Magic: A learned ability to manipulate ambient arcane energies. Human minds can be triggered to agitate aura through various mnemonics, gestures and recitations. Once the aura is stirred from its ambient form it can cause various perceivable effects on the world.
There was a knock on the door and Minerva’s head snapped up from a stack of quizzes.
“Come in!” She shouted. Finally, she’d gotten Niko to come in for office hours!
There was nearly imperceptible shimmering as the door opened.
Cocking a big grin, Lyudmilla Kholodova took long steps into the room, her head held up high. Her hair was arranged in two purple-streaked tails, and each seemed to float for just a second as she stepped through the door. Similarly but more subtly, there was a mild tug on her uniform while she crossed through. She dropped her bookbag beside Minerva’s desk and dropped herself on a chair to examine her well-kept hair.
“Hey, what’s going on over there?” She asked. “My hair’s all tingly.”
Lyudmilla frowned in response. “Wow. Nice to see you too, boss.”
“No, no, it’s not you.” Minerva reached out and patted Lyudmilla condescendingly on the head. “I had an appointment with a student set a half hour ago but he’s not shown up.”
Rather than complain Lyudmilla leaned into the petting in an unsettling way.
This had its perhaps intended effect of getting Minerva to stop.
“Anyway– afternoon, Master.” Lyudmilla grinned again. “Why did you decide to enchant your door? What did you do to it? Am I rigged to explode now if I act against your will?”
“What? Of course not. Who do you take me for?”
“Well, I don’t really know that yet.” She replied.
There was a bad feeling in Minerva’s stomach but she willed it away.
Instead she urged Lyudmilla to look behind herself for a moment.
Minerva swiped her wand at the doorway and lifted up a little basin that had been slotted just under the door threshold. Lyudmilla’s eyes drew wide as she spotted it.
“Oh, I think I get it.” She said, a delighted smile on her face.
She was easy to please (or distract) at least.
Minerva proudly explained her trick. “I put a weak Forbidding Lattice on the doorway. It is calibrated to forbid very very small things with very specific qualities. So in effect, it pushes the dirt and bugs right off anyone that comes in and collects it in the basin.”
“Huh. That’s the laziest thing I’ve ever heard of.” Lyudmilla grinned.
“I have a tight schedule! I have to save time where I can.”
Her office was always very clean, and magical shortcuts were certainly a part of it.
She stared back at the door. Niko was not coming, was he? Minerva started to worry.
But she couldn’t be consumed by the student who would not come when she had a student, and especially her apprentice, right in front of her. She put it out of her mind.
In fact she remembered she had something prepared for Lyudmilla anyway.
“Oh right. One second, Milla.”
Barely speaking, she swept her wand and Lyudmilla’s bag floated up onto the desk.
“No weed in there, I promise.” Lyudmilla said, raising her hands defensively.
“I’m not– oh nevermind. Here, I got you a present.”
Minerva opened a drawer in her desk and produced a plastic wrapped stack of books.
She had the books fly over to Lyudmilla’s bag, but she intercepted them in the air.
“Oh what are these? This is heavy.”
Lyudmilla ripped open the plastic with her fingers and picked a book out of the stack.
Minerva could not tell what the cover said. It was all in Rusean Cyrillic text.
That very fact immediately delighted Lyudmilla.
“Oh my god! This is incredible. You got me all my textbooks in Cyrillic?”
Lyudmilla flipped through the books with a massive, childish smile on her face.
It had taken calling in a few favors, but it was satisfying to see her pupil so happy.
“I figured some of the problem with your grades might have been a language barrier. You can read and write Otrarian, I know that much, but every little bit helps, right?”
Minerva crossed her arms and smiled as wide and brightly at her amazed pupil.
“Hell, one of the reasons I learned silent and shorthand casting was to avoid Otrarian.”
“How did you learn that, by the way?” Lyudmilla asked, still flipping the pages of the book and seemingly marveling at what they said to her now. “You still have not told me where all your superpowers come from, and I feel like I’ve asked every day since then.”
Minerva averted her eyes. “It’s not easy to talk about. I promise I’ll tell you eventually, but just give me a minute right now, okay? As for the shorthand casting, it’s weird.”
Lyudmilla flipped through one of her cyrillic textbooks. “You just said literally nothing.”
“I’m sorry, okay? Just trust me for right now.” Minerva sighed.
“Sure thing, Master.”
Minerva stared at the door briefly and then turned her gaze back on Lyudmilla.
“Okay, well, Niko isn’t coming, so I’ll just tutor you.” She said.
Lyudmilla looked at her over the book. “Tutor me in what? I don’t have homework.”
