“I don’t understand.” It was becoming a familiar feeling for Gil.
“Come, look outward. Beyond the tents, beyond the stone gateways. What do you see?”
Alfvin looked pained. “Let us try a different question. How do you see?”
“How?” Gil looked back at him blankly.
“Yes, how. There is no sun, no moon, no stars nor candles. That would ordinarily mean darkness. And yet you see. What is is that allows you to see?”
“It’s the light.”
“And where does the light come from?”
“Well… everywhere, I guess.”
“Exactly. The very atmosphere is suffused with the stuff of magic. I have heard some very interesting theories on the subject. One holds that it does not give off light at all, but acts directly on our senses, enabling us to see. Some go further, saying that what we breathe here is not air, but the magic likewise sustains us directly. I do not know the truth of it. Neither do I know whether the magic originates here and seeps out to disperse in the wider world, or if it is drawn from there and concentrates here like rainwater collecting in a valley.
“Only two facts seem certain. The first is that performing magic is much easier here. That is why it is a routine to practitioners here, while those in the outside world have trouble gathering enough magic to do anything at all. It is why they are so reliant on ritual and superstition. The second certainty is that a crowd of people dissipates the magic more quickly. Whether it is because the people here are actively using the magic, or passively being nourished by it, I cannot say. But it is definitely more concentrated out there, beyond the gates. The users of magic may gather near the centre, but they rely on others to go out there and harvest it for them.”
“It seems like it would be easy to get lost out there. Is it dangerous?”
“It can be. Every now and then, one of them will go missing. But it is hard to know if they got lost, or if the isolation got to them, or if they encountered something out there that dares not come near the crowds.”
“Something? Like what?”
“Again, it is all speculation. Perhaps ours is not the only world that lies adjacent to this place. Some think there were creatures already here, sustaining themselves on the magic before we came. Others suggest that away from the dampening influence of the populace, the magic is somehow wilder, or even alive.”
Alfvin saw Gil’s face growing more incredulous, and shrugged. “As I said, it is all supposition. All we really know is that sometimes, people disappear while walking routes they have trod a thousand times before. Getting lost may be part of the explanation, but it is only the beginning.”
They walked in silence for a while as Gil digested all he had heard, and considered what it might mean for him.