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Thread: [M|IC] The Price of Life (Ashen and Naming)

  1. #41
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    After pointing Froste towards the nearest bathrooms, Zula settled down to wait. She leaned against the wall and folded both of her arms across her chest, much as she’d done up above, before things had gone to shit. It was hard to think about anything else right now, and while her initial spike of panic had faded, the rest of her concerns had not. Zula even found herself wondering if Froste actually needed the bathroom, or if they’d excused themselves for more worrying reasons. Who had to question shit like that? It was almost like her condition was trying to destroy her mentally too. At this rate, it’d probably succeed at driving her mad long before her body gave out.

    When Froste returned, Zula was quick to straighten, silently thankful for the chance to focus on literally anything else. Their mumbled apology wasn’t particularly convincing, but she quickly decided to mind her own damn business, no matter what her instincts told her. Again, they were entitled to their privacy, and even if she decided a conversation was necessary, this wasn’t the time or the place. If shit like this kept happening, then Zula would try and strong-arm them into sharing, but only once they were alone. Mind made up, she finally turned her attention to the matter at hand.

    “No idea. I imagine there are, but I’ve never really had a reason to go looking for ice tomes before” Zula answered casually, completely unbothered by the admission of ignorance. “I’ve been giving it some thought, actually, and I’m not sure we need anything that specific. If the fundamentals are the same across all types of magic, then anything that covers the basics will do, right? You can just focus calling up your magic for now and worry about specific forms and structures later.” Zula was speculating, considering that she only had experience with one type of magic, but they’d figure it out pretty fast if she was wrong. She hoped.

    Zula turned her attention away from Froste, then. Cast her gaze over the rows and rows of bookshelves, stretching all the way across the room. “I’m pretty sure the elemental magic is over there” she offered, pointing towards a section relatively close to the entrance. Most of the shelves were labelled just as diligently as they were above, but she couldn’t quite make out the signs at this distance. Thankfully, she was pretty familiar with this place. “If you start from here, then I’ll go down the other end, and we can both work our way towards the middle. Sound good?”

    As soon as Froste agreed, Zula sprung into motion. She made her way to the far end of the room, slipped between the last two shelves, and began her search. Despite her best efforts, progress felt painfully slow. A good number of the books she passed didn’t have titles on their spines, or at all, and those that did seemed intent on blurring together whenever she let her guard down. On more than one occasion, Zula had to stop and go back, had to force herself to focus on the ones she’d almost glazed over, before she inevitably continued onwards.

    It wasn’t long before Zula started regretting her own suggestion. The entire way here, she’d been planning on starting with practical lessons, and had hoped some early success would cut down on the amount of study necessary. She’d only suggested they look at tomes first in hopes that the direction would help Froste feel a little less overwhelmed, and now she was paying the price. Still, Zula did her due diligence, plucking any books that looked promising from their shelves. She’d crack the cover open and flick through the first few pages of each one, before deciding based on what she found. Most were returned to their homes, but after a few rows and several minutes, she had a small collection tucked under an arm.

    When she finally turned down an aisle that Froste had already started on, Zula’s shoulders slumped in relief. She was so ready to be done with this shit, she had to suppress the urge to rush over and dump her choices on them immediately. Instead, she reminded herself that her cure could very well depend on doing this properly and forced herself to continue browsing. Only when they were practically bumping into each other did she turn to Froste properly.

    “Here.” Zula shamelessly shoved two of the three books she was carrying into Froste’s arms, on top of what they’d collected themselves. She’d gathered these books on their behalf, so it was only fair. And based on what she’d seen of their physique, she couldn’t imagine them having much trouble with the extra weight. No harm, no foul. “Let’s go find somewhere to sit. I think the closest spot with a table is over this way.” Without waiting for a response, Zula was off again, heading back the way she’d come.

    It didn’t take her long to find them a booth, partially hidden behind a table bearing a poorly placed statuette. Zula was pretty sure that she’d gotten laid in this particular one before, though she had no intention of distracting Froste with details from that particular memory. Once they were seated, she quickly kicked her feet up, before turning her attention to the collection they’d gathered between them. “That brown one I gave you is a fire tome, but it had some good descriptions on sensing and drawing on your own magic. The thicker one is the closest thing I found to an actual beginner’s guide. The writing is archaic as hell, but I thought that’d just make you feel at home. Hopefully you can wring some meaning for it. Did you find the ice tome you wanted?”

