Chapter 96 Erudition

“Welcome back lads.” Klyle addressed the group of Specters before him. They stood on a snowy training field. Klyle wore nothing more than a t-shirt and shorts, his fur providing enough warmth for the cold. The majority of the former Class for the Savant students were present, with the exception of those no longer affiliated with Garghent of course. In addition was Juy, the Moonblink Aspect and Corvan the Chorus Aspect. 

“Today we begin your training for Aspect Mastery. Together with my experience, Talis Ranis’ wisdom, and the ancient Specters who recorded their lore of the Aspect on the Cave of Masters, we shall make Master’s of the lot of you. Who, that has kept up their studies, can explain what being a Master even means?” Klyle asked.

Genjam, the Chaos Blue Aspect gave an explanation. “Mastery is defined as becoming one with the Aspect. The first level, Savant, is simply awakening it. Mastery can be thought of as a second awakening.”

“A good textbook definition,” Klyle nodded, “but what does that mean?”

Magun attempted to answer the question next. “It is furthering your power to the point that your body becomes your Aspect.”

“If that is truly the case, then shouldn’t Uana here be a Master? Her biology has adjusted to her Aspect to the point her hair has turned icy blue and her skin is speckled with ice.”

Magun was stumped. 

“Perhaps Uana herself can offer some insight?” Klyle offered.

Uana answered with a confident explanation. “I do not think Magun is wrong. My biology is affected by my Aspect, but it is not one in the same way that Klyle’s is. I am under the influence of my Gale, as opposed to some union with it.”

“Is Mastery purely physical?” Klyle pressed.

No one had an answer they could back up. “No. This oneness with the Aspect goes beyond the physical body. You can say that the ego, the self, is transformed with context of the Aspect. It is as if you stir up a personality trait that was always there. This trait functions like an extension of the self, but no less a part of the self. Imagine if we had an extra pair of limbs, or a shell or a new sensory organ. Your whole frame of mind would change, you’d have another dimension of being that would be as natural as your eyesight or your arms and legs. They make up a greater whole, which is you, and they add to your overall experience of waking consciousness. It can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around but it is important that you understand your limited perception because becoming a Master involves moving around that limitation. Breaking your mind’s eye of the self and the universe and viewing with the optics of your Aspect.”

Months could be spent just explaining the concept of Aspect Mastery, but his students here needed to learn how to advance their powers sooner. Klyle moved on, whether everyone understood or not. Half the battle was having a teacher or trainer that could adequately explain everything, the other half was up to the individual in grasping all that was presented to them.

“My personal journey of becoming a Master involved my travels around the continent. I was a soldier and on my vacations I would trek across the countryside, traverse mountains and sleep in the wilderness. I befriended a lion and learned its language, just as it learned mine. Our companionship was not of pet and owner, but of two hunters, wandering in search of prey. Over the years I saw my Aspect develop in ways unfathomable to my former self. I found myself preferring the company of lions over people and came to know different lions. I discovered that each lion had so many experiences that I could never know. Or so I thought. In learning to communicate with these creatures, I was taught a way of life impossible for a human to know. It was information only I could receive. My consciousness felt enormous. I was no longer restricted by thinking in terms of my species, as a human. The world of the beast opened before my eyes and I entered that world with the pride of a lion.” 

Klyle gave his students time for that story to sink in. To allow them to translate what that could mean for their Aspects.

“Talis Ranis gave his own thoughts on that cave about Mastery. We are all familiar with his book the Dream and Dreamer. This one is much shorter and talks of things unrelated to the awakening of the Aspect. I do not think there was a single person with greater knowledge than Talis in the last thousand years, of which he lived through much of that time. For Talis, the Aspect was an avenue for knowledge. He lived for erudition. His life’s purpose was to seek truth through enlightenment. This cave gives us insight to his final thoughts. Whatever his reasoning, he felt it necessary to explain how to become a Master in words only a Savant of his level could relay in as such a clear manner as he did. Talis explained how one must put themselves fully in an environment of their Aspect. To think in terms of the Aspect. You must discover your Aspect in all things, he says. If you wield fire as your Aspect, then set yourself ablaze. If water is your element, then drown yourself. You all have copies of the work now, so you can study his words for yourself. But I find what he said to ring true for what I went through. The Aspect is not a safe thing, balancing on a tightrope between life and death is the path to erudition. You should be familiar with that feeling.” Klyle was referring to the log his students had walked on over the precipice between two mountains. That day had changed the lives of so many. The induction of childhood into adulthood needs to be marked by a passage of an equal proportion to the level of growth one seeks. If genius is only one story above madness, then trauma is but a rung under greatness. 

