Chapter 17: Implements of Instruction

on June 7, 2011 in Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which The Good Old Days Aren’t What They Used To Be

A few guys had either ignored Professor Stone’s warnings about the coronation sword prototype or were just curious about the protective spell he’d put around it. A lot of the class stopped to watch as one of them reached a hand out slowly towards the hilt of the floating weapon.

The blue barrier reappeared with a loud crackling sound and he jerked his hand back as if shocked.

“Careful, now!” Professor Stone called amiably. “That is the weakest protection the swordsmiths will allow me to have it under, and the strongest the university will tolerate. It operates on a principle of escalating deterrence.”

I had to shake my head at the people who were so caught up in the sword’s allure. Without any magic, it was basically a big piece of jewelry that was heavy enough to hit people with. Just precious metals and stones.

“Professor,” the guy who’d tried to touch the sword said, “why wouldn’t the dwarves have enchanted this, too?”

“I told you,” Stone said. “It’s just the prototype.”

“But you said that when they made a weapon, they made a weapon,” he said. “The actual coronation sword wasn’t intended to be used but they still made sure it could be, right?”

“Right,” Stone said. “But what you are so eager to get your hands on isn’t a weapon. It’s a model of a weapon, built on a one:one scale. The imperial contract requires that the coronation weapon be absolutely unique. Some newly-elevated emperors have required that the models be destroyed, or that there be no model… after the design is approved, the initial sword is enchanted. In the few cases where Clan Schwertgriff was allowed to make and keep an initial mock-up, they secured the permission by making it clear that the model could not be taken for the finished copy. Doing so may have involved a slight adjustment to their thinking, but it netted them a few historically significant showpieces for their vaults.”

As little as I cared about swords or weapon enchantments, I had to admit that I found this interesting. I’d never given much thought to where the emperors’ personal regalia came from. There were the artifacts that had been handed down, officially or traditionally, from Magisterion I and later emperors… I knew the provenance of such historical relics.

But things like the coronation gear that was made fresh for each emperor? That wasn’t history to me. That was fashion. Any rich or powerful man might have a dwaf-made sword or jewelry. It was only in hearing about it from the point of view of the swordmakers that I began to see the actual historical context. If Clan Schwertgriff had been making the coronation swords since Magisterion I, there was a continuity there. It would probably be possible to infer things about the state of the Imperial Republic, the relationship between humans and dwarves, and the character of each new emperor, by examining the relationship he had with the swordmaking clan.

Even though it was beyond the scope of the class or our immediate assignment, Professor Stone seemed happy to answer questions about the enchantments that had gone onto IX’s coronation blade and how it had differed from the ones that came before and after. If there had been nothing else more interesting around, that might have got my attention… but in a room full of actual enchanted objects that I was supposed to be examining, hearing about an enchanted weapon that wasn’t even actually there just didn’t seem like much of a draw.

I knew I was going to end up at the staves and wands, but I didn’t want to fulfill my assignment with nothing but wizard implements. It seemed like a better idea to spread things out a bit.

I headed for the TVs first. They weren’t attracting a lot of attention, probably because they were so common. There had only been a very brief period where a television box had been considered much of a wondrous item. Like communication mirrors, their usefulness went up with their ubiquity. The more people who had TVs, the more money could be made producing content for them… and the more content there was, the more reason there was for people to buy a TV.

There wasn’t much to the design of a television, nor had the basic design changed much over the decades: it was an empty box, with an opening on the front. It had to be tall and wide enough across the front to provide a decent viewing area, and deep enough to accommodate all the action that would be shown in miniature inside it. Techniques existed to create the appearance of greater depth, like having an image that’s part of the backdrop shrink away to nothing… and that worked fine, for background stuff. But for anything important, it was easier and gave better results to have things moving around each other in real three-dimensional space.

The newer of the two TVs was only about half as deep from front to back as the older one, proportionally… until you looked inside it. The very most expensive TVs used the same extradimensional enchantments as a bag of holding to fit all the space they needed into a box not much thicker than a picture frame. This one used a simpler space-stretching enhancement to roughly double its interior depth, or to cut its outside in half, depending on how you looked at it.

But while the basic design hadn’t changed… well, there was quite a difference between the elaborate classical-looking style of Stone’s personal television and the sleek modern one. Stone’s was a work of art, designed to stand out. The modern one was designed to fade away. The thinner margins around the opening didn’t do as much to widen the viewing area as they did to make the viewers less conscious of the frame around what they were seeing. The lack of ornamentation did the same thing.

I was supposed to be noting three constants of design and three specific changes. “Box with hole in front” seemed to about sum up the whole thing. I decided to go with the basic shape, the general size and shape and position of the opening, and the underlying enchantments. That last one was maybe stretching things a bit as it wasn’t an aesthetic concern, but I’d probably have to fudge things one way or another to come up with three solid constants, like considering the front and the back to be different features.

Twyla had also drawn near the TVs by this point. I attributed her apparent reluctance to approach to general shyness rather than a dislike of me in particular… I’m not sure if that counts as optimism or charity, but it was a kind of hope, either way. I took a half step back and she came forward more. She was less shy about the devices than she was about me… she put her hand out and activated the newer one.

“They’re basically divination devices, aren’t they?” she said quietly. Her big doe eyes were on the image of a newsroom somewhere rather than me, and it was only through process of elimination that I could tell she was talking to me.

“Kind of, yeah,” I said. “Not really. The first television was a remote viewing box… hence the name, I guess. But the TVs we use today are really the descendants of magic puppet shows.”

“They still use divination to get the show from wherever it’s happening to the box, though,” Twyla said. “I can feel it.”

“Yeah, you’re a divination major, aren’t you?” I asked. When all else fails in a conversation, you can always repeat something that both of you know.

“Maybe,” she said. “I haven’t officially changed it yet, but I think… in my heart… I’m kind of undeclared.”

Maybe it was the way she said it, but this seemed like an uncharacteristically personal revelation for her. Despite having been put in side-by-side rooms for our freshman year, Twyla and I were near strangers. Her roommates, the mystically conjoined Leighton sisters, had loved me the same way that bullies always love the meek and despised. Given the stigma attached by the ignorant to Twyla’s horns, her lingering baby fat, and her shy demeanor, I didn’t imagine that she’d had a great time living with them, but the fact that she’d been attached to them had kept us from ever falling into the same circle.

