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It all came easily. A flick of the wrist, a wave of the hand – reality bent to my will. With the proper amount of preparation, the gods themselves didn't stand a chance. Reality as begotten by power.
Independence meant liberty.
Liberty to sow and weave and remake things as I pleased. Staring out at a field of green, I saw nothing but what I desired to see.
And so I built a tower.
It was made from the whitest and purest of stones. It only took a modicum of effort to erect it in the center of the field. It was tall enough to scrape the heavens. A monument to strength. Inside there were scores of tomes and books – source springs befitting the deep lake of knowledge within me. Other amenities abounded but were irrelevant. What mattered most was how I had everything I could ever want to keep myself from depending on anyone else.
The view from the top was breathtaking. After a day spent in studious contemplation, I could peer from over the parapets and see into the infinity beyond what normally would have been the horizon. That, too, was comforting. Seeing the unseeable was a goal well-accomplished and well-deserved. Reds and blues – and every color visible to the eye (and some beyond the spectrum) – appeared and coalesced to the unknowable rhythm of space and time.
There wasn't a goal that I could not accomplish. Working carefully, diligently, I absorbed the wisdom of both book and nature. It was an electrifying rush to solve a mystery, to piece together a puzzle. The sensation alone was enough drive to push forward even more work and even more dedication. Steadily I labored on. No help from anyone meant that I alone set the direction for progress. The burden of decision fell upon me but that wasn't a problem. For anything that I could not do immediately, I created a space within the tower to store the problem. I would revisit when I was ready and solve each room and grow stronger as a result.
That worked for a time.
The more problems I solved, the more appeared. After a while, even postponing problems because a chore just because of the volume of them. Telling myself that there was no point in obsessing, I put them off. I had other things to concern myself with. So the tower grew wider and outcroppings of stone appeared along the exterior to mark the purpose-built chambers.
One day, however, it all came to an end.
Impeccable stone crumbled and walls came apart. With a cackle of glee, an onlooker saw how my reality all fell to rubble. My tower had been large and strong but it could not withstand the weight of my accumulated inaction. A powerful and independent individual like me could rebuild, sure, but could never reclaim what was lost. The onlooker, however, could learn from my mistakes. She could take my effort and build anew, molding the heavens and the earth to something to her own liking. Then it would be something superior, just by virtue of mocking my failure.
At least the burden was gone.
“Lie still and stop squirming,” a steady voice commanded. A wet feeling was the first thing I was conscious of. “Yes, that's good. Let me finish up.” There was a moist sensation that worked its way around my chest, gently rubbing my flesh with steady scrutiny.
Slowly my other senses began to remind me that they were still a part of me. Sounds of soft brushing or scrubbing as well as that of rustling textile. The sweet smell of soap diluted in water. A dull metallic taste that lingered on my tongue. Light – blinding light – as I opened my eyes, followed by shadows as objects began to focus.
“Awake?” The voice asked, “Yes? It's about time.”
“I am,” I replied dully. Shapes began to gain significance. Sponge in one hand, rag in the other, the first figure I identified was that of Patchouli hovering over me. She stopped moving her hand at my reply, removing the moist sponge from my chest.
“You'll be fine to finish by yourself then,” she said unemotionally, placing rag and sponge at my side. “When you are able to, join me in the adjoining room.”
She was gone before I could think to ask her the flood of questions that soon popped into mind.
I felt my head was about to fly away. It pulsed painfully but at the same time I felt weak and unfocused. Ignoring the discomfort, I tried to get my bearings as best I could. The room I was in was large and stately. I lay in a spacious four-post bed with a remarkably comfortable mattress and sheets that felt as smooth as in a dream. There was distinguished wooden desk with carved patterns on the legs and drawers and a large leather chair in front of it. A few books lay along the surface but many more were in the small shelves to one side of the room. A small window was the only source of natural light. It was enough to read by while keeping the view of the outside world limited. Lastly, a mirror was the only other notable feature of the room It was a large full-sized mirror, the kind that allowed a person to see his whole body.
All signs of my clothes were gone. I only realized that I was completely naked when I sat up and felt a chill from a draft. I felt very sore in places, especially along my abdomen and my arms but I could not see any bruises or injuries. The wet sensation from earlier had been a bath. A small bucket next to the bed was where Patchouli had been drawing water from in order to wash my body. The water had flower petals floating about, added likely for their pleasant smell. I used the rag to dry myself off. And noticed that there was a dark, flowing robe left out by the foot of the bed.
I got changed slowly, still feeling my limbs stiff and unresponsive. A quick look in the mirror showed that I looked like some sort of dark specter – bags under my eyes and with robes that made my body seem formless and ill-defined. When I was done sizing myself up, I used the only door in the room to head out.