Klyle put this group of his former students into the second most grueling training of their lives. This time around was different. They had tasted battle, killed and been wounded. They had grit, forged by combat and the horrors of war. Fighting for their lives and experiencing the rush of using the Aspect without restraint against another Specter. They were adults now, men and women who no longer saw Klyle as a larger than life legend but a goal on the far side of a crossable gap.

Klyle could sense their hunger, feel their passion. He hardly needed to motivate them now. He didn’t need to remind them that the rest of the world had access to the same information. He didn’t need to taunt the wonders and power the Aspect could bestow. They knew all this. Klyle’s role as trainer now entailed directing their workouts, guiding their meditations, and offering his experience and advice individually to each of the Specters he trained.

A week of exhausting training went by before Klyle lectured them on Mastery again. “Talis knew the kind of erudition he sought could only come after the body, spirit and mind were aligned. The spirit must be drained but not broken, the mind must be fatigued yet awake and the body exhausted without fainting. It has taken a week for you all to reach this state. You have used your Aspect to its maximum. You have exercised to near immobility and your mind is drained of all thought. You might be wondering where you have felt like this before. It is after a long, hard battle.” 

Klyle’s relentless training involved frugal amounts of food, hours performing motions the body was unused to, meditating instead of sleeping and flowing from one training regime into the next until the days became cycles of action and inaction and the concepts of day and night no longer existed. Klyle had put them through this on a larger scale in the mountains when they first trained to awaken their Aspects. With their current experience and the limited time he could spend training them, that dial was turned up tenfold.

“The lore written about in the Cave of Masters by these ancient people some ten thousand years ago provides an entirely different perspective on Mastery than the one Talis gives us. It is astonishing to even think that all those years ago humans were still using this same Aspect power. But what they said was presented in a very folksy form. The scholars believe this knowledge comes from even older people who passed down their knowledge orally. Think about that lads. Before we even could write and read, the Aspect was being awakened. This cave reveals to us a lifestyle spent in searching. The object of their lifelong quest was simply a feeling, a sensation, an emotion. I have read through it and still cannot fathom or put into words the emotion they speak of. The best I can give you is a diagram of what it’s like.”

Klyle started to draw in the snow with his finger. He drew a five-pointed star. “Imagine a star like this. On each point is a word and the lines connecting each point cross over and into other points. Let us say that this point here is nostalgia.” Klyle wrote the word in the snow over one point.

“On this point is melancholy.” He drew the word. “And on this point is wonder. You can see these words elicit such strong and vivid memories when you try to imagine the sensation that accompanies the word. Yet the concepts of these words are quite vague. They’re like wisps of ideas not fully tangible but still recognizable.” Klye drew the next word. “Yearning… Finally we have dread.” Klyle drew the final word in the snow.

“Each of these words is related to the other, hence why I used a five-pointed star. Wonder is always mixed with a sense of the past and the fear of the unknown while inspiring desires and instilling a deep sorrow. Each of these words, dread, yearning, wonder, nostalgia, melancholy, all touch around something. As with the star, the very center is an open space. It is between these five words, the ideas and feelings behind these words, that the source of Mastery and the end goal of these ancient Specters lay. It is through these uncertain ruminations and conscious dreams that erudition can be felt and experienced. Keep in mind these will sound like foreign myths to us, but you can imagine equivalents in your own life. The key, I believe, is not actually experiencing these feelings yourself, but reminiscing on bygone memories of deeply unconscious experiences that suddenly feel life-like. Anyone can imagine inexplicable emotions brought on if you stop and really imagine.” Klyle poked a whole in the center of the star, emphasizing that ultimately it was this feeling they chased after.

