"It makes a beam," said the young wizard, rolling his eyes. "Look, I'll show you."
With that, he opened his own Rune surface with a wave of his hand. Patiently, the Arch Mage watched as the young wizard constructed his own version of the "Beam" Spell and Casted it.
"Almost," said the Arch Mage. "But I asked, 'What does this Spell do?'"
"Yeah, and I just showed you," said the young wizard in a tone that made it clear that he felt he deserved his own Arch Mage robes already.
"You showed me the final observable effect of the Magic," said the Arch Mage. "But there's more to the story. Where does Magic begin?"
The young wizard scratched his head. "In the Aether."
"And your demonstration only shows the part of the magic observable in the World."
"How can I show you something I can't see?" said the young wizard.
"There are many ways to make the invisible visible," said the Arch Mage, "but the easiest is to paint a picture in my mind with words. Tell me the story of the (beam) Spell. Begin with the moment it is Cast. Tell me the struggles the Magic goes through, the transformations and evolutions. Tell me what form the Magic takes when it Crosses to our World. And tell me what adventures befall the Magic after its arrival here. And tell me how those adventures result in the beam of light we both see here." The Arch Mage gestured at the column of fire towering above them both
The young wizard's shoulders sank. "I don't know that story -- just the beginning and the end."
"As did I, when I first arrived at the academy," said the Arch Mage. "The deeper our stories, the greater our power. I will tell you the story of that Spell, if you like."
"Very much," said the young wizard.
"Remind me," said the Arch Mage. "What is the definition of Magic?"
The young wizard recited: "Any Aetherial or Wordly effect resulting from a Spell being Cast."
"Exactly. Any effect," said the Arch Mage. "Magic is a word that encompasses a lot. If the Spell results in the calculation of the fifteen thousandth prime number in the Aether before Crossing to our World, is that Magic?"
"Yes?" said the young wizard.
"And if, after Crossing," said the Arch Mage, "that number is multiplied by two, is that multiplication also Magic?"
"Yes?" said the young wizard.
"Even if the result of that multiplication never results in any observable effect?"
"Yes? I thought you were going to tell me a story..."
"I am," said the Arch Mage, "as quickly as I can. But we need more common language first. Stories can always be told more quickly when one uses as few words as possible. And the best words take a complicated idea and slice it in half. What word would you use for Magic whose effects are not observable?"
"Hidden Magic, I suppose?" said the young wizard.
"And what shall we call the opposite of Hidden Magic?"
"Unhidden?" said the young wizard. "I changed my mind. Can we call them Invisible and Visible?"
"We can call them whatever you wish," said the Arch Mage. "As long as they are a pair of words you'll remember."
Suddenly the young wizard's face lit up. "So there are at least four kinds of magic," he said. "Magic can happen in the Aether or in the World. And it can be Invisible or Visible."
"Can you write a Spell to draw a picture that will help us remember this new discovery?"
The young wizard immediately began arranging Runes and text on his surface. Finally, he cast his Spell, which produced another surface with a table on it:
"Back home," said the young wizard, "the village elders classified magic differently: fire magic, water magic, etc. But this..." He shook his head in awe: "It feels..."
"Deeper?" said the Arch Mage.
The boy nodded.
"Other classifications aren't wrong," said the Arch Mage. "But this way of thinking will help you understand all other ways -- and more importantly, it will let you invent new ways. Let us continue. Can you give me an example of Aetherial Visible Magic?"
"I suppose it's like what I just did to create the diagram here." He gestured at the surface in the air, still displaying the four kinds of magic. "It's Magic that has effects only in the Aether, and Visible only because we can peer into the Aether through a surface."
"And Invisible Magic," said the Arch Mage, "does it have a purpose?"
The young wizard thought for a long time. "I suppose that any Magic that is entirely Invisible must be quite pointless -- like a tree falling in a forest with no one around."
"Then why did we bother naming something pointless?" said the Arch Mage with a faint smile.
"I suppose," said the young wizard, "most Magic must consist of both Visible parts and Invisible parts. Like, if some Magic does something very complicated and Invisible for a few thousand years and then, finally, at the end, it does something Visible right at the end -- to let us know how the last thousand years went -- then it wasn't pointless at all."
For the first time since the young wizard's arival at the academy, the Arch Mage seemed truly proud. Quitely, he said, "I think you are destined for great things."
The boy looked away before his blush could show.
"We are ready," said the Arch Mage, "to return to the story of the (beam) spell. Show it to me again on your surface."
"A deceptively simple Spell," said the Arch Mage. "So much of its journey is Invisible. And, as is often the case, it is best for us to understand that journey by slicing it in half. I will call the first part Compilation and the second part Interpretation. Two more kinds of Magic."
The boy's face fell. "Two more!"
"I'm afraid so," said the Arch Mage. "But is it really so bad?"
"Two more kinds means there are really eight now! You seem to think that slicing things in half leads to simplicity, but I'm beginning to think it makes things more complicated." He began listing: "Invisible Aetherial Compilation, Invisible Aetherial Interpretation, Invisible Worldly Compilation, Invisible Wordly Interp--"
"Yes, yes," said the Arch Mage. "No need to list them all. Luckily, not all are equally important. The (beam) spell was created by--"
"The (beam) Spell was created," exclaimed the young wizard. "By who? How do you create new Spells?"
"I can see this lesson has begun to overwhelm. You need some sleep." He silenced the boy's protests with a wave of his hand. "I will tell you the story of how Spells are created some other time. Before our next lesson, I want you to check out a tome from the academy library. It is called Exegesis and Critiques of the Popular 'Aetherial Compilation / Worldly Interpretation Model' for Spell System Construction"
The boy gulped.
"Just read the intro," said the Arch Mage. "Under this well-known model, Compilation happens in solely in the Aether and Interpretation happens solely in the World. Come prepared to tell me why that is. Oh, and have the canonical definitions of Compilation and Interpretation memorized."
The boy turned to leave, eyes glazed over. "Thank you, Arch Mage," he murmured.
- Stephen R. Foster
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