9 – It would be silly to say that it should be impossible

“What about that other matter?”

“Ah, I have the full report here. My recommendation would be to allow it to use as many resources as needed.”

“Hmm. You really think this would be worth the costs?”

“There’s no way to say for sure, but it is my opinion that it’s worth the risks.”

“Hmm. Do it then. Let’s hope you’re not wrong.”

✤ ✤ ✤

Spear spent the next morning studying in his room as usual; he had met with Claude for breakfast in the refectory, but he hadn’t seen Silvia there. It was almost lunch time when he realized that the dull pain in the back of his head was gone. He was really surprised by this, and immediately closed his eyes and tried to find it again. His mind was quickly flooded by a cacophony of different sensations, and it took him quite a while to regain his senses – but there was no pain! He stood there stunned for a bit. What happened? What’s different? He couldn’t figure out why the pain was gone – but, given that nobody seemed to have figured out exactly why the pain had come in the first place, he decided that there was no point in questioning it further.

He ran to the magic sense room. He sat in front of the pendulum, made it swing and focused on it. It was like having a thousand people screaming inside his head, but among all that chaos, he thought he could find that sensation of something increasing and decreasing in synchrony with the movement of the pendulum; the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he was sensing the velocity of the weight. He grew excited once more.

✤ ✤ ✤

Claude had to wait again for Spear to get to the refectory for lunch; he didn’t say anything though this time – Spear always took everything too seriously. He did notice, though, that the other boy seemed to be in a much better mood.

“You look better today…”, Claude said.

“Uh… my headache is gone…”

“Oh?”

“I… think I can feel the velocity of the pendulum…”, Spear said hesitantly.

“You do?” (Claude didn’t really know what to think anymore.)

“I’m not sure…”

They sat and they ate without talking more. Claude looked at Spear with a mix of curiosity and skepticism. When they were about to leave, Silvia sat down at the table.

“Hi!”

“Apparently his headache is gone…”, Claude told her.

“It is?”, Silvia asked with some confusion. Spear nodded. Claude and Silvia looked at each other for a few moments, then she said: “He’s a total mystery, isn’t he?”

They said goodbye (they’d see each other again in the magic sense room one hour before dinnertime); Spear went to practice some more. He looked at his notes about the physics of pendulums and tried his best to confirm what he was feeling. He then looked at the physics of spinning tops and tried to feel one too – it was much harder because, for example, the angular velocity didn’t change much, so he couldn’t really tell it apart from all the other “noise” that he felt.

He spent the entire afternoon trying different things, but despite the excitement it was mostly frustrating since he didn’t really know what he was doing. He looked forward to Claude and Silvia coming – he hoped that the other boy could give him advice. He didn’t expect Miranda to show up with them.

“Claude told me your headache is gone and you can use your magic sense.”, she said entering the room. He was a bit startled but recovered quickly.

“I… think so…”

She sat in front of him and Claude and Silvia sat next to him. “Do you remember what we talked about in the carriage?”, Miranda asked.

After a moment, Spear nodded. “Well… I don’t really know much about the magic sense.”, he said, his excitement starting to visibly evaporate.

“What do you know?”

“I…”, Spear began to say, but stopped thinking for a few moments. “When trying with the pendulum, I feel something like a number increasing and decreasing; this seems to match what I know about the velocity of the weight, so I’m thinking that’s what I’m feeling.”

“That’s a fair assumption at this point; but, what do you mean exactly when you say that you feel a number?”

“Well… It’s almost like I could see a number in front of me… but I’m not really able to read it? It feels that if I could focus on it more, then I could read it…”

Miranda raised an eyebrow. “That’s interesting; I’ve never heard anyone describing it like that.” After a few moments, she added: “Have you tried practicing with a spinning top?”

“I have… but… it’s like trying to hear a whisper on the other side of the building while in a room packed full of people screaming…”, Spear said, frowning. Miranda raised an eyebrow again. “I think I’m feeling the angular velocity, but… I'm not sure how to confirm it…”

“Let’s play a simple game. I’m going to spin two tops, and I’ll use magic to make sure they make no sounds. One of them is going to stop before the other. Before we play, focus on them and see if you can feel them stopping.” She took two spinning tops and started both of them in front of the boy; he looked at them intently, until one stopped, then the other; she started them again and he kept focusing on them. When they stopped again she spoke once more: “Do you think you’re ready?”

