A wave brushed against the jagged stone of the cliff casting a spray of brine onto the shivering boy. Of the three realms the realm of creation was the harshest. Under a constant assault of erosion, the landscape did not harbour life. What the wind did not sweep away, what the salt did not corrode, what the water did drown; surely succumbed to the aura of magic emanating from the magician child’s home. There, in the reclusion of their separate ateliers, worked the wizard and the warlock. Though the specifics of the magic his parents wielded largely escaped the boy, he knew of one truth which had been carved into him since birth: his parents were waging a losing war against the destructive nature of the realms.
And so, the child played alone. The desolate landscape offered very little to the boy that he may interact with. As such, nowhere other than in the boy’s inner landscape was life allowed to flourish. Just as his parents dedicated the least amount of attention to the world outside their respective atelier, the boy grew up according very little energy to the world outside his mind. There, magic and imagination were synonymous, and could be conjured at a whim. It was a fertile land, and as long as he maintained the events of the outside world separate, there was nothing which could trouble the equilibrium. This did not always prove as easy a task as it may sound. Indeed at times, his troublesome yearnings would fool him into seeking in the outside world what could only be reliably sought inside his mind. How quickly the creative forces within would corrupt when he sought the hint of a smile, for example, where he should have known better than to seek. And like a house of cards which takes patience, time and skill to erect; yet, which a mere breath can destroy: his carefully crafted inner sanctuary would turn to poison and he would be mercilessly reminded of the power which destructive wields over creative forces. If this was what the wizard and the warlock fought against, he could understand their weariness, their lack of patience, the distance they allowed to take shape between them. For how could two beings, however endlessly gifted and powerful, ever hope to right the order of the world when it could be so effortlessly thrown askew?
The boy had not yet shown signs of a magical inheritance. He would fall asleep at night, wherever sleep would find him, and dream of a magical coming of age. Of a time when he might ease the burden his parents shouldered. Perhaps then would he be worthy of their attention. He wondered endlessly how his powers would manifest, fantasising on things he could not yet begin to grasp. Oh, what good they might do once united! Together they would fix the inherent offset of the realms so that no amount of destructivity would ever come trouble the equilibrium again. When such hopeful thoughts took shape in his inner-sanctum, they would always be symbolised by the conjoining of three rings which, when woven together, bore the shape of a Celtic knot at their centre. The boy could not tell for certain how his mind had come across such a symbol. However apt a representation, there was something mystical, something sacred about the symbol which seemed too ancient to have been the fruit of his imagination. The child often found himself etching the symbol in stone. And when he would awaken to his actions, he would inevitably be struck by the visual symbol. It was, after all, the only thing to have ever transcended the inner-sanctum of his mind into the outside world. And so, he thought of it as magic. He would carve it deeper, embellish it, give it an ominous air, delighting in the aesthetic of the design, and relish in the profound significance, the promise concealed within its lines. Soon, he taught himself how to draw the three interwoven rings in one stroke. The more his thoughts dwelt on the symbol to more polysemic it became.
From the conjoining of three circles were born seven spaces. The centre-most space was where all circles merged. This, he thought of as the most powerful expression of their conjoined creative forces. Then, there was the three outermost spaces, untouched by any other circle. These spaces he visualised as a areas where their unique expressions thrived. Which left the three middle spaces. Here every circle interacted with the other two individually. The boy always struggled with the significance of these. The centre was the ideal, the dream, and this, his fanciful mind did not struggle to conjure. The outer spaces were their individual expressions, which were so undeniable. His parents’ method, not to say their character, were so divergent that, at times, he had to remind himself of their shared purpose: that of creation. And, as such, the boy did not think it unreasonable to extrapolate that his own expression, when it would manifest, would also be quite unique.