I thought about what I knew about Twyla… which wasn’t much… and realized why changing majors might be kind of a big deal for her.

“You haven’t given up on finding your parents, have you?” I asked.

“Not… no. Not exactly,” she said, looking at me for the first time in the conversation. “But… well, I suppose I’ve realized it’s not going to be as easy as figuring out the right question to ask or the right scrying method to use. I’ve been to diviners before… good ones. My mother paid for them after I told her I would get a job and pay for them myself. It killed her a little.”


“She thought if I knew who my ‘real’ parents were, she might lose me,” Twyla said. “Or that if I were that desperate to find them, that she already had… we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. She’s a secularist.”

“Ah,” I said.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Twyla said. “She’s still my mother, and whatever I have in common with my birth parents, I would bet at least one of them isn’t a Khersian, so it’s not like there’s this huge gulf between her and me that wouldn’t be there with my birth parents.”

“So what did the diviners tell you?”

“Nothing,” she said. “They said it was like there’s a wall or a barrier, a veil drawn over part of my life, that they can’t see past. It’s not a spell, it’s not… well, they all said they didn’t know what it was. But I think some of them did, or at least knew enough to be afraid of it.”

“I can sympathize,” I said.

I’d had a sort of a veil drawn over part of my life, too, though it didn’t prevent me from knowing what had happened… only from ever letting anyone else know. This gave me a pretty good idea of why the diviners might have been afraid. The mind of a greater dragon was strong enough to impose its will on reality directly, without using what we would recognize as magic… it would probably take something with a similarly powerful mind to achieve the effect Twyla described.

“But I thought that if I could find another angle to come in from, or whatever, I could get around the wall,” Twyla said. She blushed, slightly, and I kind of loved her a little bit. It’s funny how having even a tiny bit more confidence let me see how confident the rest of the world really wasn’t, and probably hadn’t ever been. “Actually, to be completely honest, I had hoped that whoever was blocking the other diviners… well, I had this idea that maybe it was my birth parents and they were just keeping other people out, you know? That the barrier would recognize me and open for me.”

“If it was your parents, I’m sure they did it to protect you,” I said.

“From what? The truth?” she asked. “What could possibly be so bad? I know I’m not a demon… oh, um, no offense.”

“Very little taken,” I said. “I felt terrible last year, by the way.”

“About what?”

“The rumors getting attached to you,” I said. “About being a demon.”

“Did you spread them?”

“What? No!” I said.

“Then you have nothing to be sorry about,” she said. “It’s not like if you weren’t here, nobody would see the horns sticking out of my head and go ‘Oh, that girl must be a demon.’ Ecclesiastical art has been putting horns on demon-bloods and the demon-possessed for centuries. I’m not sure why… did demons used to have horns in their true forms?”

“No, a demon’s true form… and only form… is identical to a human,” I said.

“I know that,” Twyla said. “I mean, I’ve read that… but the image just seems so pervasive that I figured it had to come from somewhere.”

“From satyrs, and gargoyles, and other beings that the clerics wanted to express their dislike of,” I said. “Or else just from bestial imagery in general, maybe. Making demons look monstrous is just a way of… well, it’s not really a coincidence that the Pax word for ‘making someone look monstrous’ is ‘demonize’, you know?”

“Well, whatever the case may be, you’re not exactly responsible for it.”

“Well, I still feel bad,” I said.

“Don’t,” she said. “No one should feel bad for being.”

With that, she deactivated the TV and walked away.

That was probably the most words that Twyla and I had said to each other at once, and it had gone pretty well. That was a good sign, since we were going to have class together for the rest of the semester. I couldn’t help being curious about her unknown parentage and the nature of the “veil” that blocked off knowledge of it from her, but it wasn’t my place to dig. Also, pressing her for more details would probably just remind her how few details she had.

So, I turned my attention back to something at least tangentially related to the actual assignment. As I’d told Twyla, the modern-day television was really a combination of a divination box and a magic puppet show. How the two had been made to work together was something that had been the subject of much study and little in the way of solid conclusion.

The modern television essentially used divination in reverse in a way that no one really understood. Instead of a diviner using the box to locate a distant point and view what was happening there, a channeler sent the view from a distant spot through the ether in a way that boxes with the right divination sympathies could view, the image being displayed using the box’s illusion-generating capacities.

The thing was, it really shouldn’t have worked. “Reverse-divination channeling” wasn’t actually a thing… the theory sounded like a joke to anybody who knew enough about divination or thaumatology in general to understand it. And the illusion component should have been completely redundant, since the original televisual divining boxes hadn’t needed to be able to generate illusions any more than a crystal ball or magic mirror did.

But no one had ever managed to make a functional receiving television box without weaving in the illusion capabilities. There’s a joke among TV makers that their products don’t work, and so the illusions are necessary to make it look like they do. A slightly more serious theory was that it was necessary to make the divination box into a puppet theater before it would reliably function as one.

The truth was probably somewhere in that neighborhood, but it was a question that could only be probed very gently… the invention of modern television had been something of a miracle, and it was hard enough to mass-produce a miracle without overly inquisitive magical theorists looking over one’s shoulder.

Knowing it was relatively easy to throw the enchantments of a television out of balance, I resisted the urge to examine them. It wasn’t like TV enchantments were so fragile that an inquisitive mind brushing up against one automatically would destroy it, or even do any harm… but they were notoriously temperamental and the possibility was there.

Given that he apparently made them for fun I figured Professor Stone could sort things out if I did mess something up, but I’d have a hard time explaining why I’d gone all “hands-on” with the magic in the first place when i was supposed to be examining the aesthetic design.

For the differences between the modern TV and the old-timey one, I noted the lack of ornamentation, the slimmer profile, and the ditching of the curtain. The curtain had been a relic of the box’s origins as a puppet theater and a way of linking it in the viewer’s mind with a theater.

