8th Magipsych Remembered
Delya furiously sketched the four large, badly mangled orcish bodies that lay in front of her. She raced against time, knowing full well she would never get another chance to fully capture the scene. Her pencil danced around the sketch pad, driven only by her agile mind. She had to split her attention between drawing and watching for enemies. Panic and frustration vied for attention in her mind; this was not what she had signed up for. Being a field artist was supposed to be different-a glorious way to show the strength of the Empire to the people at home so they would volunteer. Delya had believed at the time that she was creating a future for the Empire, but now she was surprised she'd ever had faith in such an obvious lie. Glory didn't exist out here-only death and fear. She remembered her excitement at her graduation exam.
Four sheets of paper sat before her on the table, beside four pencils of varying quality. Mr. Enobi had passed out the tests. "You have one hour to complete the exam. Cheating will not be tolerated. Begin."
The first question was fairly easy. "Grade the four sheets of paper by magic potency."
Delya put a small amount of magic energy into her palm and passed her hand over the sheets of parchment. She allowed the paper to speak for itself. One sheet of paper practically screamed with the magic it contained, and another had no magical power at all. That left her with two sheets, one lightly magical and one with an above-average magic content.
The second question was harder. "Using the law of diminished returns, calculate the amount of time the pencils have until their sharpening spells wear off."
She had to guess at the answer after narrowing her choices down to two.
The third question was the hardest. "Using the answers to #1 and #2, sketch a pastoral scene. Technique will be graded. The incorrect pencil will run out of magic before you have time to finish the sketch. Only the correct answer to both questions will produce an imprint."
The extremely magical paper was too potent to be used for artistic purposes; it was for industrial work. The page with no magic was obviously of no use to a mage. She chose the paper with above-average magic content. It should be durable enough to last in field conditions, but it shouldn't be too potent. Too much magic could force its own swirling patterns through the paper and ruin her artwork.
She chose what she hoped was the right pencil and drew a few pine covered hills with a deer in the foreground. After a few strokes, she let go of the pencil and allowed it to interpret the picture that was in her mind onto paper. "Good," she thought. "At least that means I chose the right pencil, or this wouldn't work."
Her parents were so proud of her when she graduated that they'd hung her diploma on the living room wall, in an honored spot usually reserved for pictures of the family. She was the first in her family to get an education, and she'd made good use of it. Delya had been 5th in her class, and had received 24 commendations in non-combat areas, such as inspections and job performance.
She never bothered to look at the commendations, because they made her feel guilty for some reason. It didn't seem right that she got attention when the soldiers that risked their lives everyday died without recognition more often than not. She was just an artist in her own eyes.
She had thought she'd love the military but after enlisting she discovered that she hated war. It felt as if war was an odd dream and she'd wake up at home in her own bed with the morning breeze blowing through soft yellow curtains. After months on the field the situation was reversed, and war seemed real. The other life was only a distant dream to her - a comfortable fiction.
The 8th Magipsych was real to her in a way that nothing else had ever been. The self-styled "regular army" feared the mages and psychics that made up the elite unit. "Non-typicals" (mages and psychics) only made up about 20 percent of the human population, so they were called "freaks" and treated as outsiders. In fact, the motto of the 8th Magipsych was, "We are The Boogie Man".
Some of them were like family. They bonded over poker games and beer, learning about each other and seeing who could tell the biggest lies and best stories. No matter what happened, they tried to make room in their schedules for at least a couple hands of poker a week. It was a small anchor in their world - something they could always return to.
Sergeant Grume rarely talked, but he was always the first to take risks and the last to take a break. Not many people noticed him when the unit was on leave, because he'd be the one in the back of the bar with a book while the others were partying. Everyone noticed him once the fighting started, however. The quiet man suddenly became one of the most effective mages in the unit with his signature earth attacks. His first move would usually be to make massive hands of hardened soil rise from the ground and grab the enemies' legs while his comrades finished off their immobilized foes. That was often all that was needed, but this time there had been too many enemies, and the 8th had to fight harder than usual.
