Sparks juddered up and down the staff. After a few seconds, they stabilised–more or less–at the top. Jagged blue-white lines danced around the ornamentation there, as if impatiently waiting.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
Quarista gripped the staff in both hands, trying to quell the shaking that spread to her shoulders. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ferrion, her fellow apprentice, seeking a bare bit of wall to press his back against.
His hair, usually a black mark covering his face like a large ink stain, was blown back in the wind of worked magic. “It wouldn’t have killed you to wait…” His face was more sallow than usual in the eerie light.
“It’ll kill both of us if I stop now,” she pointed out. Not sure of how gruesomely true that was.
The staff shot up from the ground, pulling her with it. Quarista suppressed a shriek as her feet left the floor. The circle of carved wood at the top jabbed the ceiling hard. Had it been a sharper design, the staff might have impaled itself through the wood.
Dust began to swirl around her, creating a girl-shaped cocoon. There were mere inches of comfort between the dust and her actual frame.
“I’m–” The rest of Ferrion’s panicked statement died under the roar of gritty wind. Quarista risked a glance downward and nearly let go of the staff to reach out to her friend.
He had run to the door, and had grasped the knob in both hands. She tried to kick out, to yell. To warn him somehow.
If he opened the contained space, everything she’d gathered into it would spill out–like the ocean pouring into a teacup.
With a mighty tug at the staff, she managed to pull it and herself back down from the more precise middle of the room. Ferrion twisted the knob.
She kicked out a leg at him. The cocoon of dust elongated to push him. He hit his nose against the door, then staggered away from it.
Guilt sent the lines of energy sliding back down the staff. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, though she wasn’t quite. “Just give it a second.”
The dust swept back towards her, bringing with it a few nastier bits of cottage debris. The energy lines shot back up to the staff’s apex, then straightened. The cocoon tightened about her, then began to pull the lights from the staff, until the swirl of dust and rat leavings had coalesced into a bright blue-white shell, flush with her figure.
Too flush, she thought. Discomfort wriggled through her growing sense of triumph. She’d have to revise the text to include a warning against wearing long skirts during the ceremony. They rode up.
She felt the light harden–a sensation that put her in mind of a scab rubbing against soft, healthy skin. Her eyes could not shut out the painful light, and she wondered if she ought to have closed them before.
Then cracks began to appear in her vision. Black lines that thickened and spread. Suddenly she heard Ferrion yelling abuse at her, and she realised that her hearing had been gone for several of the previous moments.
The staff was no longer in her grasp. The cracks grew audible, a thunderous sound that filled the cottage. Just as they became nearly unbearable, they stopped.
Quarista stumbled, falling to her knees. The staff was gone because it had become part of her. She had sent it away into her personal space, to be retrieved through the shortest of rituals. Gesture.
Rather than test it right away, she looked about for Ferrion. He was not cowering in a corner, but nor was he at her side with a helping hand or kind word. “A lady would appreciate a hand up,” she said, eyes narrowed.
He babbled something. However, he did managed to shuffle towards her and offer a hesitant arm. She took it gingerly. Flecks of light still scattered through her vision, disrupting her balance slightly.
“Did it go all right?” he asked her. To his credit, he kept hold of her even when she’d managed to regain her footing.
Her first instinct was to snap that of course it had all gone just fine. But then she reminded herself that Ferrion had read all of the same books she had. And that he was rather better at collating the information therein. “Do I not look all right?”
“Your eyes are funny.”
“I need to see them, please.”
Rather than leaving her to stand alone while he fetched a looking glass, Ferrion half-dragged her over to their teacher’s shaving things.
Quarista sat on the creaky stool and picked up the little shaving glass. “It’s too dark,” she said. “You can open a window now. Even the door, if you like.”
Shafts of light pooled in as Ferrion made the rounds, pulling open all of the windows. Quarista sneezed at the sudden sunlight, then blinked her vision clear.
He’d been right about her eyes. They did look funny. Flecks of brown pierced through them as though they were dirty, and blue lights flickered in and out of them. Little torches winking in and out.
“Oops,” she whispered to herself.