying that, he was silent for a long time, his head low, his fingers clenched around the staff.

"Until a few hours ago I thought that Darkness magic was evil and forbidden...", Adrien whispered. "And now, I am learning that it comes natural to me... that it belongs to me. It's... a lot to take".

"I understand that", Val smiled, soothing. "And I understand that you might need time to let this sink. If at any point you wish to speak to me about this, please, as always, I am here for you".

"Thank you", Adrien said. He rolled the staff between the palms of his hands for a while, then he looked up at Val again. "It's just -- what am I to do with this? I mean -- how am I going to explain this to my mom...".

"I see what you mean", Val said, his gaze low and lost. "Some might understand, but most will treat you like a murderer without even knowing you".

"Right", Adrien said.

A long silence followed. Val paced around for a bit, then went to the window and placed his forearms on the windowsill.

"Val...", Adrien whispered, "...to be honest, I am a bit scared".

Val turned around. He said nothing, but the caring light of his eyes forced Adrien to escape his gaze.

"You said that Darkness magic is about looking within yourself", Adrien said. "I did that just now, and what I saw was someone I didn't know myself to be". Adrien's eyes lost focus over the uneven texture of the stone walls. "Who else am I? What else am I capable of that I don't know yet? I have already changed much; how much do I want to change? Do I want to be who I can become? Do I even want to know? Am I moving towards myself, or away from myself?".

There was another long pause. "Adrien", Val then said in his soft voice, "I won't claim I can answer your questions. However, I want to tell you... I've seen you change a lot in these months. Yet, you will change more. Change is unavoidable and relentless... At times, you may find yourself far from where you thought you would be. On some days, you may not recognize yourself at all. On those days, try to remember... try to hold the threads of your fabric. The memories that you cherish the most, the words that most describe you, the flaws that are most yours. All that makes you yourself". He paused. "You have changed a lot, and still, you are the same person who came to my door on that late summer evening - the same bright, sincere, beautiful person".

Tears welled up in Adrien's eyes. "Sometimes I am none of those things", he cried.

Val shook his head. He set one hand on Adrien's shoulder. "You are always yourself", he said, his voice breaking. "Even when you cannot see it".

Adrien slowly closed his eyes; tears rolled off his cheeks. He tried to etch all of Val's words in the dark behind his eyelids; it was there, after all, that he kept his treasures - and he didn't want to be afraid of his own home. He wiped his face, inhaled deeply, and opened his eyes. "Thank you, Val", he finally said. "Thank you for everything".

Val smiled serenely. For a while, the only sound they could hear was the distant chirping of the birds on the trees outside. The weak glow of the afternoon sunlight drew Val's shadow on the stone floor. Adrien watched it shimmer.

"I want to continue", Adrien said. "I want to find out what is next for me".