Chapter 188: The Life of EnchantmentAlexandra Erin on November 15, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Opening Maneuvers Are Concluded
Monday morning, I didn’t make a point of getting to Acantha’s class any later than normal. I kept my mind on our work, which was about creating an array of spells that are all separately linked to the same pool of energy for charges.
I’d already done something very similar when making my own wand, but doing something once in the middle of the night under extreme pressure wasn’t the same thing at all as learning how to do it, so I did my best to follow along from the ground up instead of slipping into “I know that already” mode.
The name of the class was Spellbinding For Enchantment, and technically “spellbinding” had two meanings.
One was better maybe better called spellcrafting, and that was the art of formulating a set of magical actions into a repeatable spell. Technically, coming up with the actions was crafting… finalizing it and tying it to a set of symbols or words was the binding. Spellcraft could be done on the fly, spellbinding was what you did so you could use the spell you’d crafted later.
The other meaning of spellbinding… the one that the non-enchanting public thought of when they considered what spellbidning meant at all… was taking a spell and weaving it into an item.
For this exercise, the crafting-and-binding of spells was the same as it would have been for the techniques I’d used making my wand, which was a personal item and so was designed to use my own personal energy. For a commercial product or something intended for another unspecified person’s use, charges were more appropriate. They were less flexible, but more predictable. I could use my personal wand until I’d exhausted all the energy I had access to, but it would be hard to say that I had exactly thirty-seven minutes of sustained use left or anything like that. Packaging energy into an item as discrete charges let you do things like that… and made them accessible to people who didn’t have thirty-seven minutes’ worth of energy in them.
The linkage… what most people thought of as binding… was quite a bit different for a charged wand. The technique I’d had to learn to basically contain the spells was similar, but the container was different. The triggers that activated the spells worked on a similar principle, but they were actually more complicated. An actual formal pool of charges meant there were more moving parts. It was kind of surprising that we were learning how to do this first, but then, it was the more useful technique in the long run… and I had to admit, it might have been easier to pick up if I hadn’t done it the easier way first.
Probably in the bad old days when the only way to learn high-level magic was to be apprenticed to a powerful wizard and most useful magic items belonged to such wizards, learning to make a staff or wand to amplify and channel your own power was taught as a basic technique, but with most enchantment being a commercial… and, increasingly, industrial… affair, that approach didn’t make a lot of sense any more.
In fact, the charge approach was already getting dated, since the big money was in self-sustaining convenience items that either relied on truly permanent spells to work or had an always-available reservoir of energy.
But charges were still used in some applications. There was always a market for disposable items… that was the nature of disposability. People who were priced out of the market for higher-end goods could end up spending much more over the years buying new disposable ones or paying to have them recharged.
There were still some applications where using charges was desirable.
Banks used proprietary bindings to keep track of virtual money, with cards that could only be re-charged by them. The same kind of system was used to keep track of how many points we had in our meal plans.
Also, it was illegal to sell wands loaded with offensive spells that weren’t charged, and there was a limit on how many charges they could hold.
I was so focused on what I was doing that I was actually surprised when Acantha asked me to stick around after the bell, even though this was becoming pretty routine. I wondered what the rest of the class thought… that I was a teacher’s pet, or did it seem like I was getting in trouble?
Elven features and tones could be very hard to read when they were trying not to convey anything, which was Acantha’s default mode while class was in session.
But then, it was college and most people seemed to be wrapped up in their own stuff and in a hurry to get to wherever they were getting next, so it was possible that what most of them thought was just “glad it’s not me”, if they noticed it all.
“What’s up?” I asked Acantha.
“I have been informed through proxy from Coach Callahan that she is no longer requesting your help in the prototype testing process,” she said. It took her a bit to switch from her teacher mode, where everything was precise and practiced. She could get downright conversational when it was just two people, but I would have bet money she’d worked that out in her head before asking me to stay. “I have a feeling the version of her missive that reached my desk had been edited down considerably, but I also have a suspicion that she no longer completely trusts you to be on her side.”
“Right,” I said, which probably wasn’t the best way to answer that… the coach had advised me to give Acantha that as the reason for dropping out of the project, but since it hadn’t come up in our last conversation, I hadn’t mentioned it.
I probably should have, but hearing it from Callahan rather than me would probably make it more believable.
“I gather you were already aware of this development?” Acantha said.
“…we talked about it, yeah,” I said, deciding it was best to stick to the technical truth. “I wasn’t sure how to say it.”
“Well, I’m sorry it’s turned out this way… I had been looking forward to seeing how your brain works,” she said. “The way you approach your classwork raises some intriguing possibilities about your potential, but the limitations imposed by the classroom approach prevents me from pursuing them.”
“Thank you,” I said, trying not to make it sound like a question.
“This weekend, I made some inquiries with the Guild of Student Enchanters and was very surprised to find that you aren’t a member… given your obvious aptitude and your willingness to go beyond the textbook and the classroom lessons,” she said. “Are you active in any less official groups or local clubs?”
“No,” I said.
“Are you busy with other activities?”
“Not really,” I said. I hadn’t given this much thought before. All of my friends were active in one or more organized activities or student groups or something like that, but other than a failed foray into student politics that I’d been pushed into, I’d never even investigated the options there.
“I can’t say that time spent on your own is by definition wasted, but there are limits to how far individual exploration of a subject can take you, and benefits to sharing the journey with others,” she said.
“I’m sure there are. I guess I’m not really much of a joiner,” I said.
It wasn’t that I had anything against groups, so much as I had the lingering fear that groups would have something against me.
It wasn’t even a fear, really. My brain just categorized this as a known fact. I didn’t try to join organizations for the same reason I didn’t try to walk through walls… it probably wouldn’t work, and if it did, it would be really painful and cause a lot of damage that I would be blamed for.
