Darius was still worrying an hour later when they’d rounded up Esti and gone over to Professor Conway’s lab. The Dean and the Chair of Nature Studies were just outside: The Chair looked exhausted.
“Ah. Mr. Kimball… You have an idea?” The Dean said, putting back down a wand as he saw them approach.
“I talked it over with my allies, and there is a chance I won’t die at least.” Darius responded, trying to sound professional. “Esti and… my familiar will stay here. I may be able to communicate some through a bound I have with Esti, and my familiar has her own resources. I and Elpis” — he drew the demon/knife — “will enter and see if we can determine more. She should be able to protect me, and I should be able to get her past most standard wards against her kind. Unless you have reinforced them?”
“We have not: Whatever is in there, it is not demonic.” He looked at Esti a moment. “I was… unaware that Miss Assendorp was… bonded?… with you in any way.”
“It is something we try to keep discreet whenever possible.”
“Ah.” He obviously wanted to know more, but as they’d hoped didn’t feel he could breach other’s conﬁdences if he wanted them to keep his. “I was about to start reinforcing the wards. Shall I wait until afterwards?”
Darius glanced at the Chair, who had been leaning against the wall, letting the Dean do the talking. “Actually… If Professor Darrow is able, I would prefer he monitor them for the moment.” He checked himself before said anything more.
He pushed away from the wall. “I believe I can handle a few more minutes.” He paused. “I’ve heard you’ve been doing well in your Nature studies. I take it you feel my magics would be more compatible with whatever you are doing?”
“More… comfortable, at least, professor.” Darius looked down, to avoid looking at Esti.
“So be it.” He took up his staﬀ, and faced the doorway. “Whenever you are ready.”
Darius nodded, and approached the door. “Ready, Elpis?” He whispered.
The knife whispered back: “As soon as you open the door.”
Darius nodded, shifted the knife to his left hand, and put his hand upon the doorknob. One long breath, and he went through, opening and closing the door as fast as possible.
He felt the wards as he crossed them: The old wards, laid by Professor Conway, then the new wards, interrupted by him opening the door, and the temporary wards thrown up by Professor Darrow to hold while he went through.
The ﬁrst were nearly worn through, and the last barely held long enough.
Next, he felt the heat.
It was like he was inside a furnace. The walls glowed nearly white from the heat. The normal wooden furniture — chairs, desk, bookshelves — were gone: not even ash remained.
Some things had been warded from ﬁre. There was one bookshelf in perfect condition, completely undisturbed. A workbench was slowly smoldering, it’s wards faded but not failed quite yet. Bottles, books, artifacts on both were still intact, although some were singed slightly.
All but one, that is: a bottle on the workbench had clearly failed. Melted from the heat. Darius approached it, as the likely source for whatever had escaped.
It burned his ﬁngers. “Ouch.”
“Sorry. Do I need to increase the protection?”
“No, let’s stick with this level for now. It’s hot, but mostly I can handle it, and we don’t want to exhaust you too quickly. I don’t really think there is anything to see there anyway: it’s all melted by now.”
He turned to scan the rest of the room, and saw the ﬁre-sprite. Behind him, of course. Between him and the door. It wavered: one moment a female of ﬁre, the next just a mobile ﬂame.
Ok, so he knew what the problem was. Now all he had to do was survive to tell someone. As planned, he tried sending Esti an image of the problem over their link.
Bad idea. The sprite sensed that, and quickly attached itself to the magic link.
Darius managed to raise Elpis just in time to ward it oﬀ, for a moment.
Of course, it just attacked again.
Darius felt Elpis turn up his protection, as he realized what was going on.
His personal research was paying oﬀ here.
This was a Raised Essence of Fire, not a not a ﬁre-sprite. It could — and would, without guidance and control — burn anything. Wood, earth, water, magic, it didn’t matter. Some would take longer than others, but eventually it could consume anything.
Properly contained and controlled, they were very useful. This one wasn’t.