    After Froste had answered, Zula quickly turned her attention to the book that she’d kept for herself. The handwritten, unsigned journal was mostly full of baseless musings on how different types of magic interacted, but there were a few sections where the author rambled a little about the possibility of transferring energy between people. Zula had read it when researching her condition originally, before deciding it was mostly useless. She’d only grabbed it to help pass the time, while silently clinging to the vain hope that she’d pick up on something she’d missed before. She cracked the spine and shifted in her seat a little, getting comfortable. Before she started reading, though, she cast Froste a glance across their shared table.

    “I know it probably goes without saying, but stick to theory while we’re outside the practice rooms, yeah? It might be tempting to try while you have the guide in front of you, but I’d really rather not get kicked out of this place just yet. Or, if you can't help yourself, at least be subtle about it.” She’d hesitate for a moment, then, before adding on a little more. “If you need help making sense of anything, just let me know. I won’t make any promises, but I’ll do what I can.”
    Last edited by Namingtoohard; 03-15-2024 at 10:00 AM.

  2. #42
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    They really were grateful for Zula’s help. They were glad to have someone on their side who knew where to start their search, someone who could answer their questions. But the bookshelf Zula pointed Froste too was so overflowing that they didn’t know where to begin. The end of the shelf made the most sense, but checking every single book would take them forever, and they had no idea how to decide which books were worth skipping over. While they stood staring stupidly at the shelf, they cast a glance towards the opposite end of it. Zula had already chosen one book and was skimming over another. Froste quickly refocused on the bookshelf and sighed. Overthinking was a waste of time, so they shoved their doubts to the back of their throat and plucked off the shelf the first book that caught their eye.

    This room was filled with countless books about everything. Froste looked over fancy tomes with gold trimmings, thin books taped together, books with yellowing pages and strange runes and long lists of warnings. They even found a book—if they could call it that—that consisted of a madman’s doodles on lined paper held together in a binder. Froste pondered, too long, about what any of this had to do with magic before tucking it under their arm and continuing their search.

    Zula had said all magics had the same foundations. With that knowledge, Froste looked through books about earth magic, and electricity, and even one book about bending steel bars with the power of your mind. This was a fascinating place, and they could see themselves spending a lot of time here, not just to regain their memories but to explore the strange magical world they no longer belonged in and find their way back to the magic running through their veins.

    By the time Zula met up with them, Froste hadn’t looked at nearly enough books to satisfy themselves, but they didn’t want to waste more of Zula’s time by spending all day here. They gratefully accepted the titled she’d picked out for them and followed her away from the magical tomes still calling their name. When they could sit down, they finally looked at what she’d brought.

    Their attention was first drawn to the beginners guide. They fingered the cover idly, wondering if this would reveal what they’d come here for. Surely if they’d once known magic, then a starter course would pull that knowledge from them. The fire tome seemed interesting too, and they wondered if they could learn Zula’s magic in addition to that needed to save her life. They glanced at the book Zula kept for herself, but before they could ask about it, Zula inquired about their own collection.

    “Not quite,” they admitted as they spread their books out from their neat stack. They were careful with the binder, not wanting to tear any of its fraying pages. “I did find a book about water manipulation, though.” They motioned towards a book with a deep green cover. “It might have something about ice.” They showed her the other books they’d picked: one on maintaining magic concentration in a magic-repressed world, another on genetics and magic, and the binder full of drawings. They then realized they were in the same predicament again. Where to start? Looking over their options, Froste decided on the beginners guide.

    Zula knew this book well. Froste could tell from the way she talked about it that she’d read it far too many times. How many pages in that magic room were filled with the ghosts of Zula’s fingerprints? How many tomes had she studied in search of answers to her curse? Froste felt a pang of sympathy for her, and they opened their book with new determination.

    Her warning brought a smile to their lips. “Huh,” they said, a teasing lilt in their voice. “I thought you brought me here so I could blow the place up.” They let out a small chuckle before nodding. “Noted. I’ll behave.” They looked at the books Zula had grabbed for them and hesitated. “And Zula? Thank you for helping me with this. I know the stakes, but still, I…” Froste remembered the vision they’d had earlier, the acid, the person they murdered, and they shuddered. Zula couldn’t know the monster she was trying to bring back, and her reasons weren’t as selfless as Froste gave her credit for, yet Froste was still warmed by her determined kindness in all this. Without her, they’d be completely lost—or more accurately, still a popsicle—and they were glad to have here her.

    Knowing Zula didn’t like when they were sentimental, they quickly picked up their book and buried their nose in it, allowing her to ignore their words if she chose. They looked over the table of contents, but even the chapter titles didn’t make much sense. Contrary to Zula’s belief, the outdated language did not make this any easier for Froste to understand. They hesitated, wondering which chapter to start at, before giving up on the table of contents and flipping the pages to the first chapter.