Spear wasn’t really sure, but he nodded.

“Ok, now close your eyes. I’m going to spin them again, and you’re going to keep your eyes closed, and raise your left arm if the one to your left stops first, or your right arm otherwise. We’ll keep going, with your eyes always closed, and we’ll see how many times you get it right.” Spear nodded again and he closed his eyes; Miranda started the two spinning tops. When the right one stopped, the boy hesitantly raised his right arm. “Ok.”, Miranda said, he lowered his arm and she started the spinning tops again. This time, though, after a few moments she grabbed the one on his left, as silently as possible. Spear scrunched his face, then raised his left arm, opening his eyes. He looked in confusion at the schoolmaster holding one of the spinning tops in her hand; she had a huge smile on her face. “Close your eyes, we’re not done!”, she said.

They kept going for a bit; sometimes she would only spin one top; sometimes she would grab them both at the same time. Spear managed to get them all right, though he was very hesitant about most of them. Claude looked at him in disbelief; if he didn’t know better he’d assume that Spear had been training for a year or two. Silvia was mostly curious about the whole thing – she certainly wouldn’t have been able to get them all right.

“I think this will be enough for today. I should say, it’s very impressive: I’ve never met a first year able to do this, let alone after just barely more than a week of practicing.”, Miranda said; Silvia and Claude vehemently nodded. Spear didn’t know what to say. After a few moments, she added: “Do you three plan to meet again like this tomorrow?” They nodded. “Mr. Penrose, would you be so kind as to test Mr. Dustwater with the spinning cylinder?”

Claude was a bit surprised but responded: “Yes, schoolmaster.”

“Thank you. Hopefully I’ll see you again on fourthday, I can’t wait to see how much progress you’ll have made.” Miranda got up and walked towards the door; before she left the room though she heard Silvia:

“I guess I’m useless at this point…”

Miranda stopped, then turned around and addressed her: “Actually… Miss Grommer, would you be so kind as to attempt to teach Mr. Dustwater to sense his body?”

Silvia was quite surprised. “Of course, schoolmaster… but…” Then, after some thought, she added: “I guess it would be silly to say that it should be impossible…” Miranda smiled and left. The three kids got up and left for the refectory.

✤ ✤ ✤

The kids agreed to meet at different times the next day; Silvia had some free time in the morning, before Spear’s physics class; Claude instead was busy all day, so they agreed to meet by the practice room some time before dinner.

Silvia came by Spear’s room ten or so minutes after the fifth hour (there was no need for them to be in the practice room). The boy was curious about what sensing his body entailed; the girl thought that the whole situation was surreal and, therefore, kind of fun.

“Ok, so… I’m not a teacher, so don’t expect too much from me”, she said as she sat down on Spear’s chair (he sat on his bed); “but I think I can help you with a simple exercise. The idea is this: I use magic to affect one of your arms, and you try to sense it; it’s something like mild weakness, so it’s even less trouble than the itching unguent that most people use.” She grabbed both of his arms in her hands. “To start, I’m going to place the affliction on your left arm; try to focus on your body and your arms in particular and see if you can sense the difference between the two…” Spear nodded, and concentrated; he focused on his left arm in the same way he focused on the pendulum or the spinning tops; once again there was that “noise” he could sense all around him; but, he thought he could feel something completely different from his body: it wasn’t like numbers at all. More like… a color? A more abstract sensation that he couldn’t easily describe. Once he tried, he could feel something similar from Silvia’s body as well. He focused more on his left arm, and attempted to sense any difference from his right arm; it was actually pretty obvious once he tried: it was like sensing a different color. More specifically, there was the same color underneath, but his left arm had something like a stain on it. He told this to Silvia.

“That’s… a new way to describe it…”, she said. She was a bit skeptical, but she had to admit that Spear defied all expectations. “Ok, now I’m going to do the same thing without telling you which arm it is, and you tell me. Ready?” He nodded. After a few moments, the boy identified the correct arm. They repeated the exercise a few times and he quickly and easily got it right. Silvia looked at him with great surprise. Then she narrowed her eyes at him: “If it turns out that you’re even more talented at sensing life than you are at sensing the world I’m going to be so jealous!”

“I’m sorry…”, he said, looking down.

She chuckled and said: “Don’t be silly.” She smiled at him. “Wait until Claude finds out. And the schoolmaster…” She shook her head. “You really are special.”