An Essence of Fire could become a ﬁre-sprite, as this one was in the process of doing: If it could consume minds, or souls, possibly, it would eventually have enough for one of it’s own and become a sentient force in it’s own right.
Then, of course, it could be bargained with.
This… Was more dangerous than either. It had consumed some life-force, probably from the person sent in before Darius, but not enough for it to become sentient itself. It couldn’t be bargained with, but it was both stronger and smarter than a pure Essence would be.
Oh, and it had fed itself on magic. Which just made it stronger yet.
He didn’t have time to think. There was one way he knew of to deal with a troublesome ﬁre-sprite. Something he’d read in his ‘extracurricular activities’. It might not work here: it depended on how much of a mind this being had, and how strong he was.
He had to hope Elpis saw what he was doing: He couldn’t fend the elemental oﬀ and do this at the same time; couldn’t spare the attention. And he was going to have to draw it in, tighter to him.
He was going to need that invulnerability she’d promised.
It didn’t resist. It didn’t know that it needed to resist. Not that it mattered: It saw the magic he ﬂung at it as food, energy which it could use to attack him with. It didn’t need to resist. It simply consumed.
He felt a bit of a catch, before the elemental incinerated it. There wasn’t enough mind.
No time. He drew it closer, mentally. Augmented the spell with something other than True Magic: his own skill, the magic of the mind.
It ate that too. But he felt it catch a bit longer.
Again, closer, stronger. It was a bit easier to grab now: it had eaten a bit of his mind, so there was more there.
Not enough. And it was still stronger. But he almost had it: almost he’d felt the spell start to set. Once in place, fully, it would hold.
He just needed to hold it a bit longer.
No time for half-chances. Again he tried, drawing the Essence as close as he could, trusting Elpis to protect him from the ﬂames. Hoping she could hold the invulnerability long enough. He augmented the spell with everything he had, trying to grab that half-formed mind in his, so that the spell could take hold.
Hoping it took hold before he himself become fuel for the ﬁre.
It felt like his bones were burning, from the inside out. Like his head was a mass of ﬂames, trying to come out his ears.
But as he completed the last stage, he felt the spell set.
And suddenly it was cold and dark.
Darius collapsed, hands and knees to the ﬂoor. He looked around for the Essence. It had nearly been a full spirit at the end. Nearly it had eaten his mind like it had Shui’s, and formed a mind of it’s own out of the ashes. It should be here somewhere, bound to him. He needed light to see, to check that everything had survived that should…
There was light.
From his hand. Flames dancing on his ﬁngertips.
He had drawn it closer than he’d thought.
He looked at the dagger in his hand. Elpis had held her dagger shape, if only barely. She was visibly burnt, and unconscious.
Darius wasn’t much better. He staggered to his feet, and crossed to the door. There was a moment, as if the wards had to decide if he was allowed to open it, and then it opened.
Esti was there. Her hair glowed. He drew himself up to report. “There was a Raised Essence of Fire. It… has been dealt with.” He looked at the dagger in his hand. “I will need a live animal. A pig, for preference.”
And then he collapsed.
When Darius came to he was outside, and a pig was tied up waiting for him. Esti held him in her lap.
“Thanks; I’m ok, I think.” He looked around for Elips, and found her still in his hand.
He didn’t try to stand up: He just crawled the two feet to the pig, and slit it’s throat with the demon dagger. The blood disappeared into the blade.
In Darius’ open hands, the dagger seemed a bit less damaged, or at least that the damage was less imminent.
“She’ll be ok?” Esti asked.
“I think so.”
“What happened? I felt you try to contact me, but…”
“The Essence hid itself, and got between me and the door. When I tried to send an image to you, it caught the sending. It was semi-aware, and wanted more. More life-force, more ‘soul’. The sending… Gave it a chance at mine.”
“So what did you do with it?” This was a male voice, and Darius looked behind him. The Dean stood just away from the building’s entrance.
