A Matter of Faith


Zorian didn’t like temples. Partially it was due to his bad experiences with them as a child, but mostly due to his inability to understand the reverence with which the priesthood spoke of the vanished gods they were supposed to be venerating. Virtually every story he had read or heard about the age of gods made the divinities sound like gigantic jerks, so why would anyone want them back? Nobody could ever give him a satisfactory answer to that question, least of all his parents, who were religious only so long as the neighbors were watching.

The temple in front of which he was standing at the moment did nothing to dispel that unease. The large, dome-like building on the outskirts of Cyoria was larger and far more imposing than any other temple Zorian had previously been in, despite being described as one of the smaller ones in Cyoria. Still, the aranea matriarch had claimed this temple housed the best (human) future forecaster in the city, so his unease would have to be set aside for the sake of accomplishing the mission.

He hesitantly stepped towards the heavy wooden doors that served as an entrance to the temple, warily glancing at the huge stone angels that flanked the doorway. Lifelike and grim-faced, the angels appeared to gaze down on him as he approached, judging him and finding him lacking. Try as he might, Zorian couldn’t completely dismiss his unease with the statues, since there was a very real possibility they were guardian golems or some other sort of security. He was just about to open the door and walk inside when he noticed a series of images carved into the door and paused to study them.

Although the carvings on the door were fairly stylized and disjointed, he recognized instantly what they were about. They formed a crude sort of comic, depicting a familiar story of how the world was created according to Ikosians (and by extension, most religions drawing their traditions from them). According to Ikosians, the world was originally a swirling, shapeless chaos, inhabited only by the 7 primordial dragons. One day, the gods descended from the higher planes of existence and killed all of them save one. This last one they refashioned into the material world that humans now inhabit, turning her body into dirt and stone, her blood into water, her breath into air and her fire into magic. The vast networks of tunnels stretching beneath the surface of the world are dragon veins, now empty of blood that had been turned into the seas but still flooded with magic emanating from the Heart of the World – the fiery, still-beating heart of the primordial dragon that rests somewhere deep underground. Far from being content with her fate, the Dragon Below still rages against her bounds, giving birth to natural disasters like volcanoes and earthquakes. Unable to strike back against the gods themselves, the dragon takes her anger out on their favored creations – humans – by utilizing her heart, the one thing the gods have not seen fit to take away from her. Pieces of it continually flake off from the main mass, giving birth to horrifying monsters whenever they hit the ground, at which point said monsters begin their ascent to the surface to terrorize mankind…

And so on. Zorian didn’t believe there was much truth in the old story, but the whole thing was pretty horrifying if one took it at face value. With gods like that, it was no wonder the Old Faiths were steadily losing converts to new religions that popped up after the gods disappeared.

“Can I help you with something, young man?”

Zorian wrenched himself from his musings to look at the man who spoke to him. He found himself facing a young, green-haired man in priestly robes. The man’s relaxed posture and friendly smile set Zorian at ease, but he couldn’t help but wonder about that green hair. As far as Zorian knew, the only people who naturally had green hair were members of House Reid, and it seemed rather out of character for one of them to go into clergy. That particular house was infamous for their links to crime syndicates.

“Maybe,” allowed Zorian. “I am Zorian Kazinski, mage in training. I was wondering whether Priestess Kylae was around and willing to talk to me? Oh, and sorry about worrying you. I suppose I had been staring at the entrance a little too long.”

“Junior Priest Batak,” the man introduced himself. “And don’t worry, a lot of people are intimidated by the gates. It’s why I like to greet newcomers personally like this. As for Kylae… well, she is currently in the middle of a ritual, but if you’re willing to wait an hour or so I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear you out.”

“Sure,” Zorian agreed. This was far better than he expected, to be honest – he half-expected the man to put him through some kind of religious test before allowing him to see the head priestess. Waiting an hour or two was a minor price to pay really. “Err, so should I come back later or…?”

