It’s been a bit, so as we press forward with the Smoggit storyline, I thought it good to look back at what has happened so far….
It was raining hard the night she arrived. He remembered this because a nasty storm had rolled in, making it very difficult for him to enjoy his tea. The rapping of rain upon his roof, plus the raucous roar of thunder, easily overpowered the soft crackling of fire in the fireplace.
Smoggit was sipping his tea, with nerves on edge, jumping at every thunderclap, when Pamela knocked at his door. At first, he thought it to be just a tree branch scratching up his window; but, when it persisted, it caught his ear and, after careful listening, he heard Pamela’s faint cry coming from the other side. With furrowed brow raised, Smoggit rose from his seat, a plush, sandalwood antique, and stood up.
He marched to the door. At the doorframe, he grabbed his trusty walking stick. It was sturdy of build, yet gnarled, and more than enough to discourage any rabble-rouser from finding an easy victim in him.
Slowly, Smoggit wrapped his thick, stubby fingers upon the doorknob and twisted it open. He opened the door ever so slightly and, there, he saw her: a waifish silhouette looking back at him through weary bloodshot eyes.
“Yes, dear. May I help you?”
She promptly collapsed onto his earthen floor.
An hour later, the young woman awoke in Smoggit’s second sandalwood chair. The storm had died down some, allowing for normal conversation.
“Good evening to you. That was quite a spill you took,” he said.
Pamela rubbed her head and looked about her. Smoggit had hung her fine, wet robes on the entryway coatrack and laid a mossy blanket upon her person. As warmth returned to her body, the sheer fabric she still had on dried, and a little supplementary magic helped her along the rest of the way.
“I’m sorry, I’m so embarrassed,” said Pamela, turning a bit red.
“No need. It would appear you’ve traveled far and haven’t eaten for days. Things like that will happen when you’re famished, you know. We best get you something to eat,” he replied.
She batted a stray hair away from her face.
“Yes, I would like that,” she said.
He clapped his hands together.
“Most excellent. What would you like, some pumpkin-almond soup perhaps? It’s one of my specialties.”
“I’ll get right on that then,” he added.
Then, the wizard hopped down from his chair and made his way to the cozy alcove serving as his kitchen.
“Might I catch your name, Ms.? I apologize for not catching it earlier,” he inquired, while digging through pantries full of fastidiously-marked jars and hanging herbs.
“It’s Pamela, Pamela Gausón.”
Smoggit paused briefly before gathering up an armful of supplies and carrying them over to the wood stove and placing them on top.
“Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Gausón,” he said.
“The pleasure is all mine, Master Smoggit. I have been searching for you quite some time,” she said.
“Well you found me. How may I be of assistance?”
Pots and pans and parsnips went flying as Smoggit went to work.
“I would very much like to train under you. I hear you are best wizard in all of Üblek.”
Smoggit worked fastidiously on.
“People say lots of things,” he replied.
Pamela bit her lower lip.
“Does that mean you will or you won’t train me?” she said.
He turned to her with a smile.
“Of course I will. Every wizard with his salt knows he is survived by his disciples.”
She smiled with him, in relief, then bowed.
“You are too kind. Thank you.”
“One can never be to kind, my dear. At the most, we can only begin to compensate for the lack of kindness this world is privy to showing.”
“All right then. When do we begin?” she said.
He stroked his luscious, silver-grey beard.
“How about Monday?” he said.
She leaned forward. Her eyes grew wide and wild.
“Forgive my impertinence, but… how about today?” she said.
He laughed (out loud).
“Monday will come soon enough. A little rest, a little soup and you’ll be ready to take on the world.”
She pouted slightly at the remark as he lifted a weighted spoon to his lips and tasted the broth.
“Mmm, yes, it’s coming along. Would you like some tea while you’re waiting?” he asked.
“Would you care you care for some tea?” he said.
“Some ale, maybe?!” she said.
