I snuck out that night, faithful to Hobart's request. I noticed that the patrols were significantly lighter - I didn't have to sneak past a single one getting to Hobart's house. I thought at first that maybe they had just been rearranged to render Mitilda's map useless, but by the time I reached the smithy I was sure that this was not it. There were a lot less guards in the city than usual.
I stepped inside Hobart's smithy and looked around for what his legacy might be. Buried in his cot, I found a note.
jaydin im very glad ye finded this note. if yes reeding this i has been capshured by gards. but ye hasnt and yes part of my plan. my plan is for ye to escape from town, go to the other for cities of the world and sho the peeple magic, then leev before they report ye. we arent going to try acshully fiting the guvermint yet. insted were going to spred nollige of magic and give it time to flurish underground. we need power befor we can do a revalushin and magic is wun of the ways to get that so its importint that we start teeching it to peeple soon. the other form of power is metal but we cant get that now that we dont have me so make shure ye tocks to blaksmiths first. i has maked a chain ye can use to help ye get up and down the wall since ye cant go thru the gate and a dagger I sugjest ye take with ye as proof of the posibility of revalushin. i has also stoord sum food under the bed for the jurnee. good luk be with ye and may ye sucseed.
What a ridiculous thing to even contemplate. Get out of town without government approval? Crazy enough. Then demonstrate magic in public? Absolutely bizarre! And scale the wall again before they reported me? Impossible, period. Hobart's plan was absurd.
I sat there for a long time in despair. The govenrment starving my family with half rations, Hobart gone just as I found out we could practice with him, Mitilda injured just as Father was recovering, Hobart's plan useless... Everything was so wrong.
I went back outside. The magic skylights shined with encouragement. Hobart had given me the plan, the tools to execute it, and an example of courage to follow. I had everything I needed. But... it was impossible...
Mitilda would do it. Hobart would've done it himself had he had time. But could I be expected to be as brave as them? It wasn't like I just got a huge burst of motivation or anything...
I sighed. I could feel myself moving progressively closer to doing it. I knew it was my duty. I started to tremble thinking about it.
I heard a loud noise from the direction of the gate just then - it was opening. I had heard the gate open on very few occasions before, but I knew the sound. I always loved to go look at it and watch the mechanisms work. And neither was I going to miss it this time simply because it was during the night. I bolted toward the gate.
I beheld the scene. There were tons of guards gathered near the gate; no wonder the patrols had been so light. What were they doing?
It wasn't long before my question was answered. They were leaving. Tons of guards - perhaps half the town's force - were walking out of the gate, and taking carts with barrels on them. Where were they going? I'd have thought it worth the curfew punishment to ask one of them that, if I thought they would answer it. Anything to know more about this. They were getting to see the outside world, I thought enviously. I wanted so deeply to see that. Especially the Edge. Just like I wanted so badly for magic to be powerful, and to have the freedom to practice it. But like magic, going outside town without a specific government-approved purpose was pointlessly illegal. So many things were. Why? What did the government get out of this? Why did they oppress us?
I kicked the ground. Curse the government! If only I could do something to fight them... but I couldn't. Hobart's plan was useless. I was completely powerless. We all were.
And then I understood why Mitilda loved magic so much. It wasn't because she liked the endless confusion and frustration and never figuring anything out, or because she thought it would one day yield power that was worth all the practice, although she did think that. It was because it was a symbolic defiance. She recognized that she was powerless to do anything to actually fight the government, so she resorted to small acts of rebellion as an outlet for her hatred. And I could feel with her now. I was even thinking about doing magic right now.
Two days ago I would never have dreamed of such a thing. I really had become braver. And it was a rational courage. I used to see myself as the cowardly but rational one and Mitilda as brave but stupid, but it wasn't like that. Courage and rationality weren't exclusive, I had learned, and magic wasn't nearly as dangerous as I had thought. Even outside. All the guards's attention was turned away, and even if one of them did see me it wasn't like you could tell I was doing magic from this distance unless it was telekinesis or light. It was perfectly safe. Certain of this, hesitantly, I created heat.
