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Drifter

(c)1999 Jari Komppa

I was sitting on a brick fence, a drink in my hand. The summer night was falling, and a cool breeze caressed my hair. It was two weeks until the school started again, and my time as a drifter would end.

I was attending a drifter party, which was organized pretty much at random. At such party would old schoolmates meet, to discuss how things were going, sharing hints and warnings. And drinks of course.

In the distance another light ball rose along the street and floated. It would grow dim and vanish by morning. I was to become a Lightcaster, and I was actually looking forward to it. Their workings seemed like magic at the time, but so did most of the others, be they Arts of the Mind or the Hand, and all vital for the society.

I sipped a drink and pondered on my life. I had been separated from my parents at the age of six, like everyone else, to start a long education. The first years were important; while we studied basic Arts, we were also being studied and our destiny would be clear by the time we were twelve. At that point our education took slight change, separating the two Arts. And at the age of sixteen, we were suddenly simply let go for a year - to drift in the society, with nobody to watch over us - before our studies could continue.

Of course we had given some guidelines and hints how to survive, and what we could do, but for the first time of our lives, nobody told us what to do. Most walked around, offering to do odd jobs for food and lodging. For some things didn't go well. I got better off than most.

Someone tapped on my shoulder and asked if I needed a refill. I kindly refused and asked if she had a moment. She glanced around, shrugged, and brushed her blond hair behind her ear. She was another drifter, working as a waitress at this tavern. We talked about the year, and friends we hadn't seen for a long time.

At the start of the year I found an Elder and, quite frankly, made myself a pest for him until he accepted me to be around and gave me small jobs to do, and most of them were more odd than I would have imagined.

At a similar party about two months to the year I had met one of my better friends at a corner, looking wide-eyed. He tried to tell me that we really didn't have a choice at all, no free will, and that everything had been chosen for us.. and that nothing we did made any difference. He was clearly terrified. I tried to calm him down.

Later I heard that he had found a way to express his own will, off a cliff.

Someone produced an instrument and started playing, and couple others followed. I asked the waitress for a dance, and for my delight she accepted.

My year as an.. apprentice to the elder had gone by on running feet. Once he ordered me to run to the docks, to tell a bearded man that it was the wrong wood, and then run back. Other time I ran to a weaver's shop just to tell someone "blue".. none of this made too much sense to me but as the year went by I started noticing that things I said had tilted people's choices, often to the opposite of what I had said.

Elders were people who had grown old and were considered wise by others of their age. New elders were chosen each year.. a new elder would then give up his or her Art and move over to do whatever it was elders exactly did. One could refuse and continue at their Art, but such rarely happened. People at the age to become elders were less active anyway, mostly at administrative roles or at the School.

Naturally I also cooked for the Elder and he showed me some of his work, like watching constellations, and writing. He also was away from time to time, and gave me time off, like when I was at the party.

The waitress mentioned that she was to become a Skybreeder, and I was a bit sad about that since I liked her, and we were unlikely to see each other again.

One night, after the Elder had tried to explain some complex issue about food circulation in the City to me, he said that I was probably going to become an elder myself.

Afterword

This is another story that just came to me when I was talking a long walk alone, and kept haunting me ever since. I hope it will now find a rest.. comments welcome.

It's been too long since I last wrote something..

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Possibly modified around: April 25 2010