“Coming right up.”
Smoggit was a master wizard, but a terrible innkeeper. He had no spare bedroom, so Pamela spent her first night on the floor, which was surprisingly soft and warm, being warmed by the molten core of their world.
The hunger pangs woke her and she rose. She rose into a wonderful aroma: Smoggit was hard at work, making breakfast.
“Morning, Ms. Gausón. I hope you’re hungry. I’ve prepared some rosemary potato hash,” he said.
“Starving,” she said as she hurried to his side.
He stepped slightly to the side so she could catch a glimpse at the meal in process.
“Sorry for the inadequate accommodations,” he said. “You’d think I’d be better prepared for guests, being a gnome of some renown and all.”
She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.
“It was fine enough, better than what I had to resort to on the way here,” she said.
“Yes, I’d imagine, especially if you had to come by the desert wastes of Mordøn: all those thieves and scorpions,” he shivered as he spoke, “dreadful.”
He shot a sidelong glance at her hands, which were coated in several layers of dirt and grime.
“If you’d care to freshen up before breakfast, feel free,” he said. “There is a lovely spring at the backside of this abode.”
She retracted her arms.
“I hope I caused no embarrassment. I only felt it proper to extend the opportunity.”
She picked at firmament under her nails. There was enough there to fill a small terrarium.
“Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer,” she said.
He tipped his head towards the front door.
“Very good. Your robes more than dry by now and more than ready to slip into once you are done,” he said. “Take your time. I’ll keep your food warm for you until you return.”
She nodded and grabbed her robes on her way out the front door.
“Thank you,” she said as she left.
Outside, the early morning mist was just starting to lift. The sun, a milky orange color, shone gently upon it, reflecting and refracting off the rising dew. The towering trees around her stood guard over Smoggit picayune yurt, and songbirds tapped morse code upon their bark, conveying glad tidings to any within earshot.
Pamela ran her fingers across the yurt’s imperfect and homely outer surface as she followed it around to the back. Sure enough, there was a hot spring there. She was nervous, at first, to disrobe out in the open. She has to remind herself that things were different here. The world she knew, that was behind her. She could finally be free. With that seed of thought slowly taking root and sprouting in her mind, she set her soiled clothes aside and dunked her aching bones into the bubbling pool.
The temperature quite agreeable, neither too hot nor too cold. She rested her head back against the side of the spring. Her mind wandered to places distant. To her home, to the plains, where her tribe would be already indisposed, milking the goats, taking the cattle out to graze, mending worn fabrics, laughing, playing silly games, telling stories to pass the time. It was not a bad life. But she was called, she had a gift. The Old Ones, they had told her this. They had encouraged her to go. At first, she had not wanted to. She was comfortable there. She knew the people and the land. Here, in Smoggit’s playground, she knew almost nothing at all, had no preconceived notions of what to expect. Still, as she lay there, in the spring, she could not shake a shadow of peace moving like a cloud through her body. Was this the right path for her forever? She did not know; but, she was certain that this was the right path for now. In this truth, she rested.
She returned to the kitchen in time. Sure enough, the food was hot and ready on the kitchen table. Smoggit waved her in.
“Please help yourself,” he said.
She sat down. Her hair was still wet from the spring. She hungrily snatched up her fork. She paused and looked to him.
“Dig in,” he pressed.
She cooed with satisfaction as she shoveled the food into her mouth.
“This is delicious,” she said.
“I’ve had some time to perfect my recipes,several hundred years in fact,” he said.
“Are you eating?” she said.
He patted his belly.
“I’m good,” he said and snatched up his tea, “a chef owes it to everyone to make sure his meal is up to par before serving it,” he chuckled to himself, “and the only way to do so is to taste it.”
She continued eating. He sipped his tea.
“I was thinking of pushing out schedule ahead a bit, perhaps to Sunday night,” he said. “Would that be okay with you?”
“Yes!” she said.
