To play during reading : III. Star – Seven Songs for Seventh Saga – Sebastian Freij
– and Secunda – The ETHEReal String Project (Original : (Original form Elder Scroll 5 Skyrim – Jeremy Soule))
I was as surprised and shocked as him. First, because Francis intruded in my privacy, in my hidden paintings. Second, that the painting I painted in his mind’s eye during his Awakening, something highly personal, direct manifestation of his soul, is something that he never should have seen because I painted it before the awakening happened. Finally, the pure erotism exuding from the painting, expressing the emotions and turmoil I felt for him, but could not express directly for fear of losing him and his friendship was displayed bare, to his very eyes.
He stood and went back in the main room, looking out of the window, resting his forehead on the glass. I followed him, after having hastily stashed back the painting with the others, hiding it back out of my sight, out of my mind. Yet again today, we would have to have a hard and open discussion about our past and feelings. I went and sat next to him, my back on the glass, looking the otherway as him. I could feel the turmoil in his mind, in his body language, in his aura.
Keeping his head on the glass, he turned it to look at me. “When did you paint that painting?”
“A few days ago.” The next words were stuck in my throat, not wanting to be heard but needing to be whispered. “It was from a dream I have had for the past few days, since I have had Master Fox here. I dream of the Renaissance and of a couple, a painter and his model. I don’t know what it means, but it feels more real than most dreams, and it is more coherent, not like usual abstract and surreal dreams. And so, I needed to put it to canvas and in the inspiration, I painted you and I, instead of the dream’s character. Sorry for that, but you have been a lot in my mind in the past few days. Does it bother you?” Afraid to ask.
He thought for a minute, then said “No, it doesn’t. I am a bit troubled by it, it’s the first time I am a subject of a painting, even more one so ero…” He stopped reformulating his words. “so emotionally charged. What’s bothering me is that I clearly saw it in my Awakening. How could I?”
“I don’t know, but it clearly shows that we are connected in our destiny. Even more than we thought.” Was I ready to open my hand, show exactly what he means to me? That painting shows it all. The longing, the desire, the love he brings in me. I had tossed and turned about it for long enough now. It was time to man up and take a leap of faith.
I stood and looked at him. I was deeply shaking inside, conflicted between my cautious self and my amorous self. The pain of that conflict tearing me apart, forced me to close my eyes, starting to cry.
“Francis …” The words getting caught in my throat.
“Francis, I don’t know how to say it. I … ” It was so hard, why was it so hard for something I have literally dreamed about. I opened my eyes, seeing his emerald gaze at me, between concern and doubt.
“I love you.” There I said it and moved forward to kiss him, a bit forcefully.
He didn’t return my energy, slowly but confidently pushing me back with his hand on my chest. Despair and rejection instantly coursed through my veins. His answer was no. I was about to turn away, to flee in hiding, but he saw it in my body language before I was conscious of the action I was about to take, like he could read my mind. He took each of my arm in his grip, preventing me to flee.
“My answer isn’t no. First, you surprised me. I now see all the hints you gave before in a new light, and now understand them. I was totally oblivious to it. I didn’t understand and saw them like that. Earlier you opened up to me by telling me you were gay and all your turmoil and secrets. Now is the time for me to talk about it.” He sat me next to him, my head resting on his chest, him leaning his head on mine and his left arm squeezing me in, us both resting against the cold window. He took a deep breath before speaking, steadying himself. It was something really hard for him to say.
