the comic's manuscript, without pictures
The next day came and Adrien woke up with the sky barely starting to turn blue with dawn - far too soon, but his excitement and nervousness for the coming day couldn't have let him do otherwise. He stood up, went to wash himself, put on his best robe, and then proceeded to sit in a daze on the side of his bed for a few more minutes, his mind muddled with apprehension and his stomach twisted into knots. At last, in the corner of his eye, he saw the pink and purple clouds of the morning, and he bolted up.
He left his room and closed the door; then he headed down the narrow spiral staircase and opened the door to the main hall. He scanned the room, trying to get a sight of the sorcerer Valerion; and there he was, sitting on one of the several red armchairs, its back towards him - he could see the golden hem of his robe shimmer feebly by the light of the fireplace. It took Adrien a while before he could gather the courage to announce his presence: "Good morning", he said with a faint voice.
Valerion slowly stood up. He turned around, making his robe swirl around him; even in the near-darkness of the room, Adrien noticed his serene smile.
"Good morning to you, Adrien; I hope you have had a good night's sleep".
Adrien stammered, unsure of what to say. A few awkward seconds passed, but then Valerion continued: "But if not, that is also understandable, considering the situation - you must be quite nervous about the coming day". He chuckled slightly; Adrien mirrored a weak smile in response.
"Probably not the best idea to offer you breakfast, if that is the case - correct me if I'm wrong?", he continued.
Adrien nodded. "Yes -- I'd rather go right to the lesson, if that is alright with you".
"It is", Valerion said, still smiling. "Follow me, we'll be in the practice tower".
Adrien followed the sorcerer Valerion to the north tower - past the first door, up another set of spiral staircases, and past a second wooden door.
The room beyond this door was octagonal, just like the large room downstairs and like the room in which he had slept; but, unlike both, this other room was completely barren - all walls, floor and ceiling, like a strange stone cage. There was a lone window on one of the walls and torches on some of the others - they had lit themselves upon opening the door.
"Welcome", Valerion said, as his voice bounced off the empty walls, "to the practice tower". Noticing Adrien's puzzled expression, he added: "The reason why it is empty is so that you can freely draw your spells all over the walls and the floor. Today, you will draw on the wall".
Adrien nodded, but his brow had been furrowed as he did so. There had been a worry that he'd managed to keep away from his mind during his journey - it had been shoved underneath the weight of more pressing concerns; now that he was there, in the room in which he was supposed to draw a spell, it had taken his mind at full force. The problem was that Adrien hardly knew how to cast even the most basic of spells. He'd managed to summon a few flames every now and then, but he'd never been able to do so consistently and with confidence. His letter to Valerion contained samples of spells that he drew over the span of several days, and not without discarding dozens of failed ones; and, even like that, the most they could do was shoot a few sparks. The thought of casting a spell right there and then seemed impossible to him.
Valerion proceeded to draw a spell in the air with his index finger, and a chair appeared in his hands. He placed it down and seated himself. Then he continued:
"Your objective is to draw a working spell. It can be any spell - it won't have any actual effect, anyway; all you have to do is manage to activate it. Then, from there, we'll decide how to progress". Valerion offered a piece of white chalk to Adrien, who thanked him as he took it; then he walked towards the wall. He decided to try casting a basic Fire spell. He put his left hand on the stone wall and stared at it for a good while; as much as he wanted to focus, he was drawing a blank. He swallowed; he felt a tremor in his arm. He turned around, and looked at Valerion with a perplexed face.
"Take your time", he said.
Adrien turned to face the wall again. Finally, he started drawing a circle - or rather, an oval - or rather... Adrien stopped, looking at his misshapen egg of a magic circle. Wordlessly, he turned around towards Valerion again, his eyes wide.
"Don't worry; just start over".
His face red with embarrassment, Adrien cleaned the wall and tried drawing a second time. This circle seemed better than the first, he thought as he traced it; but, in the end, he couldn't close it. He wiped it again. He furrowed his brow in resolution as he drew a third circle; he hoped drawing faster would yield better results, but it turned out to be even worse than the first two. He cleared the third circle. Sweating and trembling, he drew a fourth circle. This one seemed to resemble a circle more than the previous ones, but the linework was too shoddy, he thought. He cleared it once more. With determination, he started drawing a fifth circle - smaller than the previous ones, and slower. This one was actually shaped like a circle, he thought, and the linework looked better. With precision, he drew a triangle inside. He stepped back and breathed out.
"Place your hand in the center and see if it lights up", Valerion said.
Quivering with expectation and fear, Adrien outstretched his right arm, closed his eyes, and placed his hand in the middle of the circle.
He stood there a little longer.
