30: Calling Fire

on July 13, 2007 in 02: Love In The Time Of Magic

In Which Mackenzie Is Not Propositioned By A Girl

The lab instructor was already there when I got to my elemental invocation lab later that morning. She stood alongside a table at the front of the room, on which sat three large glass jars. The first one was sealed, and appeared to be empty… or rather, full of air, to judge by the other two, one of which held a quantity of rich brown dirt and the other, ocean-blue water.

The room was full of big heavy work tables. Most of the tables had a pair of small logs sitting on rune-inscribed stone plates, and most of these tables already had two students when I arrived. I took one of the last available spots, beside a tall guy with shoulder-length brown hair at a table one row up from the back.

“Hi,” my neighbor said. “I’m Ian.”

“Mackenzie,” I said.

“Pretty name,” Ian said.


“Good morning,” the professor said, when the last work space was accounted for. “I am Professor Elizabeth Bohd, and this is Elemental Invocation 100. You will find a paper nametag on the tables in front of you. Please write your full name on this, and stick it at the front of the table so that I may learn your names.”

She waited while we did this, then went on.

“In this class, you will be practicing the techniques used for invoking–calling forth–the four physical elements from your surroundings. We are going to start today with a practical demonstration,” she said. She gestured to the jars. “In these containers, I have placed three of the four physical elements: air, earth, and water… alchemically reduced to their quintessential states. You are not likely to encounter a more pure representation of any of these without stepping through a gate to the elemental planes. And yet, even ‘pure’ air can be seen to contain some fire…”

She balled up her right hand, drew it upwards and bent it back at the wrist, and then flicked it forwards towards the sealed jar of air, opening her fingers as she did so. The inside of the jar suddenly blazed with fire, which at first filled it completely, then gradually drew inward until it was a pillar of flame extending from the top of jar to the bottom. Very quickly, that shrank and then completely died down.

“As can earth,” she said, once again closing her hand into a fist, but this time turning it over so that her hand was palm-up when she opened it and incorporating some kind of finger-snap into it. A fire sprang up from the top of the earth-filled jar, merrily dancing for a few moments before dying, even as the professor turned towards the water. She used both hands this time, and a more complicated gesture that involved two separate sets of not-quite-identical finger flicks. A column of flame shot up from the surface of the water, then settled down into a tongue of flame that burned for several seconds before going out.

“Even water contains fire,” she said. “Just as air contains some amount of earth, and earth contains some air. Nothing in nature is truly, purely one element or another… they all contain some amount of all four, even those that are held to be opposing pairs. This simple principle forms the basis of the work you will do in this class. That’s basic elemental theory… I know you all will have learned it during your secondary schooling, or else you would not be here… but nothing really beats a visual demonstration for impressing the truth of it upon your minds.”

It had been impressive… bringing forth fire out of water, in particular. It was a notoriously difficult feat, but she’d managed it without much apparent effort. It was all the more amazing for the fact that you could see the purity of the water… ordinary water from a lake or river looked clear until you had a bunch of it. The quintessential water that Professor Bohd had used for the demonstration would have appeared blue even in a single drop.

“Now, for the lab work,” Bohd said. “On the table in front of you, obviously, is a small log. Wood is an easy material for the invocation of fire, as it contains quite a bit of it. These logs have been specially treated to contain about two and a half times the amount of fire as an ordinary piece of wood… this will make it both easier for you to progress and more rewarding, visually, when you succeed. Just make sure you do not remove your logs from the stone plates… they contain a binding spell that will stop the fire from spreading or causing any harm.”

I prodded at the runes on the plate, mentally… it was a pretty firm spell. That was reassuring. I didn’t have anything to fear from even supernatural fire, but I had understandable concerns about the damage I might do if I let a fire spell get out of control.

“We start with fire because it is the easiest element to call forth,” Professor Bohd said. “Because it knows it does not belong down on this level with us, and it resents being bound up in other matter. When you invoke fire, you are not coaxing it out of hiding so much as releasing it from a prison. Remember that, when working with fire… it makes your task easier, but also a bit riskier. It will take you at least two weeks… and as long as a month… before you can successfully draw out fire on a consistent basis, but once you have accomplished that, the task of invoking the other elements will be all the easier. By midterm, you should be capable of drawing forth any of the physical elements from any mixture or reasonably impure sample of the others. Most of the time, you will be working on your own, as the feeling out and calling forth of elements is a deeply personal discipline. I see some of you already trying to copy my hand gestures… you will find that’s neither necessary nor productive. They are no more the spell than the motions of a hand holding a pen are a story.”

