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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 7: Brown 99
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 6: Slade 94
Daylight woke Derek, and he looked around. This forest was very different from the one in which he grew up as a sprite. It was getting hot and muggy fast; the sounds were very different, and he tried to guess which noises were bird calls and which were other kinds of animals. In all, he was not comfortable here; however, it was time to make himself comfortable.
As he expected, his gear was all close at hand. The pack landed a few feet from a stream, which seemed to offer potable water. Derek paused for only a moment before tasting it--after all, it might kill him, but that wasn't permanent, and this was the best shot he had at something to drink. He didn't carry much around in the way of food or drink when he traveled, and it had occurred to him before that he should probably change that, but he'd not done so yet. He still had some food packs from years ago, when he was with Lauren and Starson and the others in that bunker. That was before he was a sprite; but it apparently had lasted several centuries in storage there, so another score of years or so wasn't likely to spoil it. If he didn't find anything else soon, he'd eat some of those; meanwhile, water was important, and this appeared to be it.
His bicycle was not far from the backpack. A fat lot of good it would do him here, on this soft ground with all this undergrowth; but you could never tell--after all, he'd seen a hundred square feet of this world. Growing up as a sprite, he had moved all over the forest for years before he knew that there were humans, people with cities, in that world, and it was even after that that he met an elf and discovered their part of the world. This could be a theme park on a space station, for all he knew so far; but the water tasted fresh, and if it wasn't a natural forest, it was an incredibly effective effort to imitate one.
He pitched his tent, built a fireplace, set up the fire, but didn't light it--it was too hot to bother with heat, and he had nothing to cook. He started reviewing in his mind what he needed: water, shelter, and fire seemed to be pretty well established, and he was dry and had dry clothes and a tent in which to stay dry if it rained (as it looked like it often did around here). He changed into the magical size-changing suit Bethany had made for him, in case he needed to change size abruptly. That left food, really. He should think about that.
Did he have fire? He realized rather abruptly that when he was a sprite he learned to light fires with the heat from his body; he had never done that as a human, and he couldn't really explain how he did it even as a sprite. He knew that he held something finer than tinder in his hands, something sprites called mithissela, and that he focused his body heat into his hands until it ignited, then quickly spread the fire to the tinder. Could he do this in this world? Could he create the mithissela, warm it in human hands, cause it to ignite? That might be something he could do only as a sprite. He could fly only as a sprite, but that was because as Morach he had relatively large wings and a small body. As Ferris he had a much larger and heavier body and smaller wings--no, the wings were larger than they were when he was a sprite, but smaller relative to his body, and were really only useful for gliding and slowing his descent. He hadn't lit a fire since he left his sprite home. He was assuming a lot, perhaps. Maybe he should try it.
No, he decided, it was too soon to try anything like that. However, he did begin preparing the mithissela. He would try to warm it as Derek, and if that failed he would try again as Ferris, if he could become Ferris. If he couldn't do it in either of those bodies, he would have to become Morach and try again.
Drawing out his pocket knife, he worked on providing himself with materials for building and maintaining several fires. Some of this he stored in the tent, so that it would stay dry if the weather turned. He zipped up the tent to keep out bugs and whatever else might wander past, and gathered firewood while exploring the area in a wider range around his campsite. He found nothing exceptional. He did see what looked to be a parrot, or something like it, in one of the trees, and also a large snake; he had very little background in the biological sciences, though, so he couldn't say even whether these were earth creatures, let alone what part of earth this might be if they were.
The day dragged on. He gave some thought to what abilities he might be able to use in this place. He decided, finally, to try to summon something; that was one of the first things he did when he was teaching himself mental tricks as a sprite, and he did it often. He tried mice, and sparrows, and a few other small animals with which he had had success then. Nothing came; he did not know whether this was because it wasn't working or because there were no creatures like that around. He hesitated to attempt to summon a snake, because the snake he saw looked rather large and dangerous, and he didn't really think he wanted it coming his direction.
Night drew closer, and he decided it was time to light his fire. Taking some of the mithissela, he sat on a rock near the fireplace and attempted to shift his body heat into his hands.
It had taken him a while to learn it as a sprite, but as a human it didn't seem to be working at all. He remembered his mother, Lelach, increasing the glow of her body and particularly of her hands, and how he had copied this; but he didn't seem to have the ability to adjust his body temperature at all as Derek. This wasn't going to work. He would have to become Morach.
