5. Crystic

Like I said before, I want to tell you how I got here, how I learned I was the Answer to Prophecy, but to tell it all at once would be too painful. I don’t think I could write about my old life every day. Write it and know it was gone.

I’m not allowed to send or receive messages at the Academy. Dean Enislen says that moderating what goes in and out of my head—my experiences—is all part of shaping me into a hero worthy of saving the Ferren. So I have no outlet to the real world except this ticker, and my own memories.

I’ll dole them out by degrees.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“Please avoid the golden plum.”

“Will you please stop with the plum thing?” Gruffin said. More grunted than said, really.

I looked up from my magazine and gave him a blank stare. I hadn’t even realized I was saying it. It had become a habit over the past week, ever since that message from airbird77. He was still sending it to me, at least twice every day. Candle had told me I should report him, or at least block him, but I kind of liked getting the messages. It was something reliable. Something to count on.

It was the slow part of afternoon, when hardly anyone came into the investiture. I was sitting behind the counter reading Trotter Tracker and eating a sleeve of weybisks. Across the store, Azlo was stocking the shelves as slowly as she possibly could. Gruffin stood in the door of his office, clutching a mug of elg in a broad hand. I could never stand that stuff. Magic-infused or not, it was like drinking black sludge. I couldn’t get past the texture. Gruffin was addicted to it, though, and I didn’t think he noticed, but his beard was trailing into the mug.

I looked up and tried to meet his eyes behind his overhanging eyebrows.

“Sorry,” I said.

He grunted (something unintelligible this time) and turned back into his office.

“And Azlo, you can go faster than that!” he barked from inside. Azlo gave a jolt, her eyes widening, and began to unpack the boxes of cebelis gum with renewed fervor.

I ate another weybisk.

Outside, underneath the investiture’s pavilion, a skim pulled up and parked near the door. It hovered there for a few moments before the glowing purple and blue levitation discs beneath it shut off, and the skim lowered gently to the ground. The cebelis trees, with their white trunks and pink leaves, stirred in the humid air, crowding the broad overhang. Beyond them, the streets of Blush were quiet, with only a few passersby to punctuate the midday doldrums.

A large woman climbed out of the skim and passed through the sliding doors. I flipped the magazine shut.

“Good morning,” I said. “Welcome to Gruff Stop.”

“Morning,” the woman said in a booming voice as she made her way between the aisles. Her hair was curled and yellow, and her nose was squished. She dropped her purse on the counter and dug around inside, then pulled out a prism the size of my forearm. It was completely transparent, not even a reflection of color, which meant it was completely empty of magic.

My eyes widened at its size.

“Can you fill this?” she asked, seeing my face.

I sat up a little straighter. “Of course.” And though I bristled at the idea of filling a prism, I didn’t bother to correct her terminology. I took the sharp bar of crystal and set it on the scale, then turned to check the thaumascope screen. “It’ll be three berids, four skens.”

“Fine,” the woman said, waving a hand at the enormous sum of money. I raised my eyebrows and keyed in the item. “Oh,” she said, reaching down. “And this.” She tossed a bar of chocolate on the counter.

“Three berids, four skens, eight tribs.”

After collecting the money, I picked up the prism and took it to the back gallery. It was a small room with a window into the store so the customer could see what we were doing. I set the prism down on a pedestal and tried not to make eye contact with the yellow-haired woman, who had approached the glass and was peering in, breaking small bites off her chocolate bar.

I ran a finger along the edge of the prism. It was among the largest I had ever had to deal with, and would certainly knock me out for at least an hour. I accidentally caught the eye of the woman through the viewing window and she smiled. I smiled back. I wondered what she powered with this prism. Nothing less than a yacht, I would imagine.

Resting both hands on either end of the prism, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

I once asked Gruffin why some people were wizards, and others were not. He’d stared at me for a long time, and then said, “Do you know what magic is?”

“Power,” I replied. “Energy.”

“No,” he said, and he seemed sad. “That isn’t what magic is. So much knowledge was forgotten when we lost our history. Few understand the ways of the world anymore. Let’s start more basic. Where does magic come from?”

“Magic comes from the Crystic.”

He grunted. “Right. The Crystic’s a pattern of magic, ancient lines of energy running through the Ferren. And what’re the primary vessels that make up the Crystic?”

