Authored: Collaborative - Hannah Nyland & Jerad Sayler
Game: New World of Darkness by White Wolf & Onyx Path
Venue: Mage: The Awakening
Chronicle: Mage 2: The Dethroned Queen
Date: Wednesday 21 May 2014
Location: Somewhere off the beaten path of Sully Creek State Park… Medora, ND
The badlands are beautiful in their desolation. It’s hard to hike through the red-shorn rock faces and cuts of hard packed earth with layers upon layers of time displayed for the brisk air and not feel something. The place feels like a blasted land, torn by some invisible war between water, earth and sky. On this May afternoon the sun is bright, but its potency hasn’t overtaken the bone cold teeth of another North Dakota winter. It’s a stark 40 degrees in the shade and what would be a comfortable 65 if there were no wind feels about the same with the tumultuous bursts of air finding their way through the shaped landscape in a million chaotic potentials.
I suspect that despite my growing understanding of the inconsequence of distance, Germany is going to feel much further away. Casstiel must feel it to on a subconscious level, either that or he is in the midst of his aforementioned paranoia and fears at what I may run into. Lately he’s been cramming in as much training time into my schedule as I can get away with. This upcoming weekend is my last one at home, so the normal weekend mental marathons are off the table--quality family time only, he says. But why would training stop just because I am going a fourth of the way around the planet? If anything it should be easier to sneak off in the evenings. I won’t be able to pop back and be seen by anyone without causing what Casstiel calls “a breach of the Veil,” so plenty of unsupervised time.
Maybe these sessions are symbolic. He has made statements to the effect of leaving me to my own devices for the duration. Perhaps he is trying to loosen up on my leash a little. I may be young in his eyes, but how do you compare a high school graduate to a student of Pandemonium? Class of 666.
Then again there is the time zone restrictions... but still. The training regime doesn’t line up with the restrictions he has placed on my life, unless it is all part of the training. Everything adds up, he is pushing me towards something. My limits.
Which is fair enough, really. I wouldn’t expect or want anything less. But the result is that today I notice something that's been true for a long time. I'm tired.
Ever since my Awakening, sleep deprivation has been a loyal friend, courtesy of Pandemonium. I've learned to adjust, compensate with spells and caffeine, ignore the slight blurriness of vision and dulled reaction times. But the most obvious possible solution is the one that I've never tried. When you have an Oneiromancer as a mentor and don't tell him about your nightmares, is that stubbornness or just stupidity? I don't care. Wouldn’t a true warlock bear her burden stoically? But then – and I wouldn’t admit it to my mentor, or anyone for that matter – I often feel like an imposter, just a child that Pandemonium chewed up and spat out instead of the fearless Mastigos I’m supposed to be. My grip on the gun in my hand suddenly, inexplicably tightens.
Anyway, Casstiel has enough problems without me adding mine to the pile.
That's the noble motivation that I like to ascribe to myself, but the annoying thing about my studies of Mind is that they've made me more aware that the rationalization is just that; a rationalization. The truth is more selfish. I simply don't want to tell him. Don't want to tell him that I've been reliving the worst moments of my life in fragmented images and flashes of pure terror. Is it supposed to be like this? Does he have the nightmares too? Do they get better with time? Mine haven’t. Trapped, helpless, useless - over and over again. What would he think if he knew? I can just imagine the look on his face – disgust, disappointment, pity.
No. He doesn't need to know. It's bad enough that I know.
“Start again. Say it.” Casstiel growls from a foot away, pinching the bridge of his nose with a gloved hand. It is a familiar gesture of annoyance.
I hold-up the hand gun in a squared up once again, feet shoulder’s width apart, similar to some kata I know. I bend me arms slightly and tighten up the sight of my new toy to my eye. I don’t know much about guns but I haven’t forgotten this one; Casstiel more or less drilled the information into my head. It’s a Browning HP-SFS. The HP is for High Power, the SFS is for Safe-Fast-Shooting.
It’s the right size for me, most guns are built for men but the slightly smaller design of this black epoxy finished beauty fits like a glove. It holds 13 rounds in a magazine, lucky number. It also fires 9MM rounds. Casstiel says the lower caliber rounds makes it a little easier to bend where they are going, though I can’t see how. But then again, he’s the one who can shoot around corners. Normal physics says it’s ridiculous, but that is the order of the day lately.