Spear didn’t know what to say, so he avoided eye contact and said nothing. After saying goodbye and that she hoped to see him at lunch, the girl left, and the boy went back to studying, before heading to his class.

✤ ✤ ✤

“I still can’t believe you can sense life after trying just once!”, Claude said, after the two boys sat down in the practice room; it was half an hour before dinnertime. Claude had directed Spear to sit in front of what looked like a metal cylinder.

“I’m sorry…”, Spear said. Claude groaned. I can’t say anything in front of this guy, he thought.

“Anyway, this thing here has a cylinder inside that can spin. You can’t see it from the outside, and it can only be spun using magic. The idea here is that I magically spin it and you tell me in which direction I’m making it spin, and so on. So it’s like the spinning top, but you can’t see or hear it, so it’s a bit harder I guess.” Spear nodded. They went through the exercise a few times; initially, Spear was very hesitant, but he got confident with each attempt. Claude was really impressed, but didn’t say anything; he decided that nothing would surprise him anymore when it came to the other boy.

✤ ✤ ✤

On fourthday, they all met again in the practice room. The kids had to wait some time for the schoolmaster to arrive. She sat down in front of them.

“Miss Grommer, was Mr. Dustwater able to sense his body?”

“All too easily…”, Silvia said, almost pouting. Miranda raised an eyebrow. Then she turned to Claude.

“Mr. Penrose, how did the test with the spinning cylinder go?”

“He’s pretty good with it.”

Miranda nodded. “Great. Mr. Dustwater, now I want to do the same thing that you did with Mr. Penrose, except that I want you to close your eyes and keep them closed at all times.” Spear nodded, and she went to grab the cylinder. She put it in front of the boy, and he closed his eyes.

She spun the internal, hidden cylinder and Spear indicated the direction it was spinning. She repeated this a couple times, with the boy identifying when she stopped or spun the object and in which direction. Then, without making any noise, she grabbed the cylinder, got up and started walking away from the boy. He kept sensing the movements of the object correctly. She walked towards the door, even stepped outside the room, and got as far away as she could while still being able to see and hear Spear; he still sensed it correctly. She had a huge smile on her face, while Claude’s eyes were as wide as can be and his mouth was open; Silvia was just amused.

“You can open your eyes now.”, Miranda said. Spear did so, and was surprised that the cylinder wasn’t in front of him anymore. He was confused to find the schoolmaster outside the door to the room and looking at him with her huge smile. She walked back in. Claude’s mouth was still open.

“I think it’s fair to say that no other student in the school would be able to do this.”, Miranda said. Then she added: “In fact, I doubt anyone except me can do it in the whole kingdom… and I’m not going to tell you how many years of practice it took me.” Claude’s mouth was still open.

“Now, can you show me how you sense your body?”, the schoolmaster said. Silvia turned to Spear and gestured for him to turn towards her. He did so and she grabbed his arms; she explained to the schoolmaster that she would inflict some weakness to one of his arms and he would sense which one. “Do it the other way around – inflict weakness to one of your arms.”, the schoolmaster told her. Silvia was about to protest, but instead she shrugged and asked Spear if he was ready. He nodded and they went through the exercise a few times. It appeared to be much easier for Spear than the ones sensing the world. Silvia was quite surprised (she didn’t expect him to be able to sense her body), while Claude had finally managed to close his mouth. Then Spear asked a question:

“Why are you holding my arms if you are inflicting the weakness on yourself?”

“How do you expect to sense my body without touching me?”, Silvia said. Spear’s face showed confusion.

“Miss Grommer, why don’t we try with some distance between you and Mr. Dustwater?”, Miranda said.

“But that’s…” Silvia stopped herself from saying “impossible”. She frowned, released Spear’s arms, got up and walked a couple steps away. They repeated the exercise, and the boy could easily sense her body. Miranda started laughing, while Silvia’s expression grew terrified. Claude and Spear were just confused.

“You have no idea what this means, do you?”, Miranda said after a while. Spear shook his head. “Do you remember what you said in the carriage about healers?”

“They are the scariest wizards?”

“Right, and that’s with the fact that they have to touch people to even sense life!”

Realization dawned on the boy’s face.

Next chapter: 10 – Unintended consequences

Spear of Aiste by Gabriele Santilli is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
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