Here’s the thing; mantras work. It’s impossible for them not to, if you think about it. A good mantra is an oath and a bargain and a lived story all in one. The only difference between a mantra and a pact with Them is that you pledge a mantra to yourself. And like anything else, you get back what you put in.
(“My anger a flame,” I hiss, and storm over to the boy on the bench with fury bubbling in my gut. The shadow looming behind him feels the wave of heat wash over it and scuttles off, hissing at me from the centipedes that pass for its hair.)
(“My kindness a forge,” I murmur, and sit down next to the glassy-eyed girl in the canteen. She lost a roommate last week, and I’m pretty sure she knows what happened. She’s broken up about it - but broken things can be fixed.)
(“Hope in my right hand,” I sigh, and pat the freshman’s shoulder. It’s okay, I tell him. It was a dumb mistake, but there are ways to make up credit, and the stats professor is an easygoing sort. His mood brightens with every word.)
(“Hate in my left,” I whisper, and slap the knight full across the face. He goes reeling backwards with a lot more force than I put into the blow, and the churning bitter loathing abates. It’s still his fault, but now I can think rationally again.)
Here’s the thing; mantras work. And here’s the catch: they work both ways. There’s always a price for power, after all, and it doesn’t come only when you call it.
(I read about the plight of refugees and suffer the burn marks along my knuckles and tongue - fire burns its friends as easily as its foes. I learn to be ambidextrous and switch between each hand as I write my essays - no longer can I pen cynical criticisms with my once-favoured fingers. I follow my bleeding heart’s demand to act, to fix, to build - I can no longer let things lie.)
A good mantra is an oath and a bargain and a lived story all at once; a pact you make with yourself. And a lived story only works as long as you live it. My roommate gives me a pleading look. I’ve met her little brother. He was a good kid. Just not a very smart one. And now he’s Underhill, in the hands of something a lot bigger and nastier than the usual residents of EU. I feel anger - at her, at him, at Them. I feel compassion - for her plight, for his peril. I feel hope, perhaps in vain. I feel hatred.
I feel really goddamn stupid, in retrospect, for picking this of all things as my mantra.
“Fine,” I mutter. “I’ll get him back.”
I really don’t have much of a choice in the matter.