All this made sense to the boy, at the very least, in a theoretical sense. However, that which his mind could not consolidate was the matter of their collaboration. How the three rings would come to merge. With the sharp edge of a rock, he coloured-in the three space. The one where his circle merged with his mother. The one where his circle merged with his father. And the one where the wizard and the warlock’s circle merged. His unresolved feeling seem to take origin in that last space. He pondered the matter further. As far as he could understand, the extent to which his parents collaborated was solely in their general opposition to destructive forces. This they managed only by perpetually creating and casting their creations throughout the realms. And this, in turn, could be done only by dedicating their every thought, conscious and unconscious, to the endeavour. His parents were sacrificing their lives in the name of creation, and still, little by little, they were losing ground.
But that wasn’t it. It seemed to the boy that once united, the three of them would undeniably overpower the powers of destruction. Rather, it was the method by which they would come to unite that proved troublesome to the boy’s imagination. The warlock and the wizard’s creative process, indeed their very essence, could not be more dissimilar. And this brought about a distance between the two. In fact, it was perhaps fair to say that they were as distant from one another as they were from him—thought that brought no little solace to the boy. And, if they had not united in all their time together, how could the boy think that he might bring cohesion? Was the particular manifestation that his magic would take the mysterious element that would unite them?
There was the ideal of unity, and then, there was the facts of their unique expressions, but only in the boy’s most fanciful dreams, was there a magical cohesion between the three circles. Perhaps it was all a matter of finding his own magic. This would certainly explain why his parents were so weary and so impatient with him. They had so long borne the weight of the realms upon their shoulders, awaiting his magical expression which was so late in blooming.
In his darkest moods, however, he feared the distinct possibility that magic would never come. That his parents shunned him because his time had passed, because he had not inherited the gift of magic, because there would never come a time where their battle would end. Nevertheless, the boy always retained a modicum of hope. His dark moods did not linger and he found solace in the little creative magic he could wield: that of imagination.
As he wandered the desolate landscape, the boy always kept alert of the shifting energy dynamics of the house perched on the cliff side. The creative process, he had learned through attentive observation, underwent many transformations, assumed many forms, which in turn would exude very distinct auras. The process went through cycles, and the boy had long mastered when to make himself scarce and when to pry. For all their differences, the wizard and the warlock fell prey to much the same impasses in their work. These were times of restlessness, of frustrated energies, of oppressive sub-text, of lashing out. Generally, the boy understood this to be brought on by anything from a lack of inspiration, a lack of time, of ability, of energy; to a general sense of hopelessness, of despair. These times were most times. But not all times. For when the appropriate set of intricate conditions aligned for both his parents to be in harmony with their work at the same time, then the boy could crawl like a snail out of the shell of his inner-sanctuary, and venture home.
On one particularly rainy morning, such an occasion arose. The boy was made aware of his window of opportunity by the rhythmic flows of magic coming from the house. There was an unmistakeable sense of fulfilment, of meaningfulness, of grace, in the aura reaching him, enticing him, reassuring him that his magiclessness was, momentarily, not a burden. He leapt out of his mind into a dash. His feet expertly navigating the pools and furrows that the various natural forces had whittled into the bedrock. A rare gift was being granted and he would waste no time in making the most of it. This was his chance to escape the vicious cycle, his magicless rut. For, if it was his lack of magic that made him not worthy of his parents’ love; and if it was this unworthiness that kept them from teaching him; and if it was this lack of guidance that made him a late bloomer: than was it not up to him to take matters into his own hands?
The boy could see only one way out of his impasse and it involved patience and skill. As he gained the front steps, the boy took a moment to ease his breathing and slow his heart. The house was no ally to his furtive mission. The door, the floor boards were no different from his parents in this respect. Nothing in the house did not wince or protest at his presence. He felt sure that the austere silver and gold magical artefacts scattered on the shelves and furniture of the house, resented his magiclessness just as much as his parents. Mock him, even, from their high shelves, for even they were worthy of a place in this house, were worthy of attention, were prised for their help in alleviating the burden. The sight of them always served as a reaffirmation of the boy’s uselessness. In his heart the boy made a silent vow not to remain their inferiors for long. In no time, he would come to master every single one of them, and then they would see who would mock whom. And so, stealthily he crept into the house and up the steps, careful to make not a sound. The last thing he wanted was to disrupt his parents while they were in a state of harmony so seldom attained. He could not even fathom what consequences would result from an interruption to the sacred art of creation. But neither would he forsake this rarest of opportunity to learn, to bask so near to the utmost expression of magic, that it would have no other choice than to awaken his own.