“Nonsense,” the man scoffed. “Come inside and I’ll make us something to drink while we wait. It’ll be nice to have someone new to chat with for a change. We get so few visitors these days…”

Uh oh, it seemed that he might still end up being subjected to a test, only this one in the form of ‘casual’ conversation instead of something overt.

“Slow week?” Zorian asked as they entered the temple. The interior was pleasantly cool and fairly dark, with rays of multicolored light streaming down from several high-placed stained glass windows, as well as totally empty. He was grateful for the lack of crowds, but it was unusual to see a temple completely deserted like this.

“I wish,” Batak sighed. He led Zorian through rows and rows of wooden benches that filled the temple’s main hall, his steps echoing hauntingly behind him. “More like a slow decade. The aftermath of the Weeping has not been kind to this place.”

“What do you mean,” Zorian asked. “What does the Weeping have to do with this place?”

Batak gave him a judging glance before sighing heavily. “Though the gods have gone silent, the priesthood has never been completely powerless. Most priests have some skill with magic, and higher ranks can usually call upon the aid of angels and other lesser spiritual entities, but our real claim to authority came from various hidden mysteries that were entrusted to us before the gods departed to the unknown. Over time a lot of those were stolen or otherwise lost, but the one thing where we were always unmatched was the healing arts. As such, when the Weeping Plague started spreading across the lands like wildfire, we were expected to do something about it. Sadly, not only were we as powerless against it as anyone else, our close contact with the infected quickly resulted in massive casualties within our ranks. With the subsequent shortage of qualified priests, peripheral temples like this one were all but abandoned, both by believers and by the Holy Triumvirate.”

Zorian looked around him, but failed to see any evidence of decay in the interior of the temple. The temple was clean and intact, and the altar – made out of white marble and framed with silk or some other expensive cloth – looked practically brand new. Plenty of stone statues were scattered throughout the building, seamlessly melding into the walls or support beams, and most of the remaining unadorned space was taken up by wooden panels that had various religious imagery carved into their surface, much like the main doors. In short, it was an absurdly luxurious building by the standards of rural temples such as the one in Cirin, and better maintained to boot. Zorian was almost afraid to ask what Cyoria’s main temple looked like if this one was not considered important enough to keep running.

Batak led him to a small, unassuming door next to the altar and ushered him to what was apparently a more informal setting. Rather than being a classical office, it was instead a combination of a kitchen and a living room, far messier than and not nearly as lifeless as the main temple had been. Batak immediately started preparing some tea and started peppering him with questions. The questions were fairly standard – who he was, what he did, where he was from, who his family was, that sort of stuff – so Zorian felt comfortable answering them honestly. Strangely enough, Batak didn’t ask him a single question about his religiosity, something Zorian was glad for. Zorian, in turn, asked a couple of questions about Batak and Kylae, trying to understand what they were even doing here if the temple was abandoned.

Batak was all too happy to enlighten him. Apparently the church leadership didn’t feel comfortable with simply demolishing the temple… or worse, leaving it to the mercy of the elements and looters. A perfectly understandable sentiment, in Zorian’s opinion – not only would it be a shame to consign such a majestic building to oblivion, it would also be a blatant admission of weakness from the church. In the end, Batak and Kylae were assigned to the temple, ostensibly to keep the temple running but in reality more to keep it presentable and ward off thieves and squatters.

Finally, after he finished his cup of tea, Batak finally decided he had danced around the issue long enough.

“So,” said Batak. “You never did tell me why you’re here, mister Kazinski. Do you think you could perhaps tell me what you need to speak with Kylae about or is this too sensitive for the ears of a mere junior priest?”

Zorian thought about it for a second before deciding it probably wouldn’t hurt to tell the man why he came. Future forecasting wasn’t illegal or anything, after all.

“Well…” began Zorian. “For a start, I heard that Priestess Kylae is skilled at forecasting the future through divinations.”

Batak stiffened slightly, but quickly forced himself to relax. His smile did slip off his face, however.