“My sexual life has always been a question, an unknown. I never explored or risked going on a date with a stranger. At least I know that I need to know someone well to develop any romantic feelings. But I have this conflict, in the past, I only have been romantically attracted to women, more out of habit and societal expectation than anything else, but physically, I always have been curious and aroused by men. And this conflict has been weighing on my mind for a really long time. But I was, and still am, so afraid to take the risk of anything, that I never learned to read the signs of someone being interested in me, but also I don’t know what I am searching for. And since, I must say, I am totally new to this, I don’t know how to act, what to say, what to feel, what to do. If you ask me if I love you back, if I have any interest, I wouldn’t be able to answer, I have never felt it, I don’t know. I lived a pretty secluded and solitary life, more by design than by conscious choice. I, too, am curious and longing for it, the sex, the love, the caring, the mutual bond, but it scares me. I don’t want to lose you as a friend, but also, it’s a big change in my life that I don’t know if I’m ready for. And adding it to the mage thing, I don’t know how to deal with both. But for both I need to be near you, which I want. And I enjoy the close physical contact we develop. I hope it wasn’t in a sexual objective from the start, I would feel betrayed by it, but at the same time, I allowed it, it felt natural and appropriate. And I would be lying to say I don’t enjoy it. So my answer isn’t a ‘permanent no’, it’s a ‘not yet, I am not ready’. Is it okay with you?”
Having calmed down, I could see the hurt and the confusion in his actions in his thoughts. Why he answered as he did, why he acted has he did. The rejection hurt, has it should, but the door wasn’t totally closed.
“I, too, am not that much more experienced, not to say not at all. I also don’t want to lose you has a friend, why I tried to show hints without forcing it, for example by hiding the painting. I know it’s a big leap of faith and I am ready to try it with you and explore it at your pace. The friendship we have is more important than the rest. So yes, it’s fine with me. I can give you the space you need and at the same time give you the closeness we both need. We are both drifting lonely souls who found each other. We will take the time it will take.” I sat and gave him a strong and caring hug, that he gave back to me.
We stayed like that for some time, the afternoon sky streaked in colourful shades, the sun dipping just below the horizon and shining in all hues on the remaining clouds. A fleeting moment.
We ate a light silent supper, locked in our thoughts, but both stealing glances at each other. After it all, Francis went to the pile of clothes and started dressing. “It’s late now and I think it’s best if I go back home tonight to sleep, I also have some work to do tomorrow, but if you want to do something after supper, I would be available.” He said.
“Yes, it’s best if you go home. It’s the best choice. And yes we should do something tomorrow, what do you think of visiting the Order’s Library?” I asked, a bit disappointed but understanding.
“It’s a good idea, I will look forward to it. I will come pick you up here. See you tomorrow.” He gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek, then a short hug and then left my apartment.
I went to the window to see him leave the apartment. It didn’t ended quite like I wanted, but the door was still open for more. Then I noticed someone walking on the street, but I didn’t remember who or from where. It probably was my memory playing games and because of the angle, it could be anyone. It was now quite late and I only did some menial task, like cleaning my space and folding clothing. I gave some glance at Master Fox but he slept through it all, giving no indication of anything. I went to sleep and slept normally.
The next day, I woke up a bit invigorated from the past day’s excitement. I did my usual morning rituals, the berry bush and the tai-chi, I put the berries on Master Fox painting frame for him, when he wakes up.
Then I started to catch back on the few works I had to do. Mainly linked with my master’s degree, some research. I sat at my kitchen island to work on my laptop, slowly enjoying a cup of tea. While thinking about my research, it dawned on me who I saw the previous day. It was the same lady who I had seen a few days back while I went to the old couple’s house. What was she doing on my street, of all streets, considering the size of the city. The odds were infinitesimal. I was starting to get worried and more so worried for Francis. He wasn’t ready yet to defend himself with magic and was unaware of the danger that he lived in now. I would need to talk to him about his security and find a solution to ensure his as mine. M. Coutu may be of help. I decided that I would go to the Library earlier to talk to him, Francis could join me there. I called Francis to tell him the change of plan without telling him directly the risk he was living in, I only made sure that he would call if anything strange happened. I took my travel painting case and took the bus to Quebec old city.
