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Novice (Pt. 2)

The rock was a four hour long walk from the village, down a path so rough it was only a little more obvious than the trails made by the local wildlife.

The enormous stone lay in the middle of the deep forest, surrounded by trees up to its very edge. It was seventy feet tall at its highest point. Its sides were smooth, and its top was gently rounded but still flat enough to stand atop comfortably.

It had been a sacred place in the distant past, and some long-dead islanders had carved narrow stairs into one of its faces. Nanu said weddings and naming ceremonies had still been conducted there when she was a girl. Now, it received only the occasional curious visitor, and it was no longer used regularly by anyone.

Except for Kalen.

Most of his fellow villagers didn’t mind seeing a bit of magic every now and then, but none of them were comfortable seeing a lot of it. So it had become necessary for him to practice in private.

Nanu had been a little horrified when, six months ago, she’d found Kalen painting spell circles all over the top of the rock. But so far, nobody had noticed them. Or those who’d noticed them hadn’t cared enough to complain.

“You might as well be my rock now,” Kalen told the stone cheerfully as he clambered up the steep stairs to the top.

He was in a good mood. The atmospheric mana seemed to be growing in potency every time he drew breath. He hoped the aurora would last for a long while this time. Sometimes it stayed for a week or more. Thanks to his thorough planning, Kalen could accomplish much in a week.

At the apex of the stairs, just before one reached the top of the stone, there was a carved nook. It was as long as Kalen was tall, and it was deep enough for him to fit himself inside of it. The space was clearly meant for storage. Perhaps the ancients had kept the tools they used for some rite here. Kalen kept a bedroll and a few other supplies inside.

He tucked his pack in beside the bedding and removed a jar of water and a large cloth. Grunting with the weight of the jar, he teetered up the final few steps and emerged on top of his domain.

Kalen had been surprised to learn that the main problem with painting your magic circles outside on top of a giant rock was not sun or water damage ruining them. Mage paint was made of sturdier stuff than that. No…the problem was bird droppings.

Magical diagrams were supposed to be clean and unbroken. But the island’s birds seemed to take exception to Kalen’s work.

He was relieved to see it wasn’t too bad this time. A recent storm had washed away some of the usual damage. But there was still an afternoon’s worth of cleaning ahead of him if he wanted to get all of the circles back in functional condition.

He set to the task with a will, and by evening, he was sweaty, tired, and ready to practice.

He sat cross-legged at the edge of the largest circle, reading through his grimoire by light of a sun crystal. Nanu said it wasn’t proper to call the journal a grimoire when it was really just an optimistic to-do list, but Kalen ignored her. He had so few of the tools a practitioner needed that he wouldn’t be denied this one, even if it was make-believe.

In the between times, when he couldn’t work very effectively because of the aurora’s absence, Kalen read and read. He practiced shaping his internal magic, and he came up with ideas for things to try when he finally had access to enough power. The best of these ideas were written in his grimoire.

As usual, he started with enchanting.

Ages ago, he had read a tantalizing passage that indicated some practitioners on the continent carried enchanted mana storage devices with them. Kalen would have given up several of his fingers to have one. Or even just a method of producing one.

What he had instead was…a vague notion that such things involved elaborate and secret spell patterns. And his coin.

Assuming Tomas Orellen wasn’t mad and it really worked—something that was more or less impossible to determine for sure—the coin was the most valuable magical item Kalen possessed. It still glowed when he imbued it with a sufficient amount of mana, so he thought it must be doing something.

Most interestingly, the glow lasted for around nine days or until the coin was flipped, whichever came first.

Kalen thought this must mean the coin had some limited raw mana storage ability. And the secret of it was surely contained in the concentric runic circles inscribed into the gold.

That was the theory at least. Kalen couldn’t confirm it because he’d yet to determine which set of symbols influenced mana storage. Nine-tenths of the markings were utterly unfamiliar, which seemed like an absurd percentage since he’d nearly memorized a basic runic dictionary.

Maybe Tomas Orellen’s father had a much bigger dictionary than Kalen. Or he’d made up some of these runes on his own. At the very least, he must have possessed titanic mental focus to be able to pull off such a complex working.

In enchanting—as in many other types of magic—every little detail mattered. The aspect that influenced the coin’s mana storage might be six runes placed side by side, or it might be sixteen different ones spaced all over the coin. It might have something to do with the distance between the correct symbols or the interaction between certain ones and the material the coin was made of. In the worst case scenario, it would be all of the above, plus environmental components like the time, date, and method the creator had used when they were enchanting the coin.

If it was that kind of working, then Kalen figured he could study it his whole life and still never find the answer.