“She is,” he said. “It is a difficult field to practice and I doubt anyone could claim mastery of it in any real sense, but she is as close to an expert as you’ll likely ever going to get.”

“But there are other people who dabble in it regardless, one of which has sent me to speak with Kylae about her findings,” said Zorian, privately enjoying the mental image of the aranea matriarch hissing at him for calling her a ‘dabbler’ in the field. “Some of the results she had gotten out of her predictions have been very… irregular.”

All pretenses of good cheer had left Batak’s face by the time he finished talking. Silence stretched into uncomfortable seconds. Zorian was starting to wonder if talking about the topic was somehow taboo or if he had otherwise insulted the man somehow when the junior priest spoke again.

“And these… irregularities… when exactly do they appear? How far did your mysterious backer project her predictions before they went haywire?”

It was at this point that Zorian realized: Batak already knew. He was no more a mere junior priest than Zorian was just an innocent messenger.

“There is only one real irregularity, and it appears on the day of the summer festival. Specifically, the prediction returns a blank beyond that date… almost as if the whole world disappears after that point. But you already knew that, didn’t you?” asked Zorian rhetorically.

Instead of answering him, Batak spat out a very unpriest-like curse and started pacing around the cramped room in agitation.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Zorian sighed.

Batak stopped pacing to give him a wary look. After a few moments, the priest visibly forced himself to relax.

“I’m sorry,” said Batak, “I didn’t mean to be rude, it’s just… well, it’s probably best if I go and fetch Kylae now so we can discuss this together.”

“Isn’t she doing a ritual at the moment?” Zorian pointed out curiously. He knew it was a very bad idea to stop magical rituals halfway through, but maybe the ritual Kylae was performing was purely religious in nature?

“Well, sort of,” Batak said sheepishly. “I don’t think she’ll be terribly bothered if I interrupt her. Not for this, in any case. Please wait here while I go get her.”

As Zorian watched Batak hurriedly leave, he couldn’t help but wonder why Batak was so spooked out by the termination date they uncovered. Zorian was certainly spooked, but that was because he knew exactly what was causing it, but to Batak and Kylae it shouldn’t look terribly unusual. Much like soul- related magics, the field of future prediction was very poorly understood, and strange never-encountered events probably weren’t unheard of. Zorian sincerely hoped that Batak’s agitation meant they knew something important about the anomaly that he and aranea matriarch had missed.

It wasn’t long before Batak came back with a middle aged woman back in tow. Zorian’s first thought was that she was surprisingly young for a high priestess, but he supposed with the manpower shortage among the priesthood they couldn’t afford to be too picky about such things. For her part, the priestess gave him a long, searching look upon entering the room before giving him a strained smile and sitting down next to Batak, so that both of them were facing him.

“Hello mister Kazinski,” she said. “I am Kylae Kuosi, the high priestess of this temple. I hear you’ve wanted to speak to me. Specifically, that you wanted to speak to me about future prediction?”

“About the termination date on the day of the summer festival, yes,” Zorian confirmed.

A short exchange followed where they both confirmed they were indeed talking about the same thing and then the priestess leaned back on her chair and gave Batak a mild glare.

“I told you it was not a mistake,” she said.

“And I told you it wasn’t you who was the problem,” Batak shot back. “I guess we were both right.”

Kylae sighed before refocusing on Zorian. “I don’t suppose you could introduce me to your master so I can discuss this directly with her? Not that I have anything against you but you just don’t have the necessary expertise and all your information is by necessity second-hand…”

“Sorry,” Zorian said. “I’m afraid my ‘master’ definitely wishes to stay hidden. I agree she could help you better in person, but this is how things are at the moment.”

And it was vanishingly unlikely that would change any time soon. According to current church dogma, aranea were classified as monsters – servants of the Dragon Below, to be precise – and therefore not to be dealt with. Kylae and Batak seemed fairly liberal as priests go, but probably not that liberal. Admitting he was speaking on behalf of a giant sentient spider would have led to him being forcibly expelled from the temple at best.

