Archive for fantasy

There Aren’t Enough Magi

Minimally practical users of magic—cottage spells, farm magic—and mediocre magi are aplenty. Nearly everyone that’s not squib or cathar uses some amount of magic everyday without even thinking about it.

The rigor of becoming a mage, wizard, or priest is lost on many who are sent by their families to study and bring their name glory, only to be dismissed for their lack of aptitude—or lack or fortitude. Interestingly, the better teachers retain a higher number of their pupils.

Although magic is something that can be grabbed by anyone with a mind to, it cannot even begin to be mastered unless the utmost beautiful web of understanding is woven in the mind.

To Catch a Wandering Star

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The first teleportation to another world without a portal was recorded by Anamandas when he came upon the abandoned star tower of the astronomer Ioricus. His tale follows.

Medieval Manuscript Illumination of a Man Studying the Planets From Albertus Magnus' De Natura Rerum

Among the stargazer’s scattered books one sat on a pedestal open to an unfinished page. Anamandas learned that Ioricus had attempted teleporation: he recorded that he was observing the transit of Selmet across the sky. The red planet had always captivated him and he felt drawn to it. Anamandas was acquainted with Ioricus, but did not know if the wizard would choose a celestial ball of light as target for teleportation. They were said to be made of fire. Reading on, though, Anamandas discovered that the abandoned observatory had been found already, by a wizard Laestalon. He had the same idea as Anamandas and had followed Ioricus. And Laestalon swore in scrawled script it was to view Selmet, stating that he knew Ioricus well and that was his destination.

Neither had returned.

So Anamandas first spent three days meditating on the place he was in, from the look of the messy room to its relative location in the world. When he was well acquainted with his orientation on the earth, he then poured over Ioricus’s books to learn the art of far teleportation. Something no one had ever done successfully was not an easy thing to study. It took him months: securing food, fetching water, sleeping, and continuing to practice his location all in addition to studying. This is not to mention having to artfully turn away other curious wizardly visitors. When he was finally ready, he penned a similar final record in the book after Laestalon, not knowning if he would be yet another mysterious entry. He waited till nightfall and gazed up at Selmet in its untwinkling starlight. Fire. How close could he get to it? Would he go to it or stay afar? Laestalon had said that he wished to observe Selmet and he had failed, so Anamandas aimed right for it. It was not like shooting a bow, though, and, his mind consumed with the wandering star’s redness in the sky, all of Ioricus’s longing to be with it, he let himself go from the hold of his well-remembered place on the ground and reached for the heavens.

Pain burst inside his ears, everything went silent, his skin stung, his first breath gave him no air but stole it from him stinging his lungs as well, his eyes dried up like a spilled drop of water in the desert and clouded up like all his water being thrown back at him as a mist he could not drink. In the flash before that blur he saw: One robed skeleton laying in the sand. Red. Red-orange sand. Cinnabar terrain. Rocks. Dust. Whips of it adding to the sting on his skin as he fell to his knees. The air warm, the sun hot on his back. Then that place. Where— what was it? A tow— A rock. Green. Red rock everywhere. His eyes closed. The pain. His whole body was on fire. The desperate need for air. Then air poured into his nose and he felt the wood floor covered in books smack him.

A silent thud. The sting endured all over. His eyes ached and were still foggy. He could hear nothing, but he rolled and flopped over, felt the brush of parchment and the stab of rushes on the floor. It was a welcome sensation that paled in contrast to the pain of the awful place he had visited. Even if he was in a different tower or castle, he didn’t care. He was just glad to have survived the ordeal. He had followed a foolish old man to hell and made it back. He lay there for quite a while before he awoke to being so hungry he couldn’t float an apple to himself—but he could see it.

In the coming days he visited a healer and their first session failed to bring his hearing back. Whatever magic had struck him, he was restored shortly, with the exception of his ears. He recorded everything in detail in Ioricus’s book and then left that place for a while. Though he knew the craving to understand his experience lurked within him, he had to get away from the dusty books and his hall of sickness. When he returned from a satisfying wandering, he faced the question again of where he had teleported to. After scouring Ioricus’s whole library, he was still far from even asking the right question, so he arranged to have the library packed up on carts and he accompanied it to the Council hall of the region, where he had it added to theirs. When he returned one more time to Ioricus’s tower, he would gather the dead wizard’s artifacts and sell the tower. But nestled in the libraries of the Council, he looked again over the details of his other world: red desert rocks, breath-sucking air if not miasma, a scorching sun that burns up its inhabitants, but not before blinding them. He was sure the skeleton he saw was Ioricus, rotted away from the months he had lain there. Laestalon had either had the same experience as Anamandas and fled in horror, not even bothering to record it, or Anamandas figured he could have apparated to a different part of that world and been lying there as dead as Ioricus. That was more likely, but Anamandas would look for him.