More than words came out of her mouth then. She shrunk back, sheepishly wiping crumbs from her chin. Smoggit just laughed, and Pamela eventually began to join in.
At twilight, Smoggit lead them to an overlook cradled in the midst of a sea of rolling Fireside Mountains. He placed Pamela and himself about twenty paces away from each other. Then, he stood perfectly still in his spot. For a while, neither of them spoke. Pamela’s heart beat steadily and strongly in those moments.
“Breathe,” said Smoggit. He, himself, took a deep breath. “A suffocated student cannot be taught.” Pamela nodded and took a strained breath. Smoggit took another breath, slowly, methodically, as if meditating on the individual oxygen molecules careening into his lungs. “In through the nose, out through the mouth.”
Pamela’s breathing slowed with each passing inhalation, more and more so until it matched the master magician’s. They stood there, breathing, for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually five minutes. At the end of that time, Smoggit shook himself off and clapped his hands.
“Now then, let’s begin,” he said. “Tonight, in honor of the stars above us, we will make a little stardust of our own. Are you ready?”
She giggled nervously.
“No,” she said.
“Fair enough. We’ll meet you there then,” he said as he pointed upwards. “If you’d kindly direct your attention upwards….”
She tilted her head up. They both stared into inky-black space, which was speckled with a septillion stars.
“What do you see?” he asked.
She answered, “I see constellations, Suns. I see the beauty beyond worlds.”
“You know what I see?” he said. “Death. A mere facade of reality, the most grotesque minimization of the truth.”
Pamela’s brow furrowed.
“I don’t understand.”
Smoggit twirled his hand about, gesturing to the fullness of the evening sky.
“The light that you see, it has traveled hundred of millions of miles to get here,” he said. “By the time that light reaches us, many of the stars it came from have died and the star systems that housed them busy themselves with creating new stars or collapsing under the weight of the old ones. That is why I say it is a sham.” He pinched his skin and rubbed his fingers together. “Even we are a sham. The outward appearance: it has the appearance of life but is actually dead, mordent skin sells waiting to be replaced by the new.” He looked her dead and square in the eye. “If you want to be my disciple, you must see beyond what is seen. Only then can I teach you. Only then can you reach your full potential.”
She scratched her head.
“How to I do that?” she said.
He pointed to his iris with a finger so close it threatened to poke it out.
“With your mind’s eye. Close your eyes.” he said.
Reflexively, she closed them.
“What do you see?” he said.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Raise your hands up,” he said.
She raised her hands up.
“With your unseen fingertips, touch the stars,” he said.
She stretched her arms out.
“Farther, now. Reach beyond them, beyond the darkness, beyond the stars, to the place beyond,” he continued.
Her hands shook as she struck her physical limitations. Her shoulders and forearms ached. Never had she stretched so far. It was almost as if she had never used them before.
“What do you feel?” he asked.
She strained; beads of sweat dripped onto her forehead.
“Pain,” she said.
“Good. Now push the pain out,” he said, “like a ball. Throw it beyond the stars.”
She cocked her arms back and shot them forward. Suddenly, it felt like a great weight had been lifted from her. She gasped at the shock of it.
“I see stars,” she said.
“Excellent. Imagine yourself a sponge. Soak in their energy,” he said.
She did so. She began to feel very warm.
“Is it supposed to burn?!” she asked.
“Only for a second,” he said. “This is all temporary.”
Just then, a blast of light rocketed out from her body. It erupted from her with such force that it knocked her down. She launched into the air and hit ground hard, bouncing like a skipping stone across it. Dazed, she held her hand supportively upon her said.
“Open your eyes and see, my child,” he shouted. “Look what you’ve done.”
She opened her eyes and saw, galaxies worth of tiny lights floating above her. The pupils of her eyes sparkled with them.
“Are you sure that came from me?” she asked.
He only nodded.
