~ a short story

All things are constantly in one or another phase.

“Including you! Every single cell in your body! All the time, every moment!!”

Sunil blinked back to awareness. Sensei stood over him, finger pointing directly at him, through him.

He kneeled unevenly upon the wooden floor of the dojo, his two compatriots beside him. All three faced forward, bore down upon by him. Jogo, sensei. Master of The Art. The one tasked with teaching them how to wield it for themselves. He wore all black, the long coat of tendrils designed to mark those highest within the order. Hands on hips, he basked in the dusky orange air that warmed their backs. The garden beckoned them from behind. Its nearness to them in seats of express learning was meant to siphon lethargy and bolster enthusiasm.

Things always work differently with me… Sunil reminded himself

Sunil glanced to his left, to Maeve. Her eyes were shut in silent tranquility. She listened with her especial attention, enough to span three sides of a converse. To his right and just behind him knelt Frederic; with steely determination he gazed at Jogo, ready for whatever last strange physical test or mental complication lay before them today. Running, sparring, minutes of meditation spelled by striking repetitions in the field. Their day was full. But not over. Consistently, Sensei saved the best for last. Less than eager, Sunil set his mind for more, whatever it may be…

Facing forward once more, Sunil sighed at the memory of the two of them — calmed and able. A pair of absolutes. Reliable. They’d been molded as only a teacher like Jogo could. As a trio they were the pride of the village. The next generation. And yet, each in their own way, they were both stronger than himself. Sunil knew this quite intimately.

I have yet to best either in any single contest.

Jogo now crouched down to level with him, wearing his familiar yet unknowable smile, a grim mix between grimace and grin. Long white hair spiked out of his scalp at seemingly random spurts, glistening with the knowledge of the ancients. His thin frame belied a hidden strength. In him were phantoms of power unseen by the mere sight of his middle-aged, mediocre-sized body. And behind those eyes, beyond that grin… there were terrors Sunil had only ever heard tall tales about.

Jogo was said to be the greatest Artist there ever was. Or will be. ‘Master’ was no ordinary title; it was a definition bestowed by the elders.

To have him as a teacher… What a privilege…The phases! The phases!! What was he talking about again? Sunil wracked himself for the distractions. He’d taken in practically nothing. Too late to ask either…

“Eh?” Jogo exerted quietly. He cocked his head. “You spacing again, yungun?” he accused.

Sunil bowed his head in shame. “The phases of s-syzy… I apologize, Sensei.”

“It’s okay. You have taken on a lot recently. There is no shame in a period of adjustment. We all go through it… We all need a little more time to become more acquainted with how precarious our relationship with reality is.”

?, Sunil emoted, unconsciously so.

“I am talking about death, stup-… Student!” Jogo exclaimed. “Death and Art. These are the only ways we can grasp life! Yes! Yes? Yes…”

An aphorism. A lesson within a lesson, a favored tactic…

Sunil breathed out hard, started to bow.

Jogo shooed the motions and spun around as he spoke, prancing along the wood with quiet steps, hands behind his head in sudden relaxation. He was never one for derision or malediction. His corrections were usually physical… A strange misdirection, out of character… Beside him, Sunil felt Maeve and Fred fade away, each caught in Sensei’s aura as he was. It was time for his lecture.

“Syzygy. It’s the core of The Art.”

Sunil struggled to pronounce the word in the halls of his mind.

“Siza-gee,” Jogo clarified, as if reading it.

Might he be? What are the true limitations of his power… After all, only he knows.

Jogo smiled, as if in another answer. Then he went on,

“It is a culmination. The endpoint of a special dyad. A synthesis between a pair… This concept dominates all aspects of Artistry. From casting to absorbing, to cursing. Even ensorceling.”

Jogo waved his hands in a feigned composition there. Sunil watched in awe, even at the half-hearted display of a Master’s minute dexterities. His hands weaved like water through the air, a slight glow to the after image of each of his fingers. It was unlike anything Sunil had ever seen from an adult Artist. Then, instantly, Jogo was back to his sermon.

“Syzygy is simply-”

“The meeting point of a thesis and an antithesis!” Sunil blurted out. Jogo nodded slowly. Sunil turned back to each of his companions expectantly. Oddly enough, Jogo loved to have his students interrupt him during his lectures. As long as they were right. Another quirk, just another way a Master defied all expectation.

Sunil’s breath was stolen from the sights beside him.

Unexpectedly, Maeve and Fred stared right back. Right into his eyes. There was a sense of urgency in their eyes that he’d never seen before. It made him afraid. Their gazes screamed, as if they imparted the words “Pay attention!” Maeve looked nervous; Fred was pleading. Uncharacteristic… Sunil gathered himself back to the lecture, to Jogo’s meandering words of mystic intensity.

This must be important, Sunil!

“That is correct, yungun,” he affirmed. “Syzygy is synthesis, of one kind or another. A combination point of two disparate states into a third, even more disparate form. One of permanence.”