“You do now.”
She passed her a handwritten set of discussion questions that she had intended to go over with Niko Klein, covering several things in the current and former unit that had given him trouble. Most of them had also given Lyudmilla trouble, judging by her quiz answers and generally mediocre grades, so she figured it was a good way to make use of the work she had already done. It might also keep Lyudmilla shut for a bit, god willing.
Of course, it was immediately obvious the latter would not happen.
“I can’t believe this– this betrayal! I trusted you! I thought your office would be a safe space for me! You even have the stupid ‘safe space’ sign on your door!” Lyudmilla cried.
She put on a cartoonishly distraught expression as she manhandled the question sheet.
“My office will never be a safe space from schoolwork.” Minerva said.
“I’m never coming here again!” Lyudmilla shouted in even more cartoonish distress.
“You will come here and you will turn all your 60s into 90s.” Minerva replied firmly.
Lyudmilla stared at her, mouth agape for a second. “Master, I don’t know whether to be in shock that you think I can score 90s, or distressed that you think I can’t score 100s.”
“We’ll make you a 100s student next year. That’s my goal.” Minerva said.
She put her hand on her chest and closed her eyes solemnly as if swearing an oath.
Lyudmilla hung her head in surrender.
Soon they were deep into the sheet, engaging in a deadly duel of questions and answers.
Lyudmilla had put down all her books and was working from memory.
Minerva was reading from the sheet and tried not to be too merciless.
She quickly reckoned that she had failed to soften herself.
“Name and explain three different kinds of spells.”
“Enchantments last as long as they’re fed aura, Blessings and Curses last until dispelled, and Hexes are short lived spells exclusively targeting someone else. Did I get that right?”
“That is right. Date the first recorded Diyah scripture and explain what they believed.”
“Um, the Diyah, that’s 73 D.C.E right? And they believed in a divine life-giving light.”
“Come on, you can do better. That’s a 60 point answer.”
“Well, 65 points is a pass, so I’m pretty close.”
“I don’t want you to just pass.”
“Fine. Let me think. Uh. They believed in the obfuscation–”
“Occultation. The Occultation of the Mahdi.”
“Right. That’s like, there’s this guy, like, a super sweet dude, and he’s hidden himself as a test to see if people are worthy of him, and he’ll come back someday when the followers prove that they deserve to be saved or something like that. Did I get that right?”
“Well, we’re up to 75 point answers, once we correct for grammar.”
Lyudmilla put her head down on the desk. “You’re a Tyrant, a literal Tyrant.”
Minerva winced at the suggestion. Some of it was maybe, technically, sort of, correct.
On accident, hopefully. Though, certainly, depending on how much Lyudmilla recalled of the events of the past few weeks, she had all the clues she needed to put it all together.
At least she was still just calling her Master and not, say, Lord Wyrm.
She tapped her wand on Lyudmilla’s head, not to do any magic, just to annoy her.
“You’re doing your reading, so that’s good. I’m proud of you.”
Lyudmilla turned her head sideways on the table, so she had one eye staring at Minerva’s hand. She had on a pensive expression and Minerva did not know what to make of it. It was as if she wanted to say something, so Minerva retracted her hand and gave her space to think. In a few moments, she raised herself back up and crossed her arms. She stared directly at Minerva, put on a little smile and tossed her twintailed hair.
“I figured out what that spell you used in the demesne does.” She finally said.
The demesne. Again with the thing that happened that Minerva did not want to discuss.
At this point however it was impossible to sidestep.
“What do you mean?” Minerva asked. She had cast a lot of magic in Moloch’s demesne.
Lyudmilla meant her statement to be provocative and she was delighted by the response.
“That Sudes spell. Magic gets buffed by the butt of the stake and weakened by the tip.”
“You saw me cast that, huh?” Minerva said, staring at Lyudmilla.
Sudes, “The Messiah’s Seven Castigating Stakes,” was not a spell one just found in the 5000 mark school packet bought from the library shop. The battle against Moloch had been desperate, and Minerva had not taken care to only use magic that would be safe and normal for a student to see and learn about. Had she done so, she could have died, even with Moloch’s weakened state. She was surprised that Lyudmilla had been sober enough and paying enough attention to have retained that detail from the encounter.
Minerva had figured (perhaps naively desired was more accurate) that Lyudmilla’s brain would buckle under the shock and terror of a Tyrant encounter and block out most of the details. Inside the demesne she had looked like her eyes were glazed over. Was she that resilient, or did Minerva just really underestimate kids these days? Either way, with her mischievous personality, Minerva had wanted to avoid disclosing anything to her.