“From inside you, yes, and from outside you as well. True magic occurs when the inside and outside are one, when we truly live. When that happen, everything is connected, everything is new,” he said.
“Amazing,” she said.
He waited and then said, “You will do even more incredible things than this by the time we are done.”
“I can’t wait,” she said.
“Oh, but you must! That is all part of it,” he said.
She stood, slack-jawed, as she looked upon her creation. She reached out and touched it. Indeed, there was connection there that defied words.
“I will try, then. I will try.”
They came back into his home from their starry escapade. He took a couple paces into the main living area and then stopped, set his hands behind his back, and stood at parade rest before her.
“Ms. Gausón?” he said.
Her hands trembled slightly as her fingered clutched the teacup.
“I have made an important decision regarding your stay here,” he said. “I have decided that no guest of mine shall sleep in the dirt. You will sleep in my bed tonight, and I will find rest elsewhere,” he said.
She shook her head.
“I-I couldn’t do that! Not to you,” she said.
“No, it has already been decided,” he said as he waved her on into his room. “Come now. Let me show you around.”
When he held his inviting position, she rose and approached.
“Thank you for playing along,” he said.
He pushed aside the crystal beads serving as a makeshift door to his room and, together, they entered in.
The bedroom, like Smoggit himself, lacked any semblance of pomp and circumstance. It had a bed, a shelf of books, a dreamcatcher, and clusters of candles and incense strewn about the place like tiny, smoky islands.
The wizard stopped.
“Here it is! Try not to break anything,” he said with a wink.
“W-what?!” she said.
“Only kidding,” he said. “Some of the things here are as old as I am, some even older; but, in the end, they are just things.”
Her eyes darted across the room.
“Why would you do this? I don’t understand,” she said.
He took her hand.
“Because you are not a thing. You are my disciple and, hopefully, my friend. If we’re going to commune together, there must be absolute trust between us. This is my little way of saying, ‘Pamela, I trust you,’” he said.
“I pray I prove worthy of your trust,” she said.
“You already are,” he said, then vanished, leaving her to find her way in the cozy little room.
For a while, she just stood there. When he did not return, she lit a candle and walked around. She opened up the books. She sat on the bed, which was very comfortable indeed, so comfortable that she fell asleep on it.
When she regain consciousness, she found herself in a graveyard, amongst jaundiced grasses and crumbling tombstones.
A voice she did not know called to her.
She looked about. All she saw were empty graves.
“Who’s there?!” she replied as she spun hastily about.
I’m coming for you.
She took a step back. The ground before her began to bulge and crack and churn, like a puss-filled wound. She stared at that ground, darkly hypnotized. Out of the earth crawled a skeletal creature with bat-like face, matted fur, and mangled wings. It reached out to her and hissed.
She woke. Smoggit was there, patting her forehead with a cool, damp cloth.
“I had a dream,” she said.
“I know,” he replied.
Smoggit brought her Roganberry tea and she sipped it in bed for some time with nary a word spoken between them.
“You saw her, didn’t you?” Smoggit said, calmly.
“Who is she?” she said.
“In common tongue, she is known as Xocotí, the Queen of the Dragon-lands,” he said. “I was hoping it would take longer this time, but she knows her days are numbered.”
She glared at him.
“What do you mean ‘this time,’” she asked.
“All my students, at some point in their training, must face her. She is the embodiment of all that holds a person back: fear, hatred, anger, jealously, pride,” he replied, “Each person experiences her differently. It used to be that she would wait some time before showing her face; but, I know she is dying, and so she is getting desperate.”
She set her tea down.
“How can I-I face a creature like that?” she said. “I don’t stand a chance.”
He held her hand.
“That is her talking. With my help, you will be just fine,” he said, “but we must be diligent about our lessons. There is not a moment to spare.”
A tear descended down his cheek.
“Master, are you crying?” she said.
“For you, my dear,” he said, very softly. “For I know the hardship that will come upon you, and I am sorry that you must go through it.”
