Dream Magic: Awakenings by Dawn Harshaw - HTML preview

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Chapter 12 - Focus Magic



Take energy from the inner world, push it through the focus item, and achieve the desired result in the outer world - this is the age-old method of focus magic that was tried and tested many times over. If you prefer not only to use, but also understand, consider these questions: What happens if the process is reversed? More strangely, what happens if your identity is neither the cause nor the effect, but rather the object of focus?

- Focus and Flow of Energy,
Dreamer's Handbook



"Focus magic is all about focus items: wands, staves, scepters, crystals and even special purpose items such as voodoo dolls," Maeve said.

The class was taking place inside a wide circle, the boundary of which was marked by small stones. Four large, square-shaped slabs of rock occupied the center of the henge. Students were standing next to three of the stone tables, and Maeve was sitting on the fourth.

Eric tapped on the flat surface beneath his hands. I hope this won't be the worst class ever. He recalled and went through the memory of the most boring classes he had in real life. On second thought, it would be hard to top those.

Piles of staves, wands and crystals towered behind Maeve on the table. She turned around and grabbed a modest-looking wand.

"The basic function of a wand is to provide a baseline for magic spells. This wand here, see, is made of wood and it is one of the simpler types. A makeshift wand may be nothing more than the twig of a tree, but for the long term, it's better to use a well-crafted and personalized tool."

Maeve swept her hand along the length of the wand, almost caressing it.

"It is important to choose the material carefully. Wood is good, living material which interacts well with most energies a mage or witch operates with. Glass and metal make wands which may be better for specific spells. Just don't use plastic," Maeve chuckled, "those damn things will melt in your hand! Animal bones, too, are frequently crafted into focus items, but I'm not fond of such."

Maeve hopped down from the table and started rummaging through a pile of crystals.

The fourth person at Eric, Rose and Lucy's table was a black-haired girl. She was so little she had to stand on another stone to comfortably look down on the top of the table. Her hair was straight and long, and her eyes deep. She bobbed her head once in a while as if she was listening to music.

"Crystals and gems are the other major group of focus items. They are the filters and batteries of magic." Maeve grabbed several crystals and proceeded to hand them out to students.

"The most notable attribute of crystals is clarity. When magical energies are focused upon them, crystals interact or resonate only with a narrow band of energies. Although this may seem wasteful at first glance, it makes them quite suitable as focus items. The mage has to focus on that clear, narrow band of energies, and this increases the spell's precision and reliability."

Eric touched the crystal Maeve placed in front of him. It glowed dimly, but the glow vanished as soon as he removed his finger. Interesting.

"Crystals are often great at storing magical energy. Since the focused energy has already been purified, it is easier for the crystalline structure to withstand greater amounts of it. A fully charged gem or crystal is vivid and full of color, and may even emit a faint light. Crystals may become volatile if improperly charged - handle them with care."

The little girl giggled. She held up her crystal, which glowed under her touch, and pointed at herself. "Gem - Gemma."

"So adorable! How old are you?" Rose asked.

"This many!" Gemma raised three fingers, and went on to raise and lower them randomly.

Eric smiled, and turned his attention to the crystal in front of him. He scooped it up from the cold stone into his palm, and watched lights dance at the bottom. He elevated his hand, and when he tilted it at a particular angle, the brilliance of the sun's rays reflected in the crystal. It felt almost weightless.

"Let's see if you can figure out on your own how to charge a crystal," Maeve instructed the class. "Try not to break it!"

Heh, this will be easy. Eric imagined the energy from his hand going into the crystal and filling it up. It grew brighter, and encouraged Eric to concentrate more.

The crystal started pulsing. It brightened and dimmed, and with each ebbing phase, Eric felt some of his energy return to him. Eric kept at it, and the pulsing crystal began vibrating with a slight hum.

Yes! It must be working!

He continued stuffing energy into it. The pulsation grew more rapid and the hum became a high pitch.

Almost there! Eric put both his hands below the crystal, and watched the crystal jitter. One second... two... the pitch became so high he stopped hearing it... three... four... and crack! The crystal splintered and flew off his palm with a puff.

Damn. I thought I had it.

"You are trying too hard. Don't do it like that."

Eric looked up and saw Maeve standing next to him. "No?"

"No. You're trying to put your own energy into the crystal. It might work, but even if you hit the crystal's signature frequency, you will likely mess up its self-resonance and break it into pieces anyway. Forget this approach; precision comes before power."

Maeve moved closer. "Just listen to it. Feel its clarity. Let it speak to you. Then, once you see it clearly in your mind, focus on such clarity in yourself, and reflect it back onto the crystal. Don't charge the crystal - help it charge itself. Okay?"


Maeve placed another crystal in front of Eric, identical to the first one.

Eric grabbed the crystal with both hands. If I'm not supposed to push energy into it, maybe it works if I push energy through it.

