Transcript – A Happy Anniversary

[The Pensive Tower theme plays]

Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Thirty Three: A Happy Anniversary

[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]

This is the memory of Doctor Arman SinTengar. Human, aged forty-three, identified as male. Memory regards an odd student who attended his Advanced Alkismos course at the Myrcinian Academy. It was donated on the fourteenth of Kalla, in the year 712. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the fourth of Riverfill, 730.

We Begin.

Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I know you’re likely busy enough with all the people coming through here without me taking up too much of your time so I’ll get straight to the point.

I’ve been debating about making this donation for the past year. I didn’t know if this was the sort of thing you would accept. I mean, I hardly believe it happened and I was there. But a friend of mine said you don’t pass any kind of judgement on the people who make donations which is what helped me finally decide to come in and get it down. I am hoping that going through it all again and writing it all out will provide me with some clarity on the matter, maybe help me make sense of what I think I saw.

So, I should probably start by giving you some context. I’m a teacher at the Myrcinian Academy in Hy-Braelyn. It’s a school much like any other you’d find across the Federation. We teach children ages 11 through to 18 the basic academic subjects, language, mathematics and so on, along with various electives that the children can choose when they reach the appropriate ages.

I teach basic sciences to the younger children and then, at the more advanced level, more specialised courses in chemistry and alkismos.

I’d been at the academy for well over ten years at this point so I’d settled into a good routine with my courses, especially with my Advanced Alkismos class.

It’s an elective only available to the older students. It’s really intended as an intermediate course for those who are planning on studying alkismos at the university level. Because of this, it usually ends up being quite a small class which allows me to give the students more attention. Rather than a strict classroom environment, I am able to treat it more like a university seminar where I can engage my students in conversation and discussion on the subject. It’s actually one of the few classes I always enjoy teaching. Or, rather, used to always enjoy.

So, let me see, this would have started in Thresherstine of last year, the start of the new school year. I had my schedule and my lesson plans prepared so I was ready to go. And I was thrilled to see that my first class of the week would be an Advanced Alkismos class.

Even when I walked into the classroom, nothing seemed immediately off. There were around fifteen students in the class. Most I knew, having taught them before, and they all sat together in groups, chatting away happily. There was also a handful of new faces who had transferred to the academy that year. These newcomers sat alone or in pairs, which made sense, they were new and hadn’t made any friends yet. That, I knew, would change over time.

So when I saw the young raekn boy sitting alone in the far corner of the room, I didn’t think much of it. He was a new arrival and didn’t know anyone in the class yet. I’d seen similar situations every year and knew that, as soon as I got them all involved in the class discussion, that nervousness would gradually fade away.

So I began the lesson, just introducing myself and talking through the sorts of things we would be talking about that semester. It was during that time that my eye kept being drawn over to the raekn boy. Not because he wasn’t listening or being distracting. He was sitting completely still in his chair, his eyes fixed on me in apparent rapt attention.

But that was the thing that was a little unnerving about him. The other students were looking at me and listening too, but they would all occasionally fidget in their seats or cough… or blink.

The raekn boy… he didn’t move at all. He just sat there, still as a statue, just watching me.

I tried not to let it distract me and continued with my talk until the end, then I invited each of them to stand up and introduce themselves to the rest of the class.

I do that at the start of every year. It helps me learn the new names and faces and I think its a good way to break the ice for the new arrivals and help them integrate themselves with the others.

I’m not sure why, at that point, I was nervous for the raekn boy to take his turn. As far as I was concerned, he was just another student, a little intense perhaps, but certainly no more than that.

I don’t remember him standing up. I remember him sitting there and then he was standing. I didn’t see the process of going from one to the other. He was just suddenly on his feet and speaking in a clipped, very correct accent, telling the room that his name was Olvar, Olvar Creek, and that he was looking forward to learning more about the craft.

And then he was sitting down again. Just like that, as suddenly as he’d stood. I glanced around at the other students, expecting to see them looking as confused as I felt. But it didn’t look like they’d even noticed.

I met Olvar’s eye then, and he smiled. On any other face, I would have called it perfectly normal, a polite smile any student might have given their teacher. But it made me feel so… uneasy.

The lesson went on for the remainder of the hour. I did my best not to look at Olvar but, despite my best efforts, my eye kept flickering over to him. And every time he would be sitting, perfectly still and unmoving, still with that polite smile on his face.

The bell finally rang and I breathed a sigh of relief. All the students stood up and began filing out.

Olvar was the last to leave. Once again, I didn’t see him actually stand up. It was like someone had flipped between two pictures, one of him sitting and the other of him standing.

But I did see him leave.