I was on edge all the way on the bus ride. Going inside the Order’s Athenaeum, I knocked on M. Coutu’s workshop door. There was no answer. I tried the doorknob and it was locked. I would have to wait for him to arrive, whenever it will be. I didn’t know much about him, or any other Order’s member, even less about what they did in their mundane life. While I was turning back around to the main lobby, going to sit down to think about what to do next, I spotted someone else coming in the lobby. If an Order of Librarians, academics and protectors of knowledge could have a celebrity, it was him. Jonathan Dubé, an actual adventurer archeologist. A living Indiana Jones. His mundane public persona was that of a crazy adventure person, similar to a Bear Grylls, being dropped in the middle of the Canadian boreal forest with only the clothes on him and he coming back to civilization on his own, or trying to beat the south pole unpowered travel time by using sky sailing. And while he did that, he searched and tried to find for the Order hidden caches of knowledge, hidden from the preying eyes of civilization. He was clearly coming in for something, but he spotted me and courteous as he was, he took the time to come to me. He bore an infectious smile and he was captivating to look at, with his broad shoulders, sculpted physique by years of hard travel, an assurance in his stride. He wasn’t my type, but I wouldn’t say he never was a subject of one of my fantasies. He offered his hand to shake which I took.
“It’s been a long time since I have seen you Beldro, I think since your initiation in the Order. How have you been?” Jonathan asked, surprising me that he remembered me.
“I have been good, slowly advancing my research, both mundane and magical. You seem to be coming back from somewhere, where was it?” I asked, trying to steer the conversation away from me.
He thought for a second and then answered. “Well, I hadn’t thought about it earlier, but I would like you to accompany me on the meeting I was going to. Your arts expertise may help us. Would you come with me?”.
I hardly had anything specific to do at the moment except wait for Francis, so I accepted.
He lead me to a conference room. Quite basic, but still with the clash between old architecture with new furniture. On the table there were three boxes covered with black velvet cloth, hiding it’s content. In the room there was Jonathan who took to the middle of the table, staying in easy reach of the boxes. Around the table there were some notables of the order, who I only knew by face and reputation, but not much more. And finally there was a laptop screen with only a symbol on it. It looked like a company logo of some kind, probably the arcane sponsor of the project. I took the seat I was shown and waited for the meeting to start. We waited for a few minutes, the others talking among themselves, and I keeping to myself, clearly being the odd ball in the room. Finally the last person they were waiting for arrived. It was M. Coutu. He apologised for his lateness, then took a seat next to me. The voice connection on the computer was established and a woman’s voice answered on the other side. Jonathan started.
“Welcome all, I will skip the pleasantries and go straight to the meat of the subject of the meeting. My last expedition led me to go to the Bermudian coast. I would like to thanks Mrs. Mia for the tip about it. It’s not usual for that much inter-mage order cooperation. So I do hope it will continue in the future. I searched the underwater site I was given and I found there some artefacts on the seafloor. I tried to find more of it, but the condition worsened on the surface and I was forced to leave due to a hurricane coming. But I was able to retrieve something that I brought here. But some work will need to be done to preserve them accordingly.” With a flourish he removed the cloth from the three boxes. Each were plexiglass boxes, sealed and filled with water. Inside each were a clay tablet and two vases.
“I brought in M. Beldro here to confirm my suspicion on the origin of the objects. Please come nearer.”
I went nearer and activated my mage sight also. I could instantly see the power residing in the objects, faint but clearly there. The vases were ancient Greek in design, exactly what period wasn’t clear to me. While turning the box and the vases inside, I could see well preserved representations of a coast line with dots or place markings on it. It didn’t match any coast line I knew, but ancient maps were not necessarily the clearest things. The second vase showed a clear representation of men, evidently nude, fighting among themselves over a roundish thing on a pedestal. But there were few weapons depicted and other objects were there, like wand, scrolls and cups. The figures were in red and the tablet was written in a script I wasn’t in any shape or form familiar with.
After my inspection, I spoke. “I would guess ancient Greek, I couldn’t say more precisely than that since it’s not my historical expertise, but considering the quality of it, I would guess Archaic or classical era, surely from magical origin. Depicting a map of some kind on this one, with specific location noted, and a battle over something in the other. Considering the lack of weapons, even if the battle is clear, and the other objects present, I would guess a mage war. Finally, the tablet is written in something, but I can’t tell you anything about it.”