A layperson might make the mistake of thinking that the curtain was to make it work better, but magic worked or didn’t work regardless of what the viewer thought or felt. Some theorists used phrases like “subjective reality” to explain mysteries like how the TV enchantments operated together in spite of all other prevailing theories, but if reality was indeed subjective then it was ultimately subject to something other than us.

No, the curtain was purely a marketing thing. When TVs had been new, it had been important that a person who saw one could instantly grasp what it was for. There was also some concern that an empty box with one side open might be visually unappealing, or end up attracting odds and ends from someone who mistook it for a cabinet.

Once TVs became more common, the curtain had disappeared… as an unnecessary impediment to the act of watching television, it had been phased out even before the “exquisite” television that was trashed in the fight where Sooni had attacked me.

Having pretty much exhausted the question of television aesthetics, I turned my attention to something that really appealed to me. I’d never seen myself as a staff wielder before I started carrying around a quarterstaff. Since I was looking at ways to turn my weapon of choice into something a little more fitting of an enchanter, I headed next for a pair of staves.

The older example of a staff of power was ostentatious in its design to a degree that looked ridiculous up close, which made sense as it was designed to make its wielder look like someone you wouldn’t want to get too close to. Rather than a simple round shaft, it had a sort of spiky hexagonal look, the corners bound in copper with little barbs protruding out. Holding it as a fighting staff was impossible as there was only one safe place to grip it. The top of it bore more than a passing resemblance to an overly elaborate flanged mace, but all in all it was pretty impractical as a weapon… but again, it was not intended for fighting. At least not up close.

Like most typical staves of power from centuries past, it was more a self-defense device than a tool for working magic. It was loaded with the most impressive and dangerous offensive spells… a wizard working alone in a tower could spend as much time and energy as necessary on the day-to-day business of wizardry, but being able to toss off chains of explosive fireballs and forked bolts of lightnings at-will was how wizards scared off most would-be attackers and dealt with the ones who wouldn’t be dissuaded.

Probably the wizard who’d made the staff had carried less obvious divining rods and powerstones and unobtrusive tools with handy non-combat spells stored in them, but the staff of power had to be obvious to do its main job of telling the world not to meddle in its owner’s affairs. Subtlety wouldn’t pay off there.

It was old-fashioned in more than just its outward design. The system of stored spells and charges that ran it was not terribly advanced in comparison to what I’d kludged together after a day of class. It was tied together in more complex ways and wrapped up in a more elegant package, but I barely needed to be able to detect magic to sort out what had been done and how.

One of the more interesting things about the staff was that its capacity to store magic had been enhanced past the point that would be considered reasonable or safe these days. I could feel that its actual store of charges had been depleted to almost nothing, making it quite a bit less dangerous… but at full power, if anyone had managed to physically damage the staff it would have exploded spectacularly. As I understood it, this had been considered to be a feature rather than a bug… when defeating a wizard meant risking a catastrophic explosion, there was all the more incentive to leave them alone.

The modern wizard’s staff that had replaced the staff of power was so different in its purpose that it was only the aesthetic similarities and the fact that they were both carried by wizards that linked the two. They were similar in that they were both clearly staves, but the modern one was made of smoothly polished black wood. Not only was the entire length of the shaft safe to touch, but there were handgrips marked by silver bands at appropriate positions for holding it upright as a classic wizard’s staff or in the quarterstaff position.

The modern staff was more flexible in its magical applications, as well. It had within it the capacity for storing spells, but it didn’t have any built in. Its primary enchantments were, in fact, defensive… modern spell-slingers had to deal with the reality of living in a society of laws more often than they dealt with superstitious rabble, so a staff that protected its wielder without harming the surrounding area or hapless passersby was considered more useful.

It incorporated into its design several other devices, including a scrying orb at the top and a divining rod at the lower tip. The gemstones studded into it below the orb included powerstones and focuses for several types of spells. All in all, the modern staff was what a lot of people had assumed the old staves of power to be: a sort of all-purpose wizard’s tool. The proud wizards of old would probably have scoffed at the idea of using such a crutch… in fact, some of them were still around and were scoffing, while others of their generation had moved on and embraced the advances in magical thinking. The scoffers were worth respecting because they were powerful enough to survive and keep their magic use viable in a world where neophyte mages have better tools available than they would allow themselves to use, but they could have been stronger.

For my assignment, I noted that both staves used a shaft of about six feet as their central feature, both had something capping them off on top and both had a handgrip in about the same location. For differences, I said that the modern staff was sleeker and simpler, was designed to be used in multiple positions, and was less threatening-looking.

There were more staves and wands among Professor Stone’s examples, but I didn’t want to be seen to repeat myself so I decided to find something else for my third item set. Still, we had been given enough time to conduct a leisurely examination so rather than hurrying off in search of something else I did linger among those items for a while.

Wands had undergone a similar change in purpose over the ages, from being a convenient container for a single spell and the energy to cast it to a more all-purpose casting tool that could help focus magical energy for any spell, sometimes with a little extra boost for certain types of magic. Spell-storing hadn’t gone completely out of vogue, but it was more often seen as a bonus or extra.

I found it interesting to consider the evolution of these typical wizard tools. Back in the very oldenest of olden days, magic had been such an individualized practice that the chance of anyone else managing to recharge a wand or device made by someone else was pretty close to zero. If someone got a hold of a wand or staff made by someone else, however many charges it happened to have when they found it would pretty much be the limit on how much use they would get out of it.

This had the somewhat paradoxical effect of making these items both priceless and worthless… a staff that could produce a fireball and unknown and random amount of times before becoming a tacky ornament was useful right up until the point where it wasn’t, and you could never be sure that the charge you used today wouldn’t be more useful tomorrow. As the process of spell-storing became better understood and more standardized, recharging a spent wand became quite a bit easier… but a wand full of offensive spells was now something that only specialized battlemages or law enforcement agents would carry. Flexibility and being able to deal with any situation as it arises were considered the hallmarks of a true wizard these days, not being able to conjure explosions out of thin air.

“Now, it’s not too soon to begin thinking about your final project, but by the same token you don’t want to rush into committing to one thing just yet,” Professor Stone announced to the class at large, having finished his one-on-one conversations with those interested in the weapons. “The necessity of actually producing a prototype is something that you will need to take into account. Some students begin with too ambitious of an idea and have to scale it back… the sooner you are able to recognize the necessity of doing so, the less likely you are to find yourself scrambling at the end of the semester.