He swallowed, his ears buzzing; a little, high-pitched squeak escaped from his throat. He turned around; to his surprise, the sorcerer Valerion seemed to be smiling.
"That's quite alright; you are just starting, after all". He stood up and walked to the wall. Adrien stepped to the side and Valerion placed himself in front of the circle to examine it. Adrien stared at him, his neck cold with sweat, his mouth dry, his hair wound onto his fingers.
"Ah -- that's quite elegant, Adrien, but --".
"-- but? --", Adrien squeaked, his stomach twisting with anxiety.
"You should draw with your whole body, not just with your fingers. Otherwise, it will never work".
Adrien's hands shook, and he dropped the chalk. "I -- I'm sorry, I --".
"No, no -- there's nothing to be sorry about", Valerion said in a soothing tone. "The point of this first exercise was to see where to start from. Now I can give you better directions to your goal. Don't worry, you'll get there".
"What -- what am I to do?", Adrien replied, on the verge of tears.
"First and foremost, sit down on the floor", Valerion said, and did the same himself. Adrien hesitated for a second, then followed suit and sat on the floor across from his mentor. He stared at him, puzzled.
"The first thing you need to do to draw a working spell - even before picking up the chalk - is to prepare yourself for the task. When you draw a circle, your body becomes a channel through which energy is expressed; so, your channel needs to be clear", Valerion calmly explained.
"Is -- is this going to be like the thing of the monks, who meditate for years, and then draw a perfect circle?", Adrien asked, alarmed.
"Yes, in a sense".
Adrien bit his lip. "So it will be years...".
"Oh, no, not at all. Those monks have different aims, and you can make a working spell with an imperfect circle. What you need is the same frame of mind".
"What should I do?", Adrien replied with a tremble to his voice.
He tilted his head, a little smile on his face. "Take in a few deep breaths...".
Untangling his fingers, Adrien slowly closed his eyes and followed Valerion's instructions. His more extreme expressions of anxiety seemed to be subsiding, but a baseline level of nervousness was still there, Adrien noted with disappointment. More than anything, he was displeased at the fact that any of this had happened. He should have been better than that, he told himself. If he couldn't even calm down, how could he ever succeed in casting spells? Maybe he had been right and this really had been a huge mistake, he thought as his throat clenched.
"Is something the matter?".
Adrien opened his eyes wide; he found Valerion staring back at him with a concerned expression on his face. He must have noticed, Adrien thought - which made him even more disappointed at himself than before. He didn't know how to answer his question, either; it seemed too much to explain, whichever way he saw it.
"Do you really think I can do it?", he blurted out.
"Of course you can", Valerion said, leaning forward slightly, his black eyes wide open. "Do you think you can't?".
Adrien looked off to the side. "I'm not sure", he muttered.
"You need to believe yourself capable of succeeding, Adrien", Valerion replied, his voice soft, but full of conviction. "I am sure you can. However -- however, you need to believe in yourself, as well. You must not torment yourself if you don't succeed immediately. You must keep well in mind that it will take some time, and that you will get closer to your destination with each failure. You must expect and accept these failures without blaming yourself for them. Perhaps you will need to draw one hundred failed circles, perhaps one thousand, but you will eventually succeed, and I am here to help you. Alright?".
There was a pause in which Adrien lowered his head as he let the sorcerer's words sink in. Finally, he nodded. "How do I do that?".
"There is no surefire way, as the journey is different for each one, but -- may I ask you what do you believe your greatest obstacle is?".
Adrien suddenly lifted his head, as if prickled by the sharpness of Valerion's question. He sat deep in thought for a while, searching for an answer. At last, he grasped on something at the bottom of his abyss - a loathsome thought that made his eyes widen in horror, but that he needed to bring back to the surface and expose.
"My own incompetence", he said.
"Why do you think that?".
"Well", Adrien muttered, his head low once again, "you asked me to make a working spell, and I can't even do that. I should be able to figure that out. I'd think that I would have managed to do that, by now. Maybe I just -- maybe I just -- cannot do it". His voice broke; his throat tightened. As he tried to suppress his tears, he found himself thinking that he should start packing his things, go home, and never speak of this again. "I am sorry -- I am just wasting your time", he whimpered.
"That is not true", Valerion said, firm. "That is simply not true. I know you can do it. Do you think I would have accepted you as my apprentice, if I thought you couldn't? I am positive that you will succeed - all you need is to learn how to get there. This is why you are here, after all, and I repeat - I am here to help you. You are not a waste of my time. I don't think your problem is incompetence, Adrien. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's rather --".
"-- what? --", Adrien gasped.
"That you tend to bully yourself", Valerion answered, gently.