“Thank you, indeed it’s what I also guessed. I found them in close proximity to each other so I would guess that they are linked. We would need someone to translate the tablet, and an expert in ancient Greek culture to better estimate the timeframe of the vase creation. But in any case, the presence of Greek artefacts in the Bermudas is in itself interesting. Thank you Beldro for the help, you can go now.” That clearly was my cue to leave, the meeting not concerning me anymore and a knowledge they judged I wasn’t ready to hear. I signaled M. Coutu that I would like to speak to him afterward and I would be in the library to wait. He accepted and then I left to the library.
While waiting in the library for the meeting to adjourn, I searched the library for any reference to sources of mana in Quebec City or otherwise, searching for something to latch on for the upcoming Solstice. After some research, nothing came up of any value. But I found a book, titled “Story of the Dragons Scales by Sima Qian, translated by Xu Fuguan” that piqued my interest.
Near lunch time, I went back in the lobby to start reading it, but I only had the time to sit, when I heard the other meeting ending. I indicated to M. Coutu and he stepped toward his office. I followed him, anxious to tell him the news. We got to his office and I closed the door behind us before sitting, indicating the importance of the conversation.
“Thank you for receiving me, I have news and a few concerns I want to address with you. It will take some time. Where do you want me to start?” I asked.
“Well, let me make some coffee first and then we can start from the top. It seems important so I will take the time. How do you take yours?” He stood to his small coffee machine behind him.
“If you have tea I would prefer that, else, I would take more on the latte side.” I answered.
“Tea it will be. But I only have this one, Earl Grey.” He prepared our cups, both waiting for him to sit back to start the conversation. When he did, I took a sip of my cup and started.
“First the main news, Francis has awoken two days ago. I had to work it through with him, but he has accepted his new status.” Coutu’s stare fell on me. I had his full attention now.
“I have started his education in the history and mechanics of Magic but he is a Thyrsus, so I am not exactly the best qualified to teach him how to cast magic. But I want him to be part of my cabal ( a group of mages with common interests) and continue to teach him. Who do you think could help him to teach him to cast?” I asked.
He started to answer. “No problem for the cabal part, totally normal. Thank you for having taken care of him after the Awakening, a good thing he was under your care. Now for the Thyrsus teacher part, we are in luck. Usually, our Thyrsus are too young to be of any help to teach, so we would have to ask another Order, which is risky, but since M. Dubé is back for some time and he is a Thyrsus, he could be a good teacher of the basics. It won’t be much but it’s a start. I am really happy of the news. When could I meet him in person to congratulate him?”
“Well, I was planning for him to come visit the Athenaeum after supper, would you be available to meet him? And M. Dubé also to start the things.” I asked, wanting to move things forward.
“I will check on that. That’s the first news, is there more?” He leaned back in his chair, certain he could manage whatever next I said, sipping his cup.
“Well, I don’t know if I should concern myself with this, but two times recently, I met the same woman, on the streets in two different parts, once going to a client in Sillery, the other on my apartment street. The second time, it was at the moment Francis was leaving my apartment. I don’t know if she was after me only, or includes Francis. I have asked him to indicate to me anything abnormal, but nothing specific to concern him, considering his shaky state at this point. I want him to be nearer to me so I can have a more constant check on him, until he can cast spells and defend himself. Am I overreacting?” I asked concerned and anxious, betraying my feelings for Francis a bit.
“Do you remember how the woman looked?” He asked, I nodded yes.
“Then think of her and I will see your mind to see it also.” As a Mastigos*, a mage of the Mind and Space, M. Coutu could read my mind. He started to speak in a strange language, High Speech, the language of the mages, easiest to cast spells with. There was no external effect of the spells. He opened his eyes and spoke.
“I can see her. Quite striking. And yes, your memory is quite clear about the unusualness of her. (chapter 4 for the description) And she reminds me of something but I don’t know when. I think I also already saw her. I will ask around and keep an open eye. Your concern is valid and I think that the sooner Francis is proficient to protect himself, the better we are. Anything else?” I could see the wheels going in his mind, planning the next moves and the contingencies.