So he had to operate on the assumption that it was an easier solution. He pulled a pouch full of wooden discs out of his bag. He’d spent a great deal of his free time over the past months carving these, making them the same size as the coin. Each one had a different rune circle etched into the surface, all of them informed by the symbols and patterns on the coin but much, much simpler.

To set the enchantments in place, practitioners relied on something called magical sympathies. They had to shape their internal magic into the appropriate patterns and hold it that way while performing a permanent imbue on the object that was their target.

Kalen had no trouble with the sort of permanent imbue that worked on wood. But holding the right internal patterns at the same time was…problematic to say the least.

So he had to keep it much more basic than he would have liked.

He went through the wooden coins one by one, pulling large amounts of magic in, shaping it as best he could, and forcing it out into the coins.

Mostly, nothing happened.

One coin split down the center, and Kalen set it aside, making a note in his grimoire to figure out why.

He was nearing the end of his wooden coin supply and his patience when something finally happened. The coin he was trying to imbue turned strange in his hand almost as soon as he started pushing his magic into it. He couldn’t tell what exactly he’d done to the wooden disc, since it looked exactly the same, but he sensed an enchantment settling in place. It felt like a tickle in his chest.

It wasn’t going to hold raw mana for him to use later, but perhaps this was a success of a different kind!

Excited, Kalen stayed up for hours, trying to figure out what was different about this coin compared to all the others. He tapped it on the rock and flipped it and submerged it in water. He tasted it and held it to catch the light of the full moon and spun it like a top. He dribbled a minuscule drop of ink on it.

He was right on the verge of setting the coin on fire to see if he’d somehow rendered the wood immune to flames, when he realized what the new enchantment actually did.

After yet another experimental flip, the coin landed on top of one of its discarded fellows. And it stuck.

Surprised, Kalen lay down on his stomach and prodded the two bonded coins curiously. They didn’t fall apart from each other. But when he dug his thumbnail between them, he could separate them easily enough.

He had made some kind of weak wooden magnet.

Well, that was…weird.

And good!

Kalen had never heard of an enchantment like this, but any new magic was good. It wasn’t even one of the harder patterns he’d designed for this experiment. Maybe he could improve on it and strengthen the hold. Or maybe he’d find some wonderful use for even the weak version.

Wood that stuck to other wood with no need for nails or glue had to be useful in some way. He lay in his bedroll, writing idea after idea in his grimoire until sleep finally took him.

#

The next morning, Kalen woke to a world full of magic.

The aurora was overhead, shining as bright as he’d ever seen it even in full daylight. It was a perfect day for practicing.

Thrilled, he ate a boiled egg from his pack and reached for his favorite book.

Cantripy of the Sorcerer Brou was a thin volume, and it was surprisingly lacking in explanations for the spells contained inside. Even the introduction was only a sentence from Brou that said, “These cantrips being the proof of the fullness of mine mastery, I offer them up as an edification for those who remain behind in this anemic world.”

Kalen wished Brou was inclined to explain himself better. But the cantrips themselves were wonderful spells.

There were forty-seven of them. Each one filled two pages of the book. On one page was the spell chant with its rhythmic guide. (These were short poems or songs of varying length that had to be recited in a very precise way.) And on the page opposite was the mana pattern that went along with the chant.

The pattern was formed internally by directing the flow of your mana, and it had to be created simultaneously with the chant. Certain points had to fall into place in time with certain syllables. The pattern and the chant together formed a complete cantrip.

It was easy enough to understand.

More importantly, for Kalen’s particular needs, most of Brou’s mana patterns weren’t too complicated.

He turned to a page he had marked with a dry leaf and eyed the pattern, studying it carefully once more even though he’d been practicing it for weeks. In his typical fashion, Brou’s description of this cantrip was brief: For the weakening of metal.

Strengthening metal would have been better, in Kalen’s opinion, but this sounded interesting enough. The real reason he’d chosen this one was that the internal pattern only had twelve critical intersections. Which meant it should be doable, even if the accompanying chant was one of the more elaborate ones.

It had taken Kalen a long time to realize that something was wrong with his magical pathways. One of the first things a practitioner was supposed to learn was the map of their own internal magic. Everyone had a unique mana flow. Studying it was supposed to help you figure out your affinity if you didn’t have access to a master who could assess it for you, and memorizing its layout would make your spellwork cleaner and more effective.

“One cannot shape that which one does not comprehend,” Basic Magical Practices said.

So Kalen had dutifully tried to comprehend himself.

Only, his magic didn’t feel anything like the example diagrams he’d seen in various texts. He was supposed to have clean and clear imaginary lines of power running through his body. It should be like a slender tree with well-defined branches. Or even the whorl pattern on a fancy carpet.

It had taken Kalen weeks of feeling around inside himself to determine his overall magical shape. And that shape looked like what might happen if the pigs got into Aunt Jayne’s basket of yarn.