Adrien looked off to the side, to the lone window in the barren room, then back to Valerion's inquisitive eyes, then down to his own knees. "No, you're right", he said. "It's true".
"You need to tell that bully in your head that nothing of what he says is true. Don't leave his lies unchallenged. For every lie he whispers, you must shout back the truth".
"I should, I know", Adrien said, shaking his head, his voice slightly quivering, "but what if they aren't lies, what if they're just... unpleasant truths?".
The sorcerer Valerion nodded, seemingly deep in thought. "Yes, that is a fair point. Let's see... If you are unsure, please, feel free to voice your worries. In fact, always feel free to voice your worries. I will do my best to help".
Adrien slowly raised his head; he saw that his mentor was smiling - a comforting smile that made him instinctually smile back. "Thank you", he finally said, "I will. Thank you so much".
"Don't mention it. Are you feeling better?".
"Oh, yes, thank you".
"I'm glad to hear that. This must have been quite taxing on you; would you like to have a pause -- perhaps some food -- and then resume?".
"I'd love to", Adrien nodded. Now that his stomach wasn't trying to wring itself out anymore, the fact that he was quite hungry was making itself evident.
"Let's go downstairs, then".
They descended to the main hall; the midmorning sun was seeping through the high windows, scattering patterns of light across the room. Adrien went to sit at one end of the table that was in front of the fireplace, with the sorcerer sitting at the other.
"What would you like to eat?", Valerion asked.
Adrien thought for a second. "Do you have bread and jam?".
"Of course. What type of jam do you like?".
"Could I ask for... apricot?".
Valerion paused. "Sadly, I just finished the last of it the other day", he said, a somewhat impudent smile on his face. "I'm sorry. I will get more, if you'd like".
"Ah -- it's not really important", Adrien quickly added. "Then... do you have... sour cherry?".
"I do", Valerion said. He waved his hand, and a napkin, a plate, a few slices of bread, a jar of sour cherry jam and a knife appeared on the table - everything carefully laid out, as if arranged by an overzealous maid.
"Let me know if there's anything else you need", he then said.
Adrien looked at the whole breakfast that had appeared in front of him. "I would just really like to know how do you do that", he said, bewildered. "I have never heard of magic to materialize food".
"Oh, it's actually just teleportation - there is a magically automated kitchen underneath us, and all I have to do is teleport the food up here", Valerion smiled.
"That's brilliant!", Adrien said, beaming. "I wish I could see that kitchen, it must be amazing...".
"It's quite messy, since I rarely go there - but, if you'd like, I can clean it up so you can have a look".
"Oh -- no -- you don't have to", Adrien quickly backpedaled. "You really don't --".
"No, no - it's not a problem, and I have been neglecting that, regardless", Valerion said with a soothing gesture of his hand. "I really should pay more attention to that kitchen; it's not as optimized as I'd like. Well, that's an understatement", he added in a low voice.
Adrien chuckled as he twisted the cap of the jar open. He spread the jam on his bread neatly, with measured movements of the knife; he then brought the bread to his mouth, and gave it a vigorous bite.
"The jam is amazing - thank you so much".
A faint laugh shook Valerion's shoulders. "It better be! I wouldn't trifle with low-grade jam".
"I am glad, because this is easily some of the best I've ever had", Adrien said, cheerfully. "But -- um -- are you not having anything?".
"Oh, right", Valerion said. He moved his fingers, and a cup of coffee on a saucer appeared in front of him; he slowly grabbed the handle and took a sip. He put down his cup again, a delighted expression spreading over his face. "Thank you; I got a bit sidetracked thinking of my messy kitchen".
"Don't we all", Adrien chuckled.
"So I take you must cook", Valerion said.
"Yes, well - my mother and I take turns", he replied, spreading jam on another piece of bread.
"Nobody else to help?".
"I live alone with my mother".
He shook his head. "No, I'm an only child. And -- well -- I never met my father, so".
Valerion quickly put down the cup from which he had just taken another sip of coffee. "Oh -- I am sorry -- if you'd rather talk about something else, please --".
"No, it's alright. He left my mother before I was born, so he was obviously nobody worth meeting", Adrien said with a weak chuckle and a shrug. "So it's just me and my mother".
"I am so sorry", Valerion repeated, running his finger around the rim of the saucer. "Have you written her about your arrival?".
Adrien bit into his second slice of bread and jam. "I was writing her a letter yesterday - I need to finish it".
"You should; she must be waiting to hear from you".
"Yes - I hope she's not too worried".