I glanced around this room, and saw several sheepish-looking students hastily lowering their arms. I hadn’t been one of them, I thought, a little bit smugly. Hadn’t those guys paid any attention in high school? Didn’t they have any idea how magic worked?

“Start by addressing yourself to the element of fire contained within the wood,” the professor said. “There are principally five ways to do this: by reason… you know that fire lies within, because you’ve seen a log burn before; by meditation… the focusing of your mind on the properties of fire and of the wood; by communication… addressing yourself literally to the fire, whether verbally or mentally; by intuition… an inherent understanding with the fire, which can’t really be explained any further than that; and by sympathy… mentally comparing the trapped fire to an extant flame as from a candle or match. These are available from the cupboards at the back, but if you choose to use sympathy to establish your connection, remember to keep the sample fire well away from your books and other materials, lest you inadvertently obviate the need for invocation.”

There was some scattered chuckling at that.

“Try any or all of these methods to find out which one, or which combination, works best for you. Most people, aside from the supremely talented or the entirely nonmagical, will find that they have an affinity for one element or another,” she said. “If you find that you are one of those for whom fire responds particularly well, you may actually find your log starting to smoke or growing warm to the touch before the end of the period. By the end of the next session, you will need to have formed a sufficient link to the trapped fire for us to proceed. If not, you’ll have to take your log with you and work on it over the weekend. Preferably, in a proper lab room… not in the library, a study lounge, or your room. No matter how hopeless your first attempts may have seemed, sudden and overwhelming success may strike at any time. They say the easiest way to succeed in invoking fire is to try it some place that you shouldn’t, but don’t take that as a helpful tip. Later, when you are more experienced and working with less volatile elements, you will be doing more independent work, but for now, I will wander the room as you work, observing and giving additional instructions. You may begin whenever you’re ready.”

I considered the options… an intuitive understanding of the elements was the ultimate goal of invocation, but it usually proceeded from the understanding gained from another approach. Meditation or reasoning was probably my best bet… I’d always been a thinker. I’d always been discouraged from messing around with matches and candles, and I’d feel just plain stupid talking to a log. Well, who wouldn’t?

Ian, apparently.

“Hey, fire… hello, fire! Here, fire fire fire,” he said. Then, seeing I was watching, he leaned over and dropped the upper half of his body flat on the table. “Who’s a good fire element? Who’s a good fire element?”

I snorted and shook my head. What an idiot…

“Miss Mackenzie,” Professor Bohd said sharply from just behind us. “If you’d rather learn from the examples of others than by doing for yourself, I would hope you could find a better guide than Mr. Mason.”

I mumbled an acknowledgment and turned back to my own log. Stupid ass, showing off and getting me in trouble. As if I even liked guys like that.

“‘Miss Mackenzie’?” Ian echoed quietly as the professor strode away up the rows.

“I really don’t care for that form of address,” I said snippily.

“But… you are in Harlowe, then?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said tersely. I stared at my log, freezing the visual image in my head, then closed my eyes and tried to picture little flames dancing within it.

“It’s just, you hear some wild things about Harlowe girls,” he said after several seconds, breaking my concentration completely.

“What sort of ‘things’?” I asked icily.

“Just about everything, really,” he said. “Is it true?”

“I… don’t… know what you’re talking about,” I said. I stumbled over the words, as I was pretty sure I had a reasonable guess as to what he was talking about.

“Some of the guys from my dorm ran into a hot half-elf in the library last night,” he said. “She sucked off all five of them, right in the middle of the necromancy section, or that’s what they said.”

“Well, I’m not a half-elf,” I said, pushing my mind back towards the log and trying to focus on fire. Fire, fire, fire… you might have thought I’d be one of those people with a total affinity for fire, but since I’d spent half my life trying not to focus on it, not to call upon it…

“No, but you are a Harlot, right?” Ian said.

“I’m a what?” I hissed. It was the second time someone at MU had used this term on me. I figured it had to have a meaning I wasn’t aware of.

“A Harlowe Harlot,” he said blithely.

“I’m not any kind of a harlot,” I said, and tried to get back to my lab work, but he wasn’t giving up.

“I’ve got a free period after this,” he said. I ignored him, focusing on the log, and on flame… the image of flame. The idea of it.