“If I may ask, though, why has this gotten you so spooked?” Zorian asked curiously. “I mean, I know why me and my, ah, master are concerned, but why do you have a problem with it?”

The priestess looked at him curiously. “And why are you concerned, if I may ask?”

“Trade?” offered Zorian, suppressing a smile in favor of a most innocent expression he could manage. Hook, line and sinker.

The priestess shared a silent look with Batak, somehow communicating without words with her fellow priest. Apparently they knew each other quite well if they could manage that. Maybe they were lovers? If Zorian remembered correctly, priests were forbidden to have relationships with each other, and thus had to look for romantic options outside the church hierarchy, but it wouldn’t be the first time such rules were ignored. In any case, after a few seconds they seemed to reach a decision and turned again towards him.

“We will share our concerns with you, but only if you go first,” the priestess said. “And be warned – I can tell when people lie to me. It is a supernatural ability and has never failed be before, so please don’t waste my time with lies and half-truths.”

Well. That was kind of inconvenient. Zorian didn’t detect any attempt at barging into his mind, so whatever ability she had probably wasn’t mind-based in mature. Was she instinctively divining the truth of his statements? Peering into his soul? He supposed she could be bluffing, but he somehow doubted it.

In the end he decided to take a risk. He fired off a couple of divinations to make sure they weren’t scried and that there was no cranium rats around and then started to speak when they returned negative.

“Let’s see if this will be a sufficient price for your help, then,” Zorian sighed. “The reason we’re concerned is that there is a well-funded, well- organized group of terrorists planning to take advantage of the summer festival to cause trouble. Some parts of their plan – like their usage of artillery spells and war trolls smuggled through the Dungeon – was fairly pedestrian. But there is a more exotic component to their plans – one that wreaks havoc with future prediction by its very nature.”

There was a brief moment of silence as the two priests stared at him incredulously.

“That… is not what I expected to hear,” the priestess said. “Gods and Goddesses, this is way above my pay grade. I… don’t think I want to know more, to be honest. I don’t want to get involved into such things.”

“Probably for the best,” Zorian agreed.

“If that is indeed the true cause of the irregularity, though, then my own reasons to panic about it are largely misplaced,” the priestess mused.

“I’d still like to hear about it, if it’s not a problem,” Zorian said.

“It’s about the angels,” Batak interjected. “Ever since the gods have gone silent, angels have sort of taken their place. They can’t grant magical powers to the priesthood or work miracles the way gods could, but they can be summoned in order to provide advice or give aid with their considerable personal abilities.”

“And what did they say about the anomaly that got you so spooked?” Zorian asked curiously.

“That’s the thing,” the priestess sighed. “We can’t ask them because no one has been able to summon then since about a week ago. We’ve been in contact with churches as far as Koth, and they report the same thing – even the most approachable of celestials are ignoring us. Hell, I’ve even heard rumors that demon worshippers cannot contact their vile masters any more. It is as if something has cut the entire material plane off from the spiritual realms.”

Zorian swallowed heavily. A week ago… the start of the time loop obviously.

“Quite disturbing, isn’t it?” said Kylae. “Coupled with the timeline simply cutting off a few weeks from now, well, I must admit it had really gotten me spooked. Finding out the two are basically unrelated certainly makes me rest easier.”

There was further conversation after this, but none of it was terribly productive. He promised Batak and Kylae to be discreet about their troubles with contacting the spirit world and left.

Unlike the priestess, Zorian didn’t feel like the conversation had eased his worries.

- break -

Following his visit to the temple, Zorian decided to sit down in one of the many restaurants scattered throughout the city and consider this new information with a bit of food and drink. There was no doubt in his mind that the severing of the link between the spiritual planes and the material one was caused by the time loop, but what that meant was less clear. Was the material plane the only one experiencing the time loop, isolated from everything else within some kind of ‘time bubble’? The fact that his current timeline seemed to literally end when the time loop restarted strongly suggested this. Apparently the spell wasn’t snatching up a bunch of souls and putting them into their past bodies like he initially assumed – it was literally rewinding time itself in the targeted area while leaving a couple of souls intact in the process. No wonder the spell was so easily transmissible – compared to reverting everything one month into the past, the cost of looping a couple of additional soul or two was probably utterly inconsequential.