“The Cave spoke of the feelings you get laying on the ground after a thunderstorm. Childhood memories of running barefoot through a forest, chasing after some woodland faerie. Your first dance on the solstice feast with resounding song and beating drums. Watching the sunrise for the with a stranger you will never encounter again. Seeing a bee and butterfly dance on your hand. Staying in the shadow of a great eagle soaring above the world. The split moment of terror and majesty when seeing a shooting star light the night ablaze. Witnessing a whale jump out the water and splash with its tail…” Klyle ran a hand through his mane. “The cave goes on and on like this. They are part thought experiment, part fantasy and part childhood-esque memory. It was a great mystery to these ancient people why these certain once in a lifetime moments gave so many intense indescribable emotions, often growing more vivid as the years go by. They said that it was glimpses or pockets of the cosmos or some cosmic vault that escapes in only the most magical moments of life. The feeling that is somewhere between dread, yearning, wonder, nostalgia, and melancholy. They chased after that at all costs.”

When it was apparent Klyle was done talking a number of Specters raised their hands in question but Klyle dismissed them. “Think of this on your own and read through the book. In some other news, it has been a week and the Merchant and Military faction agreed to make a Specter faction. The Research building has been converted to Specter headquarters. Go there for assignments and ask about your clearance license. I have work to do so you will be on your own to continue your journey of Aspect Mastery. Be safe and always travel in groups.” Klyle turned and left.

Hales was only half paying attention. Her mind the last week was fixated on one thing only, to the point that everything else became distractions to pass the time. She only went through the motions of the exercise and during each meditation her mind never cleared from that singular want. 

The group of Specters broke off, most to go rest at home or fulfill other duties. Hales avoided everyone and walked straight to the Research building, several blocks away from the training courtyard they had spent the last week at.

Hales blended in with the hustle of the city. Cars and buses transported people while others crossed the streets, in and out of buildings and went about their daily lives. It was amazing to Hales how life could be so different. There were parents guiding their kids through traffic and corporate workers talking on the phone. Some searched for places to eat, some went shopping while still others were construction workers maintaining the city or guards policing the it. Ambulances zoomed by and janitors kept the trash clean and windows spotless. None of these people were threats. Hales discovered that having an Aspect provided a new lens in which to view the world in. The lens of alertness. 

How many of the people gave her a second thought? How many were ignorant of the Aspect’s power? She could kill them all but they went on in their lives unaware of the danger, not even an instinctual worry. The first level of alertness only picked up on active threats. If she were to pull out a star and start destroying buildings or killing people, only then would they recognize her as a danger.

There was the occasional person who would look with knowing eyes, see her for what she was. These people had access to the second level of alertness. They studied the Aspect, perhaps in hopes of one day awakening it themselves, or else had military experience and knew what a killer looked like. 

The third level of alertness was to actually possess an Aspect. Hales saw the world and knew who around her were potential threats. The hyper awareness of the third level was not paranoia, but a veteran’s instinct, a sixth sense for threat. Hales knew just by being near other humans who among them had an Aspect and who didn’t. The levels of alertness could also be equated to prey, predator and apex. Hales was an apex. She’d given up the bliss of the first level of alertness for the power to kill and defend herself.

Hales went through security and all the second level of alertness people who worked in the building. She asked about the Specter headquarters and where to get permission for accessing resources. She was directed to a large office room within the building.

Hales entered the office and saw that the waiting room was empty.

“Ah, our first Specter. Welcome and please sign in here.” The desk worker handed Hales a clipboard and a pen.

It asked her name, rank and Aspect. It asked for her purpose and reason. She filled it out and handed the clipboard back.

“Gentleman Jiago will be with you shortly.”

The name was new to Hales. They probably had selected someone impartial to the factions who was well versed in bureaucracy and legal matters.

“Captain Hales Ailor, the Solar Aspect. Come right in.” Jiago beckoned her personally into his study.