After all, a lot of it was information she would have loved to avoid disclosing to herself.
That was probably unfair of her to do. Even if it involved trauma, even if it meant revealing ugly things. Minerva was her master and Lyudmilla was her apprentice. They were supposed to have a bond in magic and life that was different than the normal student-teacher relationship — closer to family. They were both outsiders also.
Lyudmilla seemed to have something of a past too. She was probably safe to talk to.
“It’s a difficult spell to cast. I could show you when I think you’re ready.” Minerva said.
“I cast it already. It’s how I broke up the demesne.” Lyudmilla replied bluntly.
Broke up the demesne?
Gods defend, it was Minerva’s memory of the encounter with Moloch that had buckled under the trauma. It hit her then like a brick that she had recklessly thrown herself at Moloch (using wyrm’s power?) and ordered Lyudmilla to infiltrate deeper into the demesne and attack its weakness. She had treated her like a soldier, made her execute a flank; she felt mortified at how much of that day was just scrambled in her memory.
Sighing deeply, Minerva replied, “It’s called Sudes, the Seven Castigating Stakes of the Messiah. And it is an extremely dangerous spell to just use willy-nilly Lyudmilla.”
Lyudmilla nodded. She sighed a little herself.
“Well, yeah, I kinda fucked it up I guess. It really gave me a beating, you could throw out so many of those stakes but I could only make one or two. I only knew it from your lips. You mouthed an incantation and I picked it up. I filled in the rest myself best as I could.”
Minerva blinked hard. To cast even one Sudes without training in such a dangerous and stressful environment was impressive. Certainly, anyone could cast any sort of spell if they knew the mnemonic and the basic principles of magic (and had an unlocked Homunculus, like Lyudmilla now did thanks to the card Minerva gave her and which she had not thought to ask for back). However, most people who cast something like Sudes would not “take a beating” and would instead keel over dead, bereft of their vitae.
“Don’t just copy spells at random, even if you technically can. Your arcanometry is advanced but unpracticed, and you’ll just hurt yourself. Please promise me.” She said.
Lyudmilla glanced askance and mumbled grumpily in response, “I promise.”
Minerva put down her wand, and concentrated for an instant.
Magic was a lot of factors working at once. It was a herculean effort that seemed effortless because it was carried out in an instant. It was trial in the space of error.
Human minds did not move like muscles did. To think was the most instantaneous action one could imagine, encompassing universes within instants in between any amount of perceivable time. Because humans thought, and were surrounded by auras and vitae, and because humans possessed a connection to the elements that gave off these auras and energies, they could perform magic. To think, therefore, to cast, one could say.
Communities shaped their environments through action; at a global scale, the human organism composed of billions of bodies, shaped the entire world. On the most quantum microscopic scale imaginable, a human thought was a world-shaping action too. Magic was the result of thought, and thought was influenced by input, like the light entering the eyes that became visual imagery, the vibrations that were interpreted as sound; and it was given shape too, by the muscle actions that created speech, breath and movement.
Magic was profoundly difficult to explain. It was easier in the time of Otar the Great, who claimed that God had given him the power. And yet what was academically known as Divine magic now was very different than the Otarian wizardry practiced in Otraria. Minerva cast magic like people took footsteps. On some level, she barely recognized that she was doing it. Nobody had to think to take a footstep. Similarly, most wizards who did not have a great being of fire embedded in them and an archmage for a childhood mentor cast magic like a musician played an instrument. On some level, it became rote, and in the way one knew to control one’s breathing, to hit a key or a string just so—
All of that was Magic.
And if the act of playing was the rote, then the incantation was the sheet music to learn.
All of Magic was an effect caused by thought, but to perform specific, controlled effects, required the brain to think in specific ways and the body to act it out in specific ways.
Wizards employed a mnemonic of some kind to trick their brains into casting spells.
The homunculus used barely perceptible light patterns, special audio waveforms and even direct injection of pulses into the flesh to help fulfill what were once long incantations, smoke tricks, prayer music and other mnemonics, gestures and autosuggestions, reducing the act to second’s worth of sensory and physical activity. Because they lived in a fallen time long since Otar’s death after all; people did not have the time or patience for the long form when they could just say the name of the spell.
And even the latter concession was more of a requirement for sanity’s sake.