And that, if true, was very disturbing. That was not human magic. A hundred or so mages in possession of a mana well and a whole lot of time to prepare could affect a medium-sized country at most. The time loop must have enveloped the whole continent, at least, for the boundary to have not been noticed after a day or two. News spread fast these days. And frankly, Zorian had a hunch the time loop enveloped the entire planet. This was like something straight out of the age of gods… but if higher beings were involved, why was the time loop allowed to go off its intended course so severely?

His musings were interrupted by the scraping of a nearby chair. Someone had decided to join him.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s you.”

“Is that the way to greet a friend, Roach?” Taiven complained.

Zorian rolled his eyes at her.

“Hi Taiven,” he said blandly. “Fancy seeing you here. I mean, this place is pretty far from your usual haunts. It’s almost as if you decided to track me down to this place…”

“That’s because I did,” Taiven said. “What are you doing on the edge of the city, anyway?”

“I was visiting a temple nearby,” Zorian answered. “Lovely architecture.”

“You, visiting temples?” Taiven scoffed. Zorian said nothing. “Fine, be that way. I won’t pry. In case you’re wondering, I’m here because I asked around to see if I could find a human empath that could help you control your powers.”

“You did?” asked Zorian, suddenly a lot more alert and enthusiastic about this conversation.

Taiven smiled sheepishly. “I kind of did find someone willing to help you, but I’m not sure whether it’s something you’re willing to go for. The woman in question is healer in one of Cyoria’s big hospitals and she’s only willing to teach you if you agree to an apprentice contract with her and become a full- blown healer.”

Zorian clacked his tongue in disappointment. He did intend to learn the basics of magical healing at some point in the future, but that was a long way off. Learning medicine wasn’t something you do in your spare time and would doubtlessly require him to dedicate most of the restart on mastering that one field. He had too many things on his plate as it was.

“No, that doesn’t work for me at all,” Zorian sighed. “I have nothing against healers but that’s not the career I’m aiming for.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured,” Taiven said. “It really would be kind of a shame to let all that work you sank into spell formulas go to waste. I guess the spiders are still your best bet, huh?”

“Yeah,” agreed Zorian. “Although… to tell the truth, they have been dragging their many feet in regard to teaching me. Maybe if they thought I actually had valid alternatives to their help they’d hurry up a little? What was the healer’s name, anyway?”

Taiven narrowed her eyes. “You’ve been down there alone again?”

Uh oh.

“Maaaaaybe…”

She reached out across the table and cuffed him in the shoulder. It hurt.

“Zorian, you moron,” she complained. “I told you not to do these things alone! Even if you trust the freaky giant spiders that much – and I don’t really think you should – there are other things down there! Not matter how capable you are, it’s always smart to have another set of hands and eyes with you. Unless you think I couldn’t keep up with you?”

“I don’t think that at all,” Zorian said. “I just didn’t want to be a bother and…”

“I already said I don’t mind helping,” Taiven cut him off. “You can’t use that as an excuse.”

“…and the Aranea are kind of prejudiced against non-psychic people,” finished Zorian.

“Non-what?” asked Taiven incredulously.

“Psychic. People who are like me and them. I don’t quite have a comprehensive explanation what being psychic entails, but it seems to be some kind of instinctive affinity for mind magic. That’s where my empathy apparently comes from – the aranea claim it’s a weak form of mind reading, and that I could actually to do more once they actually deign to teach me.”

Taiven seemed at loss for words for a moment.

“You’re reading my mind?” she finally said. “I didn’t give you permission to do that!”

“I’m only getting vague impressions of your emotions, and not even that consistently,” said Zorian with a long suffering sigh. “Besides, that’s why I’m meeting with the aranea – to learn how to not do that unless I want to. How did you think empathy works, anyway?”