Darius sighed, and got to his feet. He wasn’t hurt, just exhausted. “I turned the tables on it. Drew it close, and attempted a binding.”
“A binding? On a ﬁre Essence? I’m surprised it held. Especially as you didn’t have a source of water with you.”
“It didn’t, not the ﬁrst couple of times. And… I don’t know any water-bindings. I managed a mental binding, once it had formed enough of a mind.”
“But to form a mind, an Essence would need…” His eyes widened. “A desperate tactic.”
“It had managed a hold, and blocked my immediate escape through the wards.” Darius shrugged. “Either it would work, or I would be dead.”
Not that he liked thinking about how close he had come…
“Shui Mizushima. The student you sent in before me. May I see her?”
“Yes, of course… How did you know her name? And, if you bound the Essence, what did you do to it?”
Darius was inspecting Elips for signs of recovery. She seemed to be better, but it looked like it was going to be slow. “I think I can answer that as I dispose of this…”
He paused. This wasn’t something he’d tried before. Disposing of the pig he was sure he could do, now that he was bonded to the Essence. Doing so in such a way as to feed Elips, and not damage her further… That would be a challenge.
In the end he decided on a safe approach: He drew a full summoning-circle, tuned to Elpis, around the dead pig, placed her at one of the foci, stood in the other, and then touched the pig to summon ﬂame.
For a moment, there was nothing but heat.
Then it was gone, as was the pig.
Darius started rubbing out the circle as the grass sprang back up. It wasn’t even singed.
“I see.” The Dean said, from where he had watched. “You bound it inside yourself.”
“Something like that. I also hold some of the mind it ‘burnt’ before me. I think I might be able to restore at least part of it to it’s rightful owner.”
“Ah. Well then, if you are done, and think you are ready…”
“One moment.” He sheathed Elpis, and turned to Esti. “Siofra?”
“Here, m’lord.” The cat in question said, leaping out of a nearby tree.
“I’m hoping you can help.”
“As you command, m’lord.”
“Here she is.”
Darius reached out and touched her hair. It looked, and felt, so familiar, something he’d seen in a dream-mirror a million times…
He pulled himself back. “Does anyone here know much about mental magic?” He asked, without turning around.
Even from the tone, the Dean sounded confused. “Mental magic? I know a few mental spells, but…”
Darius cut him oﬀ. “Nevermind. Siofra, I don’t think time is on our side here. Do you know anything that might help?”
Siofra glanced at the Dean, then back to Darius, who got the hint. “Professor? If we could have some time to work privately?”
The Dean retreated, closing the door behind him.
Siofra shifted to her full elven form. “I know some theory on memory transfer my liege, but I have never attempted it myself.”
“And I fear this is more than just memories.” Darius thought a moment, then turned to Esti. “I could use your help sorting what is mine and what is hers. You can be in my head, and know what belongs there.”
Esti nodded, slowly, and approached just as slow.
“You ok? You look nervous.”
“I… You have Fire inside you. I am wood.”
“It can’t burn you without my permission.”
“Doesn’t make it any less terrifying.” She took a deep breath. “I can handle it though. Inside?”
“You’ll get a better ‘view.’ But if you want, we can try from outside.”
“We need this to work the ﬁrst time. And, sooner or later…” She trailed oﬀ.
Darius nodded. ‘Inside time’ wasn’t optional, in the long term.
Another deep breath, and Esti approached the rest of the way, drawing herself close to, and then in to, Darius.
“Ok, Siofra? Anything?”
She shrugged helplessly. “I have no mind-magic. What I read made little sense to me. You must separate yourself from yourself, then separate what is to be transfered from yourself. Then you can approach your target, and insert what is to be transferred into them. Too large a bundle, and you will upset their mind’s balance. Too small, and it will be washed away. You must make waves, but not disturb the surface. That is all I know: I hope it makes some sense to you.”
Darius nodded. “A bit. And it kinda reinforces what I was thinking. Ok. Well… If you can’t help directly, at least make sure nothing disturbs us.”