The way he walked was… well it was downright unsettling. He moved as if he didn’t really need to use his legs. As if his legs were moving just to give the pretence of walking, like a marionette being moved along on its strings by a puppeteer.

As he passed me, he turned his head. It was then that I first noticed his eyes. They were strangely empty and lightless, almost like they were made of glass. He gave me another of his wide smiles and said “thank you for teaching.”

He then turned his head back and carried on moving towards the door, his feet seeming to barely brush the floor as he went.

I was sure I imagined it. I had to be imagining it, right?

By the time the next lesson rolled around, I think I had managed to convince myself that I had imagined it, that I must have misremembered things. Olvar was just a bit stranger than the average student, I told myself, and I’d just magnified his eccentricities in my mind.

I kept telling myself this. After every lesson I had with him, I think I had to. If I didn’t, that might have meant confronting the reality of the situation.

He never did anything dangerous or overtly threatening. All he really did was sit there and stare unblinking at me. This was undeniably disconcerting but nothing more than that. It was far preferable to when he would ask questions.

This in itself wasn’t unusual, I encouraged the students to ask me as many questions as they could. I was there to help them learn, after all, not merely shove information at them. But I was used to answering questions about the correct chemical components of certain creations or the history of the process.

I was certainly not used to hearing questions like; “Can pain be cast in glass?”, “Which is the strongest blood?”, or “What is the boiling point of thoughts?”

Some of his questions, I honestly didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t know if I should or even could answer. I couldn’t think of a reason why anyone would want to know such things.

I remember one question that stuck in my head was when he asked me about the Clavisstone.

If you haven’t heard of it, I’m not surprised. It’s a bit of a cult legend in the alkismotist community but, as far as I know, it’s not a story widely known outside of that circle. And no one really takes it seriously.

The Clavisstone was, allegedly, the first gemstone made with the kismotic process. What it was or what it was supposed to do, well, no one really knows. It’s the source of quite a lot of debate, actually.

I repeated all of this to Olvar, who seemed disappointed when I couldn’t tell him anything more. If it ever did exist, I said, then it has long been lost.

One thing I noticed about Olvar was that, though he was certainly inquisitive, he never participated in the group activities or talks. He only ever sat there, watching everyone. But no one seemed uncomfortable with his attention, in fact no one else reacted to him at all. There was a point when I seriously started wondering if Olvar was real, if only I could see him. But I checked admissions and his name was definitely there. I also checked with the teachers of his other classes and they all described him as a quiet boy who just got on with his work and seemed no more concerned by him than my other students. It was as if they could indeed all see him, but nobody cared at all about anything he did.

So that was more or less my lessons with them for that first semester. Olvar made me uncomfortable but, since he wasn’t doing anything really wrong, I couldn’t have him removed. In time I was eventually able to ignore him unless he had his hand up. It wasn’t ideal but I was able to carry on.

Then we arrived at the midterms.

Ordinarily I don’t think much of them, they’re really just there to gauge how the students are doing with the course. And if I hadn’t done something… something very stupid, then maybe it would have been just like any other midterm and nothing else would have come of it.

But I did do something and, well, here we are.

You see, the day of the midterm test happened to fall on the same day as my anniversary. As an early gift, my wife had given me a mind ring.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s a minor kismotic item. What it does is allow you to hear the surface thoughts of someone you have a connection with. It’s a very limited power, it can’t really be used for much more than telling how someone’s feeling. That combined with that fact the preparation is very complex and the forming takes a long time means that not many people bother with the making of one.

When they are made, they’re usually given as joke presents which was how it was given to me. I sometimes have difficulty reading my wife’s mood and she presented me with the ring saying “maybe now you’ll know what I’m thinking”. We had a good laugh about it and gave it no more thought.

I don’t remember why I had it with me at school. I think I put the box in my coat pocket and just forgot it was there.

But, however it happened, I found it in my coat pocket while I was in the classroom while my Advanced Alkismos class were taking their written tests.

I’d done a couple of walks around the desks, doing my duty of making sure there was no cheating or talking going on while the test was in progress.

I had avoided Olvar’s desk as long as I could, worried I would see him doing something weird or unsettling. But, on the surface, he seemed to be concentrating as much as the other students and was hard at work, so I walked by his desk and happened to glance down.

And then I had to look again. Olvar’s handwriting… was so… neat. No, that’s not right. It wasn’t just that it was neat, that’s a complete understatement. I’ve had plenty of students with neat handwriting. Olvar’s was something else. It looked like his page had been done on a printing press, each and every letter was uniform and precise. It sounds like a strange detail to get hung up on but you have to understand, I have been teaching for ten years, and in that time I have seen the handwriting of hundreds of students. Writing this neatly and this perfectly… it should not have been possible.