“Now, it is not actually necessary to fabricate the item yourself. If you do not have any crafting experience, you may wish to use the bulletin boards… material or ethereal… to find someone with the expertise you need. In past years, some particularly, ah, enterprising students have gone so far as to contract with workhouses in Enwich to produce a small run of their products for sale.”

That was an interesting idea, and good to know. On my own I could probably not manage much more than a simple wooden wand, and I’d be hard-pressed to add enough to one of those for it to qualify as a “design”. I did have friends who were handy and crafty, and I’d learned my way around bulletin board negotiations with other students.

To close out my assignment, I went to check out the mirrors… I was actually burning with curiosity about the travel mirror, and might have spent the whole class period standing in front of it if I hadn’t done the other items first.

Travel mirrors were incredibly rare, as communication mirrors had once been. They were one of the more reliable methods of traveling long distances or across planes, though they were limited in that they required two linked mirrors. Early experiments in setting up a network of mirrors along the same lines as the ethernet had… not ended well, and creating new links between individual mirrors was incredibly difficult, but traveling between already-linked mirrors was perfectly safe.

As I understood it, travel mirrors operated under a similar principle to televisions, of blending divination with other magic.

Any mirror can be used as a scrying surface… of course, the reflective surface of any ordinary mirror resembles that of any other ordinary mirror, which means that mirrors make great focal points for each other in the same way that an effigy of the target aids in any remote casting. That’s the principle behind using two mirrors for communication. Any spell of teleportation becomes more reliable when the target location is in the caster’s view. Using a mirror to scry the locale and then opening a portal to it is a trick as old as teleportation and scrying.

A true travel mirror… not just a mirror-of-scrying-and-then-also-teleporting… took the two acts and sort of smooshed them together, again in a way that no one truly understands. When used to view its sister mirror, the travel mirror became a perfect portal. Stepping through it was like stepping through a doorway. There’s no blip of discontinuity, no moment spent in ethereal in-between space. While active, it would be like there was one frame.

The requirements for making one were pretty intense. The two mirrors had to be as close to identical as possible, and as close to unique as possible, with the exception of each other. Copies could be made after the fact, after the link was established, but another mirror in the world that could be mistaken for them would interfere with the linkage.

The design also had to be symmetrical from front to back… that is, the mirror had to look like itself if you took out the glass and the backing and looked at it from behind. This was because while the portal was active there could be no front and no back. People on either side of what was essentially one mirror would think they were looking at the front.

The travel mirror that Professor Stone had brought had a sunburst motif that incorporated within it symbols of stars and moons and leaves, when you looked closely. A typical human-sized person could have just stepped through the frame, if it had been activated.

The spells that had gone into it were beyond my reckoning. It wasn’t like the TV where I was afraid to probe it too deeply… it was more like trying to pick out individual sounds in a deafening cacophony, or to see a shape hidden inside the circle of the sun. I would have loved to see it in operation, but I assumed it was essentially the back door to the residence of someone very powerful. We were lucky enough that Stone had been allowed to borrow it for the class.

After looking at its elaborate scrollwork and the intricate astronomical motif, I almost hated to turn my attention to the square, squat, institutional-style public communication mirror that had been provided as a modern contrast. Where the travel mirror had been designed to be unique, the public mirror had been designed to be commonplace… cheap to produce, easy to fit into a quiet nook anywhere and unobtrusive in places where no such nook was to be had. Where the travel mirror was big enough to walk through, the communication mirror was just big enough to comfortably reflect a face. It had no real frame to speak of, just some metal around the edges.

Looking at it, I could kind of understand why Stone spoke so poetically about the forms of things… there was no reason the mass-produced mirror needed to have any fancy patterning or whatever, but it wouldn’t have hurt anything to make it less ugly. Was it ugly? Utilitarian, I supposed. It was a perfectly practical design but that was the most that could be said for it. A wand didn’t really need to be more than a slightly tapered stick, but it didn’t hurt anything to make it look cool.

That was the moment when I realized just how much this class could help me, that it wouldn’t just be a way of fulfilling an arbitrary credit requirement and a chance to geek out over cool items. I’d never been the most visually-oriented person, and if I did anything interesting with my enchantment major I’d be producing things. Even if I had other people to handle the presentation and packaging of whatever it was I made, I’d still need to be able to have some idea as to what was good in those areas.

Whatever I did, I didn’t want to end up producing anything as… well… boring as that mirror.

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , ,

86 Responses to “Chapter 17: Implements of Instruction”

  1. Sorry for the delays in posting this. It’s not quite the chapter it would have been if I hadn’t fallen ill… twice. The lucky reader who named the building will have their selection incorporated into the next chapter, on Friday.

    Current score: 0
    • leporidae says:

      *for varying definitions of “Friday”


      Current score: 0
    • leporidae says:

      It’s Friday Friday gotta get down on Friday.

      Current score: 1
  2. Daez says:

    Yay! Been waiting for this! Really enjoyed this, learning a bit about the world and how some of the magic works is absolutely fascinating to me.

    Current score: 0
  3. Dirge says:

    “Any rich or powerful man might have a *dwaf*-made sword or jewelry.”

    Beyond that, good chapter.

    Current score: 0
  4. Father Latour says:

    “Well, whatever

    Seems you forgot some closing quotes!

    Current score: 0
  5. Havartna says:

    Glad to see you writing again, and nice chapter to boot!

    Current score: 0
  6. Iason says:

    Lovely chapter, thank you AE and glad that you are back on your feet again (or at least back in typing condition).

    Current score: 0
  7. Jane says:

    Nice! As one geek reading about another, I empathise with most of this.

    Typo, by the way:

    “Well, whatever
    needs some closing punctuation.

    Current score: 0
  8. HiEv says:

    Interesting update. I always love the entries that get into the technical bits of magic. Thanks.

    A few fixes:
    “a staff that could produce a fireball and unknown and random amount of times”
    I think that should be “an unknown”, not “and unknown”.

