Freebie Mondays: Standing on a Precipice (Story 2 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Standing on a Precipice (Story 2 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt here was: standing on a precipice. And this prompt ties in with my Mystical Island Trilogy.
. . .

The rope stretched across the wide chasm pulled so tightly there was no slack. But the constant barrage of wind had already worked some sag into the rope’s central portion.

Damian tried not to pay attention to the tenuous sway of the braided fibers, his attention riveted instead on the thin, polished bits of rock perched precariously on the near end of the trembling rope. With great effort, he concentrated on holding each into its position.

Like the rock sculptures people tended to build along wooded trails and river beds everywhere they went these days, each of the stones balanced against the one beneath it, lightly wedged in a perfect crevice so that they would hold their shape so long as nothing sent one of the  foundation stones toppling.

It was holding them in balance on the swaying rope that was difficult. One small slip in concentration, and all five of the stones would bounce into the oblivion waiting below.

Fear of losing his progress dug like a spur into the back of his brain until it became a sharp stab. As usual, his own doubt manifested in the form of a lapse, and the new stone he had just lifted from the nearby pile fell free of his grip while he scrambled to secure those already in place.

The new stone, which had just begun to hover over the gap, bounced sharply off the hard rock of the cliff drop and snapped in two before it disappeared into the shadows.

Gritting his teeth, Damian grimaced. Clamping down on the stone sculpture was as strenuous as dead lifting a barbell that weighed as much as he did. It was easier to let them balance, to use the natural sway of their surroundings to keep them in position. But it took several long seconds to unwind that knee-jerk grip, and he lost the topmost stone in the transition.

“Too much strain,” the old man leaning against a nearby tree trunk grumbled as he folded his hands behind his head and sank deeper into his sprawl.

Damian dared not turn to look at his instructor at the moment, but he knew he would find a smirk plastered on the old man’s lips if he had been able to see his face. As far as he was aware, the old man had no name he was willing to share. Damien had dubbed him the Wanderer because the man randomly popped up every so often, spent a few days poking around the city, then vanished seemingly without a trace. He always kept his silver-white hair and beard long, which made him look almost like Santa Clause whenever he was wrapped in his heavy weather gear.

But it was late spring now, and the man wore a pair of baggy cargo shorts and the slick kind of rain jacket he’d expect to find on a fisherman. He observed Damian’s efforts with far more scrutiny than his face would ever give away, and clicked his tongue whenever Damian’s actions ran counter to his training.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Damian muttered as he chose another stone from the pile and inched it carefully toward the top of his stack.

The  exercise had begun with tiny pebbles. Their slight weight made it easy to lift dozens of them with nary a thought so long as Damien maintained his hold on the power that surged around this mountain spring. But usual with these exercises, the tools his instructor wished him to use had grown in size and complexity, until the base of his rock stack weighed close to twenty pounds on its own.

If not for the magic holding those rocks, the rope beneath them would probably snap and follow the stones into the depths below.

But that, Damien reminded himself, was the point. Magic would be a fair bit less impressive if it couldn’t accomplish the impossible.

“You’re afraid of balancing on the precipice,” the old man insisted his tone halfway between mocking and soothing. “Use the drop to your advantage.”

“And how do I do that?” Damien demanded with no small amount of frustration in his tone. After all, the drop was the enemy. Every time he lost something down the canyon, he failed a part of the exercise.

The old man regarded him for a long moment before he leapt to his feet. He was spry for his age; someone so wrinkled and weathered by his years had no right leaping about as if he were a teenager. But then again, that was another of magic’s beneficial effects. It preserved its users, if they could master its secrets.

With careless disregard, the old man swept forward, ignored the edge of the drop and placed one foot on the rope. Before Damien even realized what was happening, the man had pranced to the portion of rope occupied by his rocks and kicked them aside. They all escaped Damien’s spell focus at the same moment, and he allowed his hold on the energy to fizzle.

“That felt somewhat uncalled for,” he grumbled, though he knew the wind wouldn’t prevent the words from reaching his instructor’s ears.

The old man laughed, sounding half-mad, and spun in his position.

The rope could not possibly hold his weight. And yet, his toes seemed to be balanced against it – and only that tenuous balance stood between him and the certain death of the drop below.

