Authors: Mark Tuson
He pushed the library door open and stepped through it anyway. Even if there wasn’t anything more to be learned about that particular topic, there was another topic to be researched now, and Peter was privately grateful to have something to sink his intellectual teeth into after being stranded on that island for as long as he had. Sure, he had had ample time in which to think about things and learn by his own experimentation, but due to necessity that time had been spent deciding how best to protect his hovel, and how to make his methods for catching and keeping food more efficient. His mind ached for something to do even more than his hands ached from use.
The library was huge, easily ten times the size of the library he had been used to visiting occasionally where he used to live, and surprisingly enough it contained many of the same sorts of books that a normal library might be expected to carry: all of the usual fiction and non-fiction books were around somewhere, all of the novels, self-help, “such-and-such
,” everything. But that was less than a fifth of the library’s total content.
Essentially, the library was a vast hall, which had chairs and desks and workbenches, complete with shelves of different kinds of paper, including blank, lined, squared, and logarithmic, and pens and pencils and mathematics equipment and lamps, all around the edges. Bookcases, around twenty feet long and seven tall, filled the rest of the room. Spaced between the bookcases were tall, straight brass lamp-stands bearing eternal flames contained in glass balls which Peter imagined were either inspired by – or were themselves the inspiration for – incandescent lamp bulbs.
Peter spent most of the rest of the day poring through indexes, attempting to find where, in this library, there may be anything written about how a world might be created. He found himself feeling very grateful that the library had been stocked with normal, non-magical books as well as the secretly printed and handwritten magical books there were: he might find himself needing to know things about this from a non-magical perspective as well as the magical. Then again, he knew that there wasn’t an awful lot that was known about the subject in the non-magical world – what more would the magical world know?
The greatest disadvantage, of course, that arises when one lives in an underground monastery where there are – naturally enough – no windows, is that one can never see the day whiling itself away while one is reading. Likewise, Peter didn’t notice the whole day creeping by as he wrote down lists of books to read through until he happened to glance at a clock on one of the walls as he went to retrieve the next book in the library’s index of books related to physical cosmology.
Two in the morning. ‘Shit in the hills,’ he said aloud. Of course, there was nobody there to rebuke him for uttering the expletive in the library. He realized how long he had been here, and the tiredness that a lack of daylight had denied him caught up, in one single blow. His eyes were tired and achy, and he was lightheaded and was feeling somewhat severe hunger pains. The refectory would be closed now, of course. He sighed and replaced the book, and lumbered back to his own room.
He was tired and needed a shower; taking off his shirt as he got ready to get into bed he caught a whiff of his own smell. Shocking, he thought, how after not showering for a year it only took two days for him to become sensitive to smells which were, after all, natural. That would be the first thing he did in the morning. He didn’t like smelling – not because he didn’t want to offend other people, but because he didn’t like the smell himself.
That night’s sleep was no less uncomfortable than the previous. Thankfully there weren’t any strange dreams this time, but there still wasn’t very much happening by way of unconsciousness. Every hour, from six onwards, he heard the morning bell toll, but he didn’t get up until half past nine.
He went straight into his washroom, which was cold and rather dark in spite of the lamp by the mirror. For a moment he considered replicating the library’s lamp posts; they were much brighter. He sighed and stripped off his clothes, wondering as he stepped into the shower when they had had these plumbed into the monastery. He supposed it might be magic that they had used. Or else a few magicians had learned the craft of plumbing and done it the hard way. It didn’t matter.
A few minutes later, he was clean and felt slightly more awake. The mirror hadn’t taken the steam, and on seeing his reflection in it Peter was reminded that he needed to cut his hair and trim his beard. He didn’t care about his hair, though. He was shivering slightly with the slight chill in the air, and he didn’t want cold wet hair following him around for the next hour or so.
He took a few strands between his left finger and thumb and held them out. It must have been six inches long, maybe more. On top, there was only the odd sparse growth in what was otherwise a desert of pale scalp. How had he not noticed this happening?
But within a few more minutes, that was no longer to be thought about. His hair was all in the sink, and his head was bare and cold and peppered with cuts. He felt a sort of spiteful satisfaction. His beard, though, he decided not to touch, not even to trim. He liked that look. Not that he had ever spent a much time liking or disliking his appearance. It was just a thing.
Later, as he was walking to the refectory to get something to eat, he became sorely aware of how much colder his head was now than before. The cool air stung the raw skin, and the sensation distracted him from his thoughts. He felt clean now, though, even if that was only a small consolation.
The notion of food that had been cooked by someone else was still a novelty, however, and that was a distraction from the distraction. It was nearly ten o’clock, and Peter took full advantage of the full breakfast they offered of a morning, and which he had so sorely missed. Sausage. Bacon. Eggs. Lots of eggs.
When he finished, he returned to the library to continue his searching through the index for books in which he might find the information he wanted, though he wasn’t sure what he might do with that information once he had it – if he ever did found it. He just wanted the notion of a magician creating his own world to make sense in his mind. Maybe that was why the first Law of Magic had been put into effect in the first place? Was it to prevent people like the Fraud from doing things such as he did? Or was it because it was one of those things which simply couldn’t be reconciled to sense? Of course, it also struck him that the first Law could have come about
of the Fraud.
Peter made it a point not to forget the time that day. He made a conscious and concerted effort to remember to look at the clock every once in a while, and he was unsurprised to find that, when he kept an eye on the clock, time seemed to grind ever-slowly. It was like a watched pot.