    Also -> “Well, whatever

    Missing the closing period and quotation marks.

    Current score: 0
  9. Dave says:

    So … 3D TV, and no special glasses needed! Looks like MU technology is a bit ahead of ours 🙂

    “The very most expensive TVs” – did you mean to write that? Reads a bit awkwardly because the ‘very’ is logically unnecessary.

    Glad Mackenzie is making friends with Twyla. I think this shows both of them have become a bit more mature since their first year.

    A pre-changed wand is “both priceless and worthless”. Reminds me of when I used to play nethack and the like. You could test your wand or other magic item, but you might have to use up a spell scroll to do it. Sometimes you had to just hope it had enough charge – and suffer the consequences if it didn’t.

    So many neat things in one chapter!

    Current score: 0
    • Null Set says:

      Yes they have better 3D, but they have to be really careful to not knock the rabbit ears antenna out of position.

      Current score: 0
      • AmyAmethyst says:

        Especially since that would really annoy the rabbit …

        Current score: 0
    • Stonefoot says:

      “The very most expensive TVs” – I read that as similar to “the best of the best” or “la creme de la creme”. Which may or may not have been what AE intended.

      (Also, I can just see the little sign on the top edge of the TV: ‘Please do not annoy the rabbit.’)

      Current score: 0
  10. Niall says:

    Awesome chapter! I especially love the stuff about the TVs in the MUniverse.

    Current score: 0
  11. Zia says:

    This had the somewhat paradoxical effect of making these items both priceless and worthless… a staff that could produce a fireball and unknown and random amount of times

    Perhaps: fireball an unknown

    Current score: 0
  12. Um the Muse says:

    I really loved this chapter, especially Mack’s realizations at the end.

    Current score: 1
  13. Dani says:

    It seemed ironic that Mack was doing A+ thinking about the objects she was examining for her assignment – and then picking B- differences to report. It’s as if someone in a similar our-tech class compared very-old and very-new TVs, spent time thinking about how the old TVs designs showed their radio ancestry – and then handed in a paper that said that old TVs tended to have wood finish while new TVs tended to be metallic.

    This was a fun chapter to read. I enjoyed it considerably more than the last two “in class” chapters. Why, since they’re all more world-building than story-building? I thought about that, and three reasons come to mind: There’s a balance between exposition and Mack’s thoughts and reactions. (Her thoughts and reactions *are* the exposition; she doesn’t merely happen to be in the same room as the exposition.) There’s some development of Mack’s character and of Twyla’s. (It’s a smooth segue, too. The same dialog would not have been smooth at all had it taken place by the staff.) Something happens at the end of the chapter that has the potential to matter greatly to the story.

    If the story is a piece of architecture, this chapter felt like a building block, not like a map in the lobby with a “you are here”.

    Current score: 0
    • fka_luddite says:

      I have to disagree with you about the irony. Mack’s thoughts about the various objects reflect on the methodology of their enchantment. Her decisions about differences and similarities to report are all focused on design; this is a DESIGN course. I was disappointed (in Mack) that she kept skating around the point that the older design forms were intended to declare what the device was, whereas the newer were intended to enhance utility.

      Current score: 0
  14. Chris says:

    ‘At will’ doesn’t take a hyphen when it’s used as an adverb (as it is in the chapter), only when it’s an adjectival phrase used before a noun (as in ‘at-will hiring’).

    My heart grew two sizes during the Twyla conversation.

    Current score: 0
  15. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    when i was supposed to be examining the aesthetic design.

    The “i” needs to be capitalized.

    That’s it. The other typos I saw had already been reported by this point. Nice chapter, BTW. I love the exposition chapters, especially when we also get Mackenzie’s POV on what’s being exposited.

    Current score: 0
  16. Zathras IX says:

    Producing a bad
    Magic mirror may reflect
    Badly on one’s skill

    Current score: 1
  17. Ferwe says:

    “if reality was indeed subjective then it was ultimately subject to something other than us.”

    I just love that line. I think Mackenzie hit on something extremely profound her, and didn’t even realize it. As a world-designer I’m going to do some thinking on this and see what comes of it.

    Current score: 0
  18. Alderin says:

    Haven’t even read the chapter yet, but I WANT “The good old days aren’t what they used to be.” as a bumper sticker.

    Current score: 0
  19. Burnsidhe says:

    Heheh. Comparing a Staff of the Magi or a Staff of Power to something that looks like it could have been designed in GURPS or HERO System… Nice touch that. Also, exploding when overcharged being an intended design feature drew a chuckle or two from me. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  20. Month says:

    Welcome back form the ill.

    Current score: 0
  21. Luke Licens says:

    “Any rich or powerful man might have a dwaf-made sword or jewelry. ”

    Pretty sure that should be ‘dwarf’. 😉

    EDIT: Nevermind. Someone else already caught that one. :p

    Current score: 0
  22. Null Set says:

    “I kind of loved her a little bit”

    Second time Mack has used this phrase. Is this a sign of her having become more comfortable with polyamory/Amaranth’s love of everyone rubbing off on her?

    Current score: 0
  23. readaholic says:

    Excellent and awesome. Great world-building stuff. Well worth waiting for.

    Current score: 0
  24. Kaila says:

    I do love the magic geekery.

    Also, Mack had a whole conversation with someone and it didn’t get out of hand! Yay!

    Current score: 0
  25. T. Farrower says:

    A Report on the Differences and Similarities Between Pairings of Ancient Artifacts With Their Modern Equivalents
    by Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower

    For this particular investigation, I chose the following three magical items: a mirror, a television, and a wizard’s staff, or staff of power. For each of the three, I will explore the evolution of design aesthetics implicit in the comparison between an ancient example of the item, and a contemporary equivalent.

    The ancient example of a communication mirror is perhaps more ostentatious than one would expect, as this particular model is actually a travel mirror, which means that the design aesthetic demands the production of an entirely unique design, which can nonetheless be perfectly mirrored to produce a counterpart. In this particular case, the similarities with the modern example are almost entirely a matter of absolute bare essentials. Both examples possess functional mirror surfaces free of blemishes, both possess a frame around the mirror, allowing magic to be contained within the surface of the mirror, and both are large enough to fit the content intended to be shown, rather than relying on magic to increase the amount of viewing space available.