“If you’re free, too, we could go somewhere,” he continued. I pushed his words away. Flame, I thought. Focus on flame. “My roomy’s gonna be in a history lecture.” I paid him no heed. The flame was what was important. I had to find the flame, connect with it. “In case, you know… you wanted to suck my dick.” He said it mock-casually, mock-matter-of-factly. That grated more than anything… or it would have, but I was ignoring him. Flamey flame flame. That was what mattered. Not some stupid jerk who thought non-human equaled slut, for some reason. “Or, you know, whatever,” he said. “I’m game for just about anything. I mean, there’s some things you just don’t do with a human… but… I heard Harlowe girls like it in the ass.”

My log, as well as Ian’s, and the entire surface of the table–the table on which his hand was resting–suddenly burst into foot-high flames. Ian wrenched away from the conflagration, howling in pain. I yelped and jumped backwards, hitting my back painfully on the edge of the table behind us.

Professor Bohd ran towards us, waving her hands. The flames died about halfway down, and then were completely doused by a sheet of water that fell from above them.

“Mr. Mason, get yourself over to the temple or the healing center,” the professor said. “Miss Mackenzie, I believe a bit of an alternative curriculum may be in order. Come see me in my office before the next session. My hours are on the syllabus.”

“I didn’t… I’m…” I sputtered, horrorstruck and staring at Ian’s hand. He’d yanked it out of the fire pretty quickly, but the skin was red and blistered.

“Remember, overwhelming success may strike at any time,” the professor said, loud enough for the whole room to hear. “This is exactly why you should not attempt this exercise on your own, outside of a lab with a proper protective circle.”

“My hand!” Ian wailed. “She burnt my fucking hand!”

“It will heal,” the professor said.

“I just bought a new lute!” he said.

“The world of rock and roll will not come grinding to a halt in the ten minutes it takes you to get to the healing center,” Bohd said, pushing him gently in the direction of the door. “And, you may as well go for the day,” she said to me. “We’ll have to work out another activity for you… water from soil, I think. If you can draw fire that well on instinct, it will never do you much good in terms of teaching you the basic technique.”

“I really didn’t mean it!” I said. It was true. I’d never made fire come from anything but myself, and I’d had a hard enough time trying to live a normal life as it was. Now I had to worry about making other things burst into flames.

“Some people have an affinity for fire,” she said again. Her voice was almost soothing… probably as close as it could get, anyway. “It could have been anybody… properly trained, an ability like this could be a real boon.”

A boon? I wanted to argue, but I couldn’t really see a way to do so without telling her… and everybody around me… what I really was. Not that a lot of them wouldn’t have already known. Anybody who’d heard Bohd calling me “Miss Mackenzie” could have guessed I was a Harlowe resident… looks human but isn’t, covers a table with fire without trying… even without any rumors already circulating, I might as well have worn a big flashing sign.

“Why don’t you go lie down somewhere?” Bohd suggested. “Or visit the healing center yourself. After an untrained display of magic like that, you’ll no doubt feel exhaustion setting in soon.”

“Okay,” I said weakly, though the truth was, I didn’t feel the least bit tired. Horrified, yes. Embarrassed, yes. Ashamed of myself, completely. It was just starting to sink in that I had actually burned somebody. In all of my accidents, I’d never done that before. I’d destroyed mattresses and furniture, ruined my clothes, and damaged the house… but I’d never hurt anybody. My grandmother had seen to that.

“It could have happened to anybody,” Professor Bohd repeated.

She couldn’t know it, but it hadn’t happened to me because I was anybody.

It had happened to me because I was me… because I was a demon.

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6 Responses to “30: Calling Fire”

  1. Jake says:

    Good riddance to bad rubbish as far as that Ian goes. He is a good example of why I generally dislike Frat assholes. Not all or even most are like him but enough are & those in charge make no effort to restrain them.

    Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    Tonight Mesdame, Monsieur, ze specialitie du maison will be Fraternal Flambe. Bon appetite!

    Current score: 2
  3. Psi-Ko says:

    One or two races survive off of sex, therefore, everything that’s not human does!

    Yes, sound logic!

    I can’t wait for HTML sarcasm tags…

    Current score: 0
  4. Krey says:

    Rereading, and I love the early Ian hate here… And the projection of their own frat hate, since nothing anywhere says Ian’s in one.

    Current score: 0
    • Headphones and Whispers says:

      I concur, from years in the future this first scene is really really endearing. Just how much he came into his own is simply heartwarming.

      Current score: 0
  5. rikitikitavi says:



    Current score: 0