Also unlike the previous day, Peter found his research proving to be rather more fruitful: he confirmed that little more had been found out in the field of cosmology concerning the Big Bang. In fact, almost nothing more had been found. It was effectively an academic dead end.
Science had nothing to offer. Peter took that as his sign to end his reading for the day – which was just as well, it was nine in the evening – and return to his room. He was disheartened, and he knew all attempts to learn when disheartened were doomed to failure, and ever-deeper disheartenment.
Sleep came more easily that night, for which Peter was very grateful.
It all seemed like life was becoming much of a muchness. Peter had little to do now that he had been spared the effort and trouble to find his own food and water, and he was no longer expected to be attending any kind of lectures or seminars with Caroline, not now that he was a fully qualified journeyman magician. He was expected to practice alone, but there didn’t seem to be any motivation for that any more.
There were places – rooms and above-ground areas – which had long been designated for use by practicing magicians of all skill levels, and Peter had been encouraged not to let his abilities stagnate. ‘It’s like playing a musical instrument,’ Caroline had said, ‘if you keep practising you’ll keep getting better. But if you don’t you’ll find that, while you retain the basic skills and can relearn anything you forget in only a short time, you’ll lose your edge.
‘Frankly, that would be a waste, and a shame.’
Peter had assured her, solemnly, that he wouldn’t let his skills atrophy, but when each day began and he decided that today he was going to go and practise for a few hours, that feeling never lasted very long. By the end of the day, he felt strong pangs of guilt at having not gone that day, and once again solemnly resolved that the following day he would.
It had been a week since he had been brought home from the island. He had become slovenly and slobbish already, and he knew it. There was a lot he knew he could – and should – do, but he had raised the bar too high for himself. He couldn’t do it; he didn’t have the vaguest clue where to begin.
He did not, however, give up on his reading. He was delving deep into magical theory that, frankly, he didn’t understand, hoping that he could pick some of the more arcane points as he went. That was how he had often learned things in the past; try and learn the hard stuff, and while it seems difficult at first, it will eventually all fall into place.
But in this case, that wasn’t working. The hard stuff was remaining hard; the theories were only unproven speculation, and by all logic it seemed impossible that anyone might have ever created anything other than the magical terraria Eddie had mentioned. And yet Werosain, it seemed, was very real. The lack of logic in the whole situation was the most upsetting thing to Peter, who had always been of the opinion that, fundamentally, everything must be logical in at least
In the real world, in which Peter lived, this was having a profound effect. He was showing less of an interest in the people around him, taking his meals hurriedly and in silence, and spending most of his time in the library, where he alternately stormed around in a bad temper because he couldn’t find anything that he either didn’t know already or couldn’t wrap his head around, and waded waist-deep in a mixture of arcane literature and self-pity.
One morning, as he went to eat his breakfast in his newly-adopted manner, Eric came to sit with him.
‘G’morning Pete,’ he said.
Peter threw his coffee in Eric’s face and shouted. ‘I’ve fucking told you not to call me that, you fuck!’
Eric stared blankly at Peter. He was clearly in pain from the hot liquid, but Peter didn’t care. He wasn’t any Pete, he never had been and never would. Why wouldn’t Eric understand?
‘Peter. Sorry.’ Eric wiped his face on his sleeve. ‘Um, are you alright?’
Yeah, I’m fan-fucking-tastic, thought Peter.
Suddenly there was a tap on Peter’s shoulder. Peter turned round, ready to headbutt whoever it was. It was Eddie, holding a half-eaten plate of kippers.
Still carrying his plate, Eddie led Peter into his office. When they were there, He sat down and placed his food on the great table.
‘What –‘ Peter started to speak, but Eddie cut him off.
The twat. Peter wanted to hit him.
was that?’ There was a strong vibe of controlled fury radiating from Eddie. ‘I’ve already seen you have an outburst, and you aren’t really in a position to have them. You might be a proud new addition to our community, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to abuse other people within it. Do you understand that?’
Peter was starting to feel a calm sense of embarrassment. He was recognizing what was happening; he was regressing into who he had been as a student, but with the added anger at his tenure as a student ultimately being a failure. He sighed.
‘I’m sorry. I wasn’t in control. I’ll make more of an effort in future.’
‘It’s not me you should be saying that to. But it’s a good start.’
‘I know. I’ll try and find Eric.’ Peter was again struck by the feeling that he was a child at school who had been hauled before the headmaster.
The Steward picked up one of the kippers and looked at it absent-mindedly. ‘A few people have voiced concern for you recently. First with your suddenly shaving your head and then with you spending all your time in the library. Jo and Sam at the refectory have asked if you’re alright, and Gill at the library, as well as Eric and Caroline. You’re worrying people. Are you sure you’re alright?’
And then suddenly it all came out. ‘Werosain, the whole idea is doing my head in,’ Peter said. ‘You told me it was there, and I’ve been thinking about it and trying to find out how it might have ever happened, and all the books are saying that it’s not even
. It’s like the first Law of Magic isn’t a law to be obeyed like the rest of them, but a fact of reality: you can’t create a universe. Full stop. So this idea that the Fraud might have called a whole world of his own into existence is just not logical, it doesn’t work… it isn’t compatible with the facts of reality.’
‘This is my fault.’ Eddie tossed his kipper back onto his plate, crestfallen. ‘I shouldn’t have told you yet. I’m sorry.’
Peter looked at the kippers, slightly irritated that even now, having been a member of the Guild for four years, there were things that they deemed him unready to know.
‘Why not?’ He said. ‘It’s not like I wouldn’t have found out anyway. Besides, knowing prepares me, right?’