Hales followed him in and took a seat where he gestured. Hales saw a number of awards, diplomas and certifications hanging from his wall. He had degrees in law, business, foreign relations, accounting and managment.

“We were not sure how many Specters would come in here requesting clearance on the first day, nevertheless, we are ready to issue all requests, provided they meet our approval.”

Hales nodded. 

“So,” Jiago moved on, “you wish to meet with the prisoner of war Edeno, the Loupe Aspect. To practice your Aspect as I understand.”

“Correct.” Hales said.

Jiago chuckled. “Already pushing the limits of our new faction? Why am I not surprised, given your history of creativity.”

Hales realized with all his credentials, the man probably had worked behind the scenes as a lawyer and accountant for many of the military ventures. Garghent would have chosen someone who knew everything about every Specter, with connections to all corners of the city. It made sense, but it was uncomfortable knowing that there were people in the city that had her entire life story documented, her personality fully evaluated and her decisions and fighting style analyzed, all wrapped up in a neat file in the databases.

“The reports suggest that there is a large chance for tremendous damage should the two of you meet. Cull Marcarios warned us about you and Edeno. He did also request that Edeno be treated well in the high security prison.”

So Marcarios just didn’t trust me then, Hales thought.

“Just give me one hour.” Hales hurried to say. “See how it goes. You can have Klyle there if you want, or Veron!”

Jiago rubbed his eyes. “Klyle is busy but I take your point. Veron will not be necessary.”

“The whole point of being a Specter is to fight. We are instructed to grow our power for the coming wars, yet Garghent doesn’t trust me. I’ve proved myself many times on the battlefield. I’ve earned this hour a dozen times over. This is the avenue for me to get strong.”

“Captain Ailor, this is not about distrusting you as it is about distrusting Edeno. He was an enemy and we do not know if he is harboring any ill intentions.”

“But Daedal is under our control.” Hales pointed out.

“While that is true, it is under our control because people like Edeno have been suppressed from starting any sort of rebellion.”

“Perhaps he would not seek revenge if we didn’t keep him locked up for two years. Give us an hour. How else can we build that trust before the fighting starts again? And believe me when I say this, Edeno does not care about Daedal or exacting revenge, not after meeting me anyways.”

Jiago raised a brow. “You know this how?”

Hales scoffed. “Why is someone without an Aspect in charge of Specters? You could never understand the way you are. There are connections that run deeper than blood, than soulmate. Two Aspects that are fated together is a connection of the universe, the cosmos itself. How is it billions of years can go by and two beings that exist in this vast, endless universe live during the same impossibly brief moment, on the same pinhead dot in the galaxy meeting each other? The chances of that happening? Infinity! Chance isn’t even a factor because when two forces are fated they will transcend possibility, time and place and find one another. Edeno’s Aspect is the twin of mine. It’s not about city allegiance. Not to us Specters.”

“Thank you for that philosophic science lesson, Captain Ailor, but that does bring up another valid concern. It is perhaps more dangerous for a Specter to bear no allegiance to his or her city. How can order be kept if all you Specters ran around all day blowing things up? There requires a sophisticated level of management involved in creating, running and maintaining a city of this size and complexity. I get that you are passionate about your power and no doubt that Klyle has you fired up to train. I will not deny your request but I am going to counter offer that for every hour you get with Edeno, you must spend six days guarding our supply trains from here to Vallis.”

“Deal.” Hales knew she was being cheated, but to her, working directly for the military was no different than this new Specter faction. Garghent would use its Specters how it wanted, politics aside.

“I will draw up the paperwork. I assume you mean to cash in your hour now?”

“As soon as possible, yes.” Hales said eagerly. Hales was getting what she wanted, that’s all that mattered.

“I do not want us to start off on the wrong foot. My purpose is to help you fulfill yours. Good luck in your training.”

“Thanks.” Hales forced a smile.

“I will notify the prison ward. You have exactly one hour.” Jiago dismissed her from his study.

Hales could hardly contain her excitement. 

This time Hales rode in a shuttle that took her around the military grounds faster than going by road. The main prison was within the perimeter of the headquarters of the military faction. In the event that a Specter prisoner should escape, the military would be right there to stop them. Although no one with an Aspect had ever escaped the highly guarded prison. There is the argument that any Specter capable of escaping the prison would never have been taken alive in the first place. Hales kind of believed the latter.

