361: Fire Walk With Me

on March 9, 2009 in Book 13

In Which Mackenzie Signs Her Work

Once everybody had their materials, Bohd suggested that we start by working on producing a gout in any direction and then refine the technique by trying to aim for the target instead of focusing on it to begin with.

“One must, after all, learn how to handle a bow before aiming for the center of a bull’s eye… the first step is to determine whether you are pushing or pulling when you evoke,” she said. “It’s important to stop and think about that… we call it ‘pulling fire’ but that is not an accurate descriptor for everybody. In either case, the way to direct your evocation’s impetus is roughly the same: at the moment of manifestation, choose a point nearby and re-focus your concentration there.

“If you are pulling, the point should be in the direction in which you wish to aim, and if you are pushing, it should of course be in the opposite direction. If you work at it, you should be able to use either approach. The push approach is somewhat more difficult to aim, but many practitioners report it gives them more ‘oomph’. For now, focus on what you already know how to do.”

I’d always thought of it as pulling or drawing an element forward, except when I was using my own flame… that was a lot more like pushing than anything else. I pushed fire into my eyes, or out through my hand. When I wanted to do something with the heat of the shower, though, I teased it forth. A few small experiments with the nascent fire waiting inside the stubby candle confirmed this impression. I was definitely a puller.

I decided to warm up… no pun intended… by lighting the candle with its own internal flame. I found the element of fire mingled within the flammable wick and I called it forth, inviting it into being. Soon a tongue of fire was flickering away.

The next step was to evoke fire from the fire. Invoking fire from the burning candle simply made it flare up briefly with a flash of comparatively purer elemental fire. I did that a few times to get a feel for it. In order to pull off the directed evocation, I’d have to be able to do that and concentrate on another point at the same time… similar to what I’d done when I first tried increasing the metal’s reflectiveness in my enhancement class, using magic to “latch on” to the quality I sought at the same time I was enhancing it . Fortunately, I wouldn’t have to sustain the evocation it as long as I’d done that.

My first trial made the tiny pillar of flame bow out in the middle as I pulled on it, but didn’t produce anything like the directed stream Bohd had demonstrated. It didn’t even produce an undirected stream… just a deformity in the natural flame. It was like I’d snagged part of it with a hook and tugged on it.

My second attempt, I tried to expand my grasp on the flame to cover the whole thing and then pulled it towards a point above and forward. This time, the whole briefly flame bent and stretched a bit, but still nothing more dramatic.

It was a little bit embarrassing, considering how easily I could summon fire… considering that fire was my element and this was a class I had a natural affinity for.

Professor Bohd was surveying the room to get a look at our early efforts. When I caught her looking at me, I threw a lot of energy into the initial evocation and then wrenched. The result was nothing more than a larger, more visible version of my initial failures, with the addition of melting the top off the candle.

Okay, that was more than a little bit embarrassing.

Bohd came over and put her hand on my shoulder, then cleared her throat.

“Some of you may be using an evocation style that’s a bit more ’hands on’ than others,” she said to the class as a whole. “Most people require a sharp shock… a shove or a yank… to overcome the inertia keeping an unexpressed element in place, a fleeting contact with a lot of force behind it. But some practitioners use something more like a steady hand, a more sustained contact with steady pressure behind it. If you feel that this describes you, then you may have to make some adjustments and try pushing from behind, even if you normally pull. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to achieve success by pulling repeatedly from points further and further away from the source… ‘walking’ the element, so to speak… but that‘s getting more complicated.”

She nodded to me and I turned my face away, trying to hide my blush.

My embarrassment grew when I realized I’d already done a directed evocation… I’d made water spouts, back when Ian had still been struggling and I‘d been all giddy about my own progress. I hadn’t thought of it as anything more than a fun distraction, but that had been more of a push than a pull.

I focused on the element of fire burning brightly within the candle flame, taking hold of it in my mind. At the same time, I began to concentrate my attention at a spot a couple inches back from it, feeling energy building like a snake ready to strike. I flicked it forward at the same time I evoked, and this time I was rewarded with a lash of fire whipping out four or five inches from the candle.

