Jason sat dejectedly in the library, holding up a spell book the size of a paving stone. The contents were all gibberish to him, but the weight was inconsequential. The cover was actually two slabs of sheet rock, so it would have made a rather serviceable paving stone at that.
A spell tome and a spell book were in fact two uniquely different things. Not that Jason cared, but having the lesson ground into his skull so many times it was impossible to think about either without identifying it as such. Apparently, the two types of books were so different that the wrong one could kill you.
A spell book, as it was explained, contained information on how to use magic. It was sometimes written in a readable tongue(that is, there were actual words and letters that supposedly meant something to the lay-person, as apposed to the mage-script, which could only be read by magic-users and communicated intent, rather than actually knowledge) and included instructions on how to cast spells, use magic, weave enchantments, etc. A spell book was a tool for learning how to use magic.
A spell tome was a very different thing. It contained actual spells. That is, spell-forms were drawn on the pages using magical materials, essentially permanent enchantments. These forms could become very complicated, far more so than those that could easily be memorized. All that was required to activate the form was to feed energy into it, and provide any other specified elements.
The key difference lay in the creation. While spell books could usually only be read by mages, they could in fact be copied by anyone. The Citadel included an army of scribes who transposed books, thus preserving them through the ages. A misprint could be disastrous, so the scribes were always under intense pressure to complete their task flawlessly. Apparently, the concept of moveable type hadn’t yet occurred to anyone working to maintain the libraries.
Tomes, on the other hand, were in fact magical artifacts by nature, and could thus only be created by a mage skilled in the art of tome-crafting. They were exceptionally rare, irreplaceably valuable, and really, really boring.
So Jason was always careful to grab books instead of tomes, like the paving-stone-sized volume in his lap.
Hidden inside of it, much like a comic tucked inside a textbook, he had a fantasy novel he’d filched from the one of the child-care rooms—there were actually quite a few families living there—and the novel, while not his preferred choice of reading material, was better than nothing.
Nothing still being preferable to the boring spell book. It was an odd thing, having grown up on stories more like the silly children’s novel, but spells books were really very boring. He’d been excited, at first, peeking inside with boyish delight, hoping to unlock a vast treasure-trove of mystery and wonder. But, really, a spellbook was little more than some mage writing about his feelings. It was part bad poetry, part whining, and very little useful knowledge.
Now, that was just the parts written in real words. There was also the mystical, dancing sorcerer’s script, which could only be read by a mage. It didn’t really ‘say’ anything, but basically contained the same information. Feelings. Need, intent, that was apparently what magic was all about.
That was why you had to be so careful with the tomes. Magic is guided by intent, so you must be very careful, and sure of your intent when holding one. The books, meanwhile, all sounded like they’d been written by struggling abstract artists, desperately trying to explain to their critics why their paintings were really full of meaning and symbolism.
Jason had actually brought along a large stash of comic books upon first arrival, but he hadn’t had the opportunity to replenish them. He’d managed to burn through the entire stack in about three afternoons.
And so the kiddy books came.
“This is so unfair,” Jason complained to Denna. “This boy’s got it so easy. Just wave the wand and say the magic words and poof! You can do whatever the heck you want!”
Magic was, as it happens, dramatically more complex than that.
The rawest form of the energy began life deep underground, where it was carried to the surface by volcanic eruptions, natural springs, or any number of other natural processes. The raw form then collected on the surface, much like water, forming lakes and streams and even pools. Because it is affected by gravity, it will often follow natural water courses.
The raw energy can be scooped up and used to cast or weave spells in any number of inventive ways. Dealing with the power in this way is known as ‘exomagic’, because it comes from without.
And, again like water, the power is absorbed by plants. Animals then eat the plants, and other things eat those animals; and thus, there is a little bit of magical energy in all things. It’s needed for proper cell division, for your heart to beat, so it is vital that everyone get a little of the stuff.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there.
As it passes through plants and herbivores and finally carnivores, the energy is refined into a purer, more potent form. This energy is then stored in cells of all living things, including people, from where it can be drawn and used to cast spells. In most complex organisms(like humans, or in Jason’s case, werewolves), it tends to find itself mostly in the muscle tissue. Magic from within is known as ‘endomagic’.
Wherever the power comes from, be it endo or exo, the ability to control it is tied very directly to physical strength. Willpower plays a major role in the enterprise, but ultimately physical strength is a key factor. It is for this reason that men make better mages than women, though all it takes to make up the difference is a particularly buff chick.