Patchouli sat at a small table in the corner of the room. At once I knew that it was her sitting room. Though the legion of dolls was missing, there was something about the arrangement and feel of the room that made me draw parallels to that room at Alice's house where she always sat and drank her tea. A large set of double windows ran all along the end where Patchouli was. Light, so limited in the room where I had come to in, was plentiful and came through the limpid windows easily.
“Sit, we should talk,” she commanded, indicating with her head that I should take a place opposite her. I did as she asked. “You did wake, after all. That's most fortunate for you.”
“...how long was I out?” I asked the obvious, feeling her words had an unescapable weight to them.
“About two weeks,” she informed me calmly, like she might have been talking about the weather. I was at a loss for words. Seeing that, she answered the unsaid question, “I have kept you alive and in decent shape since then. You have been in my care.”
My mind wandered, processing the information I was just told. My eye did as well. We were likely on the top floor. The view outside overlooked the large garden in front of the mansion. The concentric patterns of the hedges and walkways were evident. A large water pattern sat at the middle, a statue of a naked figure at the top of the spout. Not a single soul was in sight, the large expanse of greenery was solitary and unattended.
“Why was I out?” came my next question. Exhaustion shouldn't have made me black out for more than a half day, tops. I would have doubted her sincerity but my body told me that she spoke the truth. It somehow felt that I took a vacation from existence.
“You used something you should not have when it was expected you would have,” Patchouli gave a confusing answer. I thought she was mocking me but there was no trace of cruel delight in her face. “If you act beyond your capabilities for control then you must pay the price. You should consider it fortunate that you are not dead.”
“I don't understand,” I said blankly, feeling completely lost.
“You may have power but you lack direction and focus. If you had won you may have ended up consuming yourself in the attempt. Do you understand now why you cannot be left to your own devices?”
“No. I don't have any idea what you're talking about.”
“Such a slow boy,” she shook her head. Helping herself to the tea at the table, she poured herself a cup of hot liquid. “I wonder if maybe she didn't make a mistake in selecting you... you do not seem to be an ideal apprentice. And yet, the power and the potential are undeniable...”
“Well, at any rate,” she directed her words at me again, “this is where you'll stay until I can fully study you.”
“Wait, study me?” I asked, surprised. She hadn't mentioned anything about studying me. “Wasn't I simply to cooperate? What happened to the promises of mutual benefit?”
She paused before giving her reply, drinking of the tea. “You gave up your chance to be a proper peer when you chose to foolishly make a bravado-laden stand,” she said dryly. Her eyes focused squarely on me and I knew then that she really believed what she was saying. There was no room for argument, she was just letting her will be known out of convenience. “You will still benefit as I learn how it is that you've become like this, so quickly, but I cannot enable reckless behavior such as yours. It goes against everything that a proper magician stands for.”
“Then what am I to do?” I asked apprehensively. The fire that I remembered having felt before with her was gone. If I hadn't managed to free myself by active resistence, there was no hope continuing down that path.
“Participate in my experiments. I will tell you what you need to know when you need to know,” she stated. “When you are no longer a threat or proven that you can handle the situation then maybe things will change.”
“So all that about wanting me was a lie, huh?”
That made her laugh, “you almost sound disappointed! I see now that my original assessment of you is still valid. And I wonder if perhaps the others are not jealous of our current intimate situation.” Her voice dropped and her tone changed. Even though we were alone, it underscored that the words were just for me, “What I felt – no, what I feel – is real and perhaps a subject worth further research and exploration. But I cannot take risks until I am certain you are stable. Even in situations of mutual benefit a magician has to be cautious.”
“I'm skeptical now as I was then,” I said.
“Very difficult to trust others when they won't try to trust you. In your case, you have no other choice. I've seen to limiting your magic and I think it prudent to keep you from doing anything reckless.”
“Can't we work on that? I don't want to feel like I'm being used like a tool,” I said, voicing what had been a concern in my mind to begin with. “I'll give up something if you give up something, that way we can move forward.”
“Trying to force things?” She raised an eyebrow. “Let me take a wild guess: you would have me let you come and go as you please and return voluntarily whenever I needed you. I am not nearly as naïve as that. After the mess caused by you to do so would be absolutely foolish.”
“No, nothing like that.” I conceded that she had a point, “from your perspective I understand that that's impossible. That doesn't mean that we can't work with something smaller and easier. Maybe so that we can understand one another better. Something gradual.”
“Fine then, and just what is it that you had in mind. You are bringing it up because you already had something you wanted to suggest, or am I wrong?”
 Spend time in close quarters, including sleeping in the same bed
 Offer to help her out with any other projects she's sidling