Though he kept it out of his report to the Council, the redness of that world was what stood out to Anamandas and he privately believed that he had been right in all his calculation, focus, and preparation and had indeed been the first one to stand on Selmet—not a star but another world. To stand on Selmet, that is, and live to hold on to the tale and tell the world only when his death unlocked his tome, Elennar Attaye, To the Stars and Back.

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—Michael Billips

Crippled

From The Bodily Fisic, by Sartoris Mateme, an Arcaitian medical text that is the cornerstone of any physik doctor’s education.

A broken bone is easily mended by a wizard, yet the wound of a backbone can be delicate to set right again. If someone lives remotely and they happen to fall, not near any mage, woodland healer’s hut, or any people at all and they let it heal on it’s own without seeking any of those helpful folk at all, then the bones may regrow wrong or the injury so great to begin with that they will never walk again. Drawing of skeleton in medieval manuscriptSelf-sufficient yeomen, calm in their humble farms, isolated, would not be able to work their fields and would starve if a parson or wizard does not come calling or if they do not crawl to the nearest neighbor. In County Dunn the folk there tell of a man Arthren, out on his farmstead, broke his leg, and drug himself 20 miles to the next farm, eating rabbits an squirrels along the way, cutting his hands and scraping along rocks and twigs for 3 days before his slowly lurching lump collapsed at the gate of a Yeoman Jonner. Barring this determination, if the break is left to heal on its own, crippled limbs are much harder for a wizard to heal. There is no wound to close, no raw flesh and swollen tissue to command back in its place, and it is hard to see with the glowing hand what is inside a leg. Some brute magicians take to chopping the leg off cleanly at the site of the break and fusing it back on as it’s supposed to be, but even that is an imprecise art. Those skilled in the unseen, attuned to the blind movements of surrounding nature, are the best at setting ill-healed bone breaks right, but the experiments of a mad, crude transmogrifier on living tissue have the most power to repair if they are performed right. It is a blear physic cursed for challenging hell. Therefore, the maintenance of healer at hand and thus immediate healing is the simple prevention for crippling. Now wounds of a magical nature are of an entirely different matter. There are many spells which can render a wound unwilling to heal and even those that will lacerate the wound further if healing is attempted. This is done by manner of a hex that intercepts the power of the healing spell and redirects it to its own foul purpose. A sensing of a magical wound first before treatment is necessary. Deep and dark magic make injuries far worse than the unhealed of material nature. Vile wizards have stricken their victims with such curses, but more often mages will halve and seal their enemies and leave them on the field to wait to be found and live out their lives half men of magical means. For too many dark lords this fate is more satisfying than the preventing the return of an enemy. As for those born with deformities, the situation is much like that of poorly healed injuries. Some a wizard can sense and correct, others may be too twisted and beyond their abilities. It would be a grave world we must live in to have to live permanently with every injury that befalls man.

—Michael Billips

Against the Rain

With a crack of thunder, a series of jabberings rolled out: “Another rainstorm? This early? That field’s too wet already,” “Get Morton out there to keep that rain off the fields,” “But no mage is that powerful.”

“I can’t possibly keep all the rain off the whole field.”

“Well you better damn well try. This is about eating or not eating.”

“Oh a—alright,” Morton stuttered.

Morton shuffled to the center of the field then clasped his hands as if in prayer. The thunder rumbled louder. He and the whole village waited. Before the sound of rain reached the crowd’s ears, Morton went into action, throwing out his arms. The rain blew off to the edges of the field. He mustered more power. A flash went out over the field. The wind subsided, but the rain stayed back as if it were hitting glass. A few of the children ran out into the rain to see the sight closer. Their mothers yelled after them that they’d catch cold. They ran under the barrier and looked up into a cascade of water droplets racing above them. They didn’t stream and bead like on glass, but just changed their direction like a herd of sheep.

“Get that barrier on the sides too, the water’s gonna splash back into the fields,” one of the women cried out. “Martin get over there and tell him,” she grabbed her neighbor’s husband. He took a few steps out into the rain and then waved his hands and pointed to the edge of the field. Wincing understandably, Morton focused more of his strength into the barrier and closed it around the field and the children. Playing scared they screeched and ran through harmlessly back out into the rain, slopping their mothers with water when they had finally obeyed.

