Tantalus – Issue #11: Prognostication

Tantalus - Issue #10: Selection
Tantalus - Issue #12: Testing Strategy

 

Tantalus

Issue #11

“Prognostication”

Written by Aaron McQueen

Illustrated by Rachel Mrotek

Copyright July 1st, 2017

www.patreon.com/McQueenBooks

This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.

Jeannie Perryman

Donald McQueen

Theresa McQueen-Uber

Duana McQueen

Jeff McQueen

Eden Odhner

 

I.

 

Taylor thumped her head on the desk.

“I can’t do this. We’ve been at it for hours and all I’ve got to show for it is a headache.”

The professor strolled over and stood in front of her. His name was Elijah Agincourt. A colonel.

“Prognostication is about the future. You must leave behind the concerns of the present.”

He walked away. Taylor set her mouth in a line. He’d said those words already several times. The lecture before they began the exercise had been long and not particularly practical. It had covered all the basic mechanics and principles of prognostication, arguably the most elusive discipline of magic, but moving from the lecture to the actual performance of the art—and the colonel insisted it was an art—was like describing juggling or painting and then expecting an apprentice to produce a masterpiece. Taylor glared at the lens in front of her. It was made from lead-glass crystal and brass. Strangely, it was the brass that made up the surface. The glass only served as a frame. She’d spent the whole class regarding her mottled reflection. Her only consolation was the fact that the rest of the class appeared to be having as much trouble as she was.

Well, apart from Mallory.

She was leaned forward, her forehead almost touching the lens in front of her, her index and middle fingers gently holding the base of the disk against her thumbs.

She hadn’t said a word in over an hour. For his part, the colonel was leaving her alone. He’d even moved the students on the adjacent desks away to make sure she wasn’t disturbed. Just how she was managing to ignore the shuffling chairs, coughs, and groans of frustration was beyond imagining.

Taylor took a breath and took hold of the lens again.

Focus.

She stared into the glass and tried to tune out the room. The professor once again appeared in front of her.

“You look too hard.”

She glanced up.

“Sir?”

“What are you expecting to see in the glass?”

She shrugged.

“I don’t know, sir. The future, I guess.”

He smiled. His expression was warm, if a little condescending.

“And do you expect to see it with your eyes?”

She leaned back from the lens and looked up.

He began once more to pace at the front of the room. He was an old man, probably in his late seventies, but his body was thick and frame was strong. Only his face was wizened.

“The lens is a powerful tool,” he said, addressing no one in particular. “It resonates through time and space. It is an ear pressed against the closed door of the future. It is an eye peering through the keyhole of eternity. Through your magic, its impressions will echo in your mind, but first you must allow its awareness to supersede your own. You must blot out the room, the sounds of your classmates, the feel of the air, the chair on which you sit, and in battle…even threats against your life.”

He turned back to her.

“You cannot achieve those things by staring.”

Someone chuckled behind her.

Taylor narrowed her eyes and her jaw tensed. She knew without looking that it was Grath. She’d never known anyone who took such perverse pleasure in the failures of others. She did her best to tune him out, a vain effort to follow the colonel’s cryptic instructions. It wasn’t easy. She’d spent her entire life honing her ability to take stock of the world around her, to assess threats and absorb details. So far the skill had served her well; today it was placing her at a decisive disadvantage.

She turned her attention back to the lens. Don’t look. Don’t stare. Don’t try to see it or hear it. Ignore everything and just…let it come. She shut her eyes, feeling the smoothness of the disk beneath her fingers.

No. Don’t feel it.

Softly, she pressed her will into the metal. Just enough. Just enough to get the magic flowing. It was like starting a siphon. If it worked, the push would become a pull that would carry her consciousness into the future.

Mallory gasped.

Damn it.

She looked up. The classroom snapped back into focus.

The colonel walked over to her friend. He addressed her quietly.

“Well,” he said. “What did you see?”

Mallory looked around. For a moment it looked as though she wasn’t sure just where she was. She was disoriented…confused. It was a long moment before she appeared to recover her senses. She looked up at the professor.

“Sir, I think it was…tomorrow.”

 

II.

 

The colonel seemed to loom.

“How do you know it was tomorrow?”

Mallory thought it over. It was surprisingly easy to remember. She’d expected the memories to be cloudy or fragmented, but they were no different from any other thought she’d ever attempted to recall.

“I was still in the IB, sir. We’ll be moving out next week, so it can’t have been too far.”

He nodded.

“But it could have been any day next week, correct?”

She nodded.

“I suppose so, sir.”

He straightened up and addressed the class.

“Locating your position in time is essential. The simple knowledge of an event is of limited use if we do not know when it will occur. When you look ahead, you must always do your best to seek out clues not only about where you are, but when. The lenses you are using are undirected versions, designed to be accessible to new cadets; later, you will be using more advanced equipment that will allow you to steer your course through the spell, but even then only you will be able to recall what you see and hear. You must learn to catalogue every detail, and recall them with perfect accuracy. Lives will depend upon it.”

He turned back to her, a peculiar probing look in his cloudy eyes.

“Now, what else did you see?”

Mallory thought back, but her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden pain in her temple. She winced and put a hand to her head.

The colonel lifted an eyebrow.

“Cadet?”

She waved him off.

“It’s alright, sir. Just a bit of a headache.”

He straightened up.

“There shouldn’t be any pain.”

She winced again.

“Yes, sir.”

He turned to the others.

“Class dismissed.”

They stood up. Mallory wrestled herself to her feet. The professor put a hand on her shoulder.

“Cadet Grey, report to the infirmary.”

III.

 

“Was it anything serious?”

Mallory shook her head.

“Nope, just a headache. They said it was probably exhaustion, gave me a pain killer, and told me to take it easy until it kicks in.”

Taylor shrugged.

“We could go sit in the study room. The test is in two days.”

Mallory exhaled a sigh of pure relief.

“Then we finally get to take a shower.”

Taylor laughed.

“You know it’s funny. I’d almost forgotten about that. I guess their plan to purge our sensibilities really worked.”

Mallory put her finger up.

“Almost.”

The two of them were headed back to the IB. Mallory regarded it quietly. It was strange. The place was just starting to feel like home. In just a few days they would be leaving it behind for their new rooms in the stack.

But first, the test.

They went inside. She did want to study. Her performance so far had put her in the running for jump leader, but the headache was only just beginning to fade. Something told her that staring at manuals would bring it throbbing back.

“I think I’ll lie down until the meds kick in. Can I catch up with you?”

Taylor opened the door to the study room.

“Sure. I’m sure I’ll be up late. I want to go over today’s material.”

“Sounds good. See you later.”

The door shut. Mallory went up to their room and lay down, trying to remember what she’d seen. Just as before, her memory was clear, but each time she tried to recall it her head began to throb. She could only catch a glimpse before she had to force herself to think of something else.

The colonel was right. She didn’t know how far ahead she’d seen, and she hadn’t paid enough attention to the details. She only remembered one.

But it made her smile.

It was a posting on the IB notice board.

She was a magus.

Special Thanks To:

Kristi Bubrig

Ryan Lewis

Nathan Liss

Kayla Liss

Zachary Grey

 

Tantalus - Issue #10: Selection
Tantalus - Issue #12: Testing Strategy

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