    The differences between the two examples of a mirror are however, vast. Whilst the newer model possesses only a very thin metal frame that is hardly noticeable, the older model possesses a large frame that adds significantly to the size of the item. Further, the frame of the older model is unadorned, being simple a strip of metal running the circumference of the mirror, whereas the older mirror has significant embellishments on the frame. Even when not in use, the mirror serves as an example of fine art, adorned with elaborate features, implying that the mirror was intended not merely to be used, but to be seen. This design ethic carries on also to the size of the mirrors, as the newer model is only large enough to show a face, a minimalist design that makes the mirror ever less obtrusive, whereas the full-length size of the older model, in combination with the large frame, makes it such a large model as to effectively serve as a full piece of furniture and draw the eye. In short, the modern mirror is a tool, utterly utilitarian in design, and avoiding drawing the eye, whereas the older model announces its presence to the room, presenting itself as a work of art that speaks to the wealth of its owner, who can afford such an obviously magical item.

    The televisions I investigated speak to a similar evolution in design aesthetics as the mirrors, but there are many additional points of difference speaking to evolving tastes and expectations. Both models make use of a box of space to present the show, a frame that entirely contains the inner space aside from a viewing portal in front, and both make use of magic that allows the box to have greater depth on the inside than the outside, implying that it has always been a design principle that such units should take up only a limited amount of space.

    Similar to the mirrors I investigated, the televisions also follow a pattern of the modern model having almost no frame, being unadorned, and smaller, but there are significant differences in the specifics. Whereas with the mirrors, the modern example simply shows less, minimizing the surface area to the head, the televisions both present similar total viewing space, but the newer model has less exterior depth, achieved by using far more powerful enchantments to increase the interior space. Thus, the newer model is much more flat, and thus less obtrusive, minimizing the design in the direction of presenting only the intended magical effect. For actual embellishments, the antique model possesses entire features not present in the contemporary example, such as a curtain that suggests the puppet theatres that the television is descended from. These design elements serve both to enhance the artistry of the piece, and to emphasize the purpose of the artifact, which unlike the mirror, would likely have been less obvious at the time, as it is otherwise merely an empty box with no inherent utility when not in use, and televisions are a much more recent innovation in magical artifice.

    For contrast, the final objects I investigated were a pair of staves of power, as used by wizards. The basic similarities between the two were quite obvious, as both were approximately the same size, consisting of basically a quarterstaff-like shaft, handgrips sized for average humans, and caps at either end. Most notably, both are clearly designed to show their purpose as a wizard’s staff, being ornamented in such a way as to indicate that they are not merely a weapon for melee combat, though they do so in different ways. Further, in their own differing ways, their ornamentation also implies the difference in the specific nature of the purpose of each staff, with the older staff, crafted to carry powerful offensive spells, implying this nature through an inherently violent appearance, and the modern example, crafted for everyday use and far more defensive in nature, possesses a corresponding level of benign aesthetic.

    As I have already discussed when analyzing the similarities between the two staves, a basic difference between the two is the hostile appearance of the older model, which serves to make it far more intimidating. Though useless as an actual melee implement due to the limited ability to grip it, the ancient staff of power appears dangerous enough that the owner might be able to ward off an attacker with the mere threat of violence. The newer model, however, can actually be wielded as a proper staff, which wouldn’t have served a purpose on the older model, created before it was common for wizards to have limited melee combat training. Further, the newer model incorporates many devices that might otherwise have been carried separately, such as powerstones and a scrying orb, whereas the older model is singular in purpose, speaking to an inherent difference in the nature of the two items: the older model was a staff meant to be used for combat, to blast enemies with as much power as available, but the new model is meant for daily use, serving a purpose even if the wizard never has to defend themselves.

    Current score: 0
    • Dr. Tarr says:

      I loved the paper! I doubt one gets points for finding typos in posts, but I did note the few noted below, with suggestions.

      “Further, the frame of the older model is unadorned, being simple a strip of metal running the circumference of the mirror, whereas the older mirror has significant embellishments on the frame.”

      I suspect that in the quoted sentence you intended to say “Further, the frame of the newer model is unadorned…”

      and either “…being simply a strip of metal…” or “…being a simple strip of metal…”


      “For actual embellishments, the antique model possesses entire features not present in the contemporary example, such as a curtain that suggests the puppet theatres that the television is descended from.”

      In the above, “theatres” should be “theaters” unless you are making a deliberate effort at British vs. American spellings which I did not see in the rest of the paper. To get away from the terminal preposition you could say “suggests the puppet theatres from which the television is descended.”

      Current score: 0
  26. AGMLego says:

    Fantastic chapter, and as an engineer, I especially liked Mack’s thoughts on design aesthetics at the end. Too many of my colleagues fall into the “function without form” mentality.

    Current score: 0
    • Kevin Brown says:

      Personally I’ve always preferred form being an effect of function. For example I have a computer case with 25 cm fans on the side and front of the tower, it looks very cool and its look is completely on account of its cooling power.

      Current score: 0
      • Rin says:

        In architecture a particularly well-known crede reads as form follows function. Taking that to its most literal extremes can lead to some horribly ugly utilitarian designs, but as a general rule it’s a good one to follow for any kind of design.

        Current score: 0
        • Grimm says:

          … Aesthetics go farther than that principle, though – look at, say, the difference between apple’s phones and HTC’s. Both have absolutely perfectly functional designs, but the apple phones go a bit farther aesthetically.

          Paying attention to the things that make something “beautiful” or “quality” matters in any field; the basic design may be utilitarian, but making something fall into the category of “a joy to use and possess” is something else entirely.

          Current score: 0
        • Burnsidhe says:

          Ah, the Bauhaus school of design. It’s useful, but also silly, as its proponents sometimes took things to extremes and forgot that buildings should look good as well as communicating their purpose.

          Current score: 0
  27. Phexar says:

    ‘“Well, I still feel bad,” I said.

    “Don’t,” she said. “No one should feel bad for being.”’

    I especially loved this part. Very lovely words.