For a long time, he assumed it was because he was a beginner. Perhaps a practitioner’s magic became more orderly as they learned. Annoyingly, Nanu hadn’t corrected this misconception. She’d thought that Kalen might just be oversensitive to his own minor magical fluctuations and that he’d eventually sort it out.

But there was no sorting to be done. Kalen’s magic really was a tangled monstrosity. And neither of them had a single guess as to why.

The result was that he had a lot of trouble reshaping his magic to form clean internal patterns. He had a hard time choosing which of his threads of power to tweak, and when he finally chose some to work with, several others inevitably came with them. It almost felt like trying to work with a single strand of cobweb inside a shed that was crammed full of them.

But sufficient practice eventually yielded results with the more basic patterns, and Kalen at least had plenty of time for that. He couldn’t empower the cantrips fully when the aurora was absent, but he could still shape his own pathways. So, he studied and he waited, and when the sky lit up, he was always ready.

Cantrips could be performed by any type of practitioner, but it stood to reason that someone whose affinity matched up with the cantrip’s sphere of magical influence would see greater results. One day, Kalen hoped he would complete one and discover it felt different from all the others. If so, that would give him some clue as to what type of magic suited him best.

If only there had been one that had something to do with spatial magic…

Well, no use in dwelling on such things. For the weakening of metal was probably a cantrip that worked best for people with an earth magic affinity, and that was something to try at least.

He sat in a comfortable dip in the rock, breathing deeply to focus himself.

Brou never specified how much magic a practitioner should use to empower his cantrips. But Kalen had found they needed rather a lot—far more than any of the other workings he’d tried. He wasn’t sure why, but he was grateful for it. He had terrible difficulties shaping magic, but he had no trouble at all with this part. And it was fun.

He opened himself up, and power saturated his wildly scrambled pathways. He let it fill him to the brim.

He held a single needle in his outstretched palm. Focusing on building the necessary pattern, he began the chant:

Be thou the handmaiden of time!

Rust to iron, as age to man.

Take and take and take.

At the river’s bottom the stone fades,

so fades this, too.

Break and break and break.

Break and break and break.

Break and break and BREAK.

It was fairly poetic to Kalen’s ears, though he preferred the chants that rhymed all the way through because it was easier to remember which words had to be stressed.

At certain points in the chant, he sent jolts of mana into the pattern he was building, locking it in place, and at the end, on the last break, he emptied every bit of the magic he’d drawn to himself into the working.

Collapsing backward, more than a little dizzy, Kalen took a moment to catch his breath. After a minute, he held the needle up to his face.

It hadn’t changed visibly, but he’d felt the cantrip working. Sitting up, he tried to bend the needle. At first, nothing happened, but after he increased the pressure, the slender piece of iron snapped neatly in two.

Whooping excitedly, Kalen leaped to his feet. He raced around the rock, celebrating shamelessly, accidentally kicking Cantripy of the Sorcerer Brou aside in the process. When he’d worn himself out, he tucked the broken needle carefully into a small case so the he could show it to Nanu. She’d no doubt be out to visit him if he didn't reappear in the village for a few days.

Nanu couldn’t perform any of the cantrips herself. She said she couldn’t output enough magic in a single go for it, and she had no interest in learning a lot of silly phrases. But she was always willing to discuss them with Kalen at least.

He looked forward to surprising her. With the needle and the wood coin, he had already had more success with this aurora than he had with the past two!

Humming happily, Kalen bent down to pick up the book. He glanced at the page it had landed on, and his hand froze. It was the second to last cantrip, and it was one Kalen had long-since dismissed as too difficult. Unlike most of the others, the spell pattern for this one was fairly intricate. He doubted he could shape it without mistakes if he had a month to try.

But…

How strange.

Viewed like this, upside down and from this odd angle, the pattern looked familiar. Kalen tilted his head this way and that, squinting and then widening his eyes, trying to see the diagram differently.

It’s similar, isn’t it? he thought. More elegant and sensible, but still…

There was a particular snarl of Kalen’s internal magic—one he always steered clear of because it was impossible to work with—that looked a little bit like the pattern on this page.

Well, it looked the same as if someone had taken the Sorcerer Brou’s lovely pattern, layered it with a few more, and then scrambled them aggressively.

That seems unlikely.

Really, if Kalen was being honest it wasn’t even that the pattern looked particularly like this cantrip’s. It was more like it felt the same.

Confused by the odd sense of recognition, Kalen glanced at the description on top of the page. Of course, it was no more verbose than any of the others.

Atop the pattern, in Brou’s neat hand, it said only, “For the stirring of air.”

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sieley

Bio: Currently writing a very long story. Reviews welcome. Please do not repost my work on other sites.

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