It was a lot stronger than it normally was. It was actually hot this time and not just warm. So maybe heat magic did have something to do with being angry?
Stay focused, my conscience told me. Hobart gave you a mission. And he left you with the means to do it. He even fasted for a long time so you would have food for the journey. Are you going to throw his preparations to waste?
That made me feel guilty. But it wasn't that simple. First, he didn't leave me with the means to do it, I told my conscience sternly. It was impossible. And what about the family? Could I just abandon them like this? Life was difficult as it was, with the rations being mysteriously cut in half all the sudden and Mitilda being injured and having to stay in the Greywoods' house for the night. Mother and Father didn't even know what had happened to the two of us - they must be so worried right now. I couldn't leave them.
I knew that was a stupid excuse. They would find out what had happened to us tomorrow morning, and the size of Hobart's food store proved that I wasn't expected to take more than a couple days to get there, demonstrate magic to a couple people, and get back. I wouldn't be abandoning the family in any sense. In fact, I'd be making things easier for them, since I wouldn't be draining on their rations.
I panicked as all my excuses were shattered by the rational and brave voice of conscience. There had to be another excuse. Please, don't make me do it now... I begged my conscience. But it continued to pressure me without mercy.
Desperately, I raised one last objection: There was too much activity now. If I tried to leave now, I'd be caught. Perhaps tomorrow night I could go. Comforted by this, I snuck back home and returned to bed, without giving my conscience a chance to reply.
"Jaydin! Get up!" Mother was saying. "It's almost midday!"
I stirred. "What?" I said, rubbing my eyes. I assumed the Greywoods had filled her in on last night's happenings.
"What do you mean what? It's almost midday. You should be up. The crops could use watering as soon as you've had breakfast."
I got up, difficult though it was. I tried to have an extra small breakfast to compensate for the large dinner we all had yesterday, and as a result my stomach growled at me the whole time I watered the plants. This was another reason not to sneak out two nights in a row. It was taking a heavy toll on me. The pain was so intense right now that I was keeping a hand on my stomach, and felt slightly nautious.
"Jaydin?" Nayomi said from behind me, in a tender tone.
I turned around. "Oh - hi," I said. "You're a pleasant sight after everything that's been happening."
"I understand things have been hard on your family lately, between your father being sick and the rations going down and Mitilda being attacked."
"Yeah. The last few days have been pretty awful."
Nayomi swallowed before going on. "Mitilda told me the story of how you snuck out to look for her. And you were probably up late last night too after what happened. So... I came to give you something to make things easier." She handed me half a potato.
"Food -- ! But... what about you?"
"You need it more than we do."
I was speechless for a second. I had never really had someone do something like this for me, and I wasn't sure how to respond to it. "... Well... thanks..." I said.
"Savor it," she said, and then left.
My mouth watered looking at it, and my stomach growled audibly. I could easily have eaten the whole thing by myself, and it would have taken me about fifteen seconds. I needed it more - I was the one who had stayed up hours later than the rest of the village two nights in a row. But Nayomi would have shared it with her parents anyway if she were me. I felt as if she were still here, giving me that look, guilting me into to sharing it.
"Mother! Father!" I said, running inside. "Look at this!"
"Is that... food?" Mother said.
"Son! Where did you get that?" Father said.
"It's a gift from Nayomi!" I said. "She said we needed it more than she did after everything that's been happening to us lately."
"How wonderful of her!" Mother said. "She is such a kind girl. I wish Mitilda could be like her instead of an unruly rebel who does magic and gets herself into trouble all the time."
"The Greywoods are practitioners too," I said, wanting to defend Mitilda's behavior. "All of them."
Mother gasped. "Them too?"
"Son!" Father said. "Are you sure about that?"
"We did it together last night," said I.
"Oh no!" Mother said. "Does everyone have to be so foolish?"
"I've come to understand lately that magic isn't actually very dangerous," I said. "As long as you don't do it in public or anything or talk loudly about it the way Mitilda does, there really is no danger of getting caught."
"You're becoming like your sister!" said Mother. "Jaydinnn!"
"I know," I told her with a smile. Then added more solemnly, "But that's a good thing."
I went to visit Mitilda later. "Want to play zo?" I said.
I got out the board and set up the pieces. I won the game.
"I'm just distracted cause of my injury," Mitilda said. We both knew I was better than her at zo, but, as with me and magic two days ago, she didn't like to admit it. "But I'll be healed soon."
I rolled my eyes. "Don't be ridiculous."
"No really. It wasn't as bad as it looked. And it's already a lot better. It pretty much only hurts if I move wrong or something. I was overreacting to the pain last night."
"You were not!" I said, horrified at her light attitude. "Did you see how much blood was on the ground when I found you?"
"Yes, I saw it. But I'm telling you it's not as bad as it looks. I bet I'll be able to walk tomorrow."
"You know that's not true. Or maybe you don't, but it definitely isn't."
Mitilda smiled, but then her expression became thoughtful. "Anyway, I wanted to tell you something. Nemesis gave me hope."
"You see, before that day, I never took rebellion seriously. I accepted that the government was going to tyrannize the five cities for the rest of my life and probably for a long time to come. I didn't rebel because I thought it would hurt the government. I just did it to get on the guards's nerves as a symbolic defiance. But by attacking me, Nemesis showed me that I can be a problem for him. I made him draw his sword on me. That gave me a sense of power, which gives me hope."
"What are you thinking?" I said. "Don't tell me you have some stupid plan to get back at him."
"No, I'm not stupid. I'm not going to go call him a name or something as soon as I'm healed. But Jaydin." Her voice became tender and passionate. "I think it's possible for us to actually hurt the government. I mean - Hobart had a dagger! That means revolution is possible, doesn't it? What if we still had Hobart and he forged a ton of them and we ambushed lone patrols and picked off the guard force? What if -"
"Don't be crazy!" I said. "We could never defeat the whole guard force that way!"
"I know it's absurd," Mitilda said. "But let's not despair. There's gotta be a way. I don't think we'll always live in tyranny, Jaydin."
"Maybe. Anyway, I asked a guard about magic yesterday evening."
"Oh! I had forgotten about that. What did he say?"
"They're not allowed to use magic, and - guess what - he does suspect the king is lying, just not enough to try it. That makes me sure he told the truth."
"But why? Why would the king lie to his own soldiers?"
"I don't get it either," I said. "Wouldn't he want them to be as powerful as they could be? I don't think it's that he's afraid of them turning on him, because they could already kill him easily."
"That's strange. It's like he's afraid of magic itself for some reason."
I paused, looking at the wall. "Mitilda... What if magic is really powerful and dangerous and we're just not doing it right?"
Mitilda fell silent for a while. "So what if it is?" she said eventually. "If something clicks one of these times and I accidentally make a huge explosion that kills us all, I'll feel no remorse. Who could blame me?"
"Jaydin, what is there to do in life except magic? Without magic there's nothing to do in our world except live an oppressed life being forced to grovel in stupidly encumbered language at the feet of cruel people for food and water every day and having one's dreams crushed by a government that has to authorize every transaction and take away everything everyone produces so they can distribute it themselves just for some stupid sensation of authority. Magic is the only thing that offers... some vague promise of... change. Of discovery."
"Actually... I kind of know what you mean."
"You're a good person now, Jaydin," Mitilda said. "Just two days ago you were an irrational coward. I don't know what changed for you."
"Hobart changed me," I said without hesitation.
Mitilda nodded, suddenly solemn. "He was a great person. And a true rebel. We really needed him."
"Yeah. But I think you may be right, Mitilda. I think it might actually be possible to have a revolution during our lifetimes."
