Practical Exercise

The scarecrow, whatever it was, caught two of the ward-breaker spells and sent them back in my direction. My own wards swallowed them and powered up.  Someone was fond of pyrotechnics. Lightning spells left behind the smell of sweet metal.  Blinding lights and screeching noises tried to tear at my senses.  Sorry, the last time that trick worked on me I was four years old, when I could barely cast any spells at all. That time I countered the trick by kicking big brother Heath in the stomach.  Hard.  I pushed up with my right leg, struggling to rise, casting Dance of the Air to help me get off the ground.  Standing, I fell back into pure defensive combat, each finger on my left hand releasing a separate ward.  Now I was on my feet.  With my right arm, I managed  to touch my gnothdiar hilt.  The sword leaped into my hand. I pivoted and took two steps back.  Every combat master teaches you to charge at the enemy, to create threats.  I stepped back to create surprise.

I faced a vaguely manlike creature of shiny metal and glittering lights, surrounded by a haze of warding spells.  What was it? A straw-filled scarecrow this was not.  I could see its attacks, lightning and fire, striking the ground where I had stood. They weren’t so much powerful as very tightly focused.  I sprang to the side well before the creature realized I had moved.

Sharp, I thought, Sharp. I called the most powerful destructive spell I knew, backing it with both hands and gnothdiar, directing it straight against the creature’s core. The air between us trembled and bent.  The creature’s wards would not go down.  I drew on the Presence, pushed on my void nodes, sending all the power I could into a different attack.   My wrists burned where the nodes touched my skin.  The creature’s wards would not go down.  I interleaved a dozen attack spells with ward breakers.  Its shields remained intact. 

All this time, its spells were striking me, spells as as sophisticated as mine, backed by more power than I could call.  Very rapidly my wards were getting worn down.  The rules said I could end combat by backing through the wards.  That counted as a loss, but losing still measured my skill. I stepped backwards, once and again, reached the wards around the combat circle, and spoke the password.  Nothing happened.  I repeated.  Nothing happened.  How could I possible have forgotten the dismissal phrase?  The wards were locked up, refusing to let me pass.

I distantly recalled Grandpa Worrow’s condemnation of full-power dueling: The limit locks are supposed to cut off attack spells in the moment between ‘his wards failed’ and ‘your opponent is now burnt toast’.  Limit locks are unreliable. Even if I stopped throwing combat spells, I couldn’t keep this up for long.  

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Practical Exercise

Junior Professor Elise Merrihugh was short, black hair tied in back in a bun, well-rounded if not quite chubby, dressed in classic scholar’s robes with her New School cape. Her topic was spell cycles, in which you take a pattern spell and serially replace one part of it with a  list of related parts.  If I followed, there were several allowed lists of substitutes, and a lot of gaps.  To judge from the vitriolic interruptions and assertions of counterexamples, the proposal was highly controversial.   I hid in the extreme back, told myself I would not understand much of what I was hearing, and took notes.  That evening, while my memory was fresh,  I recopied my notes, adding details I remembered but had not had time to write down.

Smiteth Golem

The next day my time in the ring came.  I’d mentioned to the General Magic table where and when I had my test.  Unlike the other first-year students at the table, I did not have an audience.  Grandfather Worrow had drilled into me: There are no mock combats, except between fools. Mock combats teach you bad habits.   I am not a fool.  I was about to face a straw scarecrow, but I would face it with the readiness I would have had if I faced a barbarian horde.  I wore full armor and carried my gnothdiar in its scabbard. 

I stepped inside the outer circle, checked my wards, summoned my left- and right-hand spells, and opened the void node on each wrist.  Then I stepped across the inner circle, grumbling under my breath that I was not allowed to reach for my gnothdiar before combat started.  OK, it’s a realistic test on being ambushed.  I spoke today’s password, ‘salt marsh’, to raise the inner warding circle.

At first nothing happened.  There was supposed to be a target dummy.  It was missing in action.  I cast a weak sight spell, enough to spot something invisible. Nothing.

The attack came from directly behind me, strong enough to drive me down onto one knee. My presets triggered wards.  My gnothdiar was most useful if I drew it, difficult when my right hand hit the ground almost hard enough to break my wrist. Reflexively, I released a half-dozen spell-breaker and warding spells, followed by area fire and lightning spells, all directed over my shoulder.