That was neat, but it wouldn’t hit a target on the other side of the circle.

I heard laughter and my face turned crimson, though when I whipped around to see who was laughing I saw that people were looking at a girl with a dripping wet face.

“Water is not the most dangerous element, Ms. Anders,” Professor Bohd said, tossing her a terrycloth towel, “but you will want to keep your source inside the protective circle all the same.”

I sighed at my silliness and turned my attention back to my own work. Just because giggles erupted behind me didn’t mean that people were laughing at me… not everything that happened had something to do with me.

The distraction had knocked me out of a groove I’d only just begun to find, though, and it took me a couple of tries to even reproduce my short burst of flame. Once I had that basic technique down, though, I could produce a tiny little blast that went anywhere from four to seven inches.

It was tempting to blame the lack of range on the size of the source flame, but Bohd expected us to be able to cross the width of the circle without anything else. With my fire affinity, there was no excuse for not being able to do it.

I tried really concentrating and putting all the force I could into it, and succeeded in making a much thicker and slightly longer gout of flame that was also angled way downward, eating a notch into the candle wax. I realized that looking down at the subject had skewed my aim. In theory, it shouldn’t have mattered since I was aiming my mind and not my eyes… but the image in my mind was what my eyes saw.

I squatted down to get at eye level with the flame. I felt a little embarrassed, but as long as I couldn’t see the rest of class I could pretend they weren’t all staring at the spastic demon girl who couldn’t shoot fire. Repeating the show of force from this perspective solved the angle problem, but from what I could tell it did not make the burst reach any farther.

I heard a too familiar voice cry out, “Ah, yeah!”, jumped up and turned around to see Ian pumping his fist, his own candle smoking slightly after whatever he’d just done, which I had to imagine was impressive. I scowled back in his direction.

“Ms. Mackenzie,” Professor Bohd said, adjusting her glasses. “It still feels odd to address you like that, but if your desire is to be regarded as an adult, perhaps you should remember that this is a university and not a junior high school.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said automatically. I immediately blushed again when I realized how I’d responded, but of course, it didn’t mean anything to her. It was just a respectful response.

“I can’t separate the two of you any further without removing one of you from the room,” she said, coming closer. “I’m not going to need to do that, am I?”

“No, ma’am,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Please concentrate on your own work for the remainder. I was just on my way to give you a piece of advice: remember there is no one working technique for everybody. If what you’re doing isn’t working, the best thing to do is try something else. A few general techniques will cover most students’ methods, but the specifics within them can differ to a considerable degree.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, feeling mortified that I’d forgotten this basic principle, which we’d gone over at the start of the term. Even after Bohd had specifically pointed out one way my technique differed from the norm, I’d still kept banging my head against a wall instead of looking for a way around it.

“I’ll let you experiment on your own for a while, but I’ll be back in half an hour to work with you one on one if it’s necessary,” she said. “Though, I have a feeling if you apply yourself, it won’t be, will it?”

“No, ma’am,” I agreed. I was a little horrified at the way my mouth kept defaulting to these responses, but it was the only thing I could seem to say with embarrassment filling me so completely that I was choking on it. Amaranth’s more frequent discipline had made it easier to slip into the mindset.

Professor Bohd smiled, a sort of bemused but definitely pleased smile.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you today,” she said. “But your energy has gone from very chaotic to the most stable I’ve ever seen it.”

With that, she went off to assist other students, and I turned my attention back once more to my own work, where it remained for the rest of the class, save when I paused to listen to Bohd’s snippets of lecturing to the group as a whole.

“It’s perhaps easiest to see the offensive potential of directed evocation,” she told us at one point. “In fact, the whole sphere of elemental magic and evocation in particular are often written off as being ’attack magic’ or ’combat magic’. This is a shallow, short-sighted view, of course… elements are the basic building block of the entire world, and being able to manipulate them directly is a valuable skill in many situations. Even simple direction can be used for landscaping, for firefighting, for recreation, for blowing leaves or clearing snow, or for propelling small watercraft… in short, this magic is so much more than a weapon.”

