84: Enhanced Pleasure

on October 19, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Mackenzie Isn’t Bitter, Or Anything

After some frantic brushing, a very quick shower, and a change into cleaner and more comfortable clothes, it was time for my basic enhancements lab… the class that focused on the temporary alteration of properties an object already possessed.

It was a very useful class for an applied enchantment major… unfortunately, though, it was also a very useful class for an armoury major, which meant we’d be spending a lot of the semester working with the properties of weapons and implements of war. Yuck.

Our first subject was a knife, in the loosest sense of the word… essentially, a somewhat sharp piece of cheap metal. We were working on making them sharper. It was a feat I’d briefly accomplished the previous session. This time, I impressed myself by managing to stabilize the sharpness effect on my practice knife for a full fifteen minutes.

That was fifteen minutes of me concentrating completely on the task… focusing my energy on the power circle, the knife, the knife’s edge, and the property of sharpness while contemplating the fundamental nature of that property… but still, it was something.

It had been my third attempt of the class period. Neither of the preceding attempts had lasted even five minutes before my concentration wobbled and the alteration in the knife’s natural state collapsed, but the third try, I just kind of… hit my stride. It felt kind of weird… it felt pretty incredible, really.

Strangely, it felt kind of like that wonderful moment when I’d been going down on Ian and everything had just sort of… fallen into place.

I still had more than half the class period left, too.

I repeated the feat a couple times… not holding the knife “sharped” for the same length of time, but slipping it and myself into the same state again, until I was sure I could do that much at will. Once I knew I had it down, the next step would be to translate that effort into a working spell that I would be able to use without a power circle, and preferably without having to dig so deeply into my personal energy reserves or concentrate so fiercely on it.

This was the truly complex part of the assignment, and one that would require frequent recourse to both my enhancements textbook and the second-hand grammary I’d bought.

The circle made it relatively easy for those with the necessary power and talent to “feel” out the properties of the knife and give them an appropriate nudge, but on a practical level, there wasn’t a lot of point to having a really, really sharp knife that had to just kind of sit there inside it. How to translate what you did within the circle into something that could be understood and repeated without it, though? How to describe a process that existed both completely inside your own mind and in the complex interplay of energy and attribute?

That’s where the spell came in… by charting the process out in a symbolic language which comprised a whole vocabulary for describing senses, semblances, sensations, and suspicions, the mere act of writing the spell helped make the intangible process more concrete in the caster’s mind, and of course, the finished spell could be referred to as needed for a refresher.

In order to create the working spell, it was necessary to exclude any influences from the particular properties of this particular knife, as well as those of the enchantment power circle. If the spell was meant to be used by others, we would also have needed to correct for our own energies… but that was advanced work for skilled thaumatologists, and the end result would never be as effective as a more personalized spell.

Sadly–or possibly hilariously–a lot of gullible people shelled out piles of gold for “off-the-shelf” spells after seeing advertisements that seemed to promise (without actually, in the strictest legal sense, saying much of anything about anything) limitless mystic power without any work. These discerning consumers ignored the fact that even the most genericized spell wouldn’t work for everybody, and that no spell would work for you if you didn’t have the power to do magic in the first place.

Though, that ability was a lot more common than once had been thought… and was more common than a lot of laypeople still believed. That attitude was a holdover from the dark ages, when people hadn’t really distinguished magic from science and even the most learned individuals had earnestly believed that the fundamental forces of life could be figured out through trial and error… that the most secret parts of the universe would hold still and meekly allow themselves to be dissected.

The wizards of that period spent their time compiling what they observed to be the laws of magic, and if they only found one or two potential apprentices within their extended lifespans for whom those “laws” could be made to function, they concluded that wizardry was simply a very rare gift to begin with. After all, they had “proven” that magic could be made to work reliably in only those few certain ways, hadn’t they?

The result, of course, was that magical learning was woefully incomplete and concentrated in the hands of a very small minority. Powerful enchanted items were so rare and precious that wars were fought over them. Magic weapons and armor were enough to make somebody a knight… or a king. Only wealthy nobles could afford potions and the like… the common folk were dependent upon the divine healing and blessings, cementing the power of the temple clerics.

It had only been when human thought moved away from irrational impulses that something like a school of magic had become practical. The modern approach… which focused more on intuition, personal perception, and a healthy appreciation for not prodding at things until they either fell apart or started prodding you back… had been the basis of the magical revolution, and… oh.

Sorry.

I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent like that, but… well… I did mention that I had considered a degree in history, right? That had been before I decided for sure on MU… it turned out there was a lot more money in a practical career like enchantment than there ever would be in academia.

Not that I really cared so much about money… it was more the freedom that it would bring.

About the same time that I was wrapping up final alteration attempt, Professor Rankin was explaining to one of the armoury students, who’d managed to melt two practice knives and shatter a third, that the purpose of the exercise was not to reshape the metal in order to change the properties of the knife but to alter the fundamental properties of the knife-as-a-knife, which would only incidentally alter its apparent shape.

The would-be armourer looked at Rankin as though he were speaking High Draconian.

I smirked. I had to. I’d originally been dismayed to find so many glorified jocks in the class most closely related to my major, but now I was reconsidering… they had considerable entertainment value. Apparently, if you wanted to be an armoury major, you had to be just smart enough to know to be embarrassed when the teacher chewed you out. Their counterparts in high school would have just laughed or glowered.