The sights on this thing leave a lot to be desired. Three prongs along the top of the barrel. Two right up near my eye-line the third wavering up and down on the far end. The simple sight is deliberate. I see the tree stump with two cans of Pepsi Blue on it a good 100 feet away; 32.5 yards to be exact in my spacial measurements. I am pretty sure this is at the edge of the effective range for a gun like this. This is deliberate too, all part of his game.
Casstiel coughs to impart his impatience and breaks my concentration again. He wants me to say the creed. Sigh. Where did he even get it from - some spaghetti western?
I concentrate again. “I do not aim with my eye. She who aims with her eye has forgotten the face of her father,” I mutter. I focus on lining up the gun with the target. “I aim with my hand.”
Casstiel has become still as a statue in my periphery and slowly fades out of existence as I focus my preternatural perceptions forward. I continue, “I do not shoot with my hand. She who shoots with her hand has forgotten the face of her father.” I let the imago form further, allowing the environment in front of me to map itself out. I feel my concentration waver and my eyes drop out of focus; I think I just caught myself about to nod off. “I shoot with my Mind.” That last bit sounded flat and unconvincing even to my own ears. My mind is trying to take a holiday right about now, not shooting.
“Casstiel, is this really necessary . . . ?” A pregnant pause where he stirs, the almost imperceptible bristling and I don’t wait for an answer. I know he’ll just say that it is. Maybe I’m just whining anyhow. I’ve been told that teenagers tend to do that. I suck it up and carry on.
I send my will into the imago, finish the spell and create a channel of distorted space to ensure the bullet reaches the target. I can see the circular swoosh of the Pepsi label clear as if it were right at the end of the gun’s barrel. “I do not kill with my gun, she who kills with her gun has forgotten the face of her father... I kill with my heart!” I fire the gun at the end of an exhalation, releasing the spell in a forward surge of subtle energy. But I tightening up right before the automatic slide jumps back and the bullet knocks a hole in the base of the trunk... of the tree next to the stump.
Casstiel lets out a breath, trying to sound neutral. But I’m not stupid; he is well and truly irritated with me. “Well... I think that one was worse than your first. What is the problem?”
I feel my ears burn in frustration and a sharp point of anger but I let it drain off, reach for a joke, a deflection, a self-deprecation. “What, other than the fact that I suck with a gun? Should’ve stuck to my fists. At least then I could get in a good swing at the monsters before they eat me.” I allow a crooked smile, not meeting his eyes. On most people this would look shifty, but for me the lack of eye contact is pretty normal. “I’m good, boss. Just having an off day, I guess.”
“That hungry monster isn’t going to wait for you to have an on day,” My mentor says. “When you tightened up in anticipation the sight drifted up. Rookie mistake. You need to follow normal gun firing procedures. You had that down, but you can’t forget them because you are casting a spell in the middle. Control yourself.”
“Right. Sorry,” I say softly, but inwardly I’m seething. I hate it when he makes it sound like I just wet the bed. Apparently, all other Mastigos have total control over mind and therefore body. I have not a clue how they reached such an enlightened state. Sure would be nice though. I can’t even stop the nightmares from destroying my sleep. If I went back into that High School classroom where I signed my name I might drop and go ‘full-fetal.’ For that very reason, I had to drop Calculus class after Christmas break; another nail in the coffin of my parent’s trust in me.
And my church . . . I’m surprised that going back in there for Oblations doesn’t outright incapacitate me, actually. Some days, when I stand too long facing it head-on instead of averting my gaze or rushing up the bell tower stairs. It nearly does and my detachment shatters like glass. Someone pulls the trigger in my brain and I’m gone; it’s all happing again, the lightning strikes of pain and bottomless terror. I become a desperate, mindless animal. And it’s pathetic. The Mastigos who loses it at the sight of a stupid religious building. The Mastigos who got sucker punched by her own fucking daimon.
To be continued...
Jerad Sayler is a Cyber Operations Officer in the US Air Force of six years. He graduated from the University of North Dakota with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science in 2009 and received his MBA in 2014. He has been Storytelling World of Darkness games since 2005 and has be running his current Chronicle of Mage: The Awakening since 2010. He enjoys creative writing involving role playing and game mechanics.