Lieutenant Reif was the one to watch out for off the field. Even Dyen Torres, the mild mannered Medic had been on the bad side of her temper. On the field, however, there was no one more loyal or stubborn than the Lieutenant. Once Delya had seen her pull two injured comrades off the field while wounded herself. She was the subject of "Orc Under Fire", Delya's most popular piece, which showed the Lieutenant in single combat with an orc shaman. The piece had been the cover for "Humans Now!", a magazine that supported genocide of the fey races. That bothered Reif and Delya greatly. Neither of them was there because they hated orcs, and they disliked being used for extremist propaganda.
There were other comrades she'd gotten somewhat close to, but they were all dead now. Torres had died in the beginning of the battle, which cost them a lot of lives the experienced medic could have saved. Privates Dylan, Enti, and Mort had lasted until nearly the end of the battle. It was the unit's misfortune that they had finally met a rare Orcish magic squad that was more powerful than the 8th. By a freak circumstance, only Delya was left alive. The enemy had simply ignored her as they dealt with the real threat before them. It was her "luck" that the last remaining Orc had fallen from his wounds before he could reach her.
As the sun grew hot and the bodies started to smell, she worked quickly. Delya knew she should be leaving to join another unit before Orc scouts found her, but she couldn't go until she had given the 8th the only dignity that was left to her to give. They fought for their own reasons; some of them believed in the war and some didn't. Some of them had volunteered and some had been drafted. But in the end they died together, and that was how she drew them. She drew them as they lay, dead and torn. Then she drew another picture of them smiling and sitting together playing poker. She magically overlaid the pictures so that the smiling likeness was transparent, almost like a ghost image.
Delya was exhausted when she finished; she'd never put so much magic and effort into any picture. As she carefully put the picture away, she reluctantly turned her back to the dead. She hoped that her picture would help them be remembered. From her waterproof parchment pouch she seemed to hear the click of poker chips, but she was sure she was imagining that.
The censorship officer objected to her picture, which she had named simply "8th Magipsych Remembered". He said it was too sad, and he was trying to get people to enlist - not think too much about dying. He didn't get very far though, because Lieutenant Reif's uncle was a general, so the picture got published after all.
When the public saw "8th Magipsych Remembered", it was as if the whole Empire mourned. Suddenly, the massive number of dead soldiers had faces, and the war quit being something fought in a far off land; it became personal. Delya didn't live long enough to see the end of the war, or even the changes her painting made in the minds of the populace. She became sick and wasted away, dying only a couple of months later. She had enough time to know that the 8th wouldn't be forgotten, though, and that was all that mattered to her.
Although her work was only one of many portraying the war, generations later art critics are still studying it in the National Museum of Art. Even hundreds of years later, the colors haven't faded, and the ghostly images of the 8th seem almost alive in their intensity.
The picture has a mystique surrounding it; superstitions swirl about it like the magic that swirls within its frame. It's said by art historians that Delya put so much of her own soul into the painting that she simply wasted away after completing it. Of course, most people don't really believe such rumors, but even the most die-hard critics don't like to turn their back on the painting. Its presence gives a feeling of compulsion to return and look again. Art critics suggest that this is because of superb mastery of composition and the unique technique Delya used to create the almost transparent ghost-images. Psychologists suggest the compelling nature of the artwork is due to humanity's collective grief and guilt over the Great Fey War atrocities.
The guards at the museum say the picture is haunted, and spend a great deal of time either avoiding "8th Magipsych Remembered" or staring at it obsessively. Several guards have quit after they claimed to have heard the clink of poker chips and heated poker games coming from the painting. The head guard never works nights, so he's never heard anything odd. After the last guard quit, he decided he needed to hire sober guards in the future. It's too bad he's never around at night though. Those are some really good poker games.