She arrived at the prison and awaited entry. After several minutes a prison guard led her to the prison courtyard. 

She waited another half hour before a procession of guards filed out.

Hales’ heart skipped a beat.

There he was. Standing proudly, arrogantly even. Edeno was in his mid thirties now, the same swarthy face, strong features but this time no beard. He looked fit, no indication of maltreatment by the prison. She remembered his face like it was yesterday. He had only a long sleeve prison shirt and pants, despite the cold weather. 

She seemed to have the same effect on him, Hales noticed. 

“Here I thought you would never come.” Edeno let out a ghoulish grin.

His scar and missing eye acted as a permanent reminder of the volatility of their combination.

What Hales felt was beyond love. Love was a complicated thing, wild and filled with paradox and compromise. 

What Hales felt was a lust of sorts. Power lust. She saw Edeno and dreamt of the actualization of so many fantasies about space and her Aspect.

Edeno stretched his hands. “This is the first time I can feel the sun without a straight jacket.”

“We only have an hour. Your Aspect is still strong?” Hales asked.

“Living in a cell has given me a remarkable amount of time to meditate in preparation for this day. I have lived for little else. I would say it is stronger. He made a circle with his index finger and thumb. “Loupe.” The space in his hand acted as a magnifying glass. He peered through and saw individual crystals of the snow at his feet. He changed shapes to form a triangle with both hands. He angled himself with the sun over his neck and pointed to the ground. The snow melted rapidly, revealing dormant grass which dried and started to burn. A moment longer and a hole was made in the ground. Edeno moved his hands apart, satisfied with his test, the first use of his Aspect since he was taken prisoner, since Hales sent a small star into his Loupe and created a beam of light that destroyed his eye.

“Set up your Loupe. I’ll send a small star through.” Hales activated her own Aspect, her eyes becoming spiraling galaxies.

“You can control the rotation right?” Edeno asked.

“Yes.”

“Make it as slow as possible. Come on this side. We’ll send it through and lean to the side. It will beam out in both directions, I think.”

Hales pulled a small white dwarf star from her eye. She kept it no bigger than a finger tip. It’s rotation was lazy. Perfect.

Edeno made his Loupe and kept his hands away from himself. Hales leaned over. They treated their Aspects like a live bomb, and it effectively was.

“Ready?”

“Do it.”

Hales gently sent her white dwarf forward with a wag of her finger. The star slowly floated into Edeno’s Loupe. As soon as it crossed the threshold, the magnification quality turned the object made of combusting light into an unstable star that magnified itself into collapsing. The star directed all its energy into both sides of Edeno’s hand, as any telescope or magnifying glass faced with a source of light would intensify the beams through either end, Edeno’s Loupe Aspect caused Hales’ star to shoot out in both directions. The star rotated slowly enough that the beam didn’t turn in any direction before burning itself out.

A mark appeared on the perimeter wall but they had been too far and used too small of a star to cause any real damage.

“Let’s do another!” Hales said eagerly.

“This time I will make a concave lens. It should direct the star out in a spread.” Edeno made a triangle again but this time straightened his elbows and rotated them so that the tops of his hands were angled facing towards one another.

Hales pulled out a new star, a small yellow one. She glanced at Edeno, confirmed if he was ready. At this awkward position, it would be hard to make the Loupe leaning to the side. 

“If it shoots back you’ll lose your face.” Hales warned.

“I’ve simulated it a thousand times in my head. I know what will happen. The star will spread outward from the concave, as if an invisible portal contained the explosion on my side and directed all out. It will work.”

Hales nodded and brought her hand through the gap in his arms. She flicked the star out and it went into the Loupe space.

Edeno was right. The star exploded, not as a beam, but as a breath as the light and energy went into the concave lens and was ejected out in every direction, save backwards toward Edeno. The light went through the path of least resistance. Filtering through the narrower opening of a concave lens was unproductive. Concave lenses naturally diverge light outward in a spread. It is how glasses, binoculars, flashlights and some telescopes work. By spreading light outward with the lens curving inward, an object will appear closer and smaller as more light can be gathered while light itself is spread in a wider area. 