His parent’s respective ateliers jutted out from the second floor in a “Y” formation and the boy found that if he sat on just the right attic step, he could spy on both his parents at work at once. Once more, he steadied his heart. Such waves of arcane power rolled over him that it was all he could do at first not to faint. How does one reach such vertiginous heights of power?, the boy wondered in awe. As he sat there, the boy willed himself to dissociate the aura of magic into two distinct expression. This was perhaps not such a difficult task from afar, in fact, he had long reached a point where he could easily differentiate between his mother’s magic and that of his father; however, from so near, the task was not so easily done.
A fleeting nerve-splaying moment arose wherein there was lull in his father’s magical aura. The boy, distraught, thought for sure that he was caught, that he had come too late and that his father would discover him and unleash his wrath upon him. But, luckily, it proved merely a short respite, and soon the waves of magical energy returned with renewed vigour. The boy sighed quietly. Despite his panic, the boy had the presence of mind, the craftiness, to successfully use the pause to his advantage. In the lull he had locked onto the precise aura of his mother and, not without tremendous concentration, he managed to keep his father’s separate as it soared back to its full might.
Confident in his dissociation, the boy studied the two unfolding phenomena in turn. Through his observations, the boy came to understand that the work of a wizard and that of a warlock were wildly opposite in nature. As he watched his mother at work, he came to understand that a wizard’s work was one of incredible minutia and delicate intricacies. Indeed, his mother only barely moved as she worked, the gold trim of her jet black cloak swaying imperceptibly with the ebb and flow of her creation. A warlock’s work, on the other hand, was explosive, violent even, and more akin to a blacksmith smiting blazing metals. His father never seemed to dwell in the same area for more than a breaths time, his wiry forearms bared, his rough tunic soot-stained. The more the boy focused, the more obvious the distinctions became. The wizard stood before a sphere of some ethereal material which she was manipulating in increasingly complex designs. Once in a while, she would cast a spell, whisper an incantation, and the nature of the malleable fabric would change. From a distance, the boy could not glean the details but it certainly seemed as complex and intricate a world as any he had ever imagined within his mind. A flash forced his attention over to his father’s side again. There thunderous activity was afoot. The warlock struck carefully crafted interlocking pieces into place with brute but precise force. His work sent sparks to splash across the walls of the room. Contrary to the wizard who was crafting from the outside in, the warlock was building his world from the ground up. All right angles and with functionality as a founding principal. Only once every constituent component was designed and assigned a role and place in the complex map, did the warlock begin his work. And from the moment the warlock’s work truly begun, it was like a stone had been set rolling down a slope, and the warlock would not reappear until his work was done. So that it might be said that the warlock worked away from inspiration, while the wizard worked towards it. The wizard started with the raw material of her world and worked towards capturing its ephemeral essence. She worked from the outside inwards.
