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Not the Critic
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PostSubject: Ενκαίωμαντεία   Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:53 pm

Ενκαίωμαντεία

He was on the edge of his seat, but slumped backwards. His legs were so outstretched that they were jutting out from under the opposite side of his desk. He had needed help to lift that desk through the tunnels, into this cave that formed a sort of natural amphitheater. His elbow was on the arm of the desk-chair and was supporting his head, but was also covering half of his face; his little finger was between his nose and his eye, and his eye was between his little finger and his ring finger. He was not wearing a ring.

Nor was he speaking, nor had he made any indication of why he had called the other three here, or whether they had his leave to speak. Accordingly, they had spent some time standing before him, with no sound in the cool cave other than the thick gurgling of the fountain at their backs.

Water fountains can make a pleasant trickle or a powerful gush, or, in some unfortunate cases, they could replicate the sound of a toilet being filled with urine. As it turns out, when a liquid other than water, thicker than water, is pumped through a fountain, the sound is not so pleasant. If the source of the liquid could have been replaced with water, the natural amphitheater might have had a sort of serene atmosphere, but the dark spring had been there long before mortals thought to build a modest fountain around it.

The first of them was planning to interrupt as soon as someone else started talking, but it was never his custom to speak first.

The second did not know who was supposed to be speaking, but desperately hoped that it wasn’t him. He was resolved to make an insightful comment – more of a statement really, maybe even a statement on comments – but he would need to figure out how to best express it first, before he decided what it would actually be.

As for the third, he was growing impatient and might speak any moment, even if it would be out of turn. In fact:

“So, why don’t we get started?”

His comment, printed in plain text, might be read in a number of ways. It could be a question born of honest curiosity, or of an uneasy anxiety, or of confident enthusiasm for the activities to follow. Perhaps the word “so” could be drawn out, as though the length of the word could somehow diffuse the awkward silence which it had interrupted. And the reader has so little of an idea of this third character, that they must imagine a more familiar voice: they might supply their own voice; or a voice that they use only when reading silently to themselves; or the voice of another, maybe the voice of someone who used to read comforting stories to them. Much of the reader’s impressions of this character will be formed based on how they choose to read this line, and so too will they form impressions of the seated figure when they learn that:

The eye, flanked on either side by ringless fingers, darted up to meet the speaker’s inquiring gaze. And while it was an intense and irritated glare, it was met by an unflinching, mischievous, and provoking pair of mismatched eyes. One was an icy blue, but the other had an oversized turquois iris, slit like a cat, and appeared as if the eyeball itself was slightly larger than its fraternal twin. Both were opened wide but the second was opened even wider. It was an eye that was often covered by a bang of long white hair, and one of the effects of this style that it permitted him to unveil the unsettling pupil to be dramatically in an intense moment, with a flip of his hair; but the impact of that revelation is worn thin the more often it is employed, and the owner of those eyes had long since overused the trick.

Then again, he can’t really be said to be the owner of the turquoise eye. Nevertheless:

The judgmental eye of the seated figure, no longer satisfied with the protection of the splayed fingers, retreated from the stare of the inhuman eye, hiding beneath its heavy lid. With resignation and exasperation, the figure said:

“Proceed.”

One of them had yet to find an opportunity for an effective interruption. And although it was a word that granted permission to speak, the second was more speechless even than before, for it was a word that expressed deference as well as deferral, and it was deeply unsettling for a figure of such authority to defer to someone like him. He needn’t worry, however, for the figure was not deferring to him but to the mad-eyed speaker, who proceeded with no hesitation:

“I take it we’re here because we’re no longer needed?”

He received no response, not so much as a reopened eye or a nod from the seated figure. Speaking quickly through a smirk and with a self-assured charisma, he continued:

“I can count, and I know the precedents. Hecate, the Norns, the Christian Trinity, et cetera. As the Neo-Pagans have formalized, the Triplicate Goddess: maiden, mother, and crone. Past, present, and future. And it persists outside of mythologies! Take me, myself, and I: objective, reflexive, and subjective pronouns, respectfully. And of course, in English we have three persons total, so to that I might add: thee, thyself and thou; as well as them, themselves, and they, to use the singular there.”

“In short, you have decided that there is one too many of us.”