He imagined a flow of energy from his right hand to his left. The crystal glowed, but it didn't pulsate, not even when he increased his concentration. It felt warmer, as if a breeze carried warmth from one hand to the other. Despite his efforts, he couldn't get it to glow as bright as with the previous method. He placed the crystal on the stone again, and the glow faded as soon as he removed his hands. Hmm, that isn't enough.

Eric heard a yell and the sound of a crystal breaking coming from another table. Hehehe, at least I'm not the only one.

Eric decided to make the energy go around inside the crystal. Its brightness increased, but so did the amount of heat it gave off. It feels sticky.

He kept at it until the crystal overheated and turned into a gooey substance in quick transition. It slipped out of Eric's fingers and went splat on the stone surface.

"Ahh!" Eric exhaled sharply as his concentration ceased. Double damn, that's the second one! Even Gemma is doing better.

Maeve came by and placed another crystal in front of him. "Take it easy." She tapped Eric on the shoulder before walking to another pupil.

Lucy held up her crystal, which shined with a full charge, and smiled provocatively. "Are you enjoying the class?"

"Oh, shut up," Eric said.


* * *


How am I supposed to hold a wand anyway?

The wand was too thin for a full grip. He tried holding it gently with only three fingers, as he saw others doing it, but it felt flimsy and awkward. Should I hold it like a pencil? Or a spoon? He shifted his fingers about, but neither hold was the right one for him.

Rose and Lucy were engrossed in deep concentration. Eric watched them practice, but didn't want to interrupt. They sure picked it up quickly. Gemma twirled around, and some of the other younger children were playing instead of practicing.

"Hey, you two! Stop bashing each other on the head! Those are high-quality training staves; if you break them, I'll chew you up and spit you out!"

"Yes, ma'm."

Eric pondered what his problem was. He didn't like wands, but didn't think his dislike was so deep it would to turn into disgust. Also, the idea of quitting before even starting was repulsive to him. Even if I'm biased, it's better to give an honest try before deciding for sure.

Did I quit after destroying three crystals? Of course not, I'm not a quitter. He managed to charge the crystal on the fourth try. He stood with the crystal in hand for what felt like half an hour, waiting for it to absorb the energy it needed. Those things are half-alive or something. He didn't actually have to do much except be patient and make sure not to unintentionally overload the crystal. It wasn't as bright as Lucy's, but I didn't quit then and I won't quit now.

The sky thundered, without a single cloud in sight. Strange. Ever since the first time he arrived in dream camp, he couldn't recall it ever rained.

He looked at the wand in his hand, and resisted an urge to throw it away and be done. He recalled how it felt to hold Dancing Feather in his hand - such power, such purpose!

Eric sighed, and walked towards the stone table with the piles of stuff on it. Maeve was overseeing the kids from there.

"Could I try a staff instead?" Eric asked.

"Sure. Is there something wrong with the wand?"

"No, I just don't like it much."

"I see..." Maeve pulled out a black staff from the pile, and knocked on it. "Try this one."

"Thank you."

Eric took the staff and started walking back. The staff wasn't flimsy as the wand, and holding it felt more natural. Yet, his reluctance lingered on. The staff had substance, but in Eric's mind, it still lacked purpose.

He stopped after a few steps. Maybe I don't have to figure out everything on my own.

Eric turned back to Maeve. "I guess I just don't get it; why should I use a wand or a staff at all?"

"As I said before, wands provide a baseline for magical energies. Your own energies are channeled into the wood, where any surges and inconsistencies are smoothed over. When focus magic is used together with symbol and ritual magic, the results tend to be consistent and nasty surprises are kept to a minimum. With practice, it becomes easier to focus on the particular energy type that you want to use. It's the same thing with staves, except they handle more power at the expense of precision."

The sky thundered again. Eric looked up, and saw dark clouds approaching.

Maeve grumbled under her breath. "I thought we agreed not to implement a weather cycle just yet... Damn that Joe, what the hell is he up to now?"

"Ohlson said a sword can do everything a wand can, is that true?" Eric asked.

"He exaggerated. Blades as focus items are carriers of the edge - that which severs and connects things. Wands and staves are good for manipulating the quality of energy, whereas with blades the energy type doesn't matter much as long as it's sharply controlled."

"But why should I use a wand if I can cast a spell without it?"

"Perhaps the biggest reason is ease of use. A wand helps iron out the mage's energies, so she has an easier time focusing - hence the term 'focus item'. This ties in well with the use of habit in ritual magic."

"But isn't that only a kind of crutch?"

Maeve shrugged. "A tool is a tool. It doesn't mean you have to use it all the time, just that you can use it if you want to. Another big reason is that focus items can be enhanced to help the user in various ways, most commonly through embedding crystals or carving runes. A skilled wandsmith can also create wands for specialized purposes." Maeve picked up a wand from the pile and waved it around.

"Lastly, a focus item can be used for practice while you learn a new spell or improve an old one. With the help of a wand, you can approach your own energies more objectively, and learn greater control. Some mages even go to the length of constructing various focus apparatuses to help them train. Alchemists create similar contraptions to aid them with their work."