There was a peace to their parent’s while lost in that trance-like flow with their work. That’s what he imagined unity would be like. Once he would add his magic to the fray, the boy imagined such a harmonious connection between all three of them as they now had solely with their respective work. The boy often surrendered to a naive fancy that, if he was caught, his parents would awaken to his and bottomless yearning to learn the craft. That all this time, they were simply to busy, to engrossed in their work to notice. Of course we’ll teach you, they would say. These fantasies, however, were effortlessly capsized by the overbearing voice of reason. An interruption in this most sacred moment of creation would be catastrophic, though each of his parents would express it in different ways. For no productive reason other than to complete the familiar loop of habit, the boy toyed with the anxiety. He moulded it into its most likely shape. Were the boy to interrupt the warlock, he would disrupt the order of things, disrupt the precision of its execution, the momentum needed to see the creation through to its end. The warlock would see it all tumble before his very eyes, despite all his careful planning, and his ire would boil over into despise. The boy shuddered at the thought. But, nonetheless he kept scratching at the anxious itch. Were he to interrupt the wizard, he would scare off inspiration, disrupt the frequency at which it could be received. The wizard would see the ethereal matter of inspiration dissipate and find herself unable to channel it. Her mind would cloud over and although she would not show it, her sadness would shift into disappointment. That such a harmless loving boy as she had brought into the world, would do such reckless evil things. The boy could never decide which would be the worse torture.
An interruption would make both their creations fail and they would be one step closer to losing the war against destruction. Failed creations. Absently he wondered what interruption had occurred during his own creation. For was he not one of their creations too? Perhaps he was the reason why his parents never worked together. He was the failed result of a collaboration, a reminder of their incompatibility. Only he held the power to reunite them, his magic would serve as incontrovertible proof that their experimentation was, in fact, a success, and they would awaken to the error of their ways. Until such a time, he knew it to be selfish to call attention to himself, knowing just how rare and precious that attention was.
When the boy surfaced from the grips of his musings of the specifics of doom, he could no longer tell how much time had passed in the world without. Both his parents were still hard at work on their respective creations. There was such a beauty to their dance, to their synchronicity with their respective rituals. How noble the act of creation was. With his mind’s eye, he encompassed each of his parents in a ring. Then, he encircled himself with an imaginary ring too. And, not without considerable will-power, he forced the three rings to overlap. There, in the space born of the three merged creative magics, he once more tried to imagine what such an alliance of power would look like.
He did not get far in his imaginings, however, for from the two rooms at once came a loud disturbance. He let go of the three rings in his mind immediately, alert to his need to make a swift escape. But it was too late. He watched dumbstruck as both his parents’ creations seemed corrupted by the other’s. In the end, he would not have to chose which of his father’s ire or his mother’s disappointment was the worse torture. Some of the wizards ethereal fabric had infiltrated the warlocks design, placing itself like a wrench in the precise cogwork; while the wizard’s creation was shattered in a million shards, as a piece of the warlock’s world collided with it. The boy was too terrified to move. He no longer needed to imagine what prolific or cataclysmic result a merging of their three magics would have, for now he could witness it first hand. If this was his imaginary world, nothing would be beyond repair yet. But, alas, there would be no such easy remedy to the very real consequences of the very real world outside his mind.
The boy dove desperately for the shelter of his inner-sanctum, but the warlock was the quicker, and his glare tethered him and yanked him violently back into the real world. Then, to his surprise, he was released again as the warlock seemed intent on finishing the chaos the boy had wrought upon his creation. The boy shook and trembled as he glanced over to the contrasting peace of the wizards workshop, there to meet his mother’s awaiting disappointment. He instantly recognised this as the worse torture of the two, for in the vacuum of his mother’s absence of explosive emotion, the boy’s own mind completed the work. And nothing would ever come to equal the torture of an autoimmune mental response.
Now?, the boy whispered between tears. Now?, he repeated, louder this time. The house began to quake. The warlock’s wanton destruction of his workshop halted abruptly. Both his parents glanced over at the source of the growing rumble. The boy, however, was beyond noticing, for magic had, at last, awakened in him. Awakened it seemed only to grant him the power to predict doom and then enact it. It occurred to him, in that moment, that he should never have prayed for such a curse as magic. As surely as he sensed the awakening of magic within him, he understood that the distance between his parents, the distance between them and him, was not for his lack of magic, but because of magic itself. Magic was the distance. Magic isolated its wielder from the world.
Magic is no gift, he said, not conscious that he was screaming. Not aware that were his rage to burn any hotter, he would bring the house down around him. It did not matter to him. Never had anything been so clear to him. Magic is a curse.
