165: Matters of Life

on February 26, 2008 in 06: A Period of Conflict

In Which Steff Brings Up A Small Animal

My sleep was not exactly dreamless but I couldn’t say what exactly it was I dreamed about… just a lot of disconnected images.

I awoke Wednesday morning feeling much more like one of my run-of-the-mill periods. A little cramped, but not as bad as the day before. Or maybe I was just getting used to it… that was kind of a depressing thought.

Breakfast was blessedly uneventful. Afterwards, I found myself not looking forward to my basic thaumatology lecture with Professor Goldman for the first time ever. How would the students who’d had to come in to take the test on Monday react?

As it turned out, none of them said anything to me… in fact, they didn’t even look at me. Some of the students who had originally sat near me were back in their proper seats. Some weren’t. I couldn’t be sure, but some might have been gone completely. They could have dropped the class on Friday.

The professor said nothing, but went into his lecture. Maybe he’d let them permanently change seats. I supposed he must have figured he’d disrupted his class as much as he could to make a point that had nothing to do with magical theory.

Thaumatology necessarily touched on many aspects of magical practice, overlapping with many fields of study. Today we were going over life magic, a subject that had never much caught my imagination before.

Now it interested me for three reasons. One, it was Amaranth’s chosen major. Two, it impacted Two’s existence. Three, from what Amaranth had said about periods and energy channeling, it was probably affecting me, too.

Two breathed, ate, drank, slept, and peed like a human being. She didn’t need to. Or rather, she could have been created without these needs.

In another example of the cruel irony of her existence, she had probably been made more human in order to serve her master as a better piece of equipment. A magical object which expends magical energy can be made to replenish its stores from ambient energy, but a living being can produce their own.

The fact that Two was alive in a broader sense than “animated” gave her (and thus, anybody who controlled her) more power than she could have accessed as an unliving golem.

This was life magic.

As Professor Goldman explained at the beginning of class, all life was magical, but that was like saying that all matter was elemental. In a strict sense, all matter was, but it was more useful to speak only of particularly pure examples of a single element as being “elemental.”

“Therefore,” he said, “when we speak of ‘magical life’, it must be understood that we are speaking only of life with the capacity for an excess of magical energy… life that can, in the common parlance, ‘do magic’ without recourse to an external energy source. In theory, all magical life is intelligent, but not all intelligent life is magical. Intelligence is a necessary component, but not the only one.

“Some of you are thinking ‘Why are we talking about life magic? It’s boring and lame.’ Frankly, as a thaumatology lecturer, those are high on my list of criteria for inclusion, but others of you are thinking ‘Why are we talking about life magic? Isn’t this class supposed to be about the origins and nature of magic in general?’ That’s a slightly better objection.

“Imagine for the moment that there were no wizards… no magical life of any kind. No enchanters making magical items. What would the world be like? Magical items can seem to tap into the background magical energy, but what if there were no magical items? It wouldn’t matter if there were any magical energy or not, in that case. We’d never know about it.

“This leads us into the biocentric theory of magic, which states that magical life does not take advantage of magic… it creates it,” Goldman said. “We create magic. Now, of course, we can talk about matters of degree, but the fact is that almost all people of almost all races have some excess magical capacity. Maybe not enough that they can actively use it, but they have some.

“Consider that as the world’s population of intelligent life has continued to grow to levels that have been unprecedented throughout history, the use of magic has also increased, at a proportionally higher rate than the population growth.”

He paused to let that sink in.

“Of course,” he said, “a lot of that can be explained by advances in the state of art, and the current booming population is more likely the effect of our level of magical advancement than the cause, but it’s still something to think about.”

I actually wasn’t that interested in biocentrism. It seemed to me like taking some things that seemed pretty obvious: the more people there were, the more wizards there would be… without enchanters, there’d be no magic items… and so on, and on the basis of this made a bunch of wild conclusions that probably vastly overestimated our own importance in the grand scheme of things.

Yeah, it wouldn’t matter so much whether there was ambient energy or not if we didn’t have magic items that used it, but not mattering wasn’t the same thing as not existing.

“It’s an interesting theory,” Goldman said. “Like most of the things we deal with in this class, it’s unproven and perhaps ultimately unprovable… it’s merely one perspective from which we may approach the study of magic. It’s not personally my favorite perspective, but it’s the only one that lets me stand next to the lectern and talk about pooping.”

He used this to launch into a description of various “life functions”, which were the hallmarks of living things. These ties to the cycle of life and death, this participation in the mortal world, were also an essential component, along with intelligence. They were the definition of “life” in the phrase “magical life.”

“Even elves, ‘those who ageth not’, untroubled by sickness or modesty, are as mortal as we are when it comes to eating and pooping,” Goldman said. I found myself catching on the word “we”, and had to remind myself that he wasn’t racist. He was simply addressing an audience of non-elves. “If this were not the case, they would be incapable of working arcane magic as we know it.”

Of course, I didn’t have to perform all of those functions, and Amaranth performed even less of them. Well, she ate, but her body didn’t use food the way a mortal’s did. I don’t think she actually needed to sleep, either, though she seemed to enjoy it. That might have had something to do with the fact that in her dreams there were no mother goddesses to tell her what she could and could not have sex with.

We had our own energy sources, but the professor was getting to that.

“Of course, some of the most powerful mystical beings you can think of are not mortal in this sense,” Professor Goldman said. “But invariably… or at least, as far as we know right now… all of these creatures get their energy from another source. It’s divine. It’s infernal. It’s elemental. In other words, extraplanar. The nymphs on campus may be able to do some pretty amazing things with their tongues, but they could not perform even the simplest feat of arcane magic. They are not ‘magical life’. Rumor has it that they’re intelligent, and they’re very intimately tied to the living world, but they lack the essential ‘livingness’ of more mortal creatures.”