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Practical Exercise

I made a point of eating at each Refectory, returning once a day to Miller’s and the General Magic table.  At the Table, people sitting next to me would turn slightly in their chairs, so I would see more of their shoulders than their faces.  I could listen, but when I said something I was ignored, even by fellow first-year students.  Each first-year student would mention when they would be tested on the Campus Martius.  The combat magic tests sounded to be complete jokes, but for each test everyone at the table other than Master Courtenay went out to watch and cheer our fellows on.  I hadn’t heard about the custom until now.

Dairen had vanished.   I felt really sorry for him. I did ask Master Courtenay where he was.  Apparently the local Order-Master of the Order of the Axe had taken a personal interest in seeing he was someplace safe.

On Threeday I received a directive, telling me to report to the Campus Martius on Fiveday for combat testing. I went over the day before to survey.  My assigned location was a good mile out from the places where other students were being tested.   Each student was put up against a simulacrum, a creature of straw and twine, something barely able to walk.  A good number of them did not take the exercise seriously.  They got pummeled by a bag of straw and the feeble spells backing it.  Others seemed to have only an unclear idea of what they were supposed to be doing.  Many had clearly only been in mock duels in which you were expected to pull your blows.  If I’d quoted the family rule on kicking a man in the head, ‘best done while he’s flat on the ground; he can’t dodge as fast then’, they’d have been distressed.  Too bad.

The rules were simple.  Each location had two warding circles.  You stepped into the outer circle, raised the circle, prepared your weapons and spells, and stepped into the inner circle. Then you raised the inner circle.  At some point, probably not instantly afterward, you were attacked by a simulacrum.  You were expected to defend yourself.

A Lecture

On Fourday I reached a lecture.  I’d seen several postings on Faculty boards, all announcing it. Some of the were strictly polite.  Some were more critical.  “More nonsense from the New School” sounded excessive, but perhaps it was true.

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Practical Exercise

“Hello,” she said, “I’m AsterAnne.  Were you interested in Barrister House?”

“Hi,” I answered.  “I’m Adara.  I’m looking.  My brothers Heath and Moore were here for their upper cycle.”

“Heath?” she asked. 

“Heath.  I’m Adara Triskittenion, Moore was here some decades ago,” I answered. “But my interest is General Magic, for which there don’t seem to be any houses.”

“Heath! Yes, I’ve heard The Triskittenion mentioned.  Very favorably.  He’s now a member of the Third Temple.  And his brother.  I really should give you a tour, if you would like,” she said.

“Sure.  So long as you understand why I’m looking,” I answered.  “I’m interested in General Magic, but there doesn’t seem to be a General Magic house.

“There is a General Magic not-house,” she said.  “Run by that Winterhold woman and her friends, and their friends.  Enthusiasts for tampering with agelessness spells.” She wrinkled her nose.

“Not my taste,” I answered.  “Not my taste at all.” 

My house tour was her rehearsal for their student recruitment scheme.  First year students would pass through, but most would not get to live in the house for a year or two, until their choice of field of study had solidified.  The Barrister House dining room was elegant.  Their Law Library was large, taking up a wing of the House on three stories.  I did spot something I didn’t know about.  “What are these all-different ‘Annals of the Law’ volumes?” I asked.  “The book binding is rather light.”

“Those are journals,” AsterAnne explained.  “You’re working on a monograph, find a new way to say something, so you write it up as a short article.”  I must have looked surprised, so she went on to explain.  “Much magic is in books.  People studying magic, such of them as there are, also have magazines on magic.”  I hadn’t seen those in the library.  “You need to go above the third floor,” AsterAnne added.   I now felt really dumb.  I hadn’t realized that there was a fourth floor.  Its entrances had to be hidden.

I was a bit reluctant to visit Violet House, but they were very polite.  I’d saved their House from embarrassment.  Violent House was actually fun.  They’d had run-ins with Harold Fourbridge. The fellow who asked me which spells I’d had behind my back was a bit startled when I told him.  Then one of their members, Kimberly Lane – the Lanes are neighbors of ours – decided to introduce me to their lunch group.  “This is Adara Triskittenion, whose solo hunt brought home the heads of three…night terrors.” I summoned an image of my bedroom, the skulls on the walls.  There were loud cheers.