    When the words started to blur, Froste set the book aside, rubbed at their eyes, and picked up another. They scanned the chapters of all their books until they got to their binder of drawings. This one made them sit up straighter. These doodles… Were they runes? No, they were too elaborate for that, too unique. They felt familiar somehow, and beautiful in a way that called to Froste. The few words on the pages offered little in the way of explanations, but Froste thought that if they stared at these long enough, they wouldn’t need them anyway. These symbols meant something, something reachable, and if they could figure that out, then they were sure they’d unlock a huge part of themselves.

    After studying the drawings for a while, they became more and more aware of how long they were keeping Zula waiting. She probably wasn’t expecting them to have an immediate epiphany, but still, they couldn’t shake how awkward they felt. Froste learned something about themselves in that library: they did not like people watching them while they were reading. They shifted awkwardly and tried to go back to what they were doing, difficult as that was becoming.

    Magic was a part of them; they were pretty sure of that. Froste skipped the pages on determining their magic affinity and instead read over the paragraphs about how to call their magic to them. They needed to be aware of their body, their mind, and their connection to the universe. It seemed silly, but Froste followed the steps in one of the books and focused on their magic. For a long while, it didn’t do anything, until they suddenly felt a burning cold touch their fingertips. Froste flinched. Their hands looked normal, and they didn’t feel any more magical than they had a moment ago. Had that been magic? Or the painful memories of what had happened last time they’d used it?

    Zula had warned them against testing anything here. They shut the book, eager to get a break from it, and looked up at Zula. She still had that book from before, and Froste could make out little about it from their place across from her. “My head can’t take all this knowledge at once,” they admitted, even if their headache had started before they’d sat down to read. “Can we check these out? Is there a limit, or…?” They motioned towards her book, and curiously, they asked, “What are you reading?”
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  3. #43
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    Froste’s playful response drew a soft chuckle out of Zula. A part of her desperately wanted to play along. To point out that blowing things up was her specialty, and insist that they find another way to destroy public property. Wasn’t that exactly what they’d come here to do, in some twisted sense? But they had a lot of work to do, and Zula didn’t think she had that much time left to waste. So, with a twinge of regret, she let the opportunity pass her by. She did appreciate the more reserved agreement that followed, though. This was perhaps the one place she didn’t want blown up, and their cooperation on the matter was quietly appreciated.

    Their gratitude, on the other hand, was met with a few seconds of silence. Zula was beginning to expect this sort of thing from them, but that didn’t make accepting their appreciation any easier. “If you want to thank me, do it by getting started, and by studying hard.” Despite her harsh choice of words, Zula spoke them without reproach. She even accompanied them with a small flick of her hand, as if to signify that she wasn’t being totally serious. Then, when Froste inevitably turned their attention towards their chosen book, Zula did the same. She flicked through the pages of her journal until she found the section she wanted, before lowering her head and starting to read.

    In direct spite of all her hopes, nothing in Zula’s journal stood out to her. There was no incredible ‘eureka’ moment where she realized that she’d overlooked something valuable, and that the answers she sought were here after all. Nothing contained within its delicate pages struck her as new, or revolutionary, or important. There were only the scribblings of a madman, whose insane theories on how magic really worked seemed to contradict every other book in this library.

    It didn’t take long for Zula’s impatience to get the better of her. The words began to blur, and her eyes started to skim, and her attention began to wander. She noticed a loose thread on the cuff of her jacket, and pulled at it until it snapped. She peered out of their booth and around the rest of the library, trying to see if there was anyone else around, familiar or not. And, more often than not, her eyes wandered over to Froste’s side of the table. Zula peered at their collection of books again, double-checked which one they were reading, and took in their focused expression, blissfully unaware as to how her scrutiny was annoying her guest. When Froste next spoke, their words were a welcome relief from the boredom that was threatening to suffocate her.

    “Not from this part of the library. Sam wouldn’t let me take these books home even when he was helping me search for a cure.” There was a hint of bitterness to Zula’s words this time, but it vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. “I used to think it was a secrecy thing, but that never made much sense when people could just take photos with their phones. Now I think it’s more to do with the wards on this place. I’m not sure they can distinguish between someone checking a book out or stealing one, and I’m not willing to gamble my life on finding out. We can come back as often as you need, though, if that helps.” Her final words were accompanied by a vaguely apologetic look.