“Yes, I do think that now that Francis has awoken, he should be given his father’s estate back as soon as possible. It’s his by all rights, mundane or magical, and should not be hindered or unduly scrutinized by other mages. I am pretty sure he will want to go live in his father’s house, now his, or at least keep it.” I asked.
“Indeed it has been long enough and now that he is a mage, we shouldn’t snoop in what is his, except if there were any dangerous items like any other mages. I will end the inquiry. And start the restitution process. I really want to respect the memory of Melbourne, or Kenneth for me, one of his oldest friends.” I saw a truth and complexity in his gaze, fleeing to the past. I thanked him and got out of his office, letting him reminisce.
It was past lunch time and I was hungry. I got out of the Athenaeum and walked in the Old Québec. I stopped at Paillard’s shop for a good sandwich. I liked the place and what they did as a bakery, but since they are in the most touristic part of the city, they are quite costly. After my meal, I walk, enjoying a warm autumn sun, probably the last. The nights were getting below 0℃, and it felt warm, but it was only around 11℃. I got to the Terrasse Dufferin, the most touristic and picturesque place in Québec City and I settled myself to do some drawing, being inspired by the surroundings. Many tourists looked at my work and thought it was for sale, which I didn’t know yet if it would be. I gave them my mundane artist card and continued the work. I clearly was inspired with oranges, reds and yellows, but with a touch of emerald and teal in it. The painting I drew was more impressionistic to abstract than descriptive and romantic. My style was clearly not settled yet between the two. I worked all afternoon and when the sun was setting, I took a few steps back and looked at my work. It was an impressionist view of the Terrasse, with the Chateau Frontenac, with it’s green roofs as the greens and the bricks, the wood of the terrase, the trees, as the reds, oranges and yellows. But looking closely, I could also see a grid, a pattern emerge, similar to a map. A map of what, I couldn’t say, but I was now convinced it shouldn’t be sold. There was something about that painting, in it’s unfinished state, that said I shouldn’t sell it. More then that, I should do it again, bigger. I packed my things and called Francis to set our meeting.
We met at the City Hall parking lot. I put my painting tools in his trunk, not wanting to be bothered with it on the way and we started to walk, leisurely toward the Athenaeum, taking a long detour, appreciating the mutual company. I told him on the way about the history of the place and what it stood for.
“So this is where all the mages in Québec City meet?” Francis asked outside on the front step of the Morrin Center, the mundane front of the building.
“Not exactly, just part of them, one of the groups, but I will explain it more later. Follow me.” I said joyfully.
We stepped to the inside court of the building step through a hidden door. A relatively long staircase took us to the Atrium of the Athenaeum. His gaze of amazement took in everything, he was a bit speechless and overwhelmed with the reveal, considering the size of the place, compared to the above ground size.
“Welcome to the Athenaeum of the Mysterium Order, Laurentian branch. Where would you like to start? We have labs and offices on the right, more office and rooms on the left and, the main attraction, the archives and library through the big arches on the left and right of the back. There some lower level for deep storage, but I don’t have access to that.” I pointed to the different parts we could go, eventually, going to meet M. Coutu.
“What is behind the big door at the back, in the middle?” He pointed to a set of doors, really elaborate in design and situated between the arches accessing the library.
“That I can’t tell you yet, but soon you will enter it, when you are initiated and ready. Where else?” I answered saddened I couldn’t tell more yet, him not having committed to the Order yet.
“Well, can we go in the library?” Francis asked, a bit disappointed about my first answer, but still motivated.
“Sure we can go see.” I answered, showing the way.
When we entered, he was impressed by the size of the library, and the different kinds of items we stored. I couldn’t let him read any of the books, but he strolled through the titles and the different sections.
“Do you have a database of all you have here?” He eventually asked, when we were on our way back.”
