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School of Nights - 3

Posted to Stories

(in this series so far: Part one and Part two )

Gossamer entered the sickroom, his gray ear-length hair swaying as he walked. It was not gray with age, for Gossamer wasn't far beyond 30 years, but attained that colour gradually, a strand at a time, from his experiments in the discipline of Spiriting. His body was apparently in excellent shape, his muscles sinewy beneath the blue and grey suede and silk of his apparel, but he was known to occasionally suffer severe, unexplainable pain in his chest. He began breathing slowly, concentrating, clearing his meridians in preparation.

"Can you not find this child's lost memories when you make a communion with him?" Nurse Alice asked.

"No. They are not actually Lost, just inaccessible. Behind a wall or beneath a pile of rubble, figuratively. I Could, theoretically, break through such barriers, but such actions would risk damage to the child. Spiriting is an embryonic science, especially in regards to human applications."

"What exactly are you going to do?" the child asked.
"Well, I am going to enter yourbody in spirit and talk to your spirit, in order to find out your name."
"And I don't have to know my name for this to work?"
"There are things we know in spirit that we do not know in thought."

Nurse Alice watched as Gossamer put his hand on the child's head, closed his eyes, and began chanting inaudibly. He stayed like that for several minutes. Suddenly he opened his eyes and stood up rapidly.

"Astounding!" he exclaimed. "Nurse, I am off for the library. Send for Master Whittlebone to meet me there. I must consult a tome."

* * *

"What have you found, Gossamer?" Whittlebone spoke as he walked quickly to the library table where Gossamer had been arduously reading.

"Quadrophrenia!" Gossamer suddenly exclaimed.
"At first I thought the child was possessed, but it's nothing of the sort. Read here!" He pointed to a passage in the enormous leatherbound tome. It was written in the White Tongue, language of the early elven races that was kept only by the White Elves. Whittlebone put his spectacles on (out of habit; he head no real need for them in his current state) and red the passage.

"You are telling me," Whittlebone said, concluding the passage, "that this child's spirit is split into fourths within himself?"
"Yes! I've never heard of anything like it happening, and this passage here is all theory, but now I've seen it!"
"Tell me what happened."

"Alright. I made communion with the child, and I was greeted in a white room by a likeness of the child in black pants and a black buttoned shirt. I asked him his name; Danail. Then another child walked in named Mellifleur, this one dressed in skins. Then behind these two I noticed two more, one wearing white clothes like those the child was wearing when he was found, and the other dressed in motley like a fool. Danail, very well spoken like the child has been, explained that those two were Weyrwin and Paeter, respectively -- 'Paeter' spelled with an 'ae' -- and remarked that they were ill at present. Then I noticed that all four of them were identical aside from their clothing, which is what convinces me that he is not possessed. I asked if there were more; there weren't."

Whittlebone pondered a moment, then spoke. "Those names... part elvish, part mannish. Mellifleur: 'fire flower.' Weyrwin: 'high-winged.' Danail: 'dark child.' Paeter is the only one that puzzles me. If spelled without the 'a,' it would mean 'stone'; but that 'a'... Anyway. What happened then?"
"Nothing. I lost connection. Spiriting is a--"
"I know, I know, it's an embryonic science. I have studied it a bit myself."
"Right. Sorry."
"Has he been informed of his condition?"
"Not yet. I just discovered it. May I suggest, however, that you be the one to tell him? He seems to trust you."
"... Very well then. But I will need you to accompany me should he have any questions I can't answer."

* * *

"It's about time!" the child said, noticing Whittlebone and Gossamer enter. "What took so long? Do you have my name? I am looking forward to being called something other than 'child.'"

"Yes," Whittlebone replied, "in a way." The child furrowed his brow quizzically. "Apparently, you have four names, because you, in effect, have four spirits."

The child leaned forward and cocked his head slightly to the right side. "What?"

"It's a condition known as quadrophrenia. Your psyche has been split into four."
"How did That happen?"
"We don't know."
"... Okay then, what are the names?"
"Paeter, Danail, Weyrwin, and Mellifleur. I thought it would be best to have you choose which one you'd rather be called in short."

The child thought a while, then spoke. "Paeter is a good common name, it would fit in well; but I also like the way Danail sounds. Paeter-Danail is nice. Call me by either name."

"Very well then, Paeter-Danail! Now, I have your test nearly prepared; will you be ready to take it tomorrow?"
"I'm ready. I'm certain it will be no challenge."

Whittlebone smiled, although it didn't show, being without tissue as he was. Paeter's self-assuredness, Whittlebone could tell, was not an airy one, meant to give an appearance; but an earthy one, with substance, one that could be backed up. Whittlebone could tell because it was in Paeter's eyes. It was always in his eyes.

* * *

Paeter sat in a schooldesk in Whittlebone's large office as Whittlebone put the test before him and provided a pencil. Actually, "lair" would better describe the strange, cluttered room than "office." The whole room felt like it had been dug out of a grave half an hour ago and had been previously buried for a week. Dark oil paintings exhibiting a style somewhere between the detail & chiaroscuro of the Baroque and the wild emotiveness of the Expressionist sporadically littered the darkly varnished wooden walls, which featured ornate, grotesque carvings on vertical beams. In one corner a sullen upright piano stood in an advanced state of structural decay. Above the piano hung a long string of bones of various species. A warped shelf, constructed at and decayed into unsettling angles, leaned on the wall like a rebellious young man with horrendous posture smoking a cigarrette on a streetcorner. It contained a myriad of objects, among which was a phonograph playing some clarinet and contrabass concerto. Whittlebone's desk was covered in a horrible mess of paper and books: ancient arcane tomes and research books, sketches, charts, and assignments turned in by students, languishing amid the clutter, waiting to be graded. Paeter actually liked the aesthetic quality of the room.

The test was fairly simple, with a section concerning sums & differences & products & quotients, then a selection from Gary Fallowene's Collected Tales about a warrior who climbs a mountain to ask it how to attain the ultimate strength of a mountain (the mountain replied "Go home and put away your sword"), followed by a space for writing a summary of the passage.

As Paeter expected, the test was no real challenge. The mathematical problems were easily solved, the passage was easily understood, and the summary was easily written. Paeter added at the end of his summary that the notion of a mountain speaking with a humanoid voice was totally ridiculous.