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Practical Exercise

We started walking. “Did you study combat magic?” I whispered.

“I marginally passed the requirement,” Marjorie said. “I could keep up the minimum required shield or keep up the minimum required offensive spell, but not both at the same time, and one day I barely managed to do both at once before I passed out.  That’s the only time I ever passed out from drawing hard on the presence, but it was enough.”

“I can ward both of us,” I said.  “How can you do construction?”

“Lots of endurance, not fast pulse, charging up a diagram.  I finally gave up that I’d ever open even a small void node,” she said. OK, I thought, that explains why  she wasn’t bothered about relaxing her unaging spells.  Combat training here apparently doesn’t start with power against resistance, so the path to more power never opened for her.

We reached close to the edge of town and waited.  By and by we encountered a large group of people returning from a party in Harmony.

“Guys,” Marjorie told them, “I seem to have picked up some stalkers.  Could we walk with you?” They were happy to agree.  On arrival home, Marjorie summoned a Proctor, who summoned several lictors, none of whom could provide reassurance as to what had happened.  They did issue each of us a combat riband, meaning that there was reason to suppose we might be attacked on campus, so folks should not be surprised if we were carrying serious weapons and wearing armor. Marjorie, alas, had neither.

Theo and I checked and reinforced the townhouse’s wards while Marjorie was staining my paneling.  The outcome was fantastic.  She did insist that I learn how to do it, and actually stain a bit of wall. OK, that corner will be hidden by my bed, no matter that she assured me that it looked fine.

Eating Clubs

Mom had insisted that I visit each of the Eating Clubs.  I had not been very interested in joining one, but I’d promised to visit.  By Twoday and Threeday most of them were paying attention to their front gates and invited me in. The more I learned, the less interested I became in joining one, though for several I much enjoyed meeting their members.   ‘Eating Club’ as a name dates to the founding of the Academy, several ice ages ago; they now do much more than feed their members.  Clubs all publicized visiting hours and had signup lists.  After all, there were hundreds of us new students; they didn’t want to be swamped.   I went around very early, before most of my fellow new students had even unpacked.  More often than not, the club spotted me at their front gate, reading the spellwork description of the club, and invited me in..

Barrister House, where my brothers had both lived, was very friendly.  I stood outside reading.  After not long a young woman in the teal robes of a barrister-in-training came up to me.

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Practical Exercise

The two major streets were South Street and North Street. She knew exactly where to take us on North Street to procure something I’d never heard of, which she assured me was the stain specific for my panelling.  I nodded agreeably and paid the unman who owned the shoppe.  Two cross-streets down were a group of stores handling alchemical supplies.  The time-stopped chest with a hundred standard samples, each in a separate vial, was not cheap, but she paid it without hesitation.

Dinner was the breads and yogurt and curries place.  She knew the place, so I let her order, and did not complain when she insisted on paying. She had packed a stack of food preserver cartons and was going to save what we didn’t eat. It was all wonderful, though I already had a substantial lunch, so I left her a good part of it to take home. I did ask for a couple of the breads to drop into time preserver boxes of my own. The loaf I’d bought had been eaten by my neighbors. She explained why she was so grateful. She’d been working on this problem for several weeks.  Her research advisor didn’t like people asking him stupid questions, as he defined stupid, so she’d been afraid to say anything, just reported that ‘these colors worked, and some others are being stubborn.’  He was starting to get impatient. It struck me that being impatient and being unwilling to help was not necessarily an ideal combination.

The sun was not that low in the sky when we headed back with everything we had bought. She proposed doing the stain now, so I could get full benefit of the land breeze overnight. The stain did not smell that much, but I would still be happier with all my windows open.

We had gone a couple of blocks when she stopped looked into a shop window, bent over and motioned for me to bend over to look more closely. Then she whispered in my ear. “Adara, don’t look behind us, but I’m quite sure we’re being followed.”

“How can you tell?” I whispered back.

“My earrings literally give me eyes in the back of my head. It was a safety precaution from my parents. The same four guys either stay up half block behind us or drop over to the alley and cut in front of us, which they’ve done twice, and assume that we won’t notice.  Their coordination is good. I don’t see how they do it.”