This was the moment he had lived for, the light at the end of a deep, dark, endless tunnel. Magic had been the key to end all his existential hurt, the gateway to all good, the solution to everything. He had oriented his life around its deceitful promise. And now, at last, he saw the curse for what it was.
He looked out then, to see both his mother and father fighting to reach him. Fear showed on their faces as they counteracted the vicious waves of power coming from the boy. The boy saw it and it moved him. This was perhaps the first emotion he had elicited from his parents other than scorn and indifference. It would not quite replace the love his heart truly needed, but he nonetheless forced it into that love shaped void. And to his surprise, it fit. As he watched his parents’ wrestle towards him, he once more encompassed each of them in a blazing ring. And now that he too possessed magic, he fashioned a blazing ring for himself as well. And the struggle suddenly became imbued with a transcendent meaning. The three rings roared as the symbol struggled to take shape. This was what the symbol meant. This was unity. And the missing element, the boy, at last, understood, was fear. As his parents neared, so that he could almost reach out and touch them, he watched the symbol settle into place. Soon, they would embrace one another and unity would be achieved and they would be free to right the precarious balance of the realms.
The centre, where all their powers condensed into one another, became so brilliant that the boy was momentarily blinded. Would it hold? The boy could not fathom how such power could ever be contained. His answer came as suddenly as the memory of his curse. Once more he had predicted doom and once more it would come to pass.
Just as they might have succeeded in the improbable task, and the glowing heart at their centre seemed to settle, the wizard succumbed to the onslaught of power and fell back. The warlock exploded in fiery rage as he saw the wizard fall. How could the centre have held, thought the boy, in his last conscious moment. Magic, after all, was not a power for unity, but for estrangement.
Magic was a curse and never more would he let this truth escape him.
A portal materialised on the edge of the woods. A small cloaked figure stepped through. The jet black fabric enshrouded his diminutive frame many times over, so that one might even wonder whether a body dwelt in its shadowy depths. The gold trim of the hood glinted dully in the sun as the boy lifted it off his head. He scanned the road left and right, and sighed disconsolately. The boy stepped aside and turned to face the portal. He stood there a while studying the desolate landscape he was leaving behind; the house so small on the cliff’s edge, the wind, the waves, the stone. Perhaps he thought some emotion would arise. But even as he waited, he could no longer surmise what had possessed him to seek. He thought of his mother whose cloak he now wore; of his father, whose condemnation to exile he had so wilfully obeyed.
In the early dawn the boy had left the warmthless house. Walking across the desolate landscape, the sounds of his parents already at work on new creations had reverberated on the rocks around him. Things had so effortlessly returned to normal that it was as though his interruption of their work had never occurred. Perhaps even, as though he had never existed at all. He had found the portal easily enough, its circumference roaring and crackling as it fought against wind and ocean spray, could be heard and seen for miles. Upon his approach, a warm breeze had washed over him. The next realm could already be glimpsed through the open gateway. He might have rejoiced at the knowledge that the middle realm was nowhere near as desolate as the realm of creation, but to him, it was just away. Merely a way of not being here any longer. Scrambling up the last rocky outcrop at the foot of the portal, he had heard a flutter behind him. He had almost slipped on the humid moss-covered stone as he had turned too hastily to glimpse the source of the sound. There in the distance, he had seen his mother’s cloak flapping in the wind as it rushed after him. Not his mother, then. After all, she had not even deigned meet his eyes as his father had ordered his exile. The oversized cloak had settled upon his shoulders, and he had accepted the empty gift emptily.
He sighed once more at the memory, and lifted his hands in the air before him. With a gyrating motion, he collapsed the portal into a blazing ring. But, before he had dispelled the portal completely, an idea occurred to him and he cast it upwards to hover like a crown above his head. It would be foolish to so readily rid himself of such a powerful symbol, of a memento of his father, of a gift as cruel as magic itself.
Copyright © 2021 by Etienne Robert