“I guess I didn’t,” admitted Taiven. “But we’re getting off track – why does me not being psychic matters to your new spidery friends?”

“How should I know? Prejudices rarely make much sense.”

“Well go ahead and ask them the next time you see them!” Taiven said. “Because if you can’t give me a proper answer the next time I ask, I’m going down there to ask them myself, with or without your permission. It’s total bullshit!”

- break -

Aside from his visit to the temple, none of the other future forecasters were in any way helpful to Zorian. A fair number of them didn’t even want to talk to him, and those that did hadn’t made long-term predictions and hadn’t noticed anything strange. Well, one of them did claim to have done so and found nothing of note, but he was an obvious fraud and spent most of the talk trying to get Zorian to part with his money in exchange for a ‘more detailed reading of the future’.

So Zorian turned to the matter of his classmates and the possibility that one of them was the third time traveler. Zorian didn’t think there was much chance of that, but better safe than sorry. Besides, it was a good way to look for clues as far as he was concerned, and he had been thinking of getting to know his classmates better anyway.

Including him, there were exactly 20 people in Zorian’s class – 12 girls and 8 boys. Of those, there were three people he was almost certain weren’t the third time traveler – Akoja, Benisek and Kael. The first two because he actually knew what their normal behavior and personality were before the time loop and had interacted extensively enough with the both of them in various restarts to judge them unchanged, and Kael because of the events that took place in the previous restart. Trying to write down everything he knew about the rest, he quickly found two classmates that were very suspicious: Tinami Aope and Estin Grier.

Noble House Aope had a very shady reputation. The House began its existence during the Witch Wars, when one of the major witch clans agreed to defect to the Ikosian’s side if they were given the status of a formal House in return. The Ikosians, ever pragmatic, agreed. No doubt they thought they could milk the renegades for their magical secrets and then quietly sideline them until they could be officially removed, but that never happened. Instead, the Aope rose through the ranks of Ikosian political system, leaving a trail of broken rivals in their wake, until they eventually stood on top as one of the more prestigious Noble Houses in all Altazia. This extreme success wasn’t a result of just being very competent politicians, though – Aope were rumored to practice all sorts of dark, forbidden magic stemming from their witchy roots. Necromancy. Demon summoning. Mind magic.

Of course, this was all just a rumor. Certainly no one who valued their life and career would ever suggest that Tinami Aope, the first-born daughter of the current head of Aope household, was practicing forbidden magics. Perish the thought. And in fact, the girl was painfully shy and withdrawn and in general looked like she wouldn’t hurt a fly.

That didn’t prove anything, though. Beware of the quiet ones and all that. If there was one person in the class who had easy access to magics that could screw Zach over and hijack the time loop for their own ends, it was probably Tinami. Even better, her withdrawn nature would ensure that very few people knew her enough to realize she was acting strangely unless she did something totally crazy.

Estin Grier, the second suspect, was primarily suspicious because of where he came from. He and his family had immigrated to Altazia from Ulquaan Ibasa – the infamous Island of the Exiles. Since the island was populated mostly by mages exiled there in the wake of the Necromancer’s War, that made Estin the second person who could plausibly have access to forbidden magics without too much trouble.

Also, Zorian was fairly certain that the mages leading the invasion force came primarily from Ulquaan Ibasa. The island was one of the few places where one could find enough necromancers and war trolls to explain the numbers of them present at the invasion. It was also the last recorded home of Quatach-Ichl – the lich general that fought the Old Alliance in the Necromancer’s War and whose physical description matched almost exactly with the lich that had so thoroughly trounced Zach in that fateful battle where Zorian was dragged into the time loop.

Of course, those two were only the obvious suspects, and the third time traveler, if indeed present among his classmates, was no doubt far more cunningly hidden. Realizing he didn’t know enough about people in his class to really make a judgment, Zorian decided to seek the aid of the one person who could no doubt tell him something about everyone.