He hesitated. Maybe he didn't have to become Morach. One of the tricks he'd done with his mind was heat things. He had warmed the air in their home, and heated up his cereal when it got cold. He'd never started a fire with his mind, but he thought Lauren probably had, and he didn't see any reason why he shouldn't be able to, particularly since he had some mithissela to light. He focused on the superfine tinder, in his hand, trying to get it to heat up and burst into flame.
It was no use; it wasn't warming. He would have to try something else. Maybe he could do it as Ferris; after all, he took the name Ferris Hoffman for that strange body he had in the last world, because it was halfway between a sprite and a man. It didn't glow, but it did have wings. He never tried to produce heat in that body. This would be as good a time as any.
He thought about Ferris Hoffman, thought about being Ferris Hoffman, pictured himself as Ferris Hoffman. Suddenly his body started to change, to shrink. Unexpectedly, he glowed brightly, lighting up like a beacon. His skin felt incredibly hot. The mithissela still in his hand burst into flame, and he dropped it. Then it was over. He was Ferris. His clothes hung on his two and a half foot tall body like a blanket.
The transformation was entirely unexpected. Every other time he had done this, it had been a simple matter of changing from one form to the other. This time, what was all that light and heat? He turned it over in his mind. He had done it in the last world, where there was a lot of magic around. In fact, this outfit was specifically designed to change size magically to match his body, and it hadn't done so. Probably there wasn't enough magic in this world for the clothes to work right. Maybe the transformation itself was just a physical thing, no different from butterflies, but there was another part of it that had been magical. After all, if you reduce your body to half as tall, half as wide, and half as thick, you've lost a lot of mass--Ferris was a lot lighter than Derek, light enough that the small wings now protruding from his back could break his fall. That mass had to go somewhere. Some of it, at least, must have changed to energy, coming off him as light, heat, and whatever other electromagnetic energies he might have projected.
His mithissela had burned out; although he had produced a tremendous amount of heat, he still didn't have his fire. Picking up another batch, he tried to focus his body heat into his hands, but again this body didn't seem to have that ability. That was unfortunate, but he could deal with it. He would become Morach; Morach could do it.
Before he did this, he got out Morach's clothes. After all, the clothes he had on would be more like a collapsed circus tent when he made himself smaller once again. He also set out Ferris' outfit, the clothes that fit him in that form that did not change size when he did, in case he was unable to change out of this form.
He set the mithissela down on one of the rocks of his fireplace, and rested a finger on it. If it ignited while he was changing, he might be able to get it into the fire and so have his fire burning, even if he couldn't light it in sprite form. Then he thought about Theian Toreinu Morach, the sprite he had been for seventeen years. He pictured himself as the sprite, and in a moment he became the sprite.
It was again a very powerful transformation. Light flared brightly, the mithissela ignited, heat poured from his skin--but he had the presence of mind to light the tinder from the mithissela, and soon had the fire going. He had succeeded.
Looking at his now naked sprite body, he saw that he was glowing. At least that was working, he thought. He threw on his clothes--doll clothes, people would have thought, had they found them in his pack, but they were perfect for his fifteen inch height and let his wings move freely. He wouldn't be Morach for long, he thought--it wasn't really the best size to be in a place like this, particularly as he didn't have the hollow of a tree into which to retreat. He did want to try to light mithissela with his body heat, though, just so he would know whether that was something he could still do. It was not at all difficult; with very little effort he increased the heat in his hands, and had a blaze of flame that he quickly tossed into the larger fire.
Satisfied, he crawled into Ferris' outfit and tossed Morach's aside. It was time to change back. Again, he pictured Ferris, imagined being Ferris; and then he felt himself growing.
This time it did not work right at all. He became Ferris, certainly; but he was cold, he was weak, he was famished--he could hardly move, but to shiver, and shivering was using his energy too fast. He tried to think what could have gone wrong, but he couldn't think clearly. He held onto the form for--well, part of him thought it was only a few seconds, and part of him felt as if he had been tortured for eternity, but suddenly he shrank, completely involuntarily, and he was Morach again.
He was no longer freezing, no longer famished, no longer weak; he was, however, tired and hungry. The light from his body and that from his fire helped him see his campsite, and he changed into Morach's clothes, put Ferris' back in the tent, and got out a foil pouch which he knew would contain some sort of snack food. It proved to be dried tropical fruits, pineapple, papaya, bananas, and he ate it quickly. He was going to have to figure out what went wrong, and put it right, because as Morach he would have a very difficult time moving his things, maybe even surviving in this world.
He closed his tent securely behind him, crawled into the huge sleeping bag, and fell asleep immediately.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #218: Versers Resume. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: