“Motion is impossible?” said Noel.
“Yes,” I said.
Noel narrowed her eyes and stared at me. “And nothing ever changes.”
“Exactly,” I said.
She put a hand on my forehead. “Do you have a fever or something? You’re talking like a madman.”
“No, listen, I’m not the madman,” I said, “that’s what the people with funny names used to think.”
“Then you’re insane for listening to them,” she said.
“Maybe, but hear me out. Remember how you didn’t have to understand ‘fire’ the way I did, to cast fire magic?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. She was still trying to move the pond-water while we were talking. “I don’t think my fire was as powerful as yours, but I did manage to create it.”
I nodded. “What I didn’t tell you was that I had limited my own understanding of fire on purpose.”
Her eyes widened. “So now you’re gloating that you could’ve made your flame even bigger but didn’t.”
“That’s not it,” I said, although it was sort of true. “I didn’t explore my thoughts all the way later either. I realized there was no point; I could always keep connecting my reasoning to something else and keep going for hours at least. If I had to understand not only fire but also energy, matter, and the nature of reality, then my magic would take forever to prepare and even then I would have no idea how to cast it. ‘Wisdom’ isn’t just about using what you know to cast magic, it also seems to be about knowing when to stop thinking.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Noel as she stopped trying to cast magic on the water and gave me an exasperated look, “you’re complaining about being so smart you have to stop yourself from thinking or you’ll ruin your magic. Wow, you’re humble, aren’t you?”
“Yes, very humble,” I said with a smirk. What? If you haven’t figured out where I went to college yet and what that means for my self-confidence, especially about academic stuff, then have you even been paying attention? “But my humility led me to another brilliant idea. If our knowledge of something doesn’t have to connect to everything else, then does that mean we can manipulate how ‘true’ it is?”
“What do you mean?” asked Noel.
“Well, if I wanted to use magic to move water, I could try to understand how things move at all, how water moves in particular, and what I would have to do in order to get water to move. But to understand how things move, I would have to understand motion itself by asking questions like: why can some things be moved but others can’t. And to understand how water moves I would have to understand water itself. And once I have to do all that to cast magic, I won’t have the ‘wisdom’ to cast it,” I said.
Noel nodded. “So that’s why you said motion is impossible. We can’t make things move with magic.”
I gave her a funny look. “What? That’s not what I meant at all. Some weirdos named Parmenides and Zeno made insane arguments about how everything exists, motion is impossible and change can never happen. But they made their arguments in a way that made them make logical sense! I want us to do the same thing. We don’t have to know how water moves, we just have to come up with an explanation that makes sense.”
Noel said that was the stupidest thing she had ever heard. How could we cast magic when our ‘knowledge’ about something was fundamentally flawed. That wouldn’t be knowledge at all, it would be a useless riddle meant to confuse people.
I told her we didn’t have to completely make something up. All we had to do was take a whole lot of small truths and put them together. Each individual statement doesn’t have to be super deep or complicated as long as the whole thing becomes a large enough logical argument.
“For example,” I said as I moved in front of the pond.
“You’re going to show off in a dramatic way again, aren’t you?” said Noel.
“Don’t ruin the moment,” I said as I put my hands in front of my chest. “I have observed that things move when I push them. I also know that water is a thing. I know I can move water better when I cup my hands. And I know I can move things from a distance if I use something like a stick or a branch. So if I imagine magic as a tool that extends my cupped hands to a distance, I can…” I put one foot forward, concentrated my magic, and pushed my hands from in front of my chest all the way out to as far as they would go. “…push water.”
The surface of the puddle wobbled a little, then, it stilled.
I blushed. Noel burst out laughing.
“I wasn’t wrong,” I said.
“Sure,” said Noel.
“I simply underestimated how many simple truths needed to be added for my idea to work,” I said.
“I can make the water move now.”
“Yes, you can.”
“That means I wasn’t wrong.”
Noel nodded with a big smile on her face. “Yes, you were.”
I threw my hands up in frustration. If she didn’t understand my genius, that wasn’t my problem! A miscalculation doesn’t count. It was like a foul ball in baseball, a false serve in tennis, or a rounding error on a space shuttle design—inconsequential! Wait, no. Bad example.
“The point is, if we string together a bunch of small truths, we can cast magic we wouldn’t be able to cast without digging into difficult questions that give us ‘knowledge’ we can’t yet use ‘wisely,’ okay?” I said.
“Got it. You wanted to show off and were being all dramatic and stuff, but you were wrong so it blew up in your face,” said Noel. “That’s a few small truths adding together to let me cast the magic of embarrassment.”
I smacked my forehead. “I give up. Let’s just try to practice magic, okay? The movement magic I invented can be used on other stuff too.”
“Yeah, but it sucks,” said Noel. She put her hands in front of her hand and pushed out towards a stick on the ground. The stick flopped over a few inches. “It feels like we’re moving the object with our hands, except it takes even more energy than actually moving it directly!”
“But we can do it from a distance,” I added.
“Sure, but we can’t move anything we couldn’t move before, like mountains or trees, and the stuff we can move doesn’t move much at all,” she said.
“That means we need practice,” I said.
“That means we need to practice what we know works,” said Noel. “If we focus on fire magic, we might be able to make it strong enough to fight the starred monster. Practicing two types of magic, especially when one of them is much stronger than the other, seems like a waste of time. And time is definitely not on our side here!”
She was right. If we sat down and tried to come up with a bunch of different types of magic, even if a couple of those could be useful and powerful, we wouldn’t have the time to practice them. We still didn’t know how magic improved, either. Would practicing our fire magic make our flames bigger and hotter or would we be able to do things with it that we couldn’t do before? If this world had a dungeons and dragons style magic system, increasing the ‘level’ of our magic wouldn’t just increase its power, it might also give us more options and abilities.
“Putting all our eggs in one basket doesn’t make sense,” I said, going on to explain the figure of speech just in case the translation magic muddled it up. “If we can’t beat this monster because it’s immune to fire or lives underwater or can fly too far from us, we’d lose no matter how much practice we put in.”
Noel relented, but she still wanted to put more effort into fire magic than motion magic. Realizing we could get the best of both world if Noel focused more on fire magic and I focused more on motion magic, we began setting up a small training ground in the clearing.
We gathered logs and branches for Noel to practice lighting on fire. I piled up some leaves so we could practice putting out the fire before it burned the whole pile. We marked the barks of trees to practice shooting fire from a distance, and I helped Noel learn how to set the air on fire in front of her hand.
We practiced moving water from the pond, but also set up some stones and rocks we could practice pushing along the ground. I balanced small stones on top of each other, and we practiced pushing only the top one off without making the whole thing collapse.
But after we’d both had some practice with fire and motion magic, Noel began experimenting with ways to increase the heat and length of her flames, while I tried to increase the power and distance of my pushes. Noel focused on manipulating flames so she could make them spring up at a distance. I managed to learn how to ‘pull’ as well as ‘push’ from a distance.
Every day for the next week or so, Noel and I came to this clearing to practice magic. The elders thought we were going to the Oracle, so we always came back with some nonsense about prophecies and visions. The only disconcerting thing was that nobody had seen the one starred monster anywhere. Even following traces of animals running away from the monster didn’t help. It was like this thing was avoiding the elves on purpose, but it definitely couldn’t keep doing that forever. At some point, all the other monsters would run away, and it wouldn’t have anything to feed on. Then, this monster would have no choice but to start hunting elves.