To Minerva, casting Sudes meant intending to cast Sudes, grasping with her hand like the stake was already in it, and then calling out Sudes. Under particular stress or if she needed to concentrate the magic more she could call them the Seven Castigating Stakes, taking more time to develop stronger mnemonics. To her brain, Sudes meant images of the Messiah, the stakes in his body; the specific waveform of his cries and prayers; the smell of the sand in the holy land; and the feeling of remorse for humanity’s cruelty. Feelings, senses, information — understanding shaped the magic. Sudes meant a weapon intended half to deliver one from magic and half to deliver one to magic as Lyudmilla pointed out. One end “buffs,” one end breaks. One end was in the open air of the land of Al-Zujaj, and the other end soaked in blood from the flesh of the avatar as he died–
She couldn’t help but twirl it after it manifested, and almost hit Lyudmilla. The Sudes was a wooden stake about the thickness of a cheerleading baton and the length of a throwing javelin. One end was blunt and just ever so vaguely rounded compared to the rest, while the other end was smoothly tapered off and mildly sharp. All of it looked worn, ancient.
All of it swept right in front of Lyudmilla like a swung sword.
“Ah! Sorry!” Minerva said. She dispelled the stake after the demonstration.
Lyudmilla had immediately backed up, defending herself with raised arms.
“Whoa, be careful with that.” Lyudmilla said. “Hey, are you ok?”
Minerva noticed that her face was sweaty, and she was breathing heavily.
It felt like all the air had left her lungs. Her stomach felt hollow suddenly.
She felt like she could tell apart all the nerves in her brain as pinpricks of pain.
This was not Moloch’s demesne after all. This was the material world.
Casting magic in the material world was much harder.
A Tyrant’s demesne draws magic out; the material world pushes magic in.
“I’m fine.” Minerva said. “This is a really tricky spell. It’s very powerful. Conjurations in general require tons of magic y’know? Creating an independent physical body and all.”
“Then that’s not the real stake you got there.” Lyudmilla said. “Conjurations are all fakes.”
She was learning! That was indeed a property of conjurations, a type of magic.
“Correct, they’re not real. Those real stakes got thrown out or burnt or buried. What matters is the image of the stake; the metaphorical stake. That’s what Sudes is. Copies of the seven stakes that killed the Messiah. Artifacts like that, with history that sticks in people’s minds, often inspire spellcraft.” She realized how much she sounded like an encyclopedia text to speech bot and paused for a moment to gauge Lyudmilla’s reaction. The girl seemed captivated by it, rather than bored or confused, so Minerva supposed she was doing something right. “You were right about their properties. One end will amplify magic that strikes it and the other end will weaken it. So I buried the weakening end into the Tyrant and kept the strengthening end open to the air for my purposes.”
“Yeah, I kinda thought so. I did that trick too.” Lyudmilla said. She was being pretty casual about what should have been an utterly horrifying experience. Perhaps it was the distance to it; or maybe Lyudmilla had been conditioned in some way to accept such things. She continued, looking smug. “I knew I couldn’t break apart all the machines in the demesne by myself, because I don’t really know any big explosive magic like you probably do. So I buried the weakening end of a stake into the machines to bring down their resistance and then used the buffing bit to amplify my magnetic spell.”
“I’m sorry that I made you fight like that, Lyudmilla.” Minerva said. Even if Lyudmilla was alright and seemingly satisfied with herself, that whole situation was a massive failure on Minerva’s fault to protect her charge. She had thrown in to defend her students but ended up using a student as a tool. “Even if you were clever enough for it.”
“It’s not a problem. Aren’t apprentices basically just an arch-wizard’s troops anyway?” Lyudmilla leaned back on her chair and waved her hand in the air as if the tension in the room was smoke and she was trying to dispel it. “Anyway, you said there were Seven stakes or something, but you made more than seven of those though, I’m pretty sure.”
Minerva blinked, still a little shocked by the composure of her new apprentice.
And her apparent enthusiasm at becoming “an arch-wizard’s troops.”
Nevertheless she continued to explain. After all, an engaged student was a rare delight, and even if it was not course material, Minerva loved to teach things to a willing mind.
“Depending on my intentions, I can conjure copies of the copies that are even weaker but satisfy my needs. In the demesne, I used Sudes to spread Bariq, desert lightning, across Moloch’s body to intensify the effect. He had so much mass that he would have barely felt one stake or one bolt striking his body, no matter how powerful the bolt was. He was mostly made of metal though, so with enough contacts, I could shock all of his body.”
“Huh. So being that big had its upsides.” Lyudmilla said. “He seemed really weak compared to you. Looking back on it, you kinda made a clown of a Tyrant there.”
Minerva shook her head. She did not want Lyudmilla to think she was some invincible juggernaut. There was a ready explanation. “I think because of the circumstances of the summoning, Moloch was forced to express his element of Fire through the medium of the metal idol that Ajax guy lured you to. Metal and Fire are opposed though, so Moloch was dramatically weaker than he should have been. Moloch seemed to think Wyrm had permanently removed his Fire element in antiquity; but I think if summoned right, Moloch could probably have crushed me in the Fire department nonetheless.”