“Not really. Due to the nature of some of the things we have, it’s quite hard to categorise, and also, considering the length of time this library has existed, computers are really a novel thing. The Order generally prefer hard copies to digital ones, considering the security risk and also the nature of digital. Personally, I would love to have it, even just the titles, author and location in the library, but the Order is in general quite conservative and slow to change. There is a good reason to that, but we won’t dwell on it here. Do you want to go to the labs now?” I steered us in that direction.
When getting in the lab where Melbourne’s estate was stored, it was now empty of everything. They have been quite busy to move it all in the span of an afternoon. Francis looked around, enjoying the edwardian style walls, ceiling and floors, with the modern furniture and lighting
“I could really enjoy working in this kind of place, except for the lack of sunlight.” Francis said.
We got to M. Coutu’s door and I knocked, knowing we were expected. M. Coutu opened for us. M. Dubé was already seated in the office, a bit restless in place. We took our place. Francis was a bit taken aback by the situation, being in unfamiliar company and setting. He sat near next to me, enough for me to feel the heat from his legs and arm.
“Thank you Beldro and welcome Francis in the Mysterium Athenaeum. Hope you enjoyed the visit. I am Jean Coutu, Censor of the Order. Here is M. Jonathan Dubé, a senior member of the Order and Acquisitor. We know you awoke recently and are ready to start your training. We must inform you that there are other Magical Orders, and you are not asked to choose between them before the end of your training. The other Orders will be informed of your existence and you may be approached by them. From what we have been told, you are a Thyrsus. M. Dubé, who is also a Thyrsus, is ready to be your first mentor. His schedule makes it that he is available for the next two weeks to train you intensively, and then he will have to leave for his next field work. But we hope that by that time, you will be trained enough in the rudiment, that you won’t need a specific Thyrsus mentor to continue your training.” M. Coutu presented. Francis loosened a bit by the formal, but welcoming tone of the presentation.
“Thank you and yes, I will accept the tutelage.” Francis answered confidently.
“Good, see you in the Atrium at 6:00 tomorrow morning in workout gear. It will be a physical training, prepare to sweat.” M. Dubé said with a sly smile. Francis had a surprised look on his face by the frank request.
“Eeeeh, I have work planned tomorrow. I can work around and I want to learn my magic skills, but I can’t let go of my current work, I still have to pay the bills.” Francis answered, trying to balance his two new lives, as all mages do.
“It won’t be all day training, but bring your work here so you won’t need to travel much. The first few days will be intense, but we will make sure you have the basics before I have to go. On that, I have to go. See you tomorrow at 6:00.” Jonathan said, standing and leaving for something else, letting Francis without much choice but to comply.
“Now for the other subject, your father’s estate, we want to apologize for the delay, but all the paperwork on both the mundane and magical side is done. Nothing special is of note. Except some financial and fiscal paperwork to be done, that we will manage, you are now the sole owner of his estate.” M. Coutu took an envelope from a drawer of his desk and gave Francis the keys that were in it. An old jagged iron key and a modern steel one.
“Those are the keys to your father’s house, the normal one is for the front door, the other one is to access his magical study. With your mage sight, you will be able to see where it goes, since it’s hidden from plain sight. On that note, I think I will leave you to it, my wife is expecting me.” M. Coutu stood and ushered us out to the Atrium.
“So, do you want to go back home in preparation for tomorrow, or do you want to visit your new house?” I asked, excited in the hope he also wanted to experience that adventure.
* Reminder, there are 5 kinds of mages in this story :
- Acanthus, mage of Fate and Time (no one introduced yet)
- Mastigos, mage of Mind and Space (Jean Coutu)
- Moros, mage of Death and Matter (no one introduce yet)
- Obrimos, mage of Forces and Prime (Beldro)
- Thyrsus, mage of Life and Spirit (Francis and Jonathan Dubé)
You can comment at Beldro Mercier. Be kind please!
Thank you to Mark Christensen for his editing, review and comments.
If you are interested to listen to music and see art inspiration of Beldro: https://beldromercier.tumblr.com/