    Current score: 0
  28. I’m happy that you’re feeling better. And I’m a bit envious of Mack’s realization at the end there — I have never been very graphically oriented, and wish I’d taken an opportunity like Mackenzie’s to grow and learn in that respect. Go Mack!

    Current score: 0
  29. Erm says:

    “telling the world not to meddle in its owner’s affairs. Subtlety wouldn’t pay off there.”


    Current score: 0
  30. Just a reader says:

    I wonder if Twyla is the child (or descendant) of a great (or greater) dragon. We know that they have horns, like she does; they can impose their will on reality without “magic” per se; the description of “her lingering baby fat” might be consistent with a half-dragon that ages much more slowly, and is thus in some sense still a child even though partially still an adult; and the antipathy some dragons bear towards the idea of half-dragons might be a good reason to conceal her ancestry, either to protect her or to protect her parent from disapproval/negative consequences. It seems like the simplest explanation, although certainly many other explanations remain plausible.

    Current score: 0
    • Jennifer says:

      Mack JUST had a lecture talking about how true dragonbloods usually have some sort of physical characteristics of dragons. She saw Twyla have a fire-related accident this morning. And here, she actually THINKS about the fact that a being on the order of a great dragon can have the same non-spell blocking effect as Twyla is describing.

      Although we readers have an outside view and I know it’s a bit unfair to judge Mack on the lack of putting facts together, here we see another example of Mack being completely oblivious and failing to connect dots.

      Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        To be fair, I read that lecture and totally missed those connections until I read the comments discussing them!

        Current score: 0
        • bramble says:

          Well, you’re never going to be tested on it! I’d hope that Mack would make an effort to retain the information.

          Current score: 0
      • Bannef says:

        It would be a lot easier to figure out the world around us if all observations were cherry picked by writer in the sky because of their relevance… So I wouldn’t blame Mac. It’s much easier to connect the dots when you know most of the dots you’re looking at are connectable. As opposed to when you’re living your life and they’re competing which compelling thoughts Mack chooses not to share, such as “my butt itches.” (Although I will say that Tales of MU gives more information for its own sake than for the sake of future plot when compared to most stories, which I love!)

        Current score: 0
  31. Stonefoot says:

    There’s a lot of good stuff here. One line I really like that no one has mentioned yet is “There’s a joke among TV makers that their products don’t work, and so the illusions are necessary to make it look like they do.”

    In our world I think that’s true of the internal combustion engine.

    Current score: 0
    • mafidufa says:

      I’m pretty sure we know exactly how an internal combustion engine works. On the other hand, computers, Flat screen TVs and all other modern electronics all work because of quantum mechanics which is far from well understood.

      Current score: 0
      • Kevin Brown says:

        “quantum” here being used as the definition “random word because we can’t explain it and MAGIC isn’t scientific enough”

        Current score: 0
      • OhPun says:

        Who is this “we” that knows exactly how combustion engines work? I read car magazines (the kind that talk about modifying and rebuilding car engines) and am constantly amazed by how an internal combustion engine works. It always seems to me like a significant amount of magic is involved.

        Current score: 0
        • Burnsidhe says:

          … What magic? A set amount of fuel is pushed into a chamber, a spark ignites the vapors, the piston drives down, turning the driveshaft. It’s purely mechanical.
          There’s elegance in the design, in setting up the machinery, but there’s nothing at all magical about it.

          Current score: 0
          • fka_luddite says:

            “What magic?” – see Clarke.

            Current score: 0
  32. Heather says:

    Heh–so, does one travel mirror glow orange and one blue?

    I know it doesn’t take much to catch the reference, since you went ahead and used the word portal…but it made me happy!

    Current score: 0
    • BMeph says:

      If you would care to stand on the red dot in the red circle, someone should be with you shortly to bring you some cake… 😉

      Speaking of cake, have an “Advanced” Happy Birthday, AE! Although I Will insist on celebrating my birthday before yours.
      Since it’s, you know, the day before. 😉

      Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      Mackenzie is thinking with portals.

      Current score: 0
  33. Riotllama says:

    I want to know more about how the proposed network of travel mirrors “went wrong.” Went wrong along the lines of the Leightons? Curious cat is curious.

    Current score: 0
    • fka_luddite says:

      The Leightons were my first thought also; then I realized the systems were probably too different for that to be the case. I’m thinking the problem most likely arose from a failure to properly maintain the uniqueness of the mirror pairs while producing such pairs in bulk.

      Current score: 0
      • Sindyr says:

        I thought the Leightons were the result of a regular teleportation spell that their father attempted–he got everyone else through, but they were too similar already by dint of being twins.

        Current score: 0
        • Zukira Phaera says:

          That is how I recall it as well. Which brings one to consider, why wouldn’t he have sent the twins separately one and then the other, to avoid that potential risk.
          My thought is that perhaps the risk wasn’t known because of traveling mirrors being safer, and the relative rarity of identical twins.

          Current score: 0
          • Brenda says:

            Because he was so excited about his new invention he totally overlooked any potential problem?

            Current score: 0
  34. zeel says:

    In case you Hades noticed, someone keeps putting spam on the main page of the wiki. I’ve fixed it 3 times so far.

    http: //mystarsearch. com/forum/index.php? topic=84pMjE3fHwxMzA3NTgxMDQ2fHwx
    OTUyfHwoRU5HSU5FKSBNZWRpYVdpa2k%3D&s= ”””

    that is what it keeps posting. (i added spaces so it wont likafy) It comes from multiple different users, so I don’t know how it could be stopped.

    Current score: 0
  35. Sindyr says:

    Husband and I are glad you are feeling better! We loved the chapter. Keep up the excellent work. 😀

    Current score: 0
  36. The Dark Master says:

    I wonder if travel mirrors could be made to have multiple links by having one master one with different settings. Something that shifted a mirror completely, and then had a bunch of child mirrors that it linked to that could not change their setting.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I was thinking of a mirror hub. If you have 50 places to go, and a mirror in each, all linked to a hub with 50 mirrors, it should be a great way to travel.

      Current score: 0
      • The Dark Master says:

        That was what failed, I think. I was trying to come up with something that would get past that. That said, I’m not sure why each of the, say, 4 largest cities don’t have a series of travel mirrors connecting them.

        Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      You could have a hub set up where all mirrors go to that hub, and then all link out from it. Either way, physically passing through the hub location would have to take place.

      Multi-tasking a mirror to go to multiple locations isn’t a good idea since each traveling mirror has to be completely unique to its pair. Traveling out from a multi-location mirror sounds like a great way to land in a random location.

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        Right, but as long as the hub is relatively small, walking across it would not be much impact on just how useful the transportation system would be. Hey a little space bending magic and you might not even notice that the building is big. . .

        Current score: 0
        • Zukira Phaera says:

          Indeed. Jane Lindskold uses a method like the hub, but using stone doorways in the two later novels in her wolf series of books. Similar issues – but at least traveling mirrors are mobile.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            hmm, perhaps if you have a real hub, you can mystically enhance its ability to be a hub? so that it links the mirrors in a unnoticeable way, if the hubs purpose is to let users of one mirror use connect with another, then that purpose should be enhance-able right?

            Current score: 0
  37. Chips says:

    Drat you, AE! You wrote a beautiful and luring fascinating story… and now I’m running late for work, because I was lured and fascinated and ~had~ to read it all!

    Great chapter!

    Current score: 0
  38. Um the Muse says:

    On the magic mirror hub: lots of stories do that. That’s more or less the principle behind turnkeys (the pre-enchanted objects that would teleport itself and anyone touching it) and the floo powder network in Harry Potter.

    Many stories in SF that use mass teleportation do this, too.

    I’m kinda glad that this doesn’t exist in Alexandra Erin’s world (hope I spelled the name right). Her world is a lot more fragmented and, imo, more interesting.

    The rules behind magic mirrors are interesting. I wonder if anyone has tried making two mirrors from some sort of illusion/ glamour magic. I imagine that would let you make perfect, multiple copies of otherwise unique designs and set up travel between cities fairly easily; the attendants could turn on and off the enchantment as needed.

    Current score: 0
    • Erm says:

      Portkeys. A turnkey is someone guarding a prison. 😀

      Current score: 0
  39. Sapphite says:

    Really great and interesting chapter. I also liked all the subtle nods to changes to D&D/Pathfinder over the years.

    Current score: 1
  40. squidsinger says:

    Also, when she refers to “the enchantments that had gone onto IX’s coronation blade” do you really mean to refer to the Emperor by just a number? Mack usually uses his royal name along with.

    Other than that, awesome chapter! It’s good to have you back – you had me worried, and I’m definitely not the only one – and in rare form. Somehow you manage to make information-dump chapters the most interesting and insightful, like we’re getting a real look into how your world works, rather than just “here’s an encyclopedia article on stuff” like some people do. It’s brilliant, really, so kudos!

    Current score: 0
  41. Malcolm says:

    Well its almost midnight on Friday. We haven’t had a blog post or a tweet in almost two days. I guess we can chalk up that promise of a story today as missed huh?

    Current score: 0
  42. “monstrous’ is ‘demonize’, you know?”

    “Well, whatever

    “Well, I still feel bad,” I said.”

    I’m sure it was already noted, but I am too lazy to read the comments today.

    Also: I <3 Magic Wonkery! ^_^

    Current score: 0
  43. Various says:

    This is why I only check around every 2 weeks.
    Usually in that time frame something is done,
    but this time, not even that

    Current score: 0
  44. Morten says:

    Wooooooo !
    “Probably the wizard who’d made the staff had carried less obvious divining rods and powerstones and unobtrusive tools with handy non-combat spells stored in them, but the staff of power had to be obvious to do its main job of telling the world not to meddle in its owner’s affairs. Subtlety wouldn’t pay off there.”

    J.R.R. Tolkien Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

    Current score: 0
  45. Amy says:

    Really? Only two posts in the last month…two weeks since that last one…What a joke.

    Current score: 0
    • leporidae says:

      You must be a new reader then, it’s pretty typical. Any time there’s a large donation drive, as soon as the proverbial check clears the bank you won’t see any sort of regular updates until the well runs dry.

      The roommate derby stories haven’t even finished yet, 6 months later…and a 3 week delay for a “put your name in the story” fundraiser is ridiculous.

      I’m pretty sure any critical comment will just be deleted but that’s how it stands. I used to donate here, I bought her ebook on Amazon, but I can’t take this story seriously anymore. I wish I knew how to write…working 2 days a month to make enough to live on seems like a mighty sweet deal.

      Current score: 0
      • Amy says:

        Actually I started from the beginning about a year ago and just kept reading a chapter or so a day. It wasn’t until recently that I caught up and now, because of such a ridiculous delay, I’ve lost interest. Greatly disappointed to hear it’s so typical.

        Current score: 0
  46. Juan M H says:

    Maybe she is on vacations,but im a litle worried because she says she was sick in the other post.

    Current score: 0
    • moofable says:

      No need to worry! Part of the delay was caused by a sort of vacation (going to Wiscon, which is part work and part fun times), and the rest of it’s been caused by getting sick with a stupid cold that has taken over everyone in the house. Hopefully a new chapter will be up sometime today.

      Current score: 0
  47. TKitch says:

    Possible Error:

    In the previous Chapter it mentions the swords of Magisterion I, XI and XIII were Dwarven made. This chapter mentions the sword of Magisterion IX.

    Current score: 0
  48. lightdefender says:

    Funny thought . . . but has anyone considered that maybe Mack doesn’t recognize Twyla’s possible ancestry because of a dragon’s Will that “This child’s ancestry shall not be known!”? It needn’t be sheer obliviousness on her part, but rather enforced obliviousness.

    (I’ve been re-reading–and catching up from when I didn’t have time to read–since the end of November. Not quite finished yet.)

    Current score: 0
  49. WsntHere says:

    “So we took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW
    microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed on toward the city dump.

    A. Guthrie (1966)

    Current score: 0
  50. Khazidhea says:

    “Any rich or powerful man might have a dwaf-made”
    dwaf -> dwarf

    “a staff that could produce a fireball and unknown and random amount of times”
    ‘an’ unknown appears to make more sense.

    Current score: 0