“Tuned speaking stones,” I whispered back. “But we had better get going or they will get suspicious.”  I opened up my void nodes, reached over my head to tap my gnothdiar to wake it up, and readied a stack of defensive spells. Kwober’s had been very emphatic that the use of combat magic that could do damage inside Harmony was treated as an extremely serious crime. Penal servitude at hard labor for an extended period of years was standard.

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Practical Exercise

“Where are your flower petals?” I asked. “The copying target.”

“What?” She looked puzzled.

“The spell copies the color from – it’s not there – a rose petal, best placed in a glass vase at the head of the diagrams,” I said.  “But it’s actually copying the color, not transplanting color the way verdigris is removing copper from your copper knife.  You don’t have a rose petal, so the spell doesn’t do much.”

“The books don’t say a word about that!” Marjorie exclaimed.

“!”  I bit my tongue. “Everyone I knew who did this was taught by a Master.  The rose petals get mentioned as the spell is demonstrated.  There are also spells that pull the color out of the flower…iris spells do that.”

“Oh. Is that why the chapter is called color making,  not color summoning?” she asked.

“Precisely.  I had this drilled into me since I was around ten—before I could power up diagrams reliably.  I’ll have to tell the relatives who wrote it, so they fix the next edition. Each making spell needs one or a couple of copying samples; they’re always included in the spell’s name.  I always assumed everyone knew that.  Someone in Harmony probably sells samples.”

“You can buy almost anything in Harmony,” she said.  “I suppose I should be happy this problem was so simple to solve.  May I ask you for help if I can’t figure out what the target is?”

“Sure.  Glad to,” I promised. “Of course, I may not know the answer.  Most of my training time out of school was combat sorcery, not paper making.”

“And now I get to see about your panelling,” Marjorie announced. “I did promise.  You may need to buy supplies for me.”

Her inspection of my townhouse’s walls confirmed that they were clean and ready to stain.  She needed ingredients I didn’t have, so she proposed we buy supplies and have dinner in Harmony.  It was a pleasant before dinner walk, in which Marjorie was happy to talk about her very large family and how happy they were to have her studying construction here.

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Practical Exercise

My stomach reminded me that lunch time was approaching, but I still walked down to the shore to watch the waves break.  As promised, Gold Beach had much the highest surf, while the water in Silver Beach was calm and warm.  I told myself I should do this often, but realized that once classes started I’d rarely have time for it.   I stopped at Miller’s Refectory again, but the General Magic table was deserted.

I’d left a note for Marjorie, asking when meeting on spells would be appropriate.  She suggested late afternoon, after she got back from her run with Tad.  I went swimming instead, pushing hard enough that I was more than a bit tired at the end.   The beach invites people to recharge the spell batteries that keep the water warm and clean; I dutifully contributed.

By and by the bell-pull rang the door-chime. I looked over from my terrace; there was Marjorie, obviously with hair still a bit damp.  “Hi,” I called, “down in a minute.”

She’d set up her spellworking area at the top floor of her town house.  Her table, covered with a thin layer of black granite, was respectably large, a good 4-by-4 feet.  To one side was a spread sheaf of beautifully-colored papers, and a copy of one of our house’s books. On the table were several sheets of paper tinged a muddy red.

“I keep trying for a pale rose-red paper, light enough I can write on it, and nothing works,” Marjoie announced. “Most of the metal and stone colored paper spells work, but the rose-red will not.” 

I looked at the table.  It was clean.  I’d certain cast the paper color-binding spell often enough that I could check by eye the color-binding-spell diagram laid out on the table.  It was perfectly solid. “May I try your setup?” I asked.  She nodded.  I set a square of paper in the middle of the diagram, adjusted the diagrams, dutifully ran all the tests, and summoned verdigris.  I promptly had a fragment of pale copper-green paper.

“Everything seems to be set up right,” I announced. “Let’s see you do it.”

She did.  We now had two nearly identical squares of green paper.  She restored the diagram to pale rose. I dutifully ran the tests, let her prepare to cast, and realized I was being stupid. 

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Practical Exercise

“So to get a personal copy?” I asked.

“Standard book charge, against your university account.”  He pointed at a number.  Copying books in the library was cheap.  “The charge mostly goes to Ettore, or his house, anyhow. I think he’s still alive. Copying is a few minutes.”

The librarian started telling me about the library.  I finally got a question in.  “So does the New School have exactly the same books we do?” 