She was trying to be careful of what she said still; some part of her approached the eagerness of her student, and the deeply troubling things she had seen, with great trepidation. Lyudmilla, however, had a simple response to everything and seemed thoroughly untroubled. She was not conspiring over anything that Minerva said.
Instead, she diverted the subject once again to another linked curiosity of hers.
“I guess I can understand that. Wait though, aren’t humans made of fire and metal?”
“Most of them, magically, yes.” Minerva said. She let out a little giggle at the concept of humans being made of fire and metal. Certainly their auras tended to be that way.
“Is that why we suck at magic more than Tyrants do? Opposing elements or whatever.”
“Well. It’s one of many reasons. I’d like to think we don’t suck too bad.” Minerva replied.
“Well, you don’t, I guess. You’re some kind of genius hero.” Lyudmilla said.
She laid her head down on her arms and kicked her legs, looking mildly frustrated.
Maybe she really did not think Minerva was dangerous or monstrous and was, honestly, casually and simply, jealous of her abilities and greedy for a similar kind of power.
“Hey, I had resources others did not. I owe this to a lot of people and a lot of study.”
Lyudmilla glanced up at her with a foul expression on her face.
“Yeah, and you’ll tell me all about it someday.” She said sarcastically.
Minerva frowned right back at her. Even if she wasn’t malicious, she was a handful.
“I’ll teach you all of it. But not now. Right now, we should get back to your homework.”
“Yeah, the homework you made up to give me a hard time.”
There was almost some tension in the room now and Minerva did not like it one bit.
“Come on now, you’re doing really well. Lets build up some momentum! From 75 to 80!”
Minerva smiled and cheered and tried to be perky and nice to her in response.
Lyudmilla turned her head away and narrowed her eyes.
Picking the sheet back up, Minerva asked, “Explain the first formalized spellcasting method divised by Hama, and explain why it is so difficult to reconstruct today.”
She tried to sound bright and sunny, but that was actually a rather difficult question.
“Oh man, are you for real?” Lyudmilla protested. “Am I a PhD student or a freshman?”
Just as Minerva was about to comfort her, there was a vigorous knock on the door.
She snapped her head up from the sheet and stared in surprise.
“Come in!” She shouted, thinking that it must have been Niko who was just very late to office hours, and happy that she would not have to reschedule him to a later day again.
However almost as soon as the door opened, her homunculus vibrated on her wrist.
Looking down at it she found a message from Niko Klein.
Looking up from it she saw the door swing open and an unfamiliar woman walk through the threshold. She looked Minerva’s or Lyudmilla’s age and carried herself with confidence, stopping short of the desk with her hands behind her back and a big grin.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Orizaga. I apologize if I’m interrupting something, but I was told you could help me with my investigation, and I wanted to meet you right away.”
She was quite a dazzling character, slender, athletic. Her hair was long, shiny, a golden blond, adorned with a dark purple, reflective headband. A sharp streak of red eyeliner and a careful dab of ice-blue lipstick made her face stand out. Her attire was professional and more than likely symbolic of something: a blue-striped white uniform jacket with long sleeves and red shoulders and cuffs, buttoned up, with a similarly tri-color skirt.
On her hip was a tote-bag sized belted pack with a cable, connected to a holstered object clipped to her opposite hip. The cable stretched behind her back. Was it some kind of gun? She had no homunculus on her wrist; but there was an orb floating around her, gunmetal and purple with a recessed pink eye amid a pattern of concentric neon veins. About the size of a football and moving around as if of its own volition. What was it?
Lyudmilla stared at them half-turned on her seat, seemingly also confused.
“Good afternoon.” Minerva said. Since this woman had skipped introductions and just called her out by surname, Minerva would skip any formalities as well. “May I inquire as to the nature of this investigation? As you can see I am currently with a student.”
Her guest grinned ear to ear, crossing her arms.
At her side the orb’s eye and the veins around it blinked on and off.
“Pardon my rudeness. My name is Silica Von Drachen. I am here on behalf of a global task force of the Noct Republic, operation Panopticon, to investigate a summoning.”
Minerva blinked hard. That was a lot of words she was not prepared ever to hear.
Silica seemed to immediately pick up on her discomfort and genuinely enjoy it.
“Ever heard of the Etherian ‘Moloch’? I should hope not. Humans should not consort with such beings of course, especially humans bound by international agreements not to.”
Story 2, Lord Of The Deluge, BEGIN.