In Collegium it had been the fashion, while he had been resident there, to paint death as a grey-skinned, balding Beetle man in plain robes, perhaps with a doctor's bag but more often an artificer's toolstrip and apron, like the man who came in, at the close of the day, to put out the lamps and still the workings of the machines. Among his own people, death was a swift insect, gleaming black, its wings a blur - too fast to be outrun and too agile to be avoided, the unplumbed void in which he swam was but the depth of a single facet of its darkly jewelled eyes.
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Ah, but it is an interesting thing, that these things can so seldom be proved. If I were to perform some piece of, hrmf, magic for you, here in this room, you would claim a thousand ways it could have been done. Indeed, those ways might be exceedingly unlikely, but you would cling to them rather than accept the, mmn, the chance that magic, the eternal inexplicable, might be the true agent, and if you were strong enough in yourself, unafraid, unthreatened, here in your own chambers, well perhaps there would be no magic worked at all. It is a subjective force, you see, whereas the physical laws of the artificers are objective. A gear-train will turn without faith, but magic may not. And so, when your people demand, mmn, proof, there is none, but when you have forgotten and dismissed it, then magic creeps back into the gaps where you do not look for it.
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You're not like other Wasps." "Aren't I?" Aagen smiled, but it was a painful smile. "No doubt you've killed my kinsmen by the score." "A few, " Salma allowed. "Well, next time you shed my kinden's blood, think on this: we are but men, no less nor more than other men, and we strive and feel joy and fail as men have always done. We live in the darkness that is the birthright of us all, that of hurt and ignorance, only sometimes... sometimes there comes the sun." He let the bowl fall from his fingers to the floor, watching it spin and settle, unbroken.
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I was young at Myna, that first time. When had the change come? He had retreated to here, to Collegium, to spin his awkward webs of intrigue and to lecture at the College. Then, years on, the call had come for action. He had gone to that chest in which he stored his youth and found that, like some armour long unworn, it had rusted away. He tried to tell himself that this was not like the grumbling of any other man who finds the prime of his life behind him. I need my youth and strength now, as never before. A shame that one could no husband time until one needed it. All his thoughts rang hollow. He was past his best and that was the thorn that would not be plucked from his side. He was no different from any tradesman or scholar who, during a life of indolence, pauses partway up the stairs to think, This was not so hard, yesterday.
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