There, he cut off abruptly. His smirk faded, and while he had been leaning forward to the point where he could playfully look at eye level with the brooding figure, now he rose. He rose not to his full height, for he slouched, but nevertheless he rose, and averted his unnerving gaze, staring at an uninteresting contour of the natural cave’s wall.

Seeing this display of weakness in his irritating rival, and deciding that if he was not hearing a good speech to interrupt, then he would have to interrupt a silence instead, another spoke:

“That shut you up,” he jeered, “One of us is not like the others, and you know whom.”

The mad eyes were locked with his in an instant, any despondency having vanished as swiftly as it had arrived.

“You should have said,” he countered, speaking with the condescension of an impatient schoolteacher, yet savoring every word that he spat at his aggressor, “‘And you know who,’ as in ‘You know who it is.’ Or, wait,” he said, darting his head downwards towards empty space as he paused, “Is that right? It’s like the ‘taller than me’ versus ‘taller than I’ case. I think that’s one of the discrepancies between British and American English…”

“Goddamn it,” his antagonist groaned, “Look to yourself, Venti! A smart-aleck in cosplay from a video game you’ve never even played. We don’t even need to get rid of a character. We just need to get rid of you.” He gritted his teeth and added, “And it’s about time.”

The other gaze met his again, smiling in spite of the lampoon, and boasted, “I might not have played the game yet, but I know everything I need to know about Vaati. He controls the wind, looks fabulous, and was horrendously underdeveloped. We just had to try him on!”

“In a fan-fiction, maybe! But he never belonged in the Mancers.”

“You don’t think?” the one called Venti asked, “I am the Ventimancer, Mage of Wind. Wind being an actual element! To use ‘element’ in the classical sense, of course, and not as in modern chemistry. Summoning storms, blowing dust into the enemy’s eyes, making sure my cloak is billowing dramatically at all times, et cetera. What are your powers, again, Iggy?”

And the one called Iggy countered, “Do you remember what Wally said when you requested your second name change? ‘Ventimancer? Why wind?’ I had years of foreshadowing and character development behind me, and you threw everything away to LARP as a one-off Zelda villain.”

He paused, but then, he saw that the Ventimancer was about to speak, and recognized the overjoyed look in the Ventimancer’s eyes. He quickly thought over everything he had just said, to find whatever weakness his foe had clearly just recognized. Once he found it, the corner of his mouth twitched as he waited for the Ventimancer to begin.

“Vaati – ”

“You’re the Mage of Winds, not the God of Winds,” he interrupted, “The Four Swords games don’t count. He doesn’t appear in a form like yours until Minish Cap.”

The Ventimancer looked grave at the interruption. “And you settled on the name Ignotomancer because we were obsessed with Iggy the Koopaling at the time,” he retorted. Then, as he realized how the trend continued, he spoke again; and even so, the realization began to push him towards his wit’s end, so that a loss of control could be heard in his voice:

“And he,” he stuck his thumb towards the only figure yet to speak, “Wanted to be the Incomancer so that people would call him Inky, like the ghost from Pac-Man! We’re all just jokes from video games – games we’ve never even played!”

The two debaters looked towards their peer, who stood hapless between them. Behind him, the fountain gurgled as he stood in silence. Knowing that he was expected to speak, he opened his mouth wide, wide like his bugging eyes, and inhaled… only to turn his head downwards, his eyes darting back and forth, his mouth beginning to shape breathless syllables until at last, covering his mouth as though he had burped, he held up a finger to ask for one moment.

One moment passed, and the finger went down in one motion, and then the hand that supported it went down in a second, slower movement. The Incomancer stared at his feet in silence and shame.

Ventimancer spoke again, but thoughtfully, “We thought the prefix “inco- meant ‘to dye or stain,’ but I’m not sure anymore. We were all relying on online translators back then.” He chuckled, and said nostalgically, “I remember this one time that I wanted to name a setting. The only thing I knew for certain about it was this image I had for its logo: a hand showing the viewer a medallion as though it were a badge. And so I tried to find a Latin translation for ‘hold.’ I didn’t realize then how many ways that you can interpret the word ‘hold;’ as a noun, as a first person verb, as a plural verb in all three persons, as a command… the translator gave me every form, and I picked the one that sounded best: ‘teneo.’” Here he paused, but then added, “Father recognized it from the Sigma Nu motto. He had to memorize it in Latin when he was in college.”