“Hello Benisek,” Zorian said, sitting next to the chubby, talkative boy. “Can I ask you to do me a favor?”

“Sure,” Benisek said. “What do you need?”

“I need basic information about everyone in our class. What’s the latest gossip about them and so forth.”

- break -

[Well, that is certainly an interesting turn of events,] the matriarch remarked. [A confirmation of the cut-off point in the time line and another clue as to the true nature of this time loop is far more than I had hoped for. I must admit I hadn’t actually expected you to find anything useful among human diviners, but there you go. I don’t suppose you have anything on your classmates yet?]

[Not really,] Zorian responded. [I’m only starting with the investigation. Truthfully, this is bound to be a task spanning numerous restarts, so you shouldn’t expect quick results.]

[Yes, of course. Well, I have nothing else to add so unless you have any additional questions we can meet each other next week to check on each other’s progress?]

[Actually, I have two questions,] said Zorian.

[Ask away, then.]

[First question: Can you explain to me what exactly you mean by ‘flickermind’ and why you disdain them so much?] Zorian asked. [You keep saying that word and it sounded terribly insulting and bigoted.]

The matriarch twitched her legs, emitting some complex emotion that Zorian couldn’t decode with his limited empathic abilities. That tended to happen a lot, actually, since the aranea were so thoroughly different from humans in both body and mind.

[I apologize if we offend,] she finally said. [It had been quite a while since we had a real, sustained contact with a human, and there is bound to be misunderstandings and points of contention.]

[I notice you didn’t actually answer my question,] pointed out Zorian.

[It is like you suspect: a flickermind is a creature that isn’t psychic like you and me. I’m sure they can be wonderful people, but I – as well as most of my fellow aranea – find it hard to truly take them seriously. It’s like meeting a society of people that are born blind… they can obviously manage without sight, but you’d probably still consider them fundamentally crippled.]

[You never did tell me what being psychic entails, you know?] Zorian pointed out.

[Everything, from the smallest grain of sand to the very gods themselves is connected through the great invisible web that suffuses all creation,] the matriarch said. [Psychic people are open to these connections, and contact the minds of others, or even the universe itself, to perform what you humans call magic.]

[That explanation sounds… almost religious,] said Zorian.

[The great invisible web does feature prominently in our spirituality,] the matriarch admitted. [What was the other question you wanted to ask me about?]

[Ah, yes. I had found a human empath that might be willing to teach me some of her skills. I wanted to ask you for your opinion-]

[No!] the matriarch interrupted. [That’s a terrible idea! Your human empaths are bad teachers! Their ‘training’ consists of nothing but showing people how to shut off their link to the Great Web and keeping it closed most of the time! They brainwash their students into believing that sensing emotions is all there is to their powers and that the rest of the mind arts is immoral! They make a mockery of the great gift!]

Zorian blinked in shock. He had intended to produce a reaction by breaching the topic in question, but he had no idea the matriarch would be affected this strongly! Anger and outrage simply poured off the matriarch, making it clear that she cared about this issue very, very much. For the first time since his first encounter with her, he remembered that she was actually quite a terrifying creature.

[That’s a lot stronger denunciation than I expected,] Zorian admitted, forcing himself to remain calm. [Care to suggest an alternative, then? I really want to get this ability under control.]

[Have I not promised to help you with that?] the matriarch asked.

[And then you ignored the issue completely,] Zorian answered.

[I thought you needed time to come to terms with it. You didn’t exactly act thrilled when I first informed you of your gifts. Maybe if you hadn’t waited six months before contacting me we would have been on the same wavelength?]

Ouch.

[But no matter,] the matriarch said, [this whole argument is pointless. If you want to learn how to use your gift effectively, I’ll be happy to help. Come back tomorrow at this time and we can begin with your lessons.]

She turned to leave before pausing and sending him one final parting burst of communication.

[And then, once you experience the Great Web in its full glory, you can go to that human empath and see for yourself who is right.]

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