There was a long pause in which neither said anything. The sorcerer Valerion seemed to be slowly drinking his coffee, greatly savoring each sip; Adrien was also quite enjoying his bread and jam. As he was bringing his fourth slice of bread to his mouth, he gasped; the slice had fallen from his hand and landed on his plate - upside-down, of course. Frowning, he picked it up. "It always falls that way", he muttered. Still scowling, he tried to recover as much of the jam as possible with the crust of the bread; from the other side of the table, Valerion giggled softly. He had just finished his cup of coffee, and was now sitting with his elbows against the table and his hands on his cheeks, gazing around idly with a contented expression.
"Ah - I'm sorry to make you wait", Adrien said.
"No, take your time. Would you like something to drink? Water? Juice?".
"Oh, thank you, water would be fine. Thank you so much".
Once again, Valerion moved his fingers, and a glass of water appeared. Adrien drank it as fast as he could; although he would have loved for the delicate pleasures of this breakfast to never end, he found himself compelled to bring it to a close - he'd become ready to rise to the challenge once more. He placed the empty glass down on the table, dried his lips with one finger, then said:
"Thank you. We can go back to practice, if you agree".
With one hand on the wall, Adrien closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. His brow wrinkled with worry; he recognized that his resolve was getting weaker. He waited, giving himself more time to calm down. It's always easier in theory, he told himself, a half-smile appearing on his cheeks. He breathed out, then in again; he felt his stomach contract in an unpleasant way.
Startled, he turned around; Valerion was sitting behind him, his head slightly cocked, a serene smile on his face.
"Are you having a problem?".
He swallowed. "Maybe", he muttered. "It's just that my hands are shaking", he added, disappointed. "Is there anything I can do about that?".
Valerion seemed pensive for a moment, then said: "It wouldn't hurt to stretch your hands, I think. Try this". He then proceeded to demonstrate by clenching and unclenching his hands, spreading his fingers, then stretching each individual finger. Adrien put down his chalk and followed his example silently, watching the sorcerer's precise, almost mesmerizing motions. Still finding himself more nervous than he would have liked, Adrien sighed; he completed his exercise and then he stood still, looking down at his own shoes peeking from the hem of his robe, lost in thought.
"Your highness", Valerion corrected him with a smile.
Adrien couldn't help but smile, too. "Yes... I wanted to ask - how long does it take usually for --".
"Are you still worried that you will not manage?".
"Well -- I was just wondering, just to know -- just to know what should I expect".
Valerion leaned forward. "I don't know. I think I might be able to make an estimate if I see more of your circles", he said, his smile now cheeky.
Hearing that, Adrien's face cleared instantly. "Right", he said. "I'm sorry. I was doing it again".
"No, it's alright, I absolutely understand", Valerion said. "And, all jokes aside, I did mean what I just said - I will be able to tell you more once I see you draw more".
"Then I should just get to work, right?", Adrien said, his head slightly cocked, a faint smile in his eyes.
"Correct. For now, don't worry about drawing a Fire circle or anything like that -- just draw circles and circles until you feel confident with them".
Still smiling, Adrien picked up the chalk and turned towards the wall again. He closed his eyes, ready for the task; he moved his right arm towards the wall; then lowered it again slightly, and turned back, looking over his shoulder.
"Sir -- Valerion?".
Adrien paused for a second, gathering the courage to express himself. "Thank you -- thank you so much. I haven't even started, and you've already been such -- such an invaluable help".
"Ah -- don't mention it, really", the sorcerer Valerion smiled, slightly shaking his head. "I am glad to hear that, though".
Adrien smiled back at him, nodded, then turned around again. With resolve, he placed his chalk on the surface of the wall, then quickly moved his hand to draw a circle, which came out rather ugly.
"Aw!", Adrien chuckled. "Here we go again!". He wiped the circle off the wall, then replaced it with a second one - not any prettier than the first. He wiped away this circle too, and he drew a third - perhaps slightly better than the previous two, but still not close to being satisfactory. Adrien smiled; he wasn't discouraged at all. He kept well in mind what the sorcerer Valerion had told him before - maybe he will have to draw one hundred failed circles, maybe one thousand, but, eventually, he will succeed; each failure will bring him closer to his success. If that was the case, he told to himself, then each new failure was not only to be accepted, but even welcomed. He started drawing circle after circle after circle, his motions uninterrupted and intense; soon, a good portion of the wall was covered with his lines. The first circles of his sequence had been drawn by raw impulse, cathartic and powerful, but then it all morphed into something else, Adrien noticed; as he spiraled around, he found himself overcome by some strange, exhilarating feeling that he couldn't name - as if his arms were no longer his, and yet as if they had never belonged to him more than in that moment. His dance peaked, waned, and ended. He stepped back and looked at the wall covered in circles, in silent awe at what he had just achieved. A loud sound surprised him; he turned around to find that the sorcerer Valerion was now standing, clapping his hands, grinning at him.