OT: How Things Work (Dance Party Edition)

on December 14, 2011 in Other Tales

The current co-chairs of the student activities committee had inherited the box of brightly colored paper lanterns from the previous chair, who had warned them that they were “cheap, in the sense of being fragile and easy to fuck up, but not cheap in the sense of easy to replace.”

Aside from the floating lanterns, the box had also contained a set of hooked metal rods for hanging them over head. The little magic lights would remain stationary in the air in whatever position they were released in while activated, though a warning on the side of the box announced that they were not rated for unnatural winds.

There were more than two placement poles, but the pair were putting up the lanterns themselves rather than risk someone else tearing one or getting it stuck in a difficult-to-retrieve position. It was one of those jobs that the officers ended up doing themselves because it was the only way to make sure it was done properly, like putting posters up in what were thought of as the sketchier dormitories.

In years past, no one had seemed to care about that sort of thing, but after multiple fusses verging on uproars in the previous years, the campus life office had come down hard. Any advertising the SAC did in the residence halls had to cover all residence halls in proportion to their size.

It was a hassle, but rules like that made it easier to ascend the ranks… or rather, being willing to put up with them did.

“Oops… I think we’d better raise these lanterns a bit,” one of them said.

“I don’t think we can get them any higher,” the other said. “Anyway, isn’t that plenty high?”

“What if Belinda shows up? Or the other half-ogre? Or the bull guy?”

“He graduated last year, if you ever paid attention to skirmish. I think they’re high enough… I mean, it’s not like even an ogre could actually hit its heads on these, is it?”

“No, but it’s a dance… people are going to be putting their hands in the air and jumping and stuff.”

“Good point. I’ll go see if I can find a broomhandle or something so we can push them up.”

“Get a stepladder! We’re going to need to get them back down.”

Several yards away, Tasha found herself glad for a temporary break in the chatter between the two activity directors. She frowned at the two slightly greenish oblong crystals she’d set on the table in front of her, the points of the spires facing each other… mostly. Every time she tried to link them together, they repelled each other slightly instead of snapping together into a harmonic configuration like they were supposed to.

“Why won’t these things resonate?” she said.

“Check the labels,” Evan said, and she flipped them over and scowled.

“Wait, what?” she said. She glanced at the row box she’d pulled the paired crystals… or the crystals she had thought were a pair from. The only empty spaces were side by side. “They aren’t the same album… but they were in the same slot. This one’s blank.”

“They were in the same slot, yes, but that doesn’t mean they were both in the right slot.”

“Does that happen a lot?” she asked.

“No, but it does happen… because someone put them in the wrong slot,” he said. “Because the last guy messed them up. Or because you were careless and in a hurry, like you were now.”

He held out another crystal to her, and she handed him the faulty one as she took it.

“Or because you mixed them up on purpose to catch me out,” she said.

“I mixed them up to see if you’d catch it,” he said. “If you’re not checking them when you pull them out, you won’t check them when you put them back… and you always have time to check. So you always check. Okay? Now show me how you align them.”

With matching crystals, she got them lined up and softly thrumming in under a second.

“See?” he said. “A few seconds to check and you can get it set up in no time. Now, a dance like this you want to start with something high-energy and recognizable, something that lets everyone know where the party is. The opening set is what sets the tone for the rest of the dance. But here’s the thing: you don’t want to use all your best songs too early. You want to have something to peel the wallflowers off the wall after they’ve had a chance to get comfortable, and something for them to move to when you do.”

Tasha nodded. She already knew that she wouldn’t be the one choosing the playlist for the night… technically she was shadowing Evan while he CJed. But she was thinking about songs she would play in different circumstances, just in case he put her on the spot… and she had a feeling he would.

“Remember,” Evan continued. “Crystal magic is finicky, but it’s the only way… or at least the best way… to make music for a crowd like this. A simple music box is fine for instrumental pieces. Illusionary sounds work great in a small space, but they fall off too quickly. To create actual music on demand you need a resonant echo, which means crystals.”

Tasha nodded. She knew all this… mostly… but Evan was supposed to be mentoring her, and he liked to go over things again and again.

“That’s not to say we don’t use illusions,” he said. “That’s the trick to getting the perfect sound: you fake it. We have an illusionary soundtrack backing up the actual resonant one. One of the secrets of really great crystal-flipping is watching the crowd and adjusting the balance on the fly… when people are just hanging out and chilling, you ramp up the illusion a little bit so that everyone can hear the tunes wherever they are but it’s not drowning anyone out. On the other hand if people are being rude fuckers and they’re drowning out the tunes… or you want to boost the energy and get more people out on the floor… you fade back the illusion and boost the volume on the real sound.”

“Mick said the rule of thumb is more illusion on slow songs, more resonance on fast songs,” Tasha said.

“Yeah, that’s the rule of thumb, but if you’re going to reduce everything to a formula we might as well replace you with an air golem,” Evan said. “This is an art, okay? You can make or break a party. Follow the guidelines when you’re starting out, but keep your eye on the crowd and look for ways to give them a better experience. Now, you want to use more illusion on the slow songs because that way everybody’s hearing it the same and it’s like they’re in a world by themselves with their partners. Real sound hits them where they can feel it and reminds them that they’re part of a crowd. Also, fast songs tend to be loud songs, and again, large-scale illusions tend to fuzz out easily. Something downtempo gives you more wiggle room there. Though the illusion always enhances the real sound, never replaces it.

“Now, we’ve got walls of sound set up around the dance floor… technically they’re walls of silence only they’re like fifty percent sound-permeable. They mean we can pump more volume into the pent without getting complaints, but it also means we don’t have to… the music’s not getting out and it’s not competing with as much. We’re outside the perimeter… it makes a nasty loop between our crystals and the resonators otherwise… so what we hear isn’t going to be what the dancers hear. That’s why we wear the seashells. You can take one off when someone’s talking to you, but you need a shell on one ear at all times or you don’t really know what you’re doing.”

