image of centauri, the virtuous chalk
CENTAURI, THE VIRTUOUS CHALK (#347)

Suspended in Chalk

You are a WITCH made of paper mache. You collect things, all things — stamps and spores, tree nuts and entrails. Your magic spawns from paint splatters. You trap recursive immensity in your mind. GO FORTH AND FROLICK!

CENTAURI, THE VIRTUOUS CHALK, was a keen observer of the world around her. A sharp eye, with an even sharper mind. She spent her days at the HALLOWED HALLS absorbed in the vast and immeasurable detail that suffused her daily existence.

While many MAGES focused on the manipulation of the natural world, the discovery of new theorems and laws, Centauri worked tirelessly to render with exacting precision the world she saw — one filled with so much beauty that she was breathless with it. She sought to deconstruct form and figure, dissect it into line and shadow and hue. To strip it bare and seize upon its very fundamentals, then remake it anew by her own hand.

She sought to deconstruct form and figure, dissect it into line and shadow and hue. To strip it bare and seize upon its very fundamentals, then remake it anew by her own hand.

Each spectacular moment she witnessed, she rushed to sketch, to immortalize with complete fidelity before it escaped her grasping fingers. The surface tension of a single fat dewdrop, languishing on a leaf. The luminous sheen of lashes, flush against light-flecked eyes. The piercing arc of a ray of sun, refracting through dust. But inevitably that beauty was fleeting and ephemeral; she could never quite capture it. It evaded her pencil, her paintbrush, her chalk.

Centauri made attempt after attempt, to no avail. She saw an emerald butterfly, once, gently beating its wings against the wind’s current, delicate veins of white and black spidering out from its center. It was breathtaking in its brilliance, its tender fragility. She hastily pulled her sketchbook from her satchel, scribbling as quickly as she could. But she could already feel it, this tenuous moment, slipping from her even as she gripped fast onto it.

She glanced up from the page, to observe again the slope of the curve of the butterfly’s wing, when her heart stuttered — a bright bird dove toward the butterfly and, before Centauri could think or make a sound, snatched it out of the air.

The chalk crumbled in her hand. She stared, shaken, as the bird soared back up into the sky, a single crumpled emerald wing dangling from its beak. It had taken only an instant.

Centauri gazed back at her sketch, flat and muted on the page. A lifeless rendering, of a now-lifeless butterfly. Her heart weighed heavy with the knowledge that the vitality and vibrance she had seen with her own eyes had been reduced to a mere echo in her own portrayal.

But Centauri refused to yield. She took to THE LIBRARY, seeking out every text she could find. Only a scant few pointed her in the direction she needed, but it was enough to crystallize into an idea. A dangerous one, perhaps, but one that just might work.

She began anew with a single mote of dust — a test subject, the smallest she could find. This time, to observe her subject, she closed her eyes. She reached out instead with her mind, and, for the first time, she sensed a pull on her power, faint but present.

Centauri studied it for days, down to every molecule, every atom. Once satisfied that she had perceived everything there was to perceive, she reopened her eyes and put her chalk to paper, magic flowing steadily through her.

When she was finally finished, a perfect mote of dust floated on the sheet before her, realer than any other she had ever seen, encapsulated in that moment for eternity. She laughed out loud, exhilarated. Progress, at last.

Fortified with new hope, she wandered the grounds in search of her next subject. It was springtime, and flowers were just pushing their way up to the surface of the soil. A newly-budded daisy caught her eye, a pleasing shade of yellow, each petal flawlessly formed.

Centauri thought to pluck it but could not bring herself to cut its brief life any shorter. Instead she sat. Replicating the flower was a far more complex endeavor than the dust mote; she would need time.

Once again, she closed her eyes and extended the tendrils of her mind, feeling her way toward the daisy. Her magic rose within her, now insistent and hungry. She remained seated before the flower for weeks, sensing with her mind’s eye the hue of each petal, the curve of the stem, the way the leaves caught the light — inhabiting each cell until she had memorized it. The true form of the daisy unraveled before her, like a puzzle box unfolding to a flat shape.

At last, she returned to her rooms and retrieved her sketchbook and her chalks. She tucked her hair behind her ears and began her work.

But, this time, with each stroke of the chalk, power coursed through her, erratic and all-consuming, unlike any she had felt before. When she pulled out her paints, as the brush touched the page, she began to burn. She painted faster, feeling herself begin to tear at the seams, her body unable to contain the magic surging through it.

Realizing what was happening to her, Centauri knew what she had to do. She had seen it happen before to other MAGES, ones who had pushed too far into the unknown, who had called upon too much magic and become consumed by it. She had seen what was left of them, after. And she would not become them.

Pressing the brush to her own skin, she began to paint. Swirling, glowing runes of olde, an ancient script that even few MAGES could read, one that would bind her power to her, tethering it — and her — to the mortal plane.

The frenzied, churning power channeling through her slowly quieted to a muted hum. She took a shallow breath, hands shaking as she inscribed the last character on her body.

It was a kind of loss, to have contained her magic this way. Power, in exchange for enclosure. Many paths of knowledge, converging to one. But it was done, and she could imagine having done nothing else. Gathering herself, she returned her focus to the page.

It was a kind of loss, to have contained her magic this way. Power, in exchange for enclosure. Many paths of knowledge, converging to one.

Centauri painted and painted and painted, now boldened by the knowledge that she no longer needed to hold herself back. The work of the flower took form, slowly but surely, until she shook herself out of her reverie, many months later, and saw that it was complete at last.

The painting before her breathed with life. The daisy, radiant in its bloom, appeared to flutter gently in an invisible breeze. She saw every single detail, every molecule, every atom, exactly as she remembered it, in all of its recursive immensity. It was — perfect.

Blinking blearily, Centauri stumbled back outside, exhausted and drained but permeated with a deep content. Her limbs were unused to the exertion after so long; they ached just to stand, to walk.

It was nearing the start of winter now. She stepped falteringly through the gardens, reveling in the brisk air, and found herself winding back along the path that had led her to her perfect daisy, though she knew it would no longer be there. Its season had passed. That was the way of things — brief, brilliant, beautiful life, then inexorable death. She was grateful, at least, for her painting.

Lost in thought, she had nearly forgotten where she was when — suddenly — she saw it.

It looked exactly as it had those many months before, a perfect flower just kissed by the blush of new spring. Except all around it, the plants had curled, withered, died. The daisy alone stood untouched, as if it had bloomed outside of time.

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