Before I left, I remembered I hadn't yet told her about my discovery in the smithy. "Also... Hobart's last words were a coded instruction for me to go back to the smithy later that night, so I did. I found a chain, another dagger, some stored food, and a note with his plan on it."
Mitilda perked up. "His plan? Does he have something in mind for us to rescue him?"
"I wish. His 'plan' is for me to use the chain to get over the wall, travel to one of the other cities, demonstrate magic in public and show the dagger to prove to people that revolution is possible, and then leave before I get reported and come back here."
"That's a great plan!" she said.
"No it isn't! It's a stupid plan that can't possibly ever work. We're screwed."
"I wanna be the one to do it though. So it's fine if you're not brave enough. We can just wait until I'm healed."
"I'd love to just delegate the mission to you," I said, "but a bunch of guards left the city last night, and I've no idea when they'll be back. I think now is the best opportunity we're going to get."
"But I wanna be the one to go!" She began to sound desperate. "Don't leave me out of this!"
"Relax, there will be more missions! We should do this to all five cities. You're not missing out on all the fun just because I go first."
"I guess... okay, I hope you're brave enough tonight."
"Wait. I should get Gabriel or Nayomi! That's much better. I'll go fetch them right now."
I returned with all the Greywoods, and told them the plan.
"This isn't worth it," Mrs. Greywood said. "Maybe you'll succeed, but you're risking your freedom and maybe your life to do something that isn't strictly necessary. If we're really serious about preparing for a revolution, why can't we just keep quietly practicing our magic together? We still gain power, and no one gets taken away by the government.
It was Gabriel who answered. "There aren't enough potential rebels in this city to overthrow the entire government. There've gotta be a hundred guards in this city alone and there's probably as many in the other four. We need to get everyone from all five cities who can be inspired to join us."
"He's right," Nayomi said. "We should do this as soon as possible in case the guards that left come back. Let's do it tonight."
"Anyway, the reason I wanted to talk to you about it is..." I said. "Frankly, I'm not brave enough. One of you has to do it."
"I volunteer," Gabriel said immediately.
"Alright, thanks," I said. I felt bad about abandoning the mission Hobart had given me, but it was understandable. Courage just wasn't one of my virtues.
"Be safe, Gabriel," Mrs. Greywood said. "Good luck tonight." She and Mr. Greywood left.
"Say, you up to magic?" Nayomi asked Mitilda.
"I hope that's not a question," she said with a smile. "Say. There's four of us. I bet we can lift something big."
"Let's try my pillow," said Gabriel, pointing to the pillow on his own cot.
"Uh... that's pretty big," I said. It wasn't big for a pillow, but very big compared to an empty wooden cup.
"We can do it."
We stretched out our arms toward the pillow, and closed our eyes for concentration. We tried to shut all thoughts out of our minds, and focus only on willing it to move.
The pillow began to levitate. I knew this because I opened my eyes after a minute, knowing that I was the least powerful mage and that it would hurt our efforts the least if my concentration was broken. "It's working!" I said. We lifted the pillow about three feet into the air, and then Mitilda opened her eyes, which nearly caused the ascent to stop, and said, "let's move it sideways!"
"I'll focus on sideways momentum," said Nayomi. "You three keep it in the air." Coordination was a good idea. If we all tried to split our attention we were liable to drop it, as Mitilda and I had with the wooden pot.
Unfortunately the sideways motion required all of us to keep our eyes open, or else our telekinetic force would start missing, also as Mitilda and I had witnessed with the pot, so it began to sink slightly. We continued, pushing as hard as we could on it from the bottom, and Nayomi managed to give it a good bit of sideways momentum before switching back to up-force to help us regain our lost altitude. It hit the door, and we almost dropped it, but we recovered.
We played with our telekinesis for several minutes on various objects. After the pillow we tried lifting a blanket, which proved lighter than the pillow but much harder in terms of coordination just due to its size and bendiness. We tried picking up just a tin cup and throwing it at the wall as fast as we could, which produced an appreciable bang on impact. We had fun together, practicing our forbidden art in secret with our new accomplices.
"We should stop now," Nayomi said. "Or at least I should. I feel my mana getting empty."
"You should keep pushing it," Mitilda said. "I think it expands your mana reserve if you keep going till you get the exhaustion."
"Expands your mana reserve..." Nayomi said. "That would make sense. Alright. Let's keep going."
We went on until Nayomi collapsed with the expected breathing attack. I grabbed a cup and filled it with water from the Greywoods' barrel outside and brought it to her, remembering the half a potato she had given to me, but she was coughing too much to drink at first.
"I had... forgotten... how much... that hurts..." Nayomi said when the breathing difficulties had subsided a little. She drank gratefully. "Thanks Jaydin."
"I'm going to push mine too!" Gabriel said, cupping his hands. "Hey - my heat magic is working really well right now. Do you think it has something to do with..."
"I was thinking it had something to do with anger," Mitilda said.
"That reminds me," I said, "last night I was angry at the guards and my heat magic worked really well. So it's not just you."
"Weird," Gabriel said. "I'm not angry, although recently I found it working well after I left out the word 'sir' talking to a guard and he didn't notice."
"Cold seems to work well in a emotionally neutral state," Nayomi said. "Although it was also really strong during the stress of... last night. And after I gave Jaydin the potato."
"Has anyone noticed anything like that about telekinesis?" Mitilda said. "It doesn't seem to have fuels like that."
"It may not," I said. "I wasn't convinced until just recently that any magic does."
The door opened, and we were all momentarily tense, but of course it was not a guard. It was Mrs. Greywood.
"Hello children," she said in a motherly tone, then looked at Nayomi. "Nayomi! Did you..."
"Yeah," Nayomi said. "Mitilda said it would expand my mana reserve."
"You know this?" said Mrs. Greywood, to Mitilda.
"Pretty much. I push my mine almost every time and I have the most mana, even though I'm the youngest. Jaydin has almost none because he never pushed it until just recently."
"Nayomi doesn't do it much either and I have a lot more than she does," Gabriel said.
"An actual discovery..." said Mrs. Greywood. "So it isn't just all random - there are some rules of magic to figure out. That's comforting to hear proven. It's great having input from someone outside the family, isn't it?"
"Yeah..." Mitilda said. "I'm glad to have someone other than Jaydin to do magic with - he was never much of a compatriot anyway."
I opened my mouth in protest at this insult, but shut it again, for it was true.
There was a deep mutually appreciative mood in the air for a minute. Then what Mrs. Greywood had said about it not being all random registered with me, and I realized a question: shouldn't she have known that already?
"Mrs. Greywood? You're an adult, so you should be super-experienced and powerful, right?"
Mrs. Greywood sighed. "... No. You see... I never practiced magic until Gabriel started."
"I was sort of the pioneer of rebellion in the family," Gabriel said. "The day I found out about magic I had a negative experience with a guard and... with the help of my anger, I overcame my fear of the government and... did it."
I saw the sincere admiration in Mitilda's face. They were very similar, I thought, more so than I had realized before... everything happened.
"Don't forget about me," said Nayomi. "I was in it with you from the beginning."
Gabriel nodded. "It was my idea though."
"That it was. Anyway... yeah. Gabriel and I did magic before Mom and Dad. They never did it even when they were young."
Mitilda looked at Mrs. Greywood in horror. "You never did magic when you were a kid? What did you do all day? How did you... live?"
"Just because we're practicioners doesn't mean we're like you," Mrs. Greywood said.
Mitilda smiled. "Well, I'm honored to be seen as a prodigy."
"I didn't necessarily mean that in a good way, you know..."
"Oh I know. But I still appreciate it."
We sat in silence for a minute, Gabriel and Mitilda and I continuing to do magic, Mrs. Greywood joining in after being urged by Mitilda.