She removed her hand from his and set it upon his shoulder.
“It’s not your fault that she comes, is it?” she said.
“Yes and no,” he said. “I aim to bring out the best in people, but the worst never leaves without a fight.”
She gave him a hug.
“We’ll get through this,” she said.
He patted her back and pulled away, pushing the tear aside as he did so.
“Yes. Thank you. We will do just that,” he said. “Rest well, my friend. We have a busy week ahead of us.”
He began to leave. She took hold of the cloth he had placed on her forehead and held it out to him. It tingled in her hands.
“Your cloth, Master,” she said.
“Keep it. It is full of good magic. It will guard your dreams,” he said.
She laid down and set the cloth on her head. Indeed, she slept quite soundly that night.
Pamela yawned and stepped out onto the firmament outside Smoggit’s home.
“So, what on the agenda today?” she said.
The gnome magician took a deep breath.
“Today, you’re going to learn the art of spacial displacement,” he said.
“Pardon?” she said.
“To put it simply: teleportation,” he said, “You see, any body comprised of matter can only occupy one space at one time. As far as most people are concerned, we live in the here and now and are bound by those restrictions; but, as you learned in our last lesson, that is a law only to those bound to this world. We, however, reach beyond.”
“We can be at more than one place at once?” she said. “I could have used that trick back in school.”
“School never ends,” he said as he rubbed his hands together. “Now, in order for this to work, it is vital to understand that there are multiple copies of us in existence. Each copy is defined by a particular subset of decisions made on your part or on the part of others. Each time someone makes a choice between one or more options, a new copy of ourselves is created that chooses the opposite route. Obviously, if the opposite route leads to death, that particular path closes for us; but the others still are alive and kicking, occurring simultaneous with one another.”
“Parallel universes,” she added.
He tapped his nobby nose.
“Exactly. In order to move through space and time, all we have to do is find a place where one of those copies is, a place other than our own, and go to it,” he said. “Like I said, we are all connected. We need only harness the relational bond- gravity, if you will- between us to bend space and time to our will.”
She bit her bottom lip.
“This bond: is it the same thing that drives, say, things like motherly intuition?” Pamela said.
He clicked his fingers together.
“Exactly. And empathy, the process wherein we enter into someone else’s being, to leave our own world and enter into their feelings, emotions, beings, what have you,” he said. “It’s a weaker bond than that which connects us with ourselves, but with the true masters of this art there is no difference. They can connect to anyone, go anywhere.”
“Cool,” she said.
“Very,” he said, “let’s begin.”
He closed his eyes. She did the same.
“First, close your eyes and concentrate,” he said. “Reach into yourself, and then out into the Universe. Find yourself in the regions beyond.”
She closed her eyes and reached into herself, as she had with the stardust exercise. She reached in and, for the longest time, saw nothing. She waited and waited. After a while, she began to feel like she was failing.
“I-I don’t think I….” she said.
“Shhh, concentrate. The first time always takes a while,” he said.
She closed her eyes and tried again.
An hour later, she began to be aware of pinpricks of light dancing about. She picked a point and followed it across continents, worlds, even galaxies. She began to feel her cells shifting and bending. Finally, she felt something snap. She was fine though. It was like she had crashed through a window and come out unscathed. Suddenly, she began to feel herself sitting, standing, running, sleeping, jumping, cursing, laughing. She recalled memories of experiences she had never had and tasted what she had never eaten. The sense that something was on the tip of her tongues was now almost literal, only now it was if she had a thousand tongues.
“I see them,” she said.
Choose one, but keep your eyes closed. I’d hate for you to get lost in the temporal steams.
She reached out and touched a particularly joyful light. As soon as she did so, she felt herself zipped into a new skin and found herself sitting beside a purple ocean looking out over a planet with seven moons. She began to gasp. She couldn’t breath.