Again, the splashing in the thick pool around the fountain was the prevailing sound in the room for a time.

The Ventimancer locked eyes again with the Ignotomancer. “We first proposed ‘Incomancer,’ but then when Wally corrected our Latin, you got frustrated and chose your name instead. Mage of the Unknown.”

“Wrong, once again,” the Ignotomancer sneered, “The original request was Chronomancer. I’d expect you to have remembered this. We actually adapted the creation of our Mancer character into a storyline in the website history turned epic that we had always planned to write. It was a temporal paradox of Homestuck-level complexity, and we were quite proud at the time.”

The Ignotomancer began to recite:

“It began when the pale, ink-blooded Ra Hannah emerged from the fountain, and was discovered by the Takea, elite squadron from the Guild of Assassins, and taken to the mountain village of Chanvale. He seemed to be identical to another inhabitant of the village, the rebellious J’ang. Ra was taken into J’ang’s circle of friends, but J’ang, who had already felt powerless and lonely, felt as though this paper-skinned doppleganger was threatening to replace him. Ra Hannah, however, remained innocent, ignorant, and kind.

“The leader of this circle was Artemis Centauri, but one day he deserted the village and left for the Triple Fortress. Eventually Ra tried to follow Artemis, and in turn, J’ang followed Ra in secret. In the wastelands, a parasite entered J’ang and infected him with evil. Eventually they both arrived in the Triple Fortress, but Artemis had already left to go to a smaller community called the Destiny Arena.”

The Ventimancer spoke up, saying, “Technically, he didn’t go to the Destiny Arena first, but the prototype for that community, which they called… something else. I forget.”

The Ignotomancer was hardly bothered by this trifle, and continued, “Before Ra and the infected J’ang departed from the Fortress, however, J’ang caused a great stir by using white makeup to discolor his features, which were identical to Ra’s, and so framed Ra for an act of treachery. Ra fled, though he did not understand what was going on, for he did not realize that J’ang had followed him, and, not knowing of the parasite, would not have expected his old friend to act in such a way.

“In the Destiny Arena, Ra was welcomed into the community, but was incapacitated when J’ang found a fragment of a Mask of Power and was able to transform himself into a spirit that could hide inside. He tricked Ra into dawning the mask, and then could take control over him. J’ang took Ra’s place and assumed the nickname Spectral, referring to his ghostly, half-transparent mask fragment. Spectral styled himself as a trickster in the midst of a goodly pantheon, and for no reason other than mischief attempted to frame the one called Trakvan for an old crime committed by an unknown party back in the Triple Fortress, a crime that had served as a great inspiration for J’ang when he still dwelt there. It was during this time that he was indoctrinated as the Ignotomancer. He had the powers of the Chronomancer, but the knowledge of the Mancers was clouded by an ancient spell, and so though he was recognized as a mage, his powers were unknowable.

“Ultimately, J’ang was not defeated as he would have liked, in some great battle or dramatic confrontation, but was simply shunned by the other inhabitants of the Arena. Infighting among the others began to destroy the community without any help from the cold-hearted villain, and, feeling impotent and ignored, his will began to fade. In this weakness, Ra Hannah was able to dominate his body from the mask fragment and resume control. However, even after this victory, a great fear that he did not understand kept him from removing the mask, though he suspected J’ang still dwelt inside.

“Ra Hannah eventually became known as the Incomancer, for the Mancers believed that, by overpowering J’ang, the mystery surrounding his powers had subsided. His mastery of ink and color had returned, and they seemed to be the answer to the riddle of the Unknown Mage. But in fact, Ra Hannah’s powers were caused by the blood in his veins, the same blood that ran thick in the well of ink back in far-away Chanvale, and they were not Incomancy.

“If Incomancy even exists,” the Ventimancer remarked, glancing at the Incomancer to his right.

The Ignotomancer turned his own eyes away from the Incomancer, though he had looked over without thinking when the Ventimancer had spoken. The Incomancer wilted whenever someone looked expectantly at him, and it troubled the Ignotomancer to see him so paralyzed. Then, he continued:

“We never got this far, but we knew that Ra Hannah was destined to return with Artemis to Chanvale and attempt to overthrow the Guild of Assassins that ruled there. Then, he would discover his true power as the Chronomancer. In combat in the cave of his genesis, an enemy would tear the mask off of his face, and then he would be cast into the fountain of ink from whence he came. The latent mind of J’ang would cling to the body and fall into the ink, and, feeling a primal urge to scramble safety, he would attempt to flee backwards in time. There he would lie, in an embryonic bath, until he would emerge, with no memory, baptized and purified, from the well, several years prior. He would become the past self of his enemy, Ra Hannah, and the two rivals were revealed to be one.