    When Froste asked about the book she’d been reading, Zula placed the open journal on the table between them. She spun it around so the words were facing Froste, offering them the chance to take a look for themselves. “It’s meant to be some sort of pseudo-scientific journal, I think. There’s no name, but whoever wrote it had some unique perspectives on the way magic worked.” The way Zula paused on that word made what she thought of his ideas perfectly clear. “They talk about shit like transferring magical energy between people, using necromancy to manipulate souls instead of bodies…a ton of stuff that openly contradicts most of the basic rules.”

    She’d give Froste a moment to look over the scribblings themselves before she continued. “Most of it doesn’t make much sense to me. Either it’s incredibly intelligent work that’s beyond my understanding, or the author is just batshit crazy. I’m definitely leaning towards the latter. But the people who run this place seemed to think it was worth keeping, even if I’m not so sure. And maybe some outside-the-box thinking is what I need, given my situation.” She’d punctuate her conclusion with a casual, borderline dismissive shrug.

    Having said her piece, Zula settled back into her chair again. She cast a wandering eye over Froste’s stack of books one more time, tried to get a glimpse of the section they’d just been reading. “How are you faring? I know you said you can’t take much more reading right now, but does it feel like you’re making any sort of progress? Is there anything you want to test out?” The question was laced through with a slender thread of hope. Zula was more than ready to be done with books, and eager to spend a little bit of time on more practical exercises instead. While she didn’t really want to accelerate her condition any more than necessary, if the alternative was more time with this journal, then a slightly quicker death actually seemed preferable somehow.

  4. #44
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    It was disappointing to know books could not be taken from the library. Froste wondered about that. It was more a museum than a library, then, and they had no idea how they would find this information next time they were here. Would they have to commit to memory these exact titles and covers and where they had found them on the shelves? That was not happening. They were about to voice such concerns when Zula rambled on, mentioning something about photographing the pages with a cell phone. Froste frowned. Surely the text or the runes would be lost in the pixilation of a cell phone camera. But before they could embarrass themselves in asking, Froste remembered the clothing store. If Zula could somehow keep her money in her phone and use it to wirelessly pay for things, then technology had likely advanced enough that cell phone cameras were not the crappy things they remembered them to be.

    As Zula talked about the contents of her chosen reading material, Froste shivered. “Necromancy,” they repeated quietly. It was such a dark art, such a forbidden thing, and the word alone left a bad taste in their mouth. If Zula was delving into necromancy to cure her odd disease, just what was Froste getting into by trying to help her? Could it be worse than the things they had done back then?

    Froste’s gaze fell to the book when Zula pushed it towards them. As they scanned the pages, their teeth sank into their bottom lip. Batshit crazy certainly looked accurate. They too tried to make sense of the strange words and drawings. This was wrong, they thought, and they could never justify something as terrible as reanimation, as interfering with the peace of the dead, and yet.

    Froste leaned forward, taking the book into their hands. The drawings were incomprehensible, squiggles and angles that had no business coming together, but something seemed right about them. The entire book felt weird and nonsensical, sure, but… Hadn’t Froste seen these marks before? If they weren’t mistaken, these were famous drawings. Everyone should have known them. In fact, Froste was sure they could trace them with their eyes closed. But Zula had mentioned that they’d made no sense to her, and she certainly would have asked other people about them, people born even before Froste. If none of them had recognized these things either, then… Why did Froste?

    They couldn’t tell if it was their dark revelation earlier, or all the reading, or even just staring at the remnants of a twisted mind poured onto a page, but their headache was worsening. Froste winced as a particularly harsh wave of pain passed over them, and they turned the book away. They had no idea if those markings, that journal, would help Zula in any way, but they did know they had once known its contents. It was a book about necromancy; what did that mean? Just what was going on in that lab they had worked in?

    Froste was thankful for Zula’s questions, and especially for the distraction from her book that they provided. “It feels like I should have started studying for my finals sooner than this,” they replied, flashing her a cheeky grin. Their smile faded as they answered her more seriously. “Truthfully, I don’t feel much different from when we started.” Their headache had been gentler then, for one, but they didn’t see the point in sharing that detail. “Though while reading, I did feel something.” They looked down at their hands again. The cold they had felt in their hands when they’d really focused, had they imagined that? Froste touched their fingers to their neck, but they didn’t feel any colder than the rest of their body. They sighed.