Raising his finger again, Jogo said with an imperious tone, “One of power.”

One finger became three, raised and counting down.

“There are three forms of syzygy. First comes occultation. This is when a larger body passes in front of a smaller one.”

Jogo mimed the effect with his hands, gracefully taking one widened palm and placing it behind a fist.

“The effect is magnification. An overwhelming sense of expansion, such as when a larger country devours a smaller one through a war of aggression, dictated by firepower. Another word for it is conquest.”

Sunil had never learned the name of his homeland. It was a country of no consequence. Or so his parents had told him. Jogo had served as an infantryman in that war, fighting in every one of its battles. He was a child of conquest, officially titled as such upon registration into the order.

Does that matter… to assimilate this occultation? Why did he ever tell me that anyway? Another test? Might he have had something to do…

No! Stop. Pay. Attention.

“The second is transit,” Jogo continued casually, wheeling around and putting his arms behind his back. He paced over the panels, each becoming slowly subsumed in shadows as the day faded away. Silence permeated the small training room outside of his words. Sunil wondered if they were just as consumed in the lesson as he.

“This is when an apparently smaller body passes in front of a larger one. The result is a new order of things, a transformation from one system to another. More subtle than occultation, generally involving a twist of misdirection.”

Jogo wrapped his fingers tightly around his pinky finger.

“When a subset of individuals from within or without a country come together with tactics and strategies and a plan for a change… There is an enclosure around a person or an ideal. Everything falls in line, in creation or destruction. This is a kind of transit. A coup.”

Back to his pace, one finger remained on Jogo’s presenting hand. His middle finger. He giggled as he looked upon it himself. Sunil held back a chuckle. There was a childlike wonder to him sometimes… Just as the thought entered him, Sensei’s eyes then flashed with malign intent, a deep blue glow rimming their focus. Sunil winced at the reversal. And at the prospect of him being center of attention.

That was the terror. You could only ever see a glimpse of it.

“The third, and rarest, is the eclipse. Its rarity also makes it the most powerful. This kind of synthesis is the primeval source of Art,” Jogo said with finality.

Jogo approached the three of them. He crouched once more, elbows on his knees. Wind chimes riddled the air suddenly, the stillness suddenly disturbed around them, echoing throughout the complex.

Beyond its walls were enemies and oppressors. The fact of their fate as liberators, wielding Art as the very last hope of their ancestors, rained down upon Sunil’s young shoulders. Jogo studied him attentively, his face dangerously close. His eyes were full of terror, his grin wider than ever.

Are these thoughts — these painful reminders — being imparted… Sunil asked frantically.

Jogo only smiled wider, answering his inquiry.

Don’t forget what’s at stake, Sunil! They certainly will not! You have an important duty here… So listen!!

Good advice, Jogo’s chin up seemed to say in response.

Jogo raised his middle finger again, waving it about.

“There are myriad examples of eclipse.”

“The moon and sun, their cycle allowing our life. Earth and wind, fire and water. Light and shadow… Every engine of creation needs a form of fuel and a torch to light,” Jogo explained easily to his young pupil.

“A man and a woman. Every perfect meeting has a sword and a shield… One ending where the other begins. When two primordial forces meet and contend with one another, a righteous battle commences. Out of it, power becomes dissipated, then reformed, combined and recapitulated. Ready to burst again, but stronger. In the end, after many cycles, there comes Completeness.”

Sunil did not blink, hearing and internalizing every word.

“A circle. That is what an eclipse is,” Jogo whispered, forming one deftly with all his fingers, one hand atop the other.

“And the Art… Is an eclipse of our passion and our reason,” Sunil stated with as much confidence as he could muster. It was the rote wording of their texts, an esoteric linguistic quip to help explain the Art to a lamen and sound fascinating while doing it. Sunil felt it was the “culmination” sensei was building toward.

Correct, said Jogo’s returning expression.

“Precisely!” he said happily. Then suddenly, Sensei waved him up and away. “That is all for today. You are free to go, Sunil. You have completed basic training.”

“Completed…” Sunil muttered. Over? They were set to work for another…

A chill ran down the young boy’s spine. Startled, he pulled himself to a stand and turned around. Maeve and Frederic were gone.

Only me…”

Jogo’s voice was more ice upon his back.

“Only you.”

Sunil turned back to his sensei with tears rimming his eyes.

“Of any three, only one ever emerges as an Initiate into the order…” Sunil spoke from memory, recalling common knowledge every trainee understands when they enter into the pursuit of Artistry with any professional aspirations. The Order, by rule, only ever takes one of three.

One of three.

But what happens to the other two…

Jogo displayed all his teeth in a vigorous rasp.

“Congratulations on your eclipse, Artist! We get back to it tomorrow.”

To his surprise, Sunil’s heart did not hammer anxiously in his chest at the revelation of the losses. He was calm. Staring back into Sensei’s icy blues, he felt more determined than ever. ~