He looked thoughtful.  “When Dorrance and the New School  partitioned…that was thirty-seven millennia ago…an exact copy was made of the library.  Since then, whenever we buy a book, we send them a copy, and the other way around. Every so often, every few centuries, we reconcile our book lists.  Those lists are actually very complicated spells, not something you can copy.   Oh, wait, the split between Dorrance and the New School was over old manuscripts.  There were scrolls that all the Masters examined, and said were nonsense or pointless or written when no one understood magic.  They wanted to dump them rather than add a new wing to the library to store them…that’s expensive.  New School founders wanted to keep them and did, so they have those and we don’t.  Of course, they have rich patrons to support their school.  We keep accumulating these weird books, not very rapidly, so we have a new pile of them again.  They’re shelved under Exotica and Esoterica.”  I made a note to myself to see if I ever found that wing.

A few minutes later I actually had a copy of Ettore’s A Mathemagical Paradox.  A glance inside said that some day I would understand it, but that day was not yet.  I spent some time looking at other protected books, finally getting a copy of the protected book list.  If I’d asked for it first, I’d have been given a copy right off, but I hadn’t.   The ways of the Great Library are a bit odd.  

I prowled the building. I reminded myself to look for books on summoning paper.  They had to be here someplace. Master Courtenay had said the New School’s library was less well organized.  I had trouble imagining how that could be true. There seemed to be no records as to what was where.  That had to be wrong.  Finding the records must have been one of these little puzzles left in the path of students.  For the most part, volumes corresponding to a particular course of study were in a single hall, but not always. There was a Hall for Governance, a Hall for Theology, two Halls for Construction, several Halls of Medicine, and on and on and on.  There was even a Hall for History.  There did not appear to be a hall for General Magic. Then I discover that Halls branched. There were gaps between shelves, big support columns on each side,  wall behind, but if you went between the columns and skipped sideways you found yourself at the entrance to a sub-hall.  Sub-halls and sub-sub-halls often did not have the same focus as the main hall.  

Marchesi’s seven volumes on bone wands, very hard to miss in their glow-brightly-in-the-dark scarlet jackets, were scattered over four different halls.   The library would copy books for you, for a price.  The building also had vast reading rooms…much cheaper than buying books.  Some were open day and night.


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Practical Exercise

“What about the bulletin board for students?  Or the one listing lectures?” I tried to sound hopeful.

“Student board? It moves every month or two.” She raised her hands. “The faculty have a rota; someone is charged with keeping it clean. Lectures are announced on Faculty boards. There’s no substitute for walking the halls; there’s no general schedule of speakers.”

“You’ve been very helpful,” I answered. “And, for helping me, a greeting gift.”  I slipped from my carryall a thin packet of my House’s fine papers, each tagged with its type, color, and a tiny family seal at the bottom.  She appeared to be truly grateful.  In the unlikely event someone liked the paper and started buying from us, using one of those tags, I would get my finder’s royalty.  Every penny helped. 

To visit the library for the first time, I dressed formally.  The top story of my townhouse had a vault; I replaced all its wards and seals, then stowed my gnothdiar for safekeeping. To satisfy the students-shall-go-armed rule, one of my reservoir pens doubled as a combat wand.  It wasn’t as powerful as a gnothdiar, but it was specialized for warfare.

The entrance was on the inland, eastern side.  When library construction began, when the Commonality was founded, facing the rising sun had some symbolism, something about the dawn of civilization.  There are actually a few people still alive who remember that event, four ice ages and the great warming later.

I stopped at an entrance desk and smiled at the librarian.  “Is there a map of the subhalls,” I asked, “which is where?”

“Mercy me, no!” he answered.  “This is not the New School, with their bizarre ideas about how to store books.   If you keep using the library, eventually you learn where things are.”

“So somehow I can find Ettore’s book on Paradoxes?” I asked. “OK, one paradox.”

“That’s easy, “ he announced.  “It’s right here.  He gestured.  I felt a weak but very complex spell.  A book appeared from behind his desk. “See!  Ettore’s A Mathemagical Paradox.  This is a copying master.  We keep it here.  Every so often someone appears and tries to destroy the shelf copy of the book.  They can’t find it. They firmly believe that if the book is destroyed they have disproven Ettore’s claims.”   I have heard of odd ideas about suppressing wrong ideas, but that one was absurd.

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