    “Let’s go somewhere to practice.” Their whole body was screaming at them to go home and get some rest, or to overdose on painkillers until they could think straight again, but Froste swallowed their thoughts. An idea came to them, and hopeful, they wanted to see if they could bait out their own magic. “Can you take a picture of these?” they asked, motioning towards the books they’d chosen. “So we can find them next time.” They laid them out nicely for Zula to photograph their covers. “And,” they said, “do you think you can do the fire thing again?” It was not the most eloquent way to ask Zula to use her magic. “I think it might help me remember how to control my magic if I see someone else doing it.”
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  5. #45
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    Zula waited patiently as Froste examined the book, her attention fixed not on the mad scribblings within, but on their face. When their expression shifted, just slightly, her eyes narrowed. Then Froste spoke, and the moment passed. She mirrored their smile, mildly amused by their joke, and watched as they pressed their fingertips into the side of their neck. The sensations they were describing were completely possible. She always felt the heat of her own flames, often well past the point of comfort. The real question was whether they were making progress already, or just imagining what they thought they should be feeling. There was little point in dwelling on it, she supposed. As soon as they started practicing, they’d know for sure.

    “Sure” Zula answered simply, in response to both their questions. She slipped her phone out of her pocket and swiped across to the camera app, before leaning across the table to snap a quick photo. After taking a moment to confirm that all the titles were legible, Zula slipped her phone away again, before rising from her seat. She shuffled out of their little booth with all the grace she could muster, leaving their collection of gathered books behind. Sam or one of the other librarians would find them and re-shelve them before too long. Probably.

    Once they were both free, she would set off towards the far end of the library, confident that Froste would follow. But as Zula weaved between shelves and statues and display cases, her mind began to wander. She hadn’t planned on testing Froste, had only shown them the book to indulge their curiosity, but…what was that look she’d seen on their face? They hadn’t understood or recognized any of the contents, right? No. That was absurd. They’d probably just been confused, or upset, and she’d misjudged. It was just her own mind, clouded by desperation, looking for hope where none existed. That was all. They couldn’t remember their own name, let alone something so obscure. And they’d promised to tell her if they remembered anything useful.

    They would keep that promise, right? She certainly wanted to believe it, and Froste seemed genuine, but had they really known each other long enough for her to make that call? Probably not. Zula wanted to respect their privacy, but something strange had happened to Froste during their admission, and they hadn’t seen fit to tell her about it. It hadn’t been long, but such an obvious deflection had planted a small seed of doubt. That said…maybe it wasn’t worth worrying about. It wasn’t like she could force Froste to talk, even if she decided she wanted to. She had little choice but to trust them, and hope they wouldn’t leave her out to dry.

    Great.

    She shoved the thought from her mind when she spotted an inconspicuous door, tucked away in one of the back corners, and hidden behind some hanging drapes. Easy to miss, if you didn’t already know it was there. Zula reached for the doorknob and pushed it open, before peering into the dim space beyond. After a couple of seconds, the lights switched on automatically, offering her an unobstructed view of the dust-covered boxes within. Satisfied, Zula ushered Froste inside, before closing the door behind them. As soon as the latch clicked into place, she pressed her hand against a small, metal plate set into the wall. It responded to her touch immediately, started glowing with the same soft, ethereal light that infused the walls of the library. Proof that the wards had activated, and this room was now sealed off from the rest of the building.

    With that done, Zula moved to join Froste near the middle of the room. The promise she’d made to Sam echoed in her mind, but after a moment of silent deliberation, she decided to ignore it. Time was a precious resource right now, and she had no intention of wasting it moving old boxes around. Besides, this would be the first time Froste had attempted magic in literal years. While she suspected they were powerful, Zula doubted that they’d do any real damage on their first attempt. She’d worry about collateral after they’d proved Froste could use magic, not before.

    “Alright. I’ve sealed the room, so we can get started. Now, watch closely.” Once Zula was certain she had Froste’s attention, she turned her focus inward. She could feel her power, simmering just beneath the surface. Dimmer than she liked, but a comforting presence nonetheless. It didn’t take much effort to call it forth. She asked, and it responded, as natural and easy as breathing. Like it wanted to be used, was eager for the opportunity to serve, to become something more.

    Zula extended an arm, held it out between them, her palm facing upwards. Then she uncurled her fingers slowly, and flame blossomed between them. A ball of fire with no visible source winked into existence, filling the air with a soft crackling sound, bathing them in its flickering light. It hovered just above the surface of Zula’s palm, making her skin prickle uncomfortably, but she paid the sensation no mind. The fire mage just looked up at Froste and grinned lazily, satisfaction etched into every line of her face. Zula gave them a moment to take it in, before she spoke again.

    “Simple elemental magic like this shouldn’t require any sort of incantation or ritual. I know they help some beginners focus, but the power should already be there. All you have to do is find it, then…direct it. Channel it. It’s more like flexing a muscle than anything.” While she spoke, Zula would twist her hand. The flames she’d conjured remained where they were, letting her run her fingers through the dancing tongues of fire absentmindedly. “Does that help at all?”

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