Maeve lowered the wand. "Today's class is only about familiarizing yourself with focus items. Just observe and feel how the energy changes through the focus item; even if you won't use such tools in the future, you will have still learned something."

Eric caught himself leaning too much on the staff; he straightened up and nodded. "That makes sense. Thanks."

"You're welcome."

He turned around and walked back to his training spot. He wasn't enamored with focus items, but at least he came to understand how they could be useful. Eric decided to use a staff for training, but not carry one around. For now.

"Why aren't you training?" Rose asked, offering no more than a glance.

Rose and Lucy stood farther away, and they continued to concentrate deeply as they whirled their wands. Eric couldn't tell if they were making progress or not, but they certainly showed dedication.

"I am, I just had some questions," he said loudly, and waited a moment for Rose to respond. She didn't, and he turned his attention back to the staff.

The wood was dark and hardened. Must be some kind of coating. It had the same symmetric arrangement of small, black crystals as the wand, except they were greater in number due to the length and thickness of the staff.

Since he couldn't use his standard fireball stance with the staff in his hands, he held it in his right hand, extended it, and pointed it in a direction away from everyone. He tried to make a fireball as he was accustomed to, but he broke off the spell almost immediately. Damn.

When he used only his hands, there was a degree of immediacy, a certain tactile feedback which was missing here. Maybe I'm just not used to it yet. Additionally, the point he's supposed to focus on, the far end of the staff, was... well... far. Pushing the energy through the staff wasn't difficult, but it presented an additional layer of complexity requiring attention.

Eric tried again. Making the energy surge through the staff was more difficult than simply externalizing the fire.

There was a faint burning smell, and for a brief moment, a black shine grew from the crystals and enveloped the staff. The burning smell promptly subsided.

I should stop trying to make the fireball right away and just focus on pressing the energy through.

The staff definitely put up resistance to the energy passing through it. Eric considered pushing harder, but concluded it would probably defeat the purpose of using a staff. Maybe the principle that the wielder has to become one with the weapon holds true here as well.

So far, since the fire attunement, the externalization of fire energy was as simple as flicking a switch. He recognized the fire within and pushed it out, easy as that. The resistance of the staff interfered and made him pay attention to the process - he had to go from inside energy to partial externalization to outside energy.

His identity stretched. That which travelled through the staff was still part of him, until it became something recognizably outside of himself. Is this extra step a benefit or hindrance? Eric started thinking about how to use it to his advantage.

The fire energy he pushed through the staff came out different than his usual explosive fire. Instead of big flames intent on burning everything, the resulting fire consisted of small flames burning with the same size and color.

Controllable? He pushed the fire through, and made a standard air sphere for containment at the exit point. The result was a mono-color flame ball, which was responsive to Eric's guidance, but didn't pack much of a punch. Eric went through the motions a few times, thinking about how to use this type of energy. He remembered what Ohlson told him, that advanced fireball spells also used earth-type containment.

He guided the energy along; reminiscent of the time Rose used a burning twig to illustrate the idea behind the magic of imagination. He led the fire along in the major motions of a magic sphere, and after a few tries, it remained relatively stable.

Practice this way was tedious, since he didn't have the stance or the use of his hands to help him, but he was getting the hang of it.

Slowly, a plan formed in his mind. If he used this cleaner type of energy to make a shape on the inside, and applied the rotations of an air-based sphere from the outside, this two-tiered containment would allow him to push more fire into the spell. But how could he access the regular fire if he pushed it all through the staff? I would have to learn to get this energy without the staff.

Or... oh, I'm a genius! I could push energy both through the staff and around it! The fire passing through the staff would be clearer, while the fire travelling around it would be unfiltered and he could externalize the bulk of it without resistance.

He let the idea of the spell crystallize in his mind, until each detail fell into place.

It should work... It will work!

Eric extended the staff away from him, paused for a moment in deliberation, and let the spell fly. Flames blazed along the staff, and a powerful turbulence whipped them into shape at the end of the staff. It wasn't yet a fireball, but it was fire, and it was a ball, more or less, violently spiraling around in many directions. Eric's concentration skipped out on one detail, then another - and the flames burst out in a display of fireworks.

Yes! I'll have to work on the compression... but it works!

"Did you see what I just did?"

Rose smiled briefly and gave him a quiet thumbs-up.

"I used two-fold containment. It's not yet perfect, but maybe next I will..."

"Shh." Rose was more interested in what was going on to her left, as she was eavesdropping on the conversation between Lucy and Maeve.

Eric moved closer.

"...can play as long as they don't disturb others who are practicing. Keep an eye on the item piles, and if someone wants to leave, collect their practice wands. Got it?"

"Yes," Lucy said.

"Good... I'll be back soon. I feel it in my bones, Joe's up to something and he didn't tell me. And if he is, I'll beat the ever-loving poop out of him. I have too much to worry about as it is."