Will turned the crystal ball over and over in his hands, but no matter how he positioned the ball, from whichever angle he peered, the image inside was upside down.
He sat there, leaning back against the Divination Table with its now empty crystal ball cradle. Will peered into the ball as if he were Hamlet, gazing into the eyes of long-dead Yorick.
Will wiped that image from his mind. Erased it. Images have power, especially when you’re looking into a crystal ball!
He also knew enough to realize that it wasn’t magic which turned the image upside down. Maybe, he wondered, a bit of magic could rightside up the image? His brow furrowed, only for a moment, then he smirked, and gave a flourish of fingers and wrist.
Astonishingly, it worked! He peered around the room through the crystal ball for a bit, delighting in the mis-shapen but upside right world he saw through it. Until…
To Will’s amazement and delight, time did indeed begin to go backward inside the ball. He watched himself make backward hand flourishes. His mouth unformed the words he’d so recently cast as spells, unformed them in the oddest way. Even the point where he’d surreptitiously picked up the ball from its cradle at the center of the table seemed odd. No, kinda eerie. Not just backwards. Eerie.
He pushed that thought from his mind, pushed it out like poor Yorick. And when it was gone, he had space for more ideas.
I wonder if…
Will knew he had to be careful with his intent, this time. He needed to focus purely on time, and have no thought about the image inside the crystal ball, if he wanted the right attribute to change. He settled himself with a deep breath. Set in mind, he waved a quick, casual flourish,
Immediately, time reversed in the ball. Now, this was really cool. Peering into the crystal Will saw himself pick the ball back up. Saw himself peer into the ball with Hamlet’s intensity. Watched the inflection of thrill in his own face as the thought of inverting the image first occurred to him.
As he watched this replaying of time, another thought occurred to him. Time was passing at exactly the same rate inside the ball as it was outside the ball. He would only ever see the past in it. But…
No, it couldn’t be that easy. He held the ball up, gazing upon it intently. Will began circling the ball with his left hand, all the while flexing and curling his fingers, rolling his wrist in a very specific pattern. Slowly at first, then with increasing speed. He was a very good prestidigitator, a talent he was blessed with from birth, but the physical pattern had to be exact before the spell could be spoken.
There, he thought, that’s it. The pattern is there for the speaking.
At first, he merely formed the word in his mind,
After a while, he formed ‘ocior’ with his mouth, sotto voce, then he whispered it, “ocior, ocior”. With his whispers, the image in the ball wobbled a bit, stuttered, you might say. He racked up the intensity. His hand circled, faster and faster. His fingers and wrist adroitly repeating precisely the same pattern with ever increasing speed, The whispers became his own voice,
“ocior, ocior, ocior,”
“ocior, ocior, ocior,”
became a scream!
“OCIOR! OCIOR! OCIOR!”
All the while, his intention had raced with the incantation, faster, faster…
By the time the scream left his lips, time inside the ball had caught up with him. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard his own scream leap back at him from the ball, felt the crystal reverberate with the internal force of his voice.
Will sat there for just a few moments, peering into the ball. Inside it, he watched himself. The Will inside the ball waved his arm. So, Will waved his arm.
The Will inside the ball waved his arm and winked back at Will. Will thought about this for a moment. He didn’t want to wave his arm, or wink into the ball. But he couldn’t stop himself either.
Will waved his arm, and winked back at the Will inside the ball. The Will inside the ball just looked back at him.
They sat like this, inside and outside the ball, for quite some time. The Will outside the ball willed himself to do nothing, just stare at the future Will inside the ball. Present Will didn’t like the feeling of being compelled to do anything, even if it was preordained by events which had already happened in the future. He didn’t like it, especially because of that. Future Will just stared back, equal to the task, equally impassive.
Out of the corner of his eye, outside Will watched the candle on the table inside the crystal ball burn down to the end of its wick, sputter, then die, even while the candle on the table beside him would burn for hours yet.
Is time still accelerating inside the crystal ball, present Will wondered to himself, then remembered the nearly imperceptible nod future Will had given him a little while ago.
Realizing he now had the answer to his question, outside Will absent-mindedly nodded, almost imperceptibly.
Inside the crystal ball, the sun came up.
Present Will wanted to put the ball down, put it back in its cradle and go to bed. But he just couldn’t do it. It was getting really late, and he was very tired. Actually, he was kind of hungry, and thought a midnight snack would go very nicely. Perhaps some of those cookies, and some milk. That would be nice.
But, try as he might, outside Will couldn’t budge. Couldn’t even turn his head, or close his eyes, which were now locked with inside Will’s. Like his own, future Will’s eyes were unblinking.
And then, outside Will got it.
I can’t move until he moves. I can’t close my eyes, or turn my head, or put the damn crystal ball back in its cradle, or go to bed until the me inside the crystal ball does. The cookies and milk are going to have to wait until after the candle sputters and dies, until after the sun comes up. I’m going to sit like this, right here, staring into this stupid crystal ball at my idiot self for… DAMN! I can’t even look at my watch! But it’s gotta be hours!
Outside Will was marvelling at inside Will’s tenacity — and stupidity. He was thinking, the idiot must be getting desperately hungry, when the door burst open, revealing the angry form of the Master Warlock. This startled outside Will enough that he checked the Divination Chamber door. Just as quickly, he shook his head, turned his eyes up to the ceiling.
Of course the present door is still secure! In the future it doesn’t open until after sunrise.
Even as he chastised himself, he felt the crystal resonate with his Master’s voice, which he heard as clearly as if the Master himself were indeed standing at the door.
“Will! What have you done? Look what you’ve done!”
When Will looked back into the ball, he saw the Master Warlock had aged decades since he’d entered the room. Was still aging. Rapidly. His back bent, his hair greyed, his flesh wrinkled, dried, then crumbled into ash. His Master’s skull sat on top of the dust pile, gazing back at Will, alas, just like poor Yorick.
Will dropped the ball.
It smashed into a thousand shards.
To his credit, Will didn’t even think about the trouble he was in for smashing his Master’s prized divination tool. But he wasn’t thinking of much other than getting the hell out of there. He really wasn’t sure what to think.
Well, one thought ran around and around in his mind. Ocior and ocior it went, faster and faster, as he reached for the door handle.
Maybe smashing the ball means none of that will ever happen!?
Again and again, like a chant, like the way his hand had circled the ball, ocior and ocior in his mind: maybe smashing the ball means none of that will ever happen!?
Then, he noticed his hand, on the door knob. It seemed… It looked…
Will dashed from the room, not even closing the door behind him. He was, at the moment, beginning to feel very, very old.
Will didn’t even notice the shadow in the shadows when he ran down the corridor. Didn’t see the form startled awake from its unintended nap as he passed it. Didn’t hear it’s gravelly voice call after him as his feet fell on tiles in time with the one word racing through his mind, over and over,
Ocior! Ocior! Ocior!
The Master Warlock watched young Will’s form disappear down the seemingly endless corridor. No matter, the old mage realized, tossing a crystal ball from hand to hand. A little time with that thought will do the boy some good. Maybe he’ll even figure it out, all on his own.
The Master chuckled under his breath, “Ocior! Ocior! Ocior!” He shook his head, still chuckling, as he walked toward the Divination Room to put the real crystal ball back on its cradle.
“Ocior! Ocior! Ocior!”
This joke gets better every year!
The sound of his laughter very nearly, but not quite, reached the ears of Will Drummond, 1st year apprentice of Wizardry, Arkham College of the Magical Arts.