Olvar seemed to notice me then and turned his head to look at me. Only his head. The rest of his body remained perfectly still. He looked up at me with those strange eyes, completely empty of emotion, smiled that smile of his again and asked me if I was well.

What was I supposed to say? “No, your writing is too neat!”? Or perhaps, “No, your head shouldn’t be able to turn like that!”?

I said that yes I was fine and he should continue with his test.

I went back to my desk and sat down. No one seemed to have noticed my exchange with Olvar, who had gone back to his exam like there had been no interruption.

It was then that I remembered the mind ring in my pocket.

I’m not sure what madness gripped me in that moment. I suppose I was thinking that if I could know Olvar’s mood that maybe that might make him somewhat less unsettling. It was an impulse decision, I did not even know if it would work. Like I said, you have to have a connection with the person you’re trying to read and I didn’t know if my being his teacher would count as a good enough connection.

Apparently it did. More’s the pity.

With my hand in my pocket, I slipped the ring onto my finger. Immediately, I felt the sensory field erupt into being around me. I knew that to everyone but me, this would be invisible but I saw it as a hazy aura shimmering around me. I then directed this aura towards Olvar.

Immediately the boy was surrounded by the haze. I waited. Nothing happened.

I felt my stomach go cold.

It wasn’t that the ring hadn’t worked. If that had been the case, the aura would have dissipated as soon as it touched Olvar. It was still there, shimmering around him. What was happening was impossible but there was no other explanation. Olvar had no thoughts. No mood. His mind was a literal blank.

Suddenly, Olvar’s head came up as if he had been stung. His blank eyes turned on me and I’m guessing he saw me looking horrified.

He smiled. And it was not the same smile as before. This was like the smile of a young boy who had been caught in the act of doing something he knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing, but knew he would not get into trouble.

He couldn’t have known about the ring. That was impossible. Only the wearer of the ring can see the aura or feel the effects. But Olvar knew. Somehow he knew, I’m sure of it.

I pulled the ring off my finger and turned my face to the other side of the classroom, trying my best to act as if nothing had happened.

When I glanced back a moment or so later, Olvar was writing again, but he had not taken his eyes off me.

He did not take his eyes off me for the rest of the hour, even as he went on writing. And when the time was up, he kept looking at me as I took all the answer papers back. And when he left, his eyes never once left me. I swear I saw his head rotate as he walked past my desk.

“See you tomorrow, Sir,” he said as he left the room.

His tone sent a shiver down my spine.

I spent the rest of that day dreading the next. The written exam was just the first part of the midterms and there would be a practical examination the following day. I could not think of anything particularly dangerous that could be made with the ingredients I would give them. But still I was nervous. No, more than that, I was afraid.

Because Olvar had somehow been able to sense the aura of the mind ring. And anyone who could do that, well, there was no telling what else he might be able to do.

Then the next morning came. I think that was the first day in my entire career that I seriously considered just not going into work. I could just call in sick, I thought, let someone else run the exam.

But then, what about after the break? I couldn’t call off sick for an entire year. And besides, I had other classes besides my Advanced Alkismos class, other students who would be depending on me.

I think the walk to my classroom that morning was one of the longest of my life. Every step I was thinking about what might be waiting for me when I opened that door.

The room was silent when I entered. No one was talking, laughing or doing anything. All of them were just sat still and upright, facing forward, as still as statues. Their faces disconcertingly blank. All except for Olvar, who had his usual smile on his face as he turned to watch me enter the room.

I decided to act as if I was not unnerved by all this, to pretend that this was the same practical midterm examination I had overseen every year for a decade.

I brought in the prepared ingredients. These ingredients are the kind used in basic, every day alkismos. Jars of kismotic herbs, including black fork, silverroot and so on. Small rods of bronze, various small animal bones, bark from the three approved trees, you get the idea.

Each student had their forge bowl and pestle in front of them, so I told them that they had an hour and that they should begin.

I don’t know why I was so nervous. I knew every combination of the ingredients I had given them. Had, by that point, memorised those pages of the Compendium by heart. I knew there was nothing in any way dangerous that they could make with those ingredients.

Which was why, I told myself, it was perfectly fine that I ignored what Olvar was doing. That I ignored what the whole class was doing. After all, I didn’t need to watch over their shoulders, I just needed to mark whatever they turned in.

I had some homework from another class that I could mark, so I sat at my desk, got out the papers and a pen and began going through them.

I could hear the students beginning their work, though they were still silent.

I don’t forbid talking during the practical, students might need to move around their table, use the same jar of ingredients or borrow a tool. I don’t mind them talking, as long as they don’t cause a distraction. So, there is usually a soft muttering throughout the exam.