Aside from that small glimmer of intelligence and what seemed to me to be a very minor talent for magic, the dope who was now on his fourth blade could have been any one of the idiots on the dinky little bottom-rated skirmish team at my own high school, who’d all roamed the halls like they were the lords of the fricking realm and made signs at me, trying to get me to drop my books…

Well, high school was over and done with. There was no point in dwelling on it, so I wouldn’t. All those little shocks and insults, the small slights and huge humiliations… they had nothing to do with me any more. I wasn’t even the same person anymore… those things had all happened to a child, and I was a grown up. I could leave it all behind me without a second thought or a backwards glance.

By the time the class ended, I had sketched out the basic framework for my sharpness spell. The assignment was to create a spell for increasing the sharpness of knives, but I had a strong feeling I’d be able to adjust it to make it more general. Looking the sheet over, I could see a clear path towards making it into a spell for knives and swords, and then perhaps from there to all bladed weapons. It was even possible I could eventually turn it into a general, all-purpose sharpness spell.

I decided that when I was done, I’d turn in the knife spell, maybe with the knife and sword spell attached on a second sheet. I didn’t really have a feel for Professor Rankin yet… if he was the sort of person who rewarded initiative and extra effort, or if he preferred students who simply followed instructions. The knife and sword variation would be a minor enough variation that it shouldn’t irritate him too much if the latter proved true. I’d keep working on it on my own time, though. I wasn’t interested in weapons, but it was always just possible I’d find myself with something else that could stand to be sharper.

At the end of the period, the professor announced that we’d be wrapping up our sharpness spells by the end of class Thursday. I smiled… I only had to fill in a few blanks on mine, and I wouldn’t need to refer to the actual knife or the circle of enchantment to do that. That meant I could wrap up my actual work before class, and then have a full period to mess around on my own.

As I said, I wasn’t the tiniest bit interested in the properties of weapons… but the knife was metal, and metal had its own properties I could play with, as long as it remained inside the circle. I was looking forward to it.

It seemed like, a little over a week into the semester, college was turning into what it was supposed to be. I’d managed to impress the instructor in one of my lab classes, and was preparing to kick major ass in the other. I had friends… good friends. Very good friends. I’d gone to a dance, and managed to look hot. I was dating–in the sense that we’d had an official date with each other and were slated to go on at least one more–a guy who played the lute, even if he was kind of a dork.

Also, I’d had a sexual encounter with said guy. We hadn’t gone too far. Nothing awful had happened.

I was also happy about my respective situations with Amaranth and Steff, though those were too weird and hard to explain to be included in a tally of mental bragging rights.

Yeah, college was turning into what it was supposed to be… my time. My turn to shine. High school wouldn’t have been a lot of fun for me, even without my own particular difficulties.. Those years belonged to the jerks and jocks, the vapid and the vacuous. The only people who ever really enjoyed high school were the sad, sorry lot of small-minded simpletons for whom ages fifteen to eighteen really were the best years of their lives… though it gave me little comfort to reflect on that at the time.

Now that I was out of high school, someone like Belinda the half-witted half-ogre could get up in my face and threaten and posture all she wanted… and it occurred to me that this was probably all she had been doing, since she hadn’t so much as said a mean word to me in the hall since the day she’d told me my ass was hers… but the fact was that college belonged to serious students, to those who had the intelligence and drive to do more than grunt and yell and swing a pointy stick at people.

I’d taken more than my share of crap from fighter types over the years, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to take any more.

That sentiment stayed with me right until the moment I got to the field where my mixed melee class was held, and got a look at my new classmates.

I cast around frantically for the familiar, safe, and comforting figure of Steff… but she was nowhere to be seen.

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4 Responses to “84: Enhanced Pleasure”

  1. Mickey says:

    Minor typo: “About the same time that I was wrapping up final alteration attempt” should be either “About the same time that I was wrapping up the final alteration attempt” or “About the same time that I was wrapping up my final alteration attempt”.

    One of the most impressive things about your work, to me, is how you’ve managed to build a consistent world where magic is rational and science is fantasy. It’s a delightful brain-tickle every time I think about it.

    Current score: 1
  2. capybroa says:

    Not many fantasy authors are willing to delve into the elemental machinery of their characters’ world to this extent. I’m not sure I quite understand it yet but all seems to make sense, which is kind of how I feel about the laws of the physical world that I live in, actually. Respect.

    Current score: 3
  3. Anon says:

    It sounds to me less like science doesn’t work, and more like medieval “scientists” were too full of confirmation bias on their pet theories and related bullshit (like our own early scientists) to actually accomplish anything but making themselves look like idiots. And of course when you can skip over the whole engineering part and get decent effects through intuition and artistry, there wasn’t any societal incentive to figure out real science and the whole concept could be safely dropped when the political climate turned against it.

    I really want to see a story in this universe from the perspective of somebody properly and thoroughly *investigating* how magic works. Like a Methods of Rationality type deal. What the actual effects of mindset and belief are on spellcasting results, if magical systems are in fact inherently unpredictable (and if the random aspects can be plotted statistically and maybe manipulated or minimized), and figuring out how to optimize the things that everybody uses intuitively.

    After all, the early theories in, say, hydrodynamics were all useless, easily disproven bullshit. And then humanity got a long way designing ship hulls aesthetically, making them sleek, artistic things that happened to be faster. But when we figured out how fluids actually move, things got even better and we started doing things that had been impossible before.

    Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      I’d say it’s a little from column A, little from Column B. Obviously a lot of the base components function in some form or another, we have things like combustible fluids and conductive metals being mentioned.

      It doesn’t help that literally the only people who seem to even try are the most arrogant and least introspective of the lot.

      Current score: 1