While Tasha was learning the ropes, Eloise Desjardins crouched on the ground near one joint in the five-sided sidewalk around the dance floor. When she touched the grass with her fingers and concentrated, she could feel the artificial lines of power formed by the spells running through the path, and the invisible sound-reflecting curtain formed between the crystal-studded pylons that had been set up just inside its elbows.

These things were more glaring and obvious than the undercurrent she was searching for, which was the natural flow of magic under the earth, but when she found it and took hold of it, it was clear that it was stronger.

She nodded to the geomancer in coveralls who was standing nearby.

“Got it,” she said. “They did a pretty rough job when they bumped up the seals on the sidewalks… I mean rough as in forceful and inconsiderate, not shoddy… but the flow is already smoothing out and diverting around it. I don’t think we’re going to have any more fields buckling or exploding this year.”

“Thanks for the second opinion,” the geomancer said. “I have the damnedest time sorting out the natural lines so close to the sidewalks. I don’t know how you do it.”

“It’s called learning to trace leylines in the city,” Eloise said. “The first time I went out into the bayou and got away from all the artificial power structures, I was amazed at how clear and bright everything was… I was used to thinking of natural lines as something murky and buried deep. Especially in my part of town.”

“Well, I’ve got other junctures to check tonight, but this was the most important one and the only one I wasn’t sure of,” the geomancer said. “Thanks again for your help.”

“No problem!” Eloise said, and then she wandered over to the refreshment table.

“Hey, are you serving already?” she asked the young woman who was setting cups out next to a set of three punchbowls: one orange, one blue, and one red. The bowls were frost-rimed and had a jagged-edged crystalline look. Their contents matched their colors.

“Sure, let me dip you some out,” the woman said. “What flavor do you want?”

“Is the red strawberry?”

“It’s fruit punch.”

“What flavor is blue?”

“Raspberry,” she said.

“I’ll take that, then,” Eloise said, and gratefully accepted a cup. “Thank you… those bowls are really cool!”

“Thanks! And that’s literally true… they’re actually made out of ice, so it’ll keep the punch chilled all night. My own personal invention.”

“Did you make them out of frozen punch?”

“Yeah,” she said. “The same stuff that’s in the bowl, in fact… that’s actually part of the spell. It uses the composition of the ice as a template. Pour anything in that’s not part of the template, and the whole thing freezes solid. Perfect anti-spiking spell. After the hijinks at Veil last year, campus life requires some kind of protection for the drinks… not that anybody ever proved that the drinks were spiked there.”

“Still, that’s pretty slick.”

“Much slicker than my first draft,” she said. “Originally I had it set to dispel itself if it detected a violation. Made one hell of a mess… and I didn’t think about who was going to be standing right next to it when it went off. The next dance the SAC did there were so many spikings that I think word must have gone around and people were doing it on purpose. I mean, trying to trigger the spell. Obviously people don’t usually spike drinks by accident.”

“Yeah,” Eloise said. “That’s really neat.”

“Are you sticking around for the dance?”

“Might as well for a little bit,” she said. “You never know who’s going to show up.”

Tales of MU is presented this month by Amy Amethyst.

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17 Responses to “OT: How Things Work (Dance Party Edition)”

  1. Anne says:

    I’m first? Oh my! Wonderful chapter, thank you for sharing.

    Current score: 0
  2. Fred says:

    This was great! I love the “behind the scenes” chapters.

    Current score: 0
  3. Billy Bob says:

    “Thank you… those bowls is really cool!”


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  4. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom. Nommy tales of the dance from different viewpoints.

    Current score: 0
  5. Brenda says:

    So does the entire bowl of punch freeze, or just the stuff someone was trying to slip into it?

    Current score: 1
  6. Zathras IX says:

    Beware the power
    Of the light from magical
    Green paper lanterns

    Current score: 1
  7. Month says:

    Anti spiking mechanism. Now why couldn’t we have something like that here.

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    • Zergonapal says:

      We get chemical reaction swizzle sticks.

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  8. Zergonapal says:

    I really appreciated the smooth jump from one viewpoint to another, it flowed really well.

    Current score: 0
  9. Iason says:

    “that’s why we wear the seashells” – lol
    Thanks for another good chapter. These little tidbits are what makees MU feel so alive to me.

    Current score: 0
    • Zergonapal says:

      Oh, he really said seashell, I read it as earshells.

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  10. Burnsidhe says:

    Hmm. So does that mean that there’s portable crystal earpiece music players? I think “Boombox” might have a somewhat different connotation in a world with evocations of fire.

    And crystallomancers must be in pretty high demand. I can see crystals as being the foundation of communication devices of all sorts in the MU universe. They are in the real world, after all. Magic just allows them to skip some of the physical devices needed to translate piezo-electric activity into sound.

    Current score: 0
  11. Crissa says:

    This was a great chapter, I hope it wasn’t too hard to create ^-^ ‘Cause I’d love to see this sorta pan-and-peer again.

    Current score: 0
  12. JS says:

    I super liked this chapter. The story seems to be flowing so much more smoothly lately. I’m really enjoying it! (And I’ll be able to donate more often when my husband gets a job…)

    Current score: 0
  13. Erm says:

    Nice exposition on the Magi-Tech stuff. It’s fascinating that with recorded music already creating an illusion of actual instruments, you can also get illusory sound. An illusion of an illusion.

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  14. pedestrian says:

    fascinating look into the… well i guess we can’t call it machinery.

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