Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 22

Chapter 22.

“Gemcalling,” Hiriista began, “is a combination of one’s personal magic, alchemy, symbolism, and the channeling of power outside oneself.”

“Whoo. Sounds complicated,” Poplock said. The four of them were seated near the cookfire; Tobimar and Kyri were taking turns watching the food as it cooked, but they were old hands at this sort of thing and clearly didn’t need to focus much attention on it.

“Complicated in concept, yes, and challenging if you do not understand the methods and requirements, but not terribly complicated in practice if you have the requisite tools. First, you need to have the basic talent for magic; I understand this is true of you, perhaps less so for your friends.”

Poplock glanced up at Kyri and Tobimar, who nodded. “I was told I could be a… mediocre wizard, depending on what path I chose,” Kyri said. “A decent summoner, maybe. Tobimar?”

“My… master,” Tobimar said, “told me that I had considerable magical potential but my best course did not lie in that direction. I guess I use some of that in the practice of my other skills, the combat arts he taught me.”

Poplock knew that Tobimar was talking about the manipulative magician Konstantin Khoros; given reactions to that name elsewhere, he didn’t blame Tobimar for evading that potential pitfall. “So yeah, I’ve got pretty good magical talent and I’ve been learning a lot about it,” he said. “What would I have to learn to be a Gemcaller?”

“You will need a Tai Syrowin, a Calling Array, first,” the mazakh answered, with a teeth-baring smile that seemed a challenge.

With that hint, plus the name of the discipline, Poplock understood. “Ha!” He bounced over and pulled on the various pieces of jewelry Hiriista wore. “Can I borrow one of them, then?”

“Excellent. You grasp the meaning instantly. Not all of these are Calling Arrays, but many are. Yes, I in fact have thought about this and I do have one Array that I may give you.” From a pouch Hiriista took a bright silver and gold ring with an empty setting for a large gem – Poplock guessed it would hold a gem between ten and fifteen carats – and handed it to the Toad.

Studying the ring up close, Poplock could see several unusual features. The setting itself was complex, with magic he could easily sense; by pushing at the prongs with his various tools and concentrating his own magic into the tools, he quickly realized that the setting was designed to accommodate gems of virtually any shape meeting the size limitations. The prongs themselves had tiny lines of a brilliant blue tinged with gold – a color that made him blink, then bounce over to check out Kyri’s Raiment. He glanced up. “Thyrium. There’s thyrium channels through that ring.”

The crest drooped and rose in appreciation. “A very good eye you have, Poplock. Yes, the thyrium channels are an integral part of the Calling Array, providing a link and channel between your own power and that of the selected gem.”

“Ooo, so you need magical gems to do this?”

“Yes. I am not sure I have –”

“Maybe we do. Tobimar?”

“What am I, a bank vault?” his friend said humorously. From its usual place under his outer clothing, Tobimar produced his secure pouch of gems that he had brought with him from Skysand – a country with a widespread reputation for the variety and quality of gemstones it produced. He poured the contents onto one of the plates they already had out.

Hiriista gave an appreciative hiss that approximated a whistle. “I was unaware you carried such wealth on you.”

Tobimar gave a wry grin. “I don’t advertise it. Unwise in most places. So, would any of these do?”

The mazakh magewright bent over the sparkling mound. “For beauty, these would be nigh-unmatched. For power…” He dug through the gems carefully for a few moments, then bobbed in decision. “This. An Ocean’s Tear, I think?”

The large, teardrop-cut gemstone was a beautiful blue-green and shimmered with light of the same shade, rippling like the ocean on a sunlight day. “Yes, one of the best I’ve seen,” Tobimar said.

“This will be ideal.”

“Hey,” Poplock said. “How do you know what an ocean is? I mean, all you’ve got is that big lake there.”

Hiriista’s hiss was a laugh. “Do not discount Enneisolaten so swiftly; it is an inland sea, in a way. And while it is true we have never seen such a thing as an ocean, some ancient stories and tales remain which speak of such things… and the names for these stones echo those legends, I think. Now, to our business again. As one might expect, this stone’s power will be related to water. Can you fit it into your Array?”