Joining any extracurricular activities in high school had been out of the question, and a lot of the time teachers didn’t even bother to assign me a group for classroom projects.
“Well, I can certainly understand an aversion to dealing with large groups,” she said. “Even in a class of a few dozen people, I feel my efforts as a teacher are applied with less efficiency than they would be if I could direct them towards a smaller group. To that end, I have been considering… well, let’s say an occasional semi-formal gathering of a hand-picked group of interested and interesting students. Is that something that would interest you?”
I felt like there was probably a barb on that hook, but I wasn’t seeing what it was.
“Possibly,” I said. “I mean, yes, it sounds about perfect… but after next week I’m going to have one outside commitment on my time already.”
“Oh? I thought you weren’t a joiner.”
“I’m not… this isn’t a group, it’s… well, it’s actually another one of my teachers, Professor Stone. He’s going to be paying me to help out in his workshop, to help his new assistant settle in.”
“Ah. Do you not aspire towards that position?”
“Not really,” I said. “The kind of work he does isn’t really my thing. Also, his assistant is my friend, and she has qualities and abilities that I don’t.”
“I would have stopped my explanation with the first point,” she said. “It’s sufficient on its own, and there’s never any reason to talk down your abilities when you don’t have to. Professor Stone… that’s not a dwarfish name, but it’s… dwarvenesque. He isn’t a dwarf, is he?”
“His mother is,” I said. “From the, uh, swordmaker clan… I can’t remember the name, but I don’t think there’s more than one female clan that makes swords.”
“Hmm,” she said, utterly impassively.
It occurred to me that I was answering all of her questions with more information than she’d asked for. It was nerves. Knowing there were things I was keeping from her gave me a feeling of pressure at the back of my throat, and every time I opened my mouth things just flowed forth. It wasn’t like I was spilling secrets… thirty seconds with a mirror or crystal ball would have given her Professor Stone’s vital information.
“I’d still be interested in your gatherings,” I said. “If they don’t happen to fall on nights that the professor needs me.”
She smirked, very slightly. I recognized that she was smirking a little bit on purpose, not trying to hide her smirk and failing… it was a very precise degree of amusement she was conveying on purpose.
“I said something wrong there, didn’t I?” I guessed.
“Charmingly wrong,” Acantha said. “You see, meetings don’t ‘happen to fall’ at particular times and dates, they are set, by people. To get ahead in life, sometimes you have to be willing to make sacrifices and hard choices between two different things… but other times, it’s possible to alter the field in such a way that you don’t have to.”
“That sort of thing doesn’t really come naturally to me,” I said. “I think my ideal career’s more likely going to involve me messing around with enchantments and leaving the business stuff to other people.”
“Well, that’s fine, if you understand that ‘business stuff’ includes things like money, ownership of ideas, and the rights to your work… anyway, ‘that sort of thing’ is exactly what it takes to be a great enchanter. It’s the nature of enchantment. Sword’s not pointy enough? Carriage isn’t fast enough? Wand isn’t explosive enough? Then you grab hold and twist it until it is. If brute force won’t do it, then get clever. If cleverness won’t do it, get complicated. If complexity won’t do it, get subtle! Enchantment is manipulation, Mackenzie. It’s problem solving. Making do with what you have is for other people… we turn what we have into what we need.”
“That’s… certainly a perspective,” I said, though I had to admit I’d been caught up in her speech.
She had, too… I’d never seen her more excited or alive than she was by the end. She’d probably said or thought the words before, but it sounded less artificial than most of her long spiels did. It wasn’t something she had to rehearse in her head because it came from her heart.
“Maneuvering in the halls of corporate power does not come naturally to me, either,” Acantha said. “For one thing, the halls and the power are both completely different from what they were when I was growing up, and for another… they weren’t made by or for people like me. Also… honestly… I’m not naturally very assertive. With some specific personal exceptions, I’d rather not be noticed. That’s why I started approaching business… and life… like it was an enchantment problem, a puzzle to be solved. Problems have solutions, and I’m good at finding solutions. I think you are, too.”
“Thanks,” I said… and in all honesty, it seemed like the highest praise I’d ever received.
“I’ve already told you that I want you at my salons,” she said. “You’re in the class of people who are interesting as well as interested. I could use your interest to extract concessions from you, but… I’m already your teacher, and I’m more experienced in negotiation. I don’t need this further advantage, and there isn’t anything more that I want from you. You don’t have a lot of bargaining chips, but you have one advantage: the thing you want from me also enables me to get what I want.”
“We both want the same thing, but I’m the one who’d be asking for the concession,” I said.
“Don’t phrase it as a concession,” Acantha said. “We do both want the same thing, so your approach should focus on that. The worst people I’ve met would say something like, ‘Can I count on you to see that you schedule it appropriately?’ I don’t recommend that approach, but the basic idea behind it is solid: we’re in this together.”
“So, instead of that I’d like to go, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able, I should say that I’d like to go, but I’ll need you to make sure that I can,” I said.
“Yes, perfect,” Acantha said. “Just like that.”
“Doesn’t it weaken my position to say that I need something?”
“Only when dealing with the least efficient kind of megalomaniac,” she said. “Most people like to feel helpful, and love to feel needed. Most people would rather do a favor than ask a favor.”
“So, if I get you a copy of my work schedule, you’ll be sure to schedule around it?” I said.
“Wherever possible,” she said.
And just like that, I had my in with Acantha.
The question of whether I really wanted it or not was still on the table, but I decided to leave it for later… after all, the whole reason I’d been pursing this was so I could learn enough about her to figure that out.