In the days before our meeting at the temple, Gus let me practice my magic on him. We were even able to do it in the open, on the cool floor of the cellar, which Hal had opened for me since another late season heat wave was passing through and it was time for him to recheck the stores. It was much more difficult than breaking a bone to take something that was in the body and move it somewhere else. ‘Healing’ came instinctively to me, since my body knew how it was suppose to be. But moving pigment around from where it had been left, well, my body didn’t do that naturally, so I didn’t know how to manipulate the energy to make someone else’s body do it naturally.
It was especially hard since Gus had so little pigment to begin with, and something else entirely that I couldn’t recognized colored his metallic hair.
He didn’t understand why I found that so cool.
So I asked Milly to help with my experiment. Having gotten use to my regular brushes of my magic, when I wanted to check up on their health, she gladly sat with me in the quiet of the cellar before work was to start. I could even make out her smile in the half light coming from the trapdoor of cellar doorway and the candle-light.
“It’s always so warm,” she said. “If kindness had a feel, it would be this.”
It was much easier with Milly. With thick black hair and eyes and darker skin, I found plenty of pigment to experiment with. By the time I’d finished making a fun little freckle on her hand, however, my head had started to pound in time with my heart. The little light in the cellar stung as I open my eyes.
“Huh,” she said at the flower shape mark on her hand. It was a very ugly flower, but a flower nonetheless. “Now that’s something.”
“Many thanks for your dark coloring, Milly. Praise be to your ancestors.”
She chuckled. “You have the weirdest humor, Lil’. You doing okay?”
“Just a headache.”
“Dad has a quick fix for that. I’ll get some herbs.”
The quick fix turned out be me a puff of steam from his palms that went through a handful of rosemary, lavender, and coriander.
Sure enough, my headache eased.
“Luckily, it was the kind that this works on,” said Hal. “Tension headache. Must have been concentrating on very small movements of magic. The smaller you try to get, the worse it will be. I’ve done quite a bit of my fair share of delicate magic, since that’s the kind of magic us with small capacities are any good at.”
My no-no list was getting bigger. Using too much magic at once: throw up and dizziness. Use up your magic: exhaustion (“And death,” added Hal grimly, “if you’re stupid determined, though most pass out before they can get that far.”). Fine delicate maneuvers: headache.
“And a nose bleed,” said Hal. “Do it for long enough you can rupture the vessels in your eyes too.”
…That sounded pleasant.
So I gave myself a break off magic for the rest of the day and had a go at Gus’s eye color in the morning.
It turned out to be stupid hard, because the only pigment he had was the bit his skin used to protect itself from the sun. Aka, the mini tan.
Frustrated, I tried to tug at the weird-pigment-something in his hair, but it wouldn’t budge. It was like pulling on a statue cemented into the ground.
I had two options. I could make him sunbathe until he turned into a crisp piece of bacon, or I could hunt down the cells that made the pigment a stuff a bunch of energy into them.
Since he didn’t have the time to bake with busy season on the inn, and because I was stupidly impatient to get his new red-eye-free life going, I dove back into hunting again.
Now, deciphering the different micro-elements of the body, like finding pigment, was a lot like sticking your face really close to a computer screen and straining your eyes until you could see the little squares of the resolution, except the screen has some pretty crazy resolution and it wasn’t your eyes but some weird magical brain thing, like an eye, so it was like your brain turned into the eye muscle that did all the straining. Each cell has their own energy signature that feels like a strand of carpet, making brushing over tissue or an organ like brushing your hand over a fine rug. Then there were the smaller energies of the proteins and hormones and other smaller materials of the body that were like trying to feel each little hair of the wool in said carpet. Which meant I had to not only somehow single these down, but then chase them down in the zooming speed of the blood circulating about the body. So like trying to keep an eye on a tiny mite on the ground as it runs as fast as bike while you’re standing way up.
In short, by the time I’d finally found the pigment cells, stuffed in energy, and pulled out enough pigment to satisfy me, my head was hurting like a bitch. I was having a hard time breathing when I finally stuffed the pigment into the iris of his eye.
Drawing back out from my micro focusing made my head spin. I’d learned the hard way that pulling out too quickly resulted in the head ache turning into a head-knife-through-your-face, so I took it nice and slow.
Though I knew before I opened my eyes that blood was trickling from one of my nostrils.
Gus, with his new murky brown eyes, had the frown that proceeded a good scolding. The only reason he hadn’t stopped me when it had started was because he had been there when I’d pulled back too quickly.
“Stop looking at me like I killed myself to change your eye color,” I said, pulling out a handkerchief to hold to my nose (that’s another thing you get into in this world: always carrying around a handkerchief. They’re stupid useful without toilet paper and running water.).
“Am I supposed to be glad that you look like you’re in pain and bleeding? Your eye whites are going pink again too.”
“Since now it means you can look wherever you like, yes. Let me get a closer look.”
He reluctantly gave me his chin, which I took to turn his face around in the light.
“Very nice. Like milk chocolate.”
His eyes widened. “They really changed?”
“Yep. Yay me. Though, I don’t know the turnover rate for eye cells, so I don’t know when it will wear off, but,” I shrug. “Just another reason to stick close to me, eh?”
I expected more of a reaction from him as he dove into work with his new brown eyes, without fear of whoever saw. Or at least a happy smile and an extra thank you to me. But other than not looking at the floor anymore, there wasn’t a cheer or anything.
Though he did give me a funny smile at closing time while we ended up washing the same table together.
“How did you want me to act?” he asked, without me having to say a word.
I pouted at him, wondering just how good he was getting at reading minds without touching someone’s head. He said he could only read people’s emotions from a distance, hadn’t he.
He chuckled at my pout.
“You’ve already changed my life for the better without changing my eye color,” he said, a familiar soft smile puckering his cheeks.
“A thank you would be nice,” I muttered.
“What, didn’t I say that? Alright, what would you like as a reward?”
I dropped my rag in my bucket. “I don’t need a reward.”
“No no, the pout says ‘reward.’ I can get you a treat or some more ribbons for your hair or…” his smile turned mischievous. “I could just give you an oath for life.”
“What the heck is an oath for life?”
“Basically I’d go to the temple and have them ingrain an oath into metal that I’d give you my life to do with as you will.”
I stared at him. He didn’t look crazy. And it wasn’t all that funny of a joke, but I waited for him to say ‘just kidding.’
But instead, he said, “I’m not kidding,” again showing that uncanny ability to read exactly what I was thinking without touch.
“Are you reading my mind?”
He flinched and looked askance, probably checking to see if Hal was nearby, though we had referenced his mind magic in passing before. “No. I just know your mind well enough, and you’re not exactly hiding your expressions.”
“What would I even do with your life?”
“Whatever you want,” he said, leaning back to hold out his hands as though presenting me a find article to be sold. “I’d basically be your slave.”
“Slavery is illegal here.”
“Commercial slavery. Not sworn slavery.”
“Yeah, this joke was funny from the beginning.”
“It’s not a joke.”
“Then it’s the lamest, most insulting thing you’ve ever suggested to me and I have a smack with your name on it if you don’t apologize right now.”
His jaw dropped, flummoxed by my unexpected anger. “Wha—insulted—I didn’t mean—“
And since I was too tired from a hot day of work, I didn’t bother answering his confused look as I went straight to bed.
Which was dumb, really. Who wanted their child to become their slave for life? I mean, I guess some parents would like that, sickos, but really.
Click to Read Next Chapter (will be updated Saturday).