Lightning cracked and made everyone shriek. The wind blew harder and the rain got heavier and Morton pushed more of his life into the barrier. He let out a yell, the barrier glowed, and then he let his hands down. He started to run back and forth, swirling his hands, working up a huge wind. He threw huge waves of rain off away from the barrier. He kept going back and forth, trying to work up a cyclone that would keep blowing the rain off. The storm went on long enough that the people ended up sitting down. The adults took naps and picked their teeth with straw. The children half-heartedly tried to play games, but mostly laid on their parents and watched the mage take on the storm. He was throwing his hands out a lot more and yelling more. The sides of the barrier the adults had chided him about were flickering, but he always brought them back. “Seeds have… got to stay dry…” someone mumbled as they nodded off.

By the time everyone was done with their nap and ready for the sun to come back out, Morton’s eyes were crazed. He had kept his hands up, thrust at the sky, and he couldn’t remember when they had gone numb. He was as thirsty as ever, wishing he had the presence of mind to open a tiny hole in his barrier to get a drink. He just kept thinking of keeping all the people from starving this year. He was babbling phrases to remind himself. His muscles shook. His body quaked. He looked up at the rainfall spreading out above him and his gaze was locked in its pattern. He saw the clouds behind it, with all their billowing shapes. He didn’t even notice that they were getting brighter and thinner. The flowing pattern of droplets slowed and then was gone and he didn’t know what to do.

When the rain finally stopped, the mage out in the field fell face forward, like an old fence post being knocked over. Everyone ran out to the edge of the field. The first man there leaned over the fence and felt the dirt. Dry.

They looked up at Morton lying in the field, the clouds still moving all around and graying everything. Everyone moved closer but didn’t go up to the man. The priest went out and looked at him, then he bowed his head and his hands glowed, but there was nothing there. The priest shook his head. At the head of the crowd, he turned back around to look at the body. He didn’t know what to pray and had no idea what to say. A tear came down his cheek and he fought to not break down. A few of the women whimpered, a couple men dabbed their eyes, and the children sniffled. The clouds began to break and the returning sun gave a golden evening glow to everything. It wouldn’t be long before dark.

—Michael Billips

The Magicless

The magicless work the land by the sweat of their brow, while they say there are elf cities where they plow the ground perfectly just with magic. Some say they even sing the furrows right into the field. After going through what it takes to be so adept at magic, I say that those fabled elves likely still have to work the ground, but effortlessly use magic to make their work perfect. Of course you can’t change the weather, despite what they say about elves, so there must be some trials they still face. I believe that chiefly their struggle is boredom, that in their perfect world they find nothing to learn, nothing to gain an edge on, nothing to master or conquer. There are no great causes or great quests, just the boring sameness of perfectly plowed rows and perfectly placed seeds.

There was a man out in his field who had learned a thing or two. He had managed to trade off his week work and get to a city for a time. He had also spent time speaking with a pointy-hatted old man throughout his days. You could see them walking together on the edge of the meadow like they were talking about what gods were real and what the world looked like when you were dead.

It was late winter now and no one had thought of breaking up the still-frozen ground. The man though had learned a thing or two. He leaned over and brushed away a patch of snow. He held his hand out to the ground, closed his eyes, and fire came out like he was lighting peat. He focused now on how the flame was coming out of his hand and beating on the ground. Trickles of water started to form and the dirt got soft.

The man took a break and stood up. He kept looking down at his defrosted patch of ground. His neighbors saw him standing out there wiping his forehead and wondered what work he had done.

By the time spring came, the man could keep a flame burning from his hand for a while. He would occasionally try to shoo away birds with it, but it usually stirred up the people around him and they got all fussy.

Oh my. My man, what are you doing? Put that out now, don’t go settin’ the whole damn field on fire. Look at you, do you think you’re a mage or something? When a real mage fights there’s lightning and dark clouds and the ground gets up and moves and there’s a whole storm of fire. Are you really going to be able to keep that up to go a whole furlong? If you could do that you would be the hero of this town. That’s not bad, I say, if you keep that up we might get some use outta that. We would make a statue of you out of shit and old wood.

The man practiced burning chaff and trash as much as he could, so much so that everybody started calling him the trash man. In fall, when the wolves came for the chickens and pigs, he was practiced enough to send one away smelling like a crematorium. The others thought twice for a while before returning.

By winter the man was sure he could defrost a whole furlong, so he set out to try as soon as there was frost. “I won’t be able to keep it away, but I sure as well need to know if I can do it at all.” A good number of people actually gathered around to watch by this time, all standing there in the snow, bundled up in blankets and holding cups of hot water or steeped herbs. The fire blasted out of his hand as he ran, burning hot enough to melt away the snow. He got to the end of the furrow and collapsed to his knees. The village cheered. One of the older men walked over to the defrosted furrow and felt the ground. The snow was cleared, but the ground was still frozen. The man realized this too and after recovering for a few minutes, he tried it again, running back. When the old man stepped out this time he picked up a handful of cold, but soft dirt. The men patted the fire man on the back, congratulated and thanked him but none of them were sure for what.