It took Poplock several minutes – he was unfamiliar with the exact mechanism, and it was obviously intended for use by people with larger, stronger fingers – but eventually he was rewarded with a snap! sound and the blue-green gem was securely set in the ring. Immediately he could see a faint shimmer of ocean-colored light rippling along the thyrium traces and even glimmering on the inside surface of the ring.

Hiriista picked it up and noted the same phenomena approvingly. “Well set, and the Array has already synchronized to it nicely.”

“So, how do I use it?” Poplock slid the ring onto his upper arm, where it fit fairly well. He could feel a tingling sensation, a ripple of mystical force.

“Not that simple, no, my friend. We will have to teach you to become attuned to the Array, and then to the stone itself. We will work on this, and I am sure it will not take overly long, but it will not be done this evening.”

Kyri looked at the ring and then at the multiple other gem-inset objects Hiriista carried. “So once attuned, what can you do with gemcalling?”

“Many things – perhaps not as many as a … free-standing spellcaster could do, if such were able to explore their fully capabilities, but many. Here, allow me to demonstrate with a gem similar to that which your friend has.”

Hiriista stood and raised one clawed arm; a green stone on his bracelet suddenly blazed with emerald fire, which rose up and became a wave of deep sea-green that thundered outward, raging through the forest, toppling smaller trees and stripping larger ones of their bark, scouring the ground bare, an unstoppable raging torrent that ended as abruptly as it had begun.

Oh, ouch! That would have hurt! “That’s impressive!”

Hiriista bowed; his own body language indicated slight embarrassment. “Well, yes, but I have practiced for many years indeed, and I have been attuned to that gem for over a decade; we are old friends, one might say. In addition to such crude offensive capabilities, different gems may protect, enhance, or heal. That was what we call an Essential Call – it calls forth a force based on the essence of the gem. If I attuned myself differently to that or a similar gem, I could use an Essential Call to bring it forth as an enhancement to let me travel unimpeded through water, or to heal and rejuvenate those who are tired or injured.”

“And what’s the other kind of calls?” Poplock asked.

“Summoning Calls. Not the same as the work practiced by actual summoners, who bargain with various beings and spirits – you understand?” At Poplock’s nod, Hiriista went on, “Good. A Summoning Call is in a sense similar to an Essential, but the gemcaller is not trying to call out the essence of, oh, the overt elemental or magical force, but a personification of the force within, and usually for that you need something that has a connection to the personification. You are familiar with suncore?”

“Mystical amber,” Tobimar said promptly. “Either formed from the sap of some extremely rare trees, or from ordinary resin exposed to extraordinary magical forces. It’s rare and hard to work.”

“Precisely so. It turns out that, just as ordinary amber may trap objects and even insects within it, suncore can trap a mystical… trace, or echo, or remnant, of a power that manifests nearby. This may be a representation of a powerful animal, a nature spirit, or something more powerful. You can call forth that echo and have it assist you for a short time.”

“Wow. So if you had a piece of suncore that was at, oh, a battle between two gods…”

“It is possible, yes, that you would then have something from which you could call an echo of a god to your service. Summoning gems such as that are, of course, rare –”

“I would think so!”

“– but the more valuable and sought after for all that.” He tapped a necklace, on which was a large golden drop of glowing amber. “This is one of the few I have ever seen, and I am privileged to be allowed to carry it with me; it is one of the strategic treasures of Kaizatenzei, for within this drop slumbers a fragment of the essence of Shargamor.”

Poplock dropped the tools he was putting back into their case, and he heard Kyri gasp. Tobimar, who had just been testing one of the dishes he was preparing, managed to gasp part of a spoonful into his lungs and spent the next minute coughing it back out. “A piece of a GOD?

“An echo of the great power, yes. Not his equal in any way, but nonetheless a tremendous force to have at hand. I have very rarely had cause to use it; I hope I shall never have such cause again.”

Poplock looked with new respect at the assortment of jewelry. Would never have thought it was so powerful. “Well, I have to say, I’m that much more excited about learning this!”

“And I cannot blame you. We shall work on it over the next few weeks, and I am sure you will come to grasp it quickly.” He turned his gaze to Kyri. “But I have my own questions as well, and now that we are alone, it is important that we talk.”

His eyes were narrow and focused, and held very much the essence of the hunter that was the nature of a mazakh. “So tell me, Phoenix: why were you so wary, this morning, of Shade Danrall?”