pretentious cosmic picture


Their afternoon class was devoted to crystalgazing. Their instructor was quite lively.

"Ahhhh, all of you males...hoping to get looks at the female barracks. Sorry. There are wards upon wards keeping such things from happening, and if you did, by any chance, we'd know who did it." She smiled at Braele. "And of course, that applies to the male barracks, also. Believe me. I tried, once...and got caught."

There was a chorus of "Awwwwwwwws." Falnee mentally noted that he would rather fargaze at some of the more beautiful actresses that he had seen. Nothing against Braele and the other female students there, but....

"Does anyone know why crystalgazing works?" The instructor asked.

Dead silence. The instructor continued, "Trick question. Nobody does. Some think it may be because all the world is united as one thought of C'Don, but no one knows why crystals or liquids are more malleable to show far-off happenings. Others think there is a special affinity of Linfal, shining Kaan of Wisdom, with reflective surfaces. Nevertheless, it does work, and we can take advantage of same.

"Are there limits to a crystal's range. Is it limited by distance? Are far off things harder to see than nearby things?"

"Um...that makes sense," said Braele.

"Yes, it does. But it seems not to be true. What is easiest for you to see are places you have been, especially places that are dear to you. You could pull up your home village in Reir fairly easily. Heosun would be able to pull up his Kaanrarhian home just as easily. Where you would have more difficulty in, is if it was a place you had never been before. But that can be done."

"What places can we not see?"

"Most of the Bright City has wards that would sear or crack the crystal looking at it. Much of the College has wards, that doesn't harm the crystal but renders such ineffective. Chialta...don't even think about it. Won't work, and I've seen crystals become molten glass because of trying. Jequeror's elvenhills, and most other elvenhills, have illusion-mazes where you would see a seeming, but not the actuality."

"Would someone like to try mine, and see where it takes them?"

Braele volunteered first. "Now, hold your hands close to...but not touching...the ball of crystal. One virtue of this is that your mind directs it, but other minds see what might be commonplace to you will be breathtakingly different to the rest of us."

Slowly Braele concentrated, but nothing happened. "Relax, my dear, relax. It will come; just think of what you want to see, and expect the crystal to react. It is attuned to nearby minds."

Deep within, a light slowly grew. Braele's eyes were closed, but the rest could see. It was a plain without break, very different from the hilly lands of his native Grejakim. Centaurs, like his beloved old teacher Mayaron, were in the distance, and a young man led a unicorn, closer to the action. There was a small village, full of ordinary people doing ordinary things, but the stamp of their features plainly decreed they were Reirian.

She opened her eyes. "That...that's my brother! But he's grown..."

"Yes. This is how he appears now! Since you left."

Braele sat down, looking almost sick. Falnee volunteered next. He brought his hands close to the crystal, and was there a slight tingling as he did so? The light filled the crystal again...

Suddenly, he saw his friends gathered by the great tree, and the wise centaur Mayaron teaching. He saw most of his friends, including small Chiuria. Curously, Lyre wasn't there. In the distance he could see the rolling hills of Grejakim, and very slightly the tops of the neighboring Stormy Mountains.

He felt a sudden twinge of homesickness, stabbing and twisting in his gut. He was loving seeing new places and new things. He didn't think he missed his old friends (with the possible exception of Lyre), or his old village, yet seeing them again....

It was true of each of them. It was enjoyable seeing other people's homes, but when it came their own turn, it made them quieter, more thoughtful. One person actually cried when they saw their home.

"In future days we will learn how to direct the images, to build on what you know to go to places you don't know, or how to tap on other people's memories to guide the crystal's images."

They all received crystals to look through, but the instructor warned, "These will slowly get attuned to your minds as time goes on, so it's good practice, but don't expect to suddenly pull up scenes at once. They are more to practice on. It is you who must become more adept, not it."

Everybody walked slowly back. The elvenwoods seemed forboding, alien, now, and everybody thought of their home, even as they were enthralled at seeing the others' home...they felt an aching homesickness for their own lands.

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Copyright © 1997 Al Schroeder