“Meanwhile, the power of the mask was able to create a new, spectral body: his final form, the Chronomancer. But he would recall a conversation with the leader of the Mancers, the Mage of Life, who had warned him that neither a Mage of Time nor a Mage of Death could use their powers to work any good, and so he resolved to hide his identity. He wove a powerful spell that obscured his powers at all points in his past, so that J’ang could not discover those powers and use them for evil. And because he feared that the influence of the parasite within J’ang may not have left his own spirit, neither did he use his powers in the present or future.

“J’ang, Ra Hannah, and Spectral: one being in three persons.”

The Ignotomancer’s story was finished, and he could not speak anymore even if he had wanted to. He and the Incomancer had vanished from the chamber.

The Ventimancer looked again at the seated figure, who now sat upright, though his shoulders still slumped, and looked back at him. Now, there was real fear in the Ventimancer’s eyes. “And what about me?” he asked. “Once we abandoned that story, I thought it best to leave all of that behind us. And I thought that this," he gestured towards himself, and his clothes, "would just be… simpler.”

The seated figure took a deep breath. “Ventimancer, you will remain what you were always intended to be: a character. A role to play in a game. Be content with this, for that is all anyone can ever be, though most may not realize it.”

The Ventimancer nodded eagerly, his face not betraying his immense relief. He did not want to know what had just happened to the others.

Behind him, the bubbling ink from the fountain made yet another unpleasant sound, almost as though it was trying to gasp for air.

The figure rose and began to walk around the desk, past the Ventimancer, and past the fountain. His arms were clasped behind him and he paced. “I do not know when I will need to draw from this well again, but I leave you to guard it. But,” He turned to the Ventimancer and gave a weak, but kind, smile, “Do not fear that I am discarding all of the work that has been done here. That, I bring with me, wherever I stray.”

And he took from a pocket a dip pen, and held his other arm up in the air, his fingers limp, as though grasping an invisible object, as though showing the Ventimancer a badge. He pushed the tip of the pen into his vein, and drew out from it blood.

Then, he walked over to a parchment on his desk, bracing it with one hand, and signing his name with the other. This he carried over to the Ventimancer.

It was blank, except for a name written in red-violet ink: “Enkaiomancer.”

The newly-christened Enkaiomancer walked out, into the adjoining tunnel. He was walking with purpose, and the Ventimancer supposed that whatever had been weighing on him had been lifted from his shoulders.

So why did he feel like they had not accomplished anything here today?

He was no longer hearing the sounds of the fountain; he had been standing there long enough, that it had faded into the background, into white noise. He looked towards the abandoned desk.

He sauntered over, and took a seat. There were other pens here, and an inkwell containing normal, black ink. It made writing and editing far more difficult than a keyboard, but they had always been drawn to it. And drawn from it, he realized, and smiled at the pun. Yes, they would always return, time and time again, dipping back into the well that never seemed to run dry. And here they were again.

“Enkaiomancer,” he said it quietly to himself, “From the Ancient Greek enkaioston, meaning ‘to burn in…’ He must think it’s the ancestor of the English word ‘ink.’ All I know is that it was used to describe a Roman Emperor’s signature. But, if he’s using the Latin loanword, he should really spell it with a ‘c’ instead of a ‘k.’

“Honestly, I think it might be the worst of the four.” Then, he paused, and began to reflect in silence.

He was on the edge of his seat, but slumped backwards. His legs were so outstretched that they were jutting out from under the opposite side of his desk. He had needed help to lift that desk through the tunnels, into this cave that formed a sort of natural amphitheater. His elbow was on the arm of the desk-chair and was supporting his head, but was also covering half of his face; his little finger was between his nose and his eye, and his eye was between his little finger and his ring finger.

He was not wearing a ring.

Edit: Minor changes and grammatical revisions, but most importantly, Ventimancer's reflections after the Enkaiomancer departs are all new. I think you'll agree that they change the story completely.

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