She repeated variations on that basic theme several more times, including cautions not to get into elemental duels after class even with the “safe” elements like water and air.

I refined what I was doing once more… what I came up with was more complicated, but also more effective. I ended up with a three-part technique: evoke fire, snap forward with a sharp shove, and then pull that, the resulting burst, in the direction I wanted it to go. It was a directed directed evocation. It wasn’t easy, shifting my attention so quickly like that, but it worked and that was what was important. It didn’t take quite as forceful an initial push as I’d been doing… in fact, a smaller one made it easier to control… but just enough to get the evoked elemental fire moving separately from the flame from which it had sprung.

“Excellent work, Mr. Mason,” I heard Professor Bohd say, among her other comments to the students behind me. “You had a rough beginning, but your hard work seems to be paying off… you’re developing quite a flair for this, no pun intended.”

I ignored it. Or at least, I didn’t turn around or glare or anything. Professor Bohd had been very clear that I was to focus on what I was doing. It felt a little weird to realize that I was submitting to her, but I supposed that it wouldn’t make a difference to her why I was behaving in her class, and just as with the evocation, it was the results that mattered the most.

She checked up on me about thirty minutes after the last time, as she’d promised, and she expressed quiet approval at how precisely I could direct a narrow lance of flame. By moving my “grip” on the end of it around, I could even cause it to swing in a slashing arc.

By the time I was able to reach across the circle, I had enough control that I was able to sort of write my name on the stand-up target. I mean, it was sloppy even by the standards of my handwriting and it only said “Mack” because I could only get the letters so small, but if you knew what it said you’d be able to read it.

Having achieved the goal for the class, I started working on simplifying things. I’d realized that my initial problem with just pulling was that I still had a grip on the whole original flame when I did it. The one-two approach didn’t do anything except force me to let go and then give me a more visible separate target. Once I was aware of this, it was easier to simply evoke fire, let go, get a lock on the newly manifested elemental fire, and then pull it where I wanted it to.

That still sounded kind of complicated, but it was a lot simpler and wasted less energy.

I’d started codifying it into a spell in my head, so that I could do a basic fire stream without so much effort, when Professor Bohd announced that we’d be doing just that for Tuesday.

“Have at least the basics sketched out before class,” she told us. “I’ll want to see a formula when you come in. We’ll be working on a larger scale, and I’d rather you didn’t improvise.”

The bell rang and we started putting our stuff away. Professor Bohd put out the fires started by those fire callers who’d torched their targets rather than simply singing them.

“A word before you go, Ms. Mackenzie,” Professor Bohd said.

“Yes, ma’am?” I replied, and saw the hint of a smile. I decided to just go with it. Bohd seemed to have conflicted feelings about me as a student. If a touch of submission it helped my performance and helped her make up her mind, that was a good thing.

“I want you to remember what I said to you at the beginning of class,” she said.

My first urge was to roll my eyes and say, “I know.”, but I swallowed that.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I’ll be careful.”

“I believe you will,” she said. “But I actually meant the other part.

“Ma’am?” I said, confused.

“Elemental evocation is not just a weapon,” she said. “But it is a weapon nonetheless, and it’s one that you in particular should be learning how to wield. No matter how easily it comes to you, I would not be tempted to skimp on the spellbinding.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, and then I stood there, unsure of what else to say or what to do. Hadn’t she been worried that I was going to fry somebody on accident? It seemed odd that she’d want to me to improve my ability to do so.

“Just keep it in mind,” Professor Bohd said. “You may go.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said, and I hurried from the room.

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3 Responses to “361: Fire Walk With Me”

  1. […] do you have your spell sketched out for Bohd?” Ian asked […]

    Current score: 0
  2. Jechtael says:

    It’s interesting how Bohd and Callahan are telling Mackenzie pretty much the exact same thing, but Mackenzie reacts in completely different ways because of her prejudices regarding “things that relate to her major”, “things that are interesting”, and “stupid fighter things”.

    Current score: 6
  3. Kalamorda says:

    I believe Professor Bohd may have more then passing knowledge of Mackenzie’s current lifestyle……

    Current score: 1