That evening, I was in my own house, curfew fast approaching. I was thinking about the mission and how I had delegated it to Gabriel, and having a thought about Hobart's description of a time when everyone could lift fire pokers. I did believe that each energy had an emotion, or a set of circumstances, or something that fueled it, but that alone couldn't account for the discrepancy in power. There had to be some sort of trick that everyone knew back in Hobart's day. And I had an idea. What if magic as a whole was fueled by.. meaningful change?
As it was, the government kept our lives monotonous and boring and every day the same, as Mitilda had lamented. But what if that was actually part of the king's strategy? After all, the time when magic had been super powerful was before the government came to power, so life would have been different. Less constant, perhaps? What if that was the trick to lifting fire pokers and potentially even greater things?
I was sure of it. Change fueled magic. And that meant whoever went on this mission, this terrifyingly foreign adventure and experienced all that the journey held, would have their magic power skyrocket. I couldn't just let Gabriel have that power for himself when I could share it, could I? I had to do this. As scary and not-strictly-necessary as it was, I was going to answer Hobart's call personally.
I bolted toward the Greywoods' house. "Gabriel!" I said when I got inside. "I'm coming with you!"
"I think magic is fueled by change in our lives! That's the secret!"
"Ssh!" Nayomi said. "Don't get yourself caught!"
"Oops," I said. This was unusual - someone shushing me for being too loud about magic.
Gabriel thought about it for a minute. "That makes sense... I think you're right!"
"I'm coming too then," Nayomi said. "Not missing out on that."
Mitilda looked intensely disappointed, but said nothing.
"Sorry Mitilda," Nayomi said. "But remember there'll be more opportunities. You'll get your chance in just a few days."
"Thanks... I hope so. Good luck tonight, all of you."
Not long after, the three of us stood at the base of the wall, in a place we were sure no patrols would find us. Gabriel and Nayomi's companionship did much to quell my fear, and I was sure it was mutual. We used cooperative telekinesis to silently levitate the chain up to the wall and set the anchor in the crenellations. I grabbed the chain and began to climb up the wall. "Here it goes..." I whispered, quivering with fear. Gabriel and Nayomi followed behind me.
It only took about thirty seconds to scale the wall and be standing on top of it, in the rim where the guards patrolled. Immediately after I was on my feet one of the distant guards started spotted me and started running. "You there halt!" It was Nemesis's voice.
I had never felt adrenaline before like I did then. I instantly knew what had to be done: I had to get down without Gabriel and Nayomi. If we waited until they were up here to start climbing down the other side, Nemesis would catch us.
I beckoned down the wall for them to send me the chain. They caught on to my thinking and both let go and dropped to the ground, then started telekineting the end of the chain toward me. I pitched in. Nemesis was still several yards away. Just maybe...
I grabbed the end of the chain and threw it down the other side, then vaulted over just as Nemesis got within range, his sword drawn. I shimmied down out of his range just in time as he swung, coming within an inch of my head.
"Jaydin?!?" he said when he saw my face. "Why you? Since when are you this rebellious? This... brave?"
"Hobart and Mitilda changed me! And I'll make you wish you hadn't arrested him and hurt her! There will be a revolution, someday!"
"What if I do this?" Nemesis said, and grabbed the anchor. He started pulling the chain toward him.
Oh no. I shimmied down the chain as fast as I could, which was barely faster than Nemesis could pull it up. I reached the end and had to jump when I was still some eight feet off the ground.
The landing was painful, but I got lucky and somehow didn't sustain any long-lasting injury. "Then I'll just escape anyway!" I yelled up at Nemesis.
"But how are you going to start a revolution? You can't ever get back in this city or any other city without your precious chain! You're stranded out there!"
No! Nemesis was right. I said nothing as I looked down, realizing I was defeated after all. I had lost everything. All in one minute of courage.
And I had wasted the chain, the dagger, and Hobart's food store with me. All I had done in the end was damage the cause.
I cried for the first time in a long time. I wasn't in any danger since the bow and arrow didn't exist, so I just stayed here for a while. Eventually Nemesis got the idea to open the gate and send some guards after me, so I ran, still crying.