Convex lenses on the other hand, are bent outward and work to focus light into a point. 

“Let’s try this now.” Edeno made the same triangle but now had his palms facing each other. It was a much more comfortable position and therefore he could lean away from his hands.

“What will happen with that level of refraction?” Hales asked.

“I’m not sure. Convex lenses are what’s in microscopes and magnifying glasses as well as cameras.”

“They make things appear bigger. So we’ll get a bigger beam?” Hales projected.

Edeno shrugged. “Let’s find out.”

Hales pulled out a red giant, though limited its growth to the same finger tip size. She sent this through.

The light didn’t shoot backwards, which was good. The beam of light that resulted didn’t even reach the wall, but the intensity and size were much greater than the normal Loupe setting.

“This is incredible.” Edeno said. “We should use bigger stars.”

“No, I have a better idea.” Hales couldn’t keep from grinning.

Hales reached around her belt and unclipped one of her miniature Dyson spheres. 

“Oh-h-h?” 

“You know what this is?” Hales flaunted the small metallic sphere.

Edeno’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a model of a Dyson sphere?”

“Yes! It’s a working model. Built specifically for my Aspect. It’s constructed to utilize a star’s energy and convert it into a beam here. Part of the energy is also used to fuel its propulsion system. That with the gravity of my own stars gives it the ability to remain in the air. I have a remote that triggers the beam to shoot, but if I wait too long the star will be consumed to keep the Dyson sphere charged. The material is a lightweight monatomic metallic blend. It’s something only viable on this small scale I imagine, but yeah it works.”

“We can try it, but I want to do something too. Set up your sphere.”

Hales drew out a star and opened the Dyson sphere. She set the star to hang suspended in air, the gravity balanced and placed the Dyson sphere around the star.

“Ready. Hales confirmed. “I can hold it so it doesn’t hit your hands.”

“No. Step away. I’ll line it up. If this doesn’t work you’ll lose more than your hand if you’re holding it.” Edeno told Hales.

“What are you going to do differently?”

“Double Loupe it.” Edeno took one hand and made a circle and then took his other hand and made a circle and positioned one in front of the other. 

“Help out here.” Edeno had only the eye to gauge the alignment of the sphere and his hands.

Hales peeked through the gaps in his hand. “A little higher. Right there! Hold it.”

“Activate it on my mark.”

“There’s maybe a second delay before it actually fires.” Hales informed him.

Edeno waited for the Dyson sphere to rotate back around. He was counting the speed of the rotation. He let it circle around once more, committing the timing to memory.

On the third rotation, right before it aligned with his Loupes he made the call. “Now.”

Hales activated the Dyson sphere trigger and the laser it shot out went through Edeno’s first hand and through the next. The alignment was exact.

The spectacle was hardly visible, in fact it was more of a blind spot than a beam of light. The pure white energy, thin as a hair, displaced everything it came into contact with. The oxygen and nitrogen along its path were vaporized and the prison wall had a toothpick sized hole in it. So precise and hot, the beam of light left no further traces of damage other than what it touched. They used such small stars too and could harness such an efficient percentage of its energy.

Hales stood in awe. Some of the guards watching called out their amazement too, clearly enjoying the display.

“Do you think we can make a black hole?” Hales whispered softly.

One of the guard commanders roared out. “Alright that’s enough, Aspects down. I’m under clear instruction to stop this as soon as you get crazy with experimenting and start causing damage. Burning a hole in my wall counts!”

“What? I was promised an hour!” Hales was furious.

“It’s fine, Solar.”

They put Edeno in a straight jacket and started to lead him into the prison.

“I can come back in six days” Hales told him.

“Bring paper and a pencil!” Edeno instructed.

“What are we going to do?” she asked

“We need to math out some equations before we try anything else.”

The guards pulled him into the building and returned him to his cell.

Hales was led outside.

The next six days waiting were about to be longer than the last two years.

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