Once upon a time…
The office of the headmistress is located on the highest floor of the central tower. It is the most intimidating room of the entire Royal Arcanum. Everybody thinks so. The detailed sandstone suite is populated by strange artifacts, which are sure to shatter under too heavy a touch. It also happens to be my mother’s place of work. However, today she is not my mother but a dutiful disciplinarian. The look on her face is illegible.
I look toward the women at her flanks, Mistress McCabe and Mistress Beswick. Their self-assured stillness reminds me of the sun-bleached statues on the steps of the temple by the Dayside gates.
“Tatiana,” my mother says. “This is, as I’m sure you know, an unprecedented circumstance. The council has arrived at its decision with neither haste nor ease. The fact of the matter is -”
“ – you will not be allowed to graduate,” blurts out McCabe.
I don’t move a muscle. I figured as much.
Beswick interjects. “We might, however, be swayed to ease our stance if you will do the right thing and provide us with the name of your accomplice.”
All three of their heads tilt up at me expectantly.
I shrug. “I acted alone, mistresses.”
McCabe’s face reddens with frustration. “A child cannot break into the Black Archive alone!”
I shrug again, and notice McCabe is about to burst. Her eyes fill with yellow light for a moment, then fade in the time it takes her to execute a shaky exhalation. I wonder, would she actually use magic to harm a student? Thinking back on the countless lectures she has given everyone on the dangers of allowing emotion to guide one’s light-weaving, I cannot contain a small smile.
“Well, my dear,” says Beswick. “The law may have been written over a thousand years ago, but its wording is clear: Unsanctioned entrance to such a heavily forbidden area is to be punished with death by dehydration.”
So that is to be my fate? I can’t say that I am surprised. Many a light-weaver meets their end this way – demanding more than their body can supply. We hear it a thousand times over: water before weaving. It is slightly unlucky, then, that we live under the constant heat of the supermassive Blue Giant, Vega in the constellation Lyra. Supposedly, it wasn’t always this way… so says Chronicles, the Master Archivist.
“But,” Beswick continues, “perhaps news of your transgression need not reach the crown’s advocates just yet. You remember Tillage, the groundskeeper? He recently went missing while on an excursion into the nightward wilds.”
My mother’s desk groans quietly under the pressure of her grip, begging to be released. I had only ever heard stories about the wilds. Students are absolutely forbidden to travel there. The nightward wilds are a place where darkness hangs heavily and stretches indefinitely. Creatures unknown to us lie in wait. The wilds are the very chaos against which our civilisation was defined.
“Tillage wore a silver gauntlet that is extremely important and very precious to us. We need you to bring him back. Or, if he is not… let’s say, in a state conducive to -”
“- if he’s not in one piece,” snaps McCabe, rolling her eyes.
“Yes that,” Beswick nods. “You are to bring back the gauntlet.”
Wither in the sun, or walk through the shadow of the valley of death for another chance at life. I stand and bow to the mistresses. “Thank you for the opportunity.”
And as I turn to walk away, I catch a glimpse of my mother’s face. It appears impassive. I wince, concluding to myself ‘I was never enough for her’. The door to the headmistress’ office slams shut behind me. Despite everything, I feel relieved. The door is happy to be closed.
The way nightward is not at all what I expect. I had anticipated the gradual bloom from desert to jungle, and the subtle fade from soft blue sky to pitiless darkness. Instead, I experience an inexplicable passage of time. One moment, I bound forward over brittle desert grass, my waterskin near to full. The next, I track through prickly forest brush, and the waterskin thumps hollow against my bouncing hip. I cannot mend this discrepancy, except to say that I don’t remember.
Finally, a series of arcane sigils alert me to an opening in the treeline where only the blurry shapes of twisted trees remain. I have come upon the nightward wilds proper, and I have not immediately turned to salt as my father used to warn. I wonder briefly about what he would say if he were here with me now, but I do not wish for him to be. I learned long ago – the very day I awoke to my powers – that this simple act of ‘wanting’ can be a very dangerous thing.
If there is one truth I know – to which most people are not privy, it is this: Wanting is loud. When you want too much, you become deaf to the wants of others. It is a wicked problem and one that worsens over time. People, places, objects, moments, they all have wants and the older I get, the more I realise how few of us are listening.
I practice detachment and want for nothing. My body tells me that I need water because my mouth is dry and my muscles are fatigued. However, as I navigate alongside a trickling creek, I do not stop to drink. Although I am thirsty, the river does not offer itself to me. It wants only to run.
