Mirrored from Sythyry.
Welcome to Sythyry’s City, the third story cycle, slice-of-life diary, soap opera, and doomfest about the blue lizard and friends. This will be structured somewhat differently than previous cycles: more of a series of short stories and vignettes interspersed with proper diary entries. Here’s the first one.
The Wizard’s Apprentice
Feralan, the wizard’s apprentice, skulked to the schoolroom on the first day of his classes, as if hoping that nobody and nothing would notice him. He would have succeeded, too, except that he stopped to admire the bellying curve of the floating city’s walls. He ran his fingers over it without looking, and instinctively and correctly identified its shape as a cylinder of rotation of the Witch of Agnesi. He thought a moment about its equation, x(y2+1)=1 since it was vertical, and smiled.
A peculiarly-shaped creature saw him pause and smile. Feralan analyzed its appearance in an instant. It evidently had two legs — probably two, he thought, because that voluminous purple skirt could conceal another one or two, or any number of other organs and appendages of moderate size and nearly arbitrary purpose. But a pair of bare brown-furred feet or paws, their short claws painted purple to match the skirt, could be seen peeking out from under it, so Feralan could assert with some confidence that there were at least the two.
One torso, protruding vertically above the skirted presumed juncture of the legs, clad in a tunic of clean lavender fabric, with a peculiar glyph located centrally. And a pair of matched swellings probably indicative of some sort of gland — quite likely the creature was a female, assuming that such distinctions even applied to beings of that sort.
Continuing on in the vertical was a short joining structure surmounted by … Feralan supposed it might be called a head. It had a pair of bright black eyes surrounded by a mask of black fur, and a pair of rounded ears set high on the back, and a short muzzle bristling with glassy whiskers and modest but gleaming fangs and incisors. Its expression was incomprehensible, unreadable, obscure.
From the top of the torso extended a symmetrical pair of further appendages, evidently constructed to be some sort of compromise between sinuous and rigid. The upper or proximal parts of the appendges were hidden in tubes of the lavender fabric joined with the tunic. The lower or distal parts were fur-covered, rings of brownish-black and of white. The appendages pentafurcated at their ends into complex, asymmetrically structured (but mirror images of each other) clusters of smaller appendages, brown-furred on one side, furless and black-skinned on the other. These appendages terminated in short claws, painted lavender to match the tunic. Feralan noticed this especially, as the creature was gesticulating strangely to him with the appendage. He flinched back, instinctively lifting an arm to protect himself.
And then, to his horror, he saw that his own limb was just such an appendage as the creature’s. Brown-furred, albeit somewhat lighter than the creature’s; pentafurcated, with both the sub-appendages and the larger appendage under his control. The upper part of it was even wrapped in a tube of lavender fabric. There were only two notable differences. First was the claws, which, in his case, had been left unpainted.
Second was the bracelet: a loop of eight disks around his wrist, painted in the shapes of eight strange creatures. The creature before him loosely matched one on the bracelet, with the label “Rassimel” over it — and, unlike any other disk on the bracelet, a perfectly circular and shining circle of silver. A perfectly circular and shining and reflective circle. A glance at it told him that, somehow, the rest of his body loosely matched the creature’s, the “Rassimel”‘s.
Feralan took a deep breath, and reminded himself, for the sixty-third time that day (it was still early), that he was a Rassimel. He was born a Rassimel. He had always been a Rassimel, in body at least, and that only his medical condition made the matter seem unfamiliar. That Rassimel were among the most common and ordinary sort of civilized peoples. That waving an appendage — a hand — was an ordinary gesture, though he couldn’t remember what it meant.
The whole incident, from terrified observation of the strange creature to remembering that it and he were ordinary persons, had taken under two seconds this time. It rarely took longer than four seconds, and never more than six. It never took less than two seconds, either.
The creature — no, the girl, for she was an adolescent of about Feralan’s own age — spoke. Her speech was a strange conglomeration of fricatives, aspirants, and approximants, glued together with rushy vowels. Feralan worked to puzzle out her words, imagining them printed in fine type on cream-colored paper:
Hello, new boy. Are you lost?
Well, that could mean nearly anything. Perhaps she was asking if he was outside of the safe regions — if he was en prise, unguarded, easy to attack? A bit of thought suggested that was unlikely; Rassimel rarely attacked each other, even on neutral territory. But what did her words convey? The simple literal meaning? An assertion of authority and status over him? An invitation, a rejection, an alliance, a defiance?
If he could only have understood her words as she spoke them, without mentally writing them down, the situation would have been much clearer. Or if he could have glanced at his notes — he had a neat little handbook of facial expressions and what they meant. He had left it behind, in his apartments off the wizard Sythyry’s laboratory. The sorceress Phaniet — who knew about these things — suggested that relying on it at school would make him look weird and disconcerting to the other students.
Which is just how they, and every normal person, would appear to him.
He temporized. He extended a hand, fought down the instant of disorientation and dismay when he saw what his hand looked like, and wiggled his fingers in the same gesture that the girl had done. “I’m Feralan. I’m here for Miss Qualsohn’s class. In … in there?”
The girl’s face deformed: whiskers spreading, lips widening, fangs and incisors becoming more prominent. The gesture might have meant anything, or been some involuntary biological process at work and meant nothing. She spoke again, and Feralan saw her words as:
That's where I go too, so you can come with me. I'm Wexiset.