“I am at your service.” She bowed, then turned, and started casting some work-shields. Darius noted that shields she picked could probably keep out a demonic army, but put the thought aside.
For himself, he set up a couple basic protections, and then settled into a trance state.
Siofra’s remembered instructions actually made quite a bit of sense, from the inside. Darius had been studying mental magic — using books from the Elvin library — as much as he’d had the chance. Using it on yourself almost always should start with separating the self from the self — the purpose from the mass, so the purpose could operate on the rest. But it was important to remember that they were still the same self; and that changes to one would change the other.
Or, at least that they should be. A mind-magic practitioner could drive themselves crazy by mistake, after all.
So, self from self. The purpose needed two things: To separate ‘Shui Mizushima’ from ‘Darius Kimball,’ and then to take ‘Shui Mizushima’ and re-insert her into her own mind. All else should be left behind, so that it could be sorted correctly. Easier to say than to do, but soon the ‘self’ could turn and face ‘himself’ and see the mass that was his mind and memories.
Esti was visible, here and linked but not part of. Mingling with his mind, but still apart from it.
And the new entry: Fire given form. Closer yet; only half-separate from Darius’s own mind.
The purpose paused a moment, considering the best way to work, then started to sift through himself.
The ﬁrespirit was the obvious starting place: He separated it out, then stripped it of all that was not himself or ﬁre. The remains were Shui; there was no other source.
But he had drawn some of her into himself as well.
Esti was there and ready. Most of the rest she could sort herself, leaving Darius to bundle it all and tie it together. Some parts she was unsure on, and handed to Darius to separate himself. Working together, the job was almost easy.
Of course, it was just the warm-up.
Creating the link to Shui meant stepping outside himself for the ﬁrst time. Even his training and practice hadn’t ever quite handled this: Either he had worked on others, from his full self, or on himself, in trance. This from trance to another was something new.
Siofra had done a better job than he’d thought: There was no other mental activity to disturb him. None at all: She’d even shielded them from herself and Elpis. The only minds he could feel were his own, Esti’s, the Fire’s, and the remains of Shui.
The remains. There was little left: Just fear, a knowledge of ﬁre, and a desire to survive.
Darius fed back the amazement that he could actually feel the burnt edges of a mind: It wasn’t part of the purpose, and he could deal with it later.
With so little left, he had to be careful. Feeding too much in at once, or too quickly, and it would just shatter, or splash, and undermine all that he had done. Then she would not be able to recover.
He took what he had gathered, then carefully attached to the burnt mind. He then fed what he had, keeping the ﬂow slow and steady, trying to ﬁll all the empty places in her mind.
It was tiring, and he had little energy to spare. But carelessness wasn’t going to be helpful.
Finally he stepped back, and watched the mind re-sort what it had absorbed. Everything he could ﬁnd that was Shui was back there.
The question was: Was it enough?
The purpose was done; Darius let his two selves rejoin, but stayed in trance, to watch.
“Is she going to be ok?”
Esti asked with a thought, inside the trance with him.
“I don’t know.”
There were holes. He could see that. Parts that the ﬁre spirit had consumed entirely. The question was whether they were stable and could be ﬁlled in time, or whether they would crack, and shatter what was there. One in particular…
“I need to try something.”
He knew it was dangerous, but none of this would have mattered if Shui’s mind broke again. He reached out, and carefully inserted mental ﬁngers into the hole. He could feel the weight, and knew he had been right: It would have collapsed without him.
But he couldn’t hold it indeﬁnitely either.
Another reach, this time inside himself, where he managed to ﬁnd and copy a portion of his own mind that could act as a support. Fitting it took little eﬀort, and then Darius held a mental breath to see if it held and was accepted.
He let it out as Shui’s mind stabilized, looking visibly better.
“I think that will hold.”
“I think so too. See you on the outside.” She faded, separating into her own distinct person as she exited her ‘tree’.
Darius did the closing checks, then exited the trance himself.