I journey ever deeper, scanning the forest floor for tracks. My head begins to pound before it occurs to me that I am becoming overwhelmed. The trees, the brush, the critters that remain unseen, they demand much more than the desert, even more than the Arcanum’s anguished walls. I cannot pinpoint why, but I sense theirs is a desire deeper and older than the world itself. I want to help them, but I do not know how. Even if I did… now is not the time.
Suddenly I notice a bootprint, and then another. I place my palm toward the earth and – drawing on the faint starlight seeping through the forest canopy – thread a wispy, fist-sized orb of light, sending it forward to illuminate the way. This is a measured risk, as I have been advised to use my magic sparingly in this place. It is well-established in our folklore that light angers the creatures of the wild, who were borne of darkness and know nothing else.
There is, however, the ever-growing temptation. The longer I walk, the more often I catch sounds I do not dare to trace. Rustling bushes, creaking branches, snapping twigs. Breath. I am not often afraid, for fear is the other half of desire. However, at this moment, I cannot help shivering. I think of filling the forest with light to at least see my death as it comes. Perhaps the poor groundskeeper had a similar thought. Perhaps he paid for it dearly. I pick up my pace to somewhere between swift and reckless.
As I turn my head forward after peeking over my shoulder, something solid strikes my chest, taking the wind out of me. I manage to stay on my feet, twisting and dropping reflexively into a combat stance that turns out to be unnecessary.
“Tillage?” I venture, examining the husk of a man standing before me. His gray labourer’s cloak is stained with dried blood. Whose, I cannot say. The silver gauntlet on which Mistress Beswick was so keen, still sits on his hand but is scratched, dented, and lacking three fingers. I scan Tillage and his eyes offer no clue as to what has happened. Worse, they are clouded with a swirling blue-white substance. I whisper, “What happened to you?”
He extends a hand. “Come.”
“We need to head dayward,” I urge, “We are not welcome here.”
He cocks his head. “Oh? And who told you that? Listen to me now, child. In the darkness – true darkness – there is very little deserving of your fear. What you may not realise now, but very soon will, is that the shadows cast in broad daylight are blacker. Only the skillful and ruthless can hide things there. It is there – behind the pillars of your temple, under the towers where your merchants shake hands, and in the halls of your precious Arcanum – that the truly terrible deeds are done and the darkest secrets are kept.”
My eyes grow wide – Tillage is hardly speaking like a lowbrow groundskeeper. It strikes me that, if it is true that he has ventured regularly into the wilds, he might have the information I was searching for in the Black Archive. A gust of wind howls through the trees, giving me a chill. Tillage walks forward and I follow.
As the ground lifts into a steady incline, the dense forest becomes sparse and the soil underfoot gives way to a field of jagged boulders. A naked black hill emerges, appearing almost scorched. Carved into the side of it is a small, peculiar cave. Tillage places his hand on my shoulder, nods, and guides me inside.
I am struck by the light of an iridescent pool of aquamarine. I have never seen water so pure, so plentiful. I want to take a drink… but no, I cannot want! The pool drowns my thoughts with the screams of a dozen conflicting desires, causing my head to pound. I cover my ears and look away. But the ceiling of the cavern, awash with the blue light of the pool, is out of place. Unnatural. It takes the shape of a perfect dome similar to those built into the Arcanum. It is stone, and well-worked stone, so polished that a ghostly reflection appears. My face is impassive – unnervingly like my mother’s.
Before I know what is happening, the water welcomes me. I catch a glimpse of Tillage who, in one swift movement, has cast me like bait into the pool. Metres beneath the surface, I thrash, kick, and scream, but it seems that the harder I struggle, the harsher the water’s punishment. My limbs stiffen under the growing pressure until I decide to surrender and be still.
The mind is only part of the body. I can tell myself that I do not need to breathe the same way I told myself I did not need to drink from the stream. But the fact is, when my lungs fill with water, I am going to die. ‘Maybe it is okay to want’, I decide, realising I cannot carry on constantly bearing the weight of the world’s wants. Maybe wanting for myself is not selfish when wanting has a purpose.
I want to live!
I will have to be clever. Slowly, water rises from the pool in thousands of tiny vibrating droplets. Using the last bit of my strength, I draw on the light in the water and thread it into the air. It spreads and bounces from drop to drop, faster and faster, culminating in an explosion of harsh white light. At the same time, sheer desire – wanting – frees me from the pool’s grasp. I am catapulted out of the water, toward the entrance of the cave, landing on a pile of stones. A sharp crack of pain shoots across my brow, and consciousness fades.