Suddenly, an invisible hand grabbed her mind pulled her back into her former body. She collapsed onto the floor. When she looked up again, Smoggit was there, drawing lines in the sand beside her with a twig.
“That…. was a trip,” she said.
“Where did you go?” he said.
She shook her head.
“Somewhere I didn’t recognize. Couldn’t even breathe,” she said. “It’s strange to think there’s a version of me that’s living there.”
“It’s important to remember that, even in the hardest situations, there is a you out there that has been through it and come out the other side, maybe even thrived,” he said. “Gives us hope.”
She watched him draw in the sand and then wipe those drawings away.
“Yes. I suppose it does,” she said.
Then, they went back inside.
It was late in the evening when Pamela Gausón woke with a slight chill. It was not like the night months previous, when she had woken up in a cold sweat as the sight of Xocotí. No, this night she woke slowly. The cold air was an affectionate ice beast nudging her awake.
Pamela rose out of bed. Something was different about that night than any other night. The very molecules in the air seemed to be visible, frozen into a transient, swirling mist.
She reached out, grabbed her robe, and slipped it on. Her feet curled as they hit the floor. It felt like ice. She darted, leapt, over to her worn-out shoes with the grace of young gazelle. Fully dressed, she ventured out into the living room.
The room was empty. The mist was less visible now, melted into the oblivion between the innate and eternal.
“Master Smoggit?” she said while her eyes darted about.
No one replied. She kept on walking, proceeding with reticent eagerness to the front door. The doorknob, like everything else, was frigid to the touch. It nearly burned her hand to pry it open, but it was a good burn, and well worth the effort. So, she turned the knob and opened the door.
Amidst a clearing in the trees, Master Smoggit sat bathed in the ethereal light of their planet’s moons. He hummed a tune of unknown origin whilst snow danced playfully about him. The surrounding evergreens, now glazed with frost, swayed to that exactly tune.
She gazed out upon the scene with awe.
“Evening, Ms. Gausón,” he said, with his eyes closed.
She approached him, making her footsteps as light as possible so as not to intrude upon the beatific scene.
“This is phenomenal, Master. Your finest work yet. You’ll have to teach me this spell,” she said.
He patted the dirt beside him. She came and sat down.
“No, there is no magic here, none outside that which is inherent in nature,” he replied.
“The song, though-” she said.
“Is an ancient one, but more conversation than coercion. Some dance to make the rain come. I sing to be one with the elements. There are many who imagine the earth to be daft and soul-less, but any gardener knows that it is as responsive as you and I. When we listen, we can hear the Universe speaking to us, and we begin to understand how to communicate back.”
Pamela sat quiet for a moment and continued, “could you teach me how to speak?”
“Gladly,” he replied.
Smoggit then proceeded to teach her strange words and “unnatural” tunes, foreign to her usual linguistic and musical tastes. The more she uttered them, the more she loved them. Did she fully understand them? No, but the most wondrous things in life are often too big, or small, to be fully understood. Still, she engaged the perplexing words and notes, the phrasings of both, with great passion and delight and the snow swirled around her and the world was full of light.
She and Smoggit sat there together in the elements all day, singing and staying and communing with themselves and nature in the harmony of symbiosis. It wasn’t until nearly the end that she began to hear and feel nature singing with her. Every single snowflake became an angelic soprano; every tree, a resounding bass. The symphony of the cosmos circulated through them, like breathing, filling ever fiber of everything with reinvigorating vibrations.
Pamela could not get enough of it, but eventually sleep beset her and she slipped into darkness. The next morning, she woke without ever remembering going to bed. Smoggit was making breakfast, as usual. The whole experience had been so surreal, she began to wonder if it had all been a dream. Her worries slipped away as she caught Smoggit humming she song. In all honesty, it had been a dream; but, if dream, it had been one they had had in concert with one another: a communal dream, a heightened awareness, one which gave them a deeper appreciation of each other and the world around them. A most splendid dream indeed.