Now this interested me. I knew Amaranth’s healing magic was divine. I’d assumed her connection to her goddess would make divine magic easier for her. But, being incapable of using arcane energy? That was news to me.

I knew nymphs came by their goddess’s divine power more directly than a mortal worshipper. Amaranth prayed simply to communicate with her goddess or as a matter of respect. She hadn’t needed to pray to heal Ian’s nose after I busted it. She’d simply… opened a gate.

Presumably, as long as the energy was hers to shape, she could channel it in nearly any way an arcanist could… it would just have a different “flavor”, the same way a full demon’s magic was irredeemably infernally tainted.

That was the one area where half-demons were “lucky”: being the actual product of a union between a demon and a human, a “mortal” race, we had the trait of being “magical life” even if we were missing some of the outward signs of it.

Though, if Professor Goldman was correct about nymphs–and I had no reason to think he wasn’t–Amaranth could never safely do magic around me. I didn’t know how I felt about that. Surely she knew it. She was studying life magic, after all.

The lecture gave me more to think about than I’d expected. Professor Goldman never did get around to talking about how magic use might be affected by the particularly feminine life cycle I was undergoing. It was probably outside his comfort zone.

“Is it true that you can’t do arcane magic?” I asked Amaranth at lunch. It was her, Two, me, Steff, and Celia… though Steff barely seemed to be there.

“Yes,” Amaranth said. “I’m not mortal enough.”

“Does that bother you?”

She shrugged.

“I’d like to be able to heal or protect you if you were in trouble,” she said. “But does it bother you that you can’t fly?”

“Why would I be able to fly?” I asked.

She nodded.

“See?” she said.

I didn’t.

“Can you fly?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“I just meant, I don’t miss doing things I couldn’t do in the first place,” she said.

It seemed to me like Amaranth frequently seemed to miss doing things she’d never been able to do… though maybe there was a difference between “capable of” and “being allowed to.” Amaranth knew she physically could perform certain acts her goddess had outlawed, and being told she couldn’t was maddening to her.

I pushed my plate away from me and put my head down. I was developing a headache and I didn’t want to be thinking this hard. I wanted to be on her lap.

“Are you taking your herbs?” Amaranth asked, stroking my hair.

“I’m feeling better today,” I said.

“Did you sleep well last night?”

“I slept okay,” I said.

“I like sleeping with Mack on her period,” Two said. “She doesn’t masturbate in her sleep when she’s wearing a pad.”

Celia snorted. She had a high-pitched snort. Something to do with her tiny nostrils and lack of a proper nose, I think.

I repressed the urge to lift my head and glare at Two. Well, she was still expressing preferences without prompting. That was a good thing, right?

“Now, Two,” Amaranth said, and from the way she paused after saying the name, I guessed I’d missed Two telling her she did not would like to be called Twoey. “There is nothing wrong with masturbating, whether awake, or asleep. It’s perfectly natural.”

“There is nothing wrong with it but I do not like it,” Two said. “And I am not supposed to touch my woman parts unl…”

“Can we please not talk about this?” I asked, lifting my head.

“Okay,” Two said.

“Well, baby,” Amaranth said, “maybe if you masturbated when you were awake, you wouldn’t disturb Two when you’re asleep? I know you know your way around down there, but I could give you tips or lessons or…”

“Amaranth,” I said. “Please.”

“Oh, sorry!” Amaranth said. “I just… I’m trying to listen, baby, I really am, but part of me keeps thinking if you were just more in tune with your body’s needs…”

“Come on, some of us are trying to eat,” Celia said, though she’d swallowed the contents of her plate within a minute of sitting down. “Or at least, keep down the squirrel we devoured on the way here.”

“You ate a squirrel?” I asked.

“You eat blood,” Celia said. “I was hungry, it was there, and I haven’t had a live meal in weeks. And unless you all want to see what it looks like, can we please stop the talk about playing with nasty mammal parts?”

“What, you mean like the nasty parts of the mammal you’ve got in your stomach?” Steff said.

I looked at her in mild surprise… it was the most words I’d heard her string together all day. She had half a smile, too. That made me smile.

Celia’s reaction was a bit different. Her throat spasmed, bulging weirdly, and she locked her jaw tight shut and ran for the bathroom.

“Steff,” Amaranth said reprovingly. “That wasn’t very nice.”

It wasn’t nice, but it was Steff, and that made me happy.

It was good to see that she was still there, under the potion fog. I knew it had only been a day… and I knew she was in counseling besides… but I hoped she would eventually adjust better to the potion, or that they’d adjust the potion for her. If this was somebody’s idea of treating her, it wasn’t enough.


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7 Responses to “165: Matters of Life”

  1. BMeph says:

    PWNED!

    Or…whatever the magical version of that is.

    Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    I guess Celia is “human” after all.

    Current score: 0
  3. capybroa says:

    So, how do you know so much about what nymphs can do with their tongues, Professor Goldman?

    Current score: 5
    • Ryzndmon says:

      Now, capybroa, you know it is neither illegal or immoral to have any kind of carnal knowledge of a nymph or her skills. It is protected by Imperial law. It is unseemly and impolite to nymph-shame people.

      Current score: 8
      • zeel says:

        I wonder how the rules about relationships with professors apply there though. Now I don’t think he is one of Amaranths profs, but would the rule apply if he was?

        It isn’t really a matter of morality or decency, you don’t fuck your students.

        Current score: 2
        • Athena says:

          It probably would apply, because especially in university as you said it’s not a matter of morality. It is, however, a matter of ethics and of avoiding favouritism and the like, which would still apply to a nymph student.

          Current score: 1
        • Lara says:

          I’m really curious about this!

          Current score: 0