“Come on, Couvo!” Seliette tugged at his sleeve, breaking his concentration and causing his complex mental translation to collapse into gibberish. He blinked up at his fellow student, confused by her voluminous waterproof cloak. The last time he’d gone outside onto the grounds of the Magaambya, the sky had been blue and cloudless. He hadn’t been sequestered in this reading nook that long, had he? Maybe Seliette was off on another of her field trips. He could hardly keep track of all the to-ing and fro-ing she did with her assorted mentors. “Come on where?”
She twirled, cloak spinning out around her. “Come and join the dance!”
He grunted. “Pass.” The tome before him, chronicling a supposed journey through the Doorway of the Red Star, hadn’t been written by Old-Mage Jatembe himself, of course—the true history of the founder of this school (though it was strange to call a place with no real classes or schedules a school!) was shrouded in myth. This book was written by a scholar whose grandmother had heard the tale as a child from a descendent of one of the Ten Magic Warriors, and that was as close to a primary resource as Couvo was likely to get. “This is too important. I can dance once I’ve ascended to Conversant.” Couvo had recently finished his term as an Initiate, after spending a year sorting a room full of scrolls and tomes recovered on an expedition a decade prior and never properly catalogued. Since being promoted to Attendant he’d been assisting the arcanist Thanda (some called her Thanda the Wanderer; others Thanda the Plunderer) with translating some of her finds from prior expeditions. Couvo had come to the Magaambya after a period of study at the College of Mysteries in his native Absalom because he’d heard there were works of great antiquity hidden away in the Mwangi Expanse. Though he’d found the Magaambya bewildering in many respects, it hadn’t disappointed in terms of treasures to translate.
Seliette plopped down across from him and pulled the book out of his hands. He sighed, knowing better to protest. Seliette was a native of Nantambu whose parents were associated with the academy, and she’d grown up in the towers, vaults, halls, and fields of the Magaambya. She was an Attendant too, and for reasons of her own, she’d decided to take Couvo under her wing, a position he found more pleasant than annoying as a whole. Without her guidance, he'd still be wondering where all the lecture halls and laboratory exercises were instead of successfully navigating the looser, stranger approach to the magical arts the faculty took here. “Did I say dance?” she said. “Forgive me. I meant to say, 'Come see a high-level collaboration between primal and arcane adepts in a rare demonstration of the power of halcyon syncretism’.”
“Oh.” Couvo closed the book. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“This looks exactly like dancing.” Couvo stood off to the side of a line of drummers who pounded their instruments with a beat so compelling it threatened to co-opt the rhythm of his own heart. A leaf fell on his head, and long grass tickled his ankles beneath his robe. Couvo hated being outside. Hadn't he seen the sky enough for a lifetime on his journey to the Mwangi Expanse?
“Some of the spellcasting I’ve seen you do looks like extremely complicated waving,” Seliette said. “Or as if you’re fending off a swarm of bees. This dance is both an ecstatic celebration of life, and one component of a spell blending natural and arcane magic.”
“What are they trying to do?” Couvo looked around the gathering in the clearing beneath the trees, trying to figure out who was taking part in the ritual and who was a spectator like him. The woman with the elaborate spiral paint was surely involved, but what about the catfolk, and—was that a Nidalese man? It was amazing who ended up here. There were a few people wearing Magaambyan masks, too—antelope, lion, even lizard—who were probably taking part. As an Attendant Couvo had the right to create such a mask, which would allow him to access his spiritual self more directly, and would gradually take on a life as its own and serve as a sort of familiar... but he found the notion of such a second face disconcerting, and since the masks weren’t compulsory, he’d avoided the issue.
Seliette spread her arms. “They’re going to make it rain.”
Couvo glanced at her, wondering why she looked so excited. There were clouds gathering, and controlling the weather was advanced magic, certainly, but several of Couvo’s teachers back in Absalom could have called thunderstorms or even tornados, if the season was right, and they wouldn’t have needed a drum line and a crowd of collaborators to manage it. “That’s it? Rain?”
She laughed. “Making it rain here, I admit, is not so impressive. But the Aspis Consortium has caused a terrible drought in one of those barbarous nations you have up there.” She gestured vaguely northward. “A group of us plan to travel there and bring the rain back.”
“So... this isn’t a ritual to summon a shower for a few hours?” That was the extent of the weather control he knew about.
“Oh, no. The arcane methods of weather manipulation get things started, but the primal magic connects more deeply to the land and the air, restoring balance to the area, in a sustainable, ongoing way: healing the climate rather than just changing the weather.”
“So the arcanists provide the spark, and the primal magicians create the fuel that keeps the fire going,” Couvo said. He could feel the change in the air now, the drop in pressure, the scent of rain.
“A fire metaphor isn't particularly apt," Seliette said, "but more or less. It's not just arcane here and primal there, though. The powers collaborate, and some adepts use both forms of magic at once—that's halcyon magic, the blending of traditions to create something new and marvelous.” She put her arm around him. “Isn’t that why you’re here, Couvo? Or did you just come to read old things? Books are wonderful, but to serve the Magaambya is to live in the material world and change it for the better. You could come with us and lend your own strength to our dance.”
He hunched. “I’ve got so much work to do, Seliette—”
“If you want to stay in your reading hole, Thanda will continue to take advantage of your talents, I'm sure… but she’ll keep you as an Attendant forever. If you hope to become a Conversant, and direct your own studies, you have to go out.” She cocked her head. “Tell me, Couvo. What are you doing all this studying for? What’s the purpose?”
It was a question he’d considered before, and always pushed back to think about later... but maybe later was now. There was a certain appeal to staying where it was warm and dry, translating the things Thanda brought back from her expeditions, working firmly within the limits of his competence, but he knew Seliette was right—that was beginner’s work, not substantively different than what he’d done as an Initiate… or even what he’d done back in Absalom. He’d always believed in the value of knowledge for its own sake, but could there be new satisfaction in using that knowledge for a purpose? He'd just translated a scroll reputedly copied from a Shory manuscript about manipulating weather patterns to benefit their legendary flying cities, and perhaps, with the proper blend of primal magic, it could be useful here…
Rain began to fall, just a few drops at first, and Seliette spread out her arms and spun in a circle, dancing to the drums and laughing her bell-ring of a laugh. After a moment, Couvo reached for her hand and spun with her, as the heavens opened and delivered their bounty.
About the Author
Tim Pratt is the author of more than 20 novels, most recently the Axiom space opera series, including Philip K. Dick Award finalist The Wrong Stars, The Dreaming Stars, and forthcoming third volume The Forbidden Stars. Tim’s five Pathfinder Tales novels—City of the Fallen Sky, Reign of Stars, Liar’s Blade, Liar’s Bargain, and Liar’s Island—are available now. He's a Hugo Award winner for short fiction, and has been a finalist for Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Mythopoeic, Stoker, and other awards. His collection Miracles & Marvels is coming this fall. He tweets incessantly (@timpratt) and publishes a new story every month for patrons at www.patreon.com/timpratt.
About Tales of Lost Omens
The Tales of Lost Omens series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into Pathfinder’s Age of Lost Omens setting. Written by some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of novels and short fiction, the Tales of Lost Omens series promises to explore the characters, deities, history, locations, and organizations of the Pathfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.
Tales of Lost Omens: When it Rains
Thursday, September 19, 2019