“Prisms, terminals, and wizards.”

“Right again. When any of those three’s invested with magic, they resonate together, broadening and deepening the web of energy that flows through all life. Each time a single point of entry into the Crystic’s taken away—a wizard dying, say, or a prism losing its charge—the pattern weakens, and grows less powerful than it was before. Each time a point of entry’s added—a newborn wizard, a newly charged prism—the pattern sends out new threads, tightening the bonds, deepening the Crystic into greater and more powerful algorithms. So, again, what is magic?”

“Magic is… magic is connection.”

“Good.” Gruffin nodded with approval, his beard scrunching into his neck. “Wizards’re a part of a great latticework of power, the power of Eoea himself, channeled through the Crystic. We are born along lines of magic stretching all the way back to the formation days, into a strange geometry that grows with each new generation. That is why some people’re wizards and others aren’t.”

When I ran all of this by Fogwillow, the frown lines on her face deepened and she said, “Garrel Gruffin thinks he knows so much.”

Which was as good as a confirmation as one was likely to get from her.

The prism was on the table before me. My eyes were closed. Carefully, I plucked a thread of magic running through my skull, and in an instant, like a light beaming on, I accessed the Crystic. Magic coursed through me, hot and electrifying. It warmed me from the inside out, like my bones were made of white-hot iron.

The Crystic is something that is felt. When I’m within it, there are a thousand sharp, humming things blooming against my skin like a kaleidoscope of energy. And Gruffin is right: it’s all connected—it is connection—and so when I tug a line of magic, it sends the kaleidoscope shifting across my skin in prickles.

I was not a trained wizard, so I didn’t go very far. I oriented myself in the shallows of the Crystic, and tucked myself down into a cozy spot. This was my comfortable place. This was where I had made a little niche for myself. The magic was familiar in this corner of the Crystic, like threads of home. I could weave it with ease.

I felt the prism between my hands, a dead spot in the infinite pattern rolling out around me. Sucking in a breath, I started to pull it back into the fold.

Can you fill this? the woman had asked.

In many ways, investiture was a poor word for our services. Easier to understand, perhaps, but misleading. Most normal people think that when a wizard charges a prism with magic, they’re pouring energy into it like paint into a bucket. They have no concept of the Crystic but as some ethereal force, and so it’s easy to think we’re just shoving some of that magic into a prism, which they can then use to power their own devices, from thaumascopes to skims to cloudweavers.

But that isn’t true. Prisms are part of the Crystic, always. We don’t pour magic into them, we awaken the dormant magic that already exists inside. We reconnectthem to the Crystic. Once safely back in place in the mesh of energy, a prism could conceivably power anything for as long as you wanted, channeling magic through its faceted boundaries.

The problem is, the prisms lose their connection over time. That’s why investitures like Gruff Stop exist. Why wizards like me have jobs.

Had jobs.

I worked for a good five minutes, pulling the magic of the Crystic back up through the prism, letting it flow through the sharp edges. Finally, when it was fully in sync, I staggered back from the table and opened my eyes, exhausted. My breath was dry, my hands tingled, and every muscle in my body ached.

On the pedestal, the prism was glowing bright pink, lighting up the gallery and the large woman’s face on the other side of the window.

“Most impressive,” she said, back at the counter as I set the prism down with trembling hands. “You’re a promising young wizard.” I muttered a thanks as she tucked the glowing prism back into her purse. “My skim could use a topping off, too.”

“Azlo, see to it,” Gruffin said, walking up behind me. His head barely crested the counter. Azlo, weak-chinned and lanky, gave an exasperated look as she threw the remaining koba crisps on the shelf and went out to invest the prism in the woman’s skim with magic.

“Why don’t you take an hour?” Gruffin said to me as the woman made for the door. “I’ll man the counter.”

“I’m okay.”

“You’re exhausted.”

I was about to protest again, but out the window I saw Candle approaching across the pavement, heading here from school. Her eyes were squinted against the breeze, and her blond hair flew in tangled waves.

“Yeah, all right,” I said, ducking out from behind the counter.

Gruffin took a sip from his mug of elg and kicked his stool over to the register, watching me fly through the aisles toward the door.