“You want to let the air do its work, son,” the old sorcerer admonished. “The trick here is to work with it, to let it buoy you, rather than trying to wrestle it aside. After all, the point is not to balance rocks. The point is to walk across the gap yourself.”

And with that, the old man pirouetted once more and daintily made his way across the rope to the far side of the chasm.

Despite long familiarity with the man’s abilities, Damien’s jaw dropped open. Since he started working with the sorcerer, he had gained a fair number of fancy tricks. He could lift objects with the power of his mind – or at least by tapping into the forces surrounding him and redirecting them to interact with physical objects. He could obscure his presence and pass almost unnoticed among even the largest of crowds, even while someone was specifically trying to locate him. He had used magic to locate lost or hidden objects, and to sometimes glean insight into where he should go or what he should study to reach a specific end goal.

But flying, or floating, or whatever this balancing act was meant to be called, had never once crossed his mind.

There were few enough people alive today who believed in the possibility that supernatural forces could work on the lives of individuals that Damien still had difficulty grasping the full scope of what the old sorcerer could do. In many ways it was sheer dumb luck that he had never rejected the idea the man could weave magic – though perhaps he could chalk that up to the wearing down of the world around him and his desperate desire to believe there was more to everything than what he could see on its surface.

That should have bolstered him as he stepped up to the edge of the abyss where the rope swayed against its anchorage, but instead he swallowed nervously.

“What are you waiting for, boy?” the old man’s voice reached across the gap clear as day to tickle Damien’s ears. “Ain’t either of us getting any younger!”

Damien eyed the rope skeptically. It might as well not be there. He might as well walk across the air.

Though maybe that was the point.

The first lesson the old man taught him – after he chased the man down and forced him to admit that he was, indeed, a sorcerer after Damien caught him weaving a tiny bit of a miracle on a busy market street – was that magic was all about exerting will on the world around him.

It is more than just mind over matter. The imagination shapes the action. If you can sincerely see it, and find enough force to bolster the conception, you can make it real.

There was no real difference between balancing rocks on this precipice and balancing himself. Merely his perception of how much more difficult – and dangerous – one should be than the other.

Work with the air. Let it bolster you.

Damien drew a deep breath and, as he slowly filled his lungs with fresh air, he imagined the breeze imparting some form of buoyancy to his body. He lifted himself onto his toes and imagined that he felt light and airy.

He wondered if ballerinas did the same before they started a performance.

It wasn’t about having faith that the rope would hold; it wouldn’t. It was about making sure there was a path when he put his foot down.

These mountain pathways were choked with magic – fresh, free-flowing magic generated by the air and plant life. Not that there was no magic down in the city – there was magic everywhere. But the magic here was stronger and easier to access. Perfect for training.

Damian reached for the power he had been trained to detect and gently swirled its essence around the rope. His hope was that he could turn the rope into a board, give it the solidity and constancy of a tiny bridge.

But even that was only the first step. To balance on this precipice, he needed to work with the air, let it hold him and balance him. So he wrapped a portion of that power around himself. He even spread his arms so that he could wind more of it around him, granting him some small measure of leeway.

It was hard to banish the fear that the first step, the first commitment of weight to the rope that lay beyond solid ground would send him spiraling to his death on the rocks below.

Especially since he absolutely could not allow himself to believe that might happen. The first rule of weaving magic was to believe in the results utterly.

He exhaled and imagined himself floating gracefully across the rope bridge.

Then he lifted his foot, extended it, and set it back down.

The rope bent beneath his weight, but he applied the counter pressures of buoyant magic and solid footing.

And the rope held.

He lifted his back foot, committing all of his weight to the precarious twisting strands beneath him, and opened his eyes.

He felt like a gymnast balanced on a tight rope. But his weight was fully on the rope, and there was nothing directly beneath him except for that thin stretch of fiber and the harsh, jagged edges of the cliffs below.

Standing on this tiny portion of nearly open air was a far cry from crossing the entire abyss. He had a long way to go. But he was bolstered by the miracle of that first step, by the reassurance that his will was as strong as ever to learn the lessons the old sorcerer wished to impart to him.

The Wanderer was gone by the time he reached the other side of the gap – of course, but he had left Damien with a lot to think about.

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