Outside, the ﬁrst thing Darius saw was Siofra in an active guard stance. And obviously focused on something speciﬁc. He followed her gaze.
The Fire Essence. But it looked more aware.
A Fire-Sprite. It had managed to absorb enough.
It didn’t look hostile. It was just standing there.
Darius didn’t have time to think about that before he heard a moan from the bed beside him.
The Fire-Sprite didn’t appear to be a threat, and Siofra didn’t appear to need help. He turned to Shui, who did. “Hi there. How are you doing?”
Her eyes were a deep blue, almost like the ocean. “The Fire-Essense! It got loose…”
“It’s ok. You are in the med center; they brought you here after you got out of Professor Conway’s oﬃces. You are safe.”
“You have to warn them! It’ll burn through the wards! I barely, if it hadn’t been for Damla…” She drew her knees up, and started crying.
“I’m sorry.” He obviously hadn’t known everything about her. “Who was Damla?”
“She was my Water-Sprite. I was working to become an elemental master…” Which didn’t really help Darius. She looked up. “Do I know you? I think I do…”
“I um… No. You don’t, not really. At least, we’ve never met before.” He took a deep breath. “I went in to Professor Conway’s oﬃce after you did. We knew there was something ﬁre-related in there, but not exactly what. I was either luckier than you or less lucky: I got trapped, but I managed to bind myself to the Fire Essence. It, um, still had a lot of your mind in it. I returned it, as best I could.” He bit his lip.
“But I’m guessing that you might not have been able to separate everything?”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure we got everything seperated &mdash aside from the normal mixing that happens — but there was at least one hole I had to patch…”
“That would explain remembering playing baseball with my two brothers. Since I don’t have any other memories of them, or even of liking sports.”
“Sorry; it just seemed to ﬁt.”
“I think it does… But what happened to the Fire Essence?” She uncurled and sat up, then froze. “Oh.”
“Don’t worry, it’s…”
“<em>I</em> am not going to harm you.” The sprite bowed her head, slightly. “Any more that I already have.” She looked at Siofra, who looked at Darius, who nodded. Siofra eased oﬀ her guard, and the sprite approached, but stopped a foot away from the bed. “I owe you and Damla a thanks I can never repay; I was nothing, and now I am something. I cannot excuse my actions, except to say that it is in the nature of Fire to burn whatever it touches, and at the time I was nothing else.” She bowed deeply.
“I…” Shui obviously didn’t know what to say.
“Perhaps when you are healed, we can talk again.” Another nod-bow, and the sprite unformed, becoming a stream of ﬁre.
Which ﬂew into Darius, faster than he could react.
Siofra and Esti rushed to him, but he put up a hand. “I’m ﬁne.”
“I’ve never seen anyone do that before. And I thought…”
“Damla could never talk. I knew what she wanted, sometimes, but…”
“It’s… Well, I didn’t use a normal binding. Anyway, are you feeling ok?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, I feel ﬁne. What did she mean, ‘perhaps when you are healed’?”
“Well, I think she was referring to the fact that your mind still needs to heal. There are, well, ‘holes’ in it, and it’s a bit fragile right now.”
“And what does that mean?” She snapped out.
Siofra stepped in here, looking very elven. “It means you need to rest, and avoid things that would batter your mind. Surprises, strong emotions, or even strong magics could injure you, even break your mind. You will get better, but at the moment, it is best to try to stay calm, and to not strain yourself.”
“Ah… ok, I guess… You are one of Darius’s friends, right?”
Siofra smiled. “Yes. Esti here and I are friends of Darius, and helped him in this endeavor to give you back as much of your mind as possible.” She paused a moment, letting Shui absorb that. “Are you ready for me to raise the shields now?”
The question was of Darius, but Siofra managed to imply that Shui needed to answer as well. A moment’s thought told Darius why: Shui hadn’t put up any shields of her own yet. “Fine with me. But, take them down slowly if you can.”
Shui hadn’t noticed, so Siofra complied.