At the end of winter the man ran the furrow with his fire again. In celebration the village planted an early row of wheat. With a little tending and some more heating duty from the man, the village was able to have a furrow’s worth of grain weeks before the rest of the harvest.

A Meeting on the Road

Rolf trudged along the path, trying to get to Arthfern by nightfall. It was about 20 miles from Durgart and he knew that he could make at least 15 at a leisurely pace. So far the weather had been good, the sun bright. He hadn’t even seen anyone else on the road. As he passed a meadow, he let his gaze stay fixed on its flowers while he kept walking forward. Rolf picked up his pace, blessed by the day.

The weather was still shining and the road had stayed empty. It was a good while before Rolf noticed the first dot of another traveller on the horizon. Rather than disappointing him, it was exciting to see who it might be. He might even be able to have a good chat about what all Arthfern had to offer. He kept his quick pace, but planned to slow it when he got closer to the traveller. A slight tingle prickled his neck for a second and vanished before he really took note of it. He didn’t feel anything else so he wasn’t worried about it. The traveller might be slightly magicent, though. Just in case, he sent a detection spell in that direction. There was definitely something there, but it was probably only a magic item, nothing more. That wasn’t unusual and hopefully that meant he could get some good enchantments and talismans in Arthfern.

Rolf felt a soft wave wash over him. The other traveller had just detected him back. So he was at least a minor mage, maybe a jumpy trainee that was extra cautious about strangers on the road. Rolf quickly cast a spell giving off a false aura of enchantment, hoping the residue of the detect would pick it up. It would look like he was loaded with magical devices.

The mage on the road stopped. His dust trail faded, but he still didn’t move. A blue flame popped up on his right side. Rolf stopped. They stood there for a second and then the blue flame went away. The silence was broken by a cow mooing in the distance.

Rolf put up a magic barrier, tailed with a disappearing spell to keep it hidden. He thought about disappearing himself, but thought better of it. This time he sent out a heavy detect, but tried to make it passable to the mage’s magic sense. He got nothing, so he kept the detect there, probing for any reason to be worried about this mage. Suddenly, he felt his magic rush back at him and a splitting headache threatened to drop him to the ground. He grit his teeth and kept his eyes on the mage. He could at least push back after that. This guy was hiding everything, so he had to be careful about his next move. Rolf decided to simply start walking forward. The other mage didn’t move. Rolf bolted, stretching out his mind, waiting to reach the mage. It didn’t take long; he was a good runner. He bound the mage tight, gripping him hard with the spell. He dropped without seeming to resist. Rolf had him now, so he didn’t stop running. As he approached the body, he took half a second to get a look at the man’s face and that was when the mage freed himself from the bind and his hands burst into blue fire. Rolf had just enough seconds to freak out, ignite his own hands, and leap over the body. Red fire came down on blue. He rolled in the dirt on impact and whirled around with a shot of flame for the mage, who easily tossed it away with his own fire. Rolf sent blast after blast, all met. He held up a ball of flame in front of him, raised his other hand, and started zipping fireballs at the man from all angles. They hissed and fizzled through the air. The mage blocked or sidestepped every one of them. He was distracted just enough though for Rolf to charge, leading with a burst of flames. A splash of water turned the flame wall to steam and splattered on Rolf’s barrier. Two elements. Rolf skidded to a stop, but the mage pulled a dagger and dove for him. Rolf threw up a material barrier, but the mage was already inside and he felt the dagger bust into his abdomen. He let the failed barrier just dissipate and slumped to the ground. The hard dirt of the road thudding him made him remember to let his life force leak into the grass so the mage would have no need for a finishing blow. He didn’t pick up on it, just turned around and walked on down the road. Rolf had no idea how far his range was so he waited as long as he dared. When his spirit was nodding off into twilight, his life force crawled sleepily out of the grass and climbed back into his body. The first thing he felt was pain. He clutched his wound, trying not to move too much—it still had to have been too sudden of a movement. He dropped all of his energy into the wound, like taking off a pack after a full day’s walk. It closed up and the pain began to improve. He was still panting and his head felt heavy. A finger to his forehead cleared the fog and only then did he dare to slowly ease up.

He half expected to be met with the mage running at him and then kneeing him in the head, but instead, the countryside was completely empty to the horizon.

—Michael Billips