I wake on the hillside with blood trickling past my ear. Tillage is next to me. He is awake but weak, and the clouds in his eyes have cleared. I lay my head back down on the hill and breathe. For now, we are both safe.
The office of the headmistress is located on the highest floor of the central tower. It is the most intimidating room in all the Royal Arcanum. Everybody thinks so. It also happens to be my mother’s place of work. This time, it is just the two of us. We engage in our favourite disfunctional bonding activities: pursed lips and awkward silences, her pacing by her bookshelf, and me in a chair. Neither of us have any idea about what to say to each other when the subject is not academic. The silence is overwhelming. “How is Tillage?” I ask.
“Recovering well. We should be able to move him out of the infirmary in the next couple of days. He doesn’t remember a thing.”
“Yes, good,” she says, absently tinkering with the various crystals and bottles that fill her shelves. “The gauntlet was irreparable, I’m afraid. Quite a shame. The artificers are at a loss. It is, apparently, an artifact of some infamy. It may well be turn out to be a good thing that it was destroyed before it fell into the wrong hands.”
“And what of Mistress Beswick?”
“Nowhere to be found. A sentry claims to have seen her get into a caravan headed nightward. Of course, I cannot entertain such a scandalous accusation in any official capacity,” she says, peering at me over the rims of her spectacles.
“Do you think she -“
“Shh,” she whispers. “We mustn’t discuss such things here. These walls have ears”
It is by accident that our eyes meet, but once they do, they are reluctant to part. Mine are hopeful, if a bit apprehensive. Hers are pink, glossy, and sunken. If I did not know any better, I would conclude that she had been worried about me.
“Let’s move on then,” I say, standing and clearing my throat.
She clasps her hands behind her back and bows her head, a lecturer’s comfort. “Despite my assurances, the council was skeptical about your return. If I may speak personally for a moment… congratulations are in order. Well done on your singular achievement.”
I guess that’s as good as I’m going to get. I leap across the room and hug the headmistress so tight that a little squeak escapes her. “I love you too, mama!”
“Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask.
Everything you want also wants you.
But you have to take action to get it.”
Moral of the Story:
The process of wanting to control controls us. The process of wanting to possess possesses us! We remain prisoners of our desires until we see that we must elevate out of instant gratification through lower desires. Observe any compulsive behaviour you have to possess, acquire, and collect. What is the proverbial “object of your desire?” Lower desire does not lead to true happiness. In fact, the more profoundly we desire something, the more profoundly our unhappiness is felt at not getting the object of that desire.
Higher desires put the ego aside. Higher wanting does not wish for itself as much as it wishes for the highest good of all concerned. Higher wanting includes seeking universal truth and desiring happiness for others. This kind of wanting is not about possession, it is about freedom. Freedom from lower desires and containment, in any form, of another human being. Higher wanting embraces things that are not transient such as wealth, material goods, or even the opinions of others. In seeking higher desires, we observe our thoughts. Where are they compulsively driving us? Do we think we will be happier if “x” condition is met? If so, then these are lower desires. When we start to live a life of higher wanting, we are also living life more fully because we stop projecting our consciousness into the future. Let us recognise the value of simplicity. Higher love is simple. Freedom is simple. Wanting the highest good for all rewards you with meaningful purpose.
“Everything is easier said than done. Wanting something is easy.
Saying something is easy.
The challenge and the reward are in the doing.”
Affirmation: I fulfill my heart’s desire by creating it.
I have the ability to create my own future. All that I seek is already within me. My abundant positive energy attracts all good things into my life because I know that my actions are a direct reflection of my thoughts and feelings. My thoughts are the seeds that grow to become my future. It takes as much energy to think big as it does to think small, so I think big! I know that the universe will always provide the ways and means to my heart’s desire. I know that everything I need will find me when the time is right. I give all that I wish to receive. I easily attract people, circumstances, and events that will support my goals. I can have, do, or be anything I choose and I know there is a price to pay for everything. I change my life by changing my thoughts and elevating my emotions. I believe in the future life I am creating right now. I am the master of my own destiny. Everything I do is in harmony with the laws of the universe. All of my dreams are coming true.
“The less you know, the more you will be known
The less you want, the more you will have
The less you are, the more you will be”