Ultimately, however, the power is called fourth out of need. The secret, then, to using magic, is learning to create that need.
Making a spell is like making a mold. The power then flows into this, and forms the shape of the spell. This is why two and three dimensional spell-forms can aid in the casting of specific spells: they are the shape the power is to become.
Of course, this was all in the most simplified explanation ever devised, and yet it still flew quite far over the head of poor Jason. He had actually managed more than a little magic, but never the same spell twice, and almost always by accident. Still, the constant lectures had managed to make a lot of theory sink in, and he always made a point to memorize just enough to parrot back the right answers on exam day.
“Sometimes it’s almost that simple,” Denna shrugged and stuck out her lower lip in that special way that always meant she was condescending to Jason. “There are wands, you know. I’ve read about wands that contain a specific series of spell-forms, with voice-activation that allows you to name a specific form, and then cast that spell simply by pouring magic into it.”
“Yeah, but even those things aren’t really that easy,” Jason waved. “You still have to know how to draw and channel the power into it; and then it’s only got a specific number of forms built-in. You don’t get to just cast any spell you can name, if it wasn’t included when the wand was made, you’re out of luck. Oh, and to make it even more interesting, if you screw up, it can totally explode in your face.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Denna agreed, flipping back her long, silken hair, and making Jason wonder if now was the right time to make the move. “But, keep in mind; it IS a poorly-written fantasy novel for children. I doubt the author had any idea it would find its way into the hands of actual mages.”
“Damn skippy,” Jason nodded.
As he spoke he held his arm up and waved his hand around mimicking the movements of a magic wand. Denna smirked and let out a little laugh, then glanced down again at her book just as Naomi sauntered up.
She didn’t regularly commute between the tower and the citadel below. She’d spend a few weeks at one or the other, only making the journey between the two when the need arose. Lately, she only ever seemed to visit her apartments up top-side when the mages took to the tower to cast a spell.
“Hello, Jason,” she said pleasantly. “Rehearsing your spell forms?”
“You know it,” Jason grinned, rapidly making several signs with his outstretched hand. “Pretty good, eh?”
“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that form,” Naomi said, cocking her head to the side curiously.
“Well, you can’t know EVERY form in the book,” Jason shrugged, pretending to glance back down at the volume and study it intently.
“I wrote that book,” Naomi replied, glaring down her nose at Jason.
Jason could feel his ears burning as he did his best not to look too guilty. He was actually quite good at it. Unsurprisingly; the ability to not look guilty had been his most important survival skill while growing up. And there had been an awful lot of practice…
The sorceress leaned over and snatched the paperback novel out of Jason’s lap, holding it up accusingly.
“How do you ever expect to get a working education reading trash like this?!” she demanded.
“Well, if you’d provide us with some decent literature, things would be a lot better,” Jason replied defensively. “Some Hermiod, or Augustian, or… that guy… you know, the bald one? Who wrote all that stuff about Uther?”
The novel erupted into flames in Naomi’s hands, then the column of fire resolved itself into a juvenile hawk with brown and grey feathers, which perched on her wrist for a moment to craw at Jason angrily, before taking flight and sweeping low over the heads of some stunned junior students.
“You are here to learn the true arts of magic,” Naomi stated unequivocally. “Not to read poorly written trash about angsty teenage boys with magical powers. When do you intend to get serious about your studies, Jason?”
“Uhhh… how’s tomorrow morning work for you?” Jason asked, glancing at his watch. “Say… nine-ish?”
The hawk finished its circle and alighted on Naomi’s shoulder, cawing at Jason again in a very accusatory way.
“You disappoint, Jason,” Naomi stated. “At every turn, you disappoint.”
She turned on her heal and marched out of the library, while Jason’s book flew up into the rafters and began making a nest for itself. Jason let out a long sigh as he watched the bird peck and perch, always glancing over at him and narrowing its eyes menacingly.
“You don’t disappoint me,” Denna smiled over her spell book. “Ummm… can I see that one for a bit?”
“Sure,” Jason passed the volume to her and then leaned back in his chair, staring abjectly out into space. It was hard to get angry, Naomi was supposed to be pushing him—him specifically, not any of the other students, but him directly—to succeed, to better himself, and he really wasn’t trying.The trouble was, she never really did anything more than bark at him for not succeeding, and he really had no idea why he kept failing. Except, perhaps, for how much more boring magic really was than he imagined it should be.