The Illumination of Karen
Having had paid for their books, Alexia led the way out into the same street Karen had originally come in from. Now it was late at night, and the narrow thoroughfare was alive with patrons of the different establishments pushing past each other everywhere. They proceeded in the opposite direction to that from which Karen had arrived. Although they didn’t go far, they passed through so many little alleys, hallways and twisting stairs that Karen didn’t even think she could find her way back to the bookshop anymore. When Alexia declared that they had reached their location, they were in a rather large, roundish chamber, lit by several gas lamps stuck in the wall. As far as Karen had been able to follow their course, she believed that they were now deep inside a large building block, considerably further down than the bookshop.
Alexia explained that this was the usual meeting place of their group, and even though it looked a little sinister, there was nothing to worry about. It had been chosen because it was close to the quarters of their mentor. Karen wondered who that teacher might be. Surely not someone connected with the University.
There are reasons why Arcane University does not teach mind-focus to anyone who has not reached that certain level. For example, it would draw very much of their resources to beginner’s classes if they were to hold them. But there are other more serious considerations as well. They don’t want to take in any students who are not entirely devoted. Three to four decades of arduous study on one’s own is a very efficient filter for that purpose. Thirdly, they hold that the power which comes with a high-level mastery of The Art, should not be wielded by anyone who is not mentally mature. Actually, besides teaching mind-focus, the most important task of AU is to create and enforce standards of morality among its exponents.
Thus, Karen was now very curious indeed as to who this teacher might be. There are of course some people who study mind-focus entirely on their own, but it’s rare for them to become very proficient. It’s extremely unusual for anyone to achieve the necessary mastery of body-control to slow down ageing on their own. It could be a foreigner. Mind focus is taught all over the world, in different ways. There are many places where teachers take on students from childhood. But still, there is very large consensus in most countries of the known world that it should be taught carefully and responsibly. For example: In Sikhrod, teachers take on students from about the age of 20. But there’s a very strict teacher’s code there. They only teach body-control, at least until the age of 50. So, while those students often have a better command of body-control than their Arcaport colleagues of the same age, they are usually equals with regards to focus-projection.
After a few minutes, some of the other students started to arrive. Alexia had spoken the truth about their age. There were very few who seemed to be as old as Karen there. Most of them came up and greeted them both with warmth. It didn’t surprise Karen that her friend was popular, what with her good looks and amicable ways. Also, most of the students really were men and the only other women were among the very few old people in attendance. There was a curious age-gap, so that there seemed to be no people there between 40 and 70 years of age. Could that be a reflection of attitudes? Karen suspected that impatience and a flexible mindset prompted the presence of the younger crowd. The older ones were probably those who had given up on making it into AU on their own. Meanwhile, the people in between those ages were probably too old to accept this sort of break with tradition, but not yet old enough to do so out of desperation. All in all, there were perhaps 45 persons there.
Only a few of those who entered failed to offer any greeting at all. And they all gathered in small groups along the wall, looking sullenly out from under heavy, dark cloaks. They made Karen a little uneasy, especially when she caught one of them staring at her intently.
That was, however, quickly interrupted by a man who called everyone to attention. He stood in the middle of the room and the others gathered around him in a rough circle. Karen remained close to the wall, observing curiously.
The man in the middle then closed his eyes and started addressing someone he called “Bodel”. He did so several times and in between he mumbled a sort of set phrase that Karen couldn’t hear clearly. She assumed that Bodel was the name of the teacher, but she couldn’t understand the meaning of this ritual, which she found very odd. Unless Bodel was just very egotistical.
The speaker was a large, very fat man, with a shiny complexion. But to Karen’s astonishment, as he spoke, he seemed to grow rapidly thinner. A sweat broke out on his brow, and it seemed to her that he was emanating a cloud of vapor. As his voice became more laboured and the expression on his face more pained, that cloud gathered in front of him in the shape of a person. Eventually he nearly collapsed, emaciated, falling to one knee. In front of him stood a grey, still somewhat translucent, humanoid figure.
Karen looked on with wide open eyes and mouth agape. Demon-summoning?! She was appalled, shocked and frightened. Standing frozen, not even breathing for many long moments, she finally gasped loudly for air. Several heads turned towards her in surprise. The sullen-looking, hooded men, looked at her sternly, then two of them came towards her rapidly. Overwhelmed by the situation, she quickly turned and ran out into the corridor they had come from. As she passed out through the door she could hear Alexia calling out: “Karen, wait!”.
She was too scared to heed though, and slammed the door behind her. That gave her a few moments to round a nearby corner before anyone saw exactly which way she went. Hearing many running feet behind her, she just ran as fast as she could, seeking to turn as many corners as possible in a short time. In a sense she was lucky. There were many empty hallways around the chamber they had gathered in, and that made it easy to choose a confusing path. On the other hand, she had no idea where she was going, and soon found herself by a dark staircase leading down. She thought she had managed to throw her pursuers off, but she didn’t want to go back towards where she could still hear them looking for her. Hesitantly, she started descending, and had just rounded a few corners when she heard someone approaching from above. Startled, she hurried her steps only to curse herself, as that seemed to alert whoever was coming after her. Hearing someone on the stair close behind her, she kept going down. The stair wound round and round at ninety-degree angles, so she was hidden from view all the time. It was very dark, the only light coming from lamps on the floors she passed. At one very dark floor she headed off down another corridor, and again tried to take as many turns as possible. After a short while, she slowed down and kept walking as softly as she could, trying not to give her position away. She heard a few noises of someone moving far behind her, but they didn’t seem to come closer at all.
Not daring to stop, she did however start thinking more rationally about her situation, and observe her surroundings. It was really too dark to see much in these mostly unlit passages. Thus, Karen now focused on keeping a straight course, that she might eventually reach an exit from this building block. Once out, she could at least move by the street-lights, and make her way to populated parts of the city. These halls were oddly empty, but for now that suited her fine. Running into a stranger down in the dark did not appeal. The barren, dark corridors made her feel very exposed and unsafe. Making her wish for nothing better than to be back on regular streets with regular people.
To her disappointment, the path she was on lead down again at several points and there were no signs of it leading out at all. A knot formed in her belly and she felt a little sick. Had she gone too far down? Was she now under ground level? She knew that there were extensive tunnel networks in several levels under the ground. They were ancient though, the only people who lived there were criminals and the most unfortunate of homeless people.