Not this time. This time there was a silence so overwhelming, it felt like the sound of a pencil dropping would shatter the air like glass.

Finally, after several minutes of unbearable quiet, I looked up.

At first glance, it appeared that everyone was hard at work. Pens scratched as the students made notes and calculations, pestles ground ingredients into fine powders, and mixtures sparked and crackled. And all of these things were done without making a sound.

It was as if someone had clamped a pillow around my ears. I could see all these things happening, but I could not hear them.

To make matters worse, or at least more unsettling, the way they moved was… unnatural. It was like they were all in a trance, doing each task the exact same way as the other students.

It was like watching machines performing the tasks instead of real people.

The exception, of course, was Olvar. He was working away, looking perfectly normal. Which just made him seem more sinister alongside the other students moving in near automated precision.

I decided to just ignore it. It would soon be over. I thought if I pretended it wasn’t happening, nothing would happen to me. Like a child hiding under their bed from the monsters that stalk the bedroom.

I turned back to the papers on my desk, determined not to look up again until the exam was finished.

That resolve went out the window when I realised it was getting darker.

I looked up, and saw Olvar holding something in his hand. It looked like a ball of black light. I don’t know what it was, or how he made it. He certainly not make it with the ingredients I gave him.

And then, it got worse.

The ball in Olvar’s hand, well… it was like it drained all the light out of the room. And I don’t just mean it made it hard to see. I mean it sucked all light, all colour, out of the room until I couldn’t see anything. The students, the room itself, even the sky outside the window. I could no longer see the sun.

It was all reduced to inky blackness. All except one thing.

I could still see Olvar. He was illuminated, somehow, by the black ball that he held proudly in his hand. I could still make out the wall behind him, so I knew I was still in the classroom. And the ball cast Olvar’s shadow against it. Though, I’m not sure it was his shadow. It certainly didn’t match his shape.

He noticed me looking then. And he held the ball of black light towards me.

“Look sir,” he said, as calmly and politely as if it were just any other day in the classroom. “I made a Clavisstone.”

And, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why. But hearing him say that filled me with more terror than anything else I had seen that semester.

The dark was spreading again. I saw the dark light fade in Olvar’s hand and, gradually, he became wrapped in shadows.

“Thank you for teaching,” he said, still smiling as the dark engulfed him, “it was most illuminating.”

And then he was gone, and the room was pitch black. It was so dark, there was no difference between my eyes being open and closed.

I became terrified that I would be left in this place, that Olvar had abandoned me to this all encompassing darkness. I began moving around the room, desperately looking for someone or something. A door, a desk, anything.

My leg came into contact with something hard and I fell, clutching at my shin, my eyes screwed up in pain.

When I opened them, light had returned. I was in my classroom and the students were crowding around me, asking if I was alright. Whatever spell had been working on them seemed to have broken.

I looked around the room. There was no sign of Olvar. When I asked if anyone had seen him, everyone looked at me confused.

No one remembers seeing him in my class. His name was still on the register but it seems like I’m the only one who ever saw him. I don’t know what to do. I’m hoping you can help me. I feel like I’m being followed.

Final Notes; there’s quite a bit to go through with this one so I shall start with the shortest list which is what can be corroborated.

According the registry list of the Myrcinian Academy in Thresherstine of 711, there was an Olvar Creek enrolled in the Advanced Alkismos course. He was also taking courses in Biology, History and Politics. He is listed as a transfer student, though it is not said where he transferred from. But, in between the two semesters of the year, he was removed from all registers. No reason is noted.

We tried following up with some of the other students in the class. One Danell duOrind did say that they remembered Doctor SinTengar exhibiting strange behaviour during their midterm exam, but later put it down to early signs of his psychosis.

Doctor SinTengar was not available for follow up, as he has spent the last seventeen years in Mhorom Asylum, a specialised facility for those suffering from dangerous delusions. It seems shortly after he donated this memory, he began complaining about shadows following him, even at night, and visions of terrible darkness. It got to the point that his wife, Mrs Inora SinTengar, feared that he would do something drastic and contacted medical professionals who later referred him to the Mhorom Facility, where he remains to this day. Our request for a conversation with Doctor SinTengar was rejected.

Honestly, given these circumstances, I’d be tempted to call this memory nothing more than the delusions of an unfortunate and disturbed man. But when Szelia was reading through Doctor SinTengar’s story, she remarked upon the way he describes how the boy Olvar moved; as a marionette being moved by strings. She said it reminded her of the movements of the person, or thing, that called themselves Elayne SinDreda.

Inscription complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

Special Thanks to Quinn Watson

[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]