3 – 3

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Professor Yornhaldt was usually precisely punctual, but on Monday the students arrived in his classroom to find him already present, carefully drawing a diagram on the blackboard. He greeted them distractedly, not looking up from his task, and they let him be.

The eight freshmen were an undersized class for the lecture halls they occupied, and had tended to spread out to fill the space, but since their excursion into the Golden Sea, by unspoken consensus they had begun sitting together in a tighter group. Everyone had shared trauma; several had had cause to worry that they’d not see some of the others again. There had been no awkward or intimate conversations, at least not that Trissiny had been party to, but they were more comfortable together.

Which was nice, except that everyone was being awfully solicitous toward her since the incident on Saturday morning. It was starting to grate on her nerves.

Yornhaldt’s punctuality remained downright uncanny. At precisely the class’s starting time, he finished his drawing, stepped back from the board, and tapped it once with a thick forefinger. The chalk lines began to glow gently, standing out against the dark background, and he turned with a smile.

“Good morning, class,” he repeated with more enthusiasm. “Today’s lesson marks a new phase in our exploration of the subject of magic. Thus far, we have dealt with the broadest generalities, the universal facts common to magic itself, and thus all branches thereof. Now, we shall begin to narrow our focus into an exploration of the individual forms magic can take. Who among you recognizes this diagram?”

Circle of Interaction

“Ooh!” Fross shot straight upward in eagerness. “That’s the Circle of Interaction!”

“Just so!” Yornhaldt said, beaming. “As I expected from our resident arcane arts major.”

“I thought it was called the Circles of Interaction,” Gabriel said.

“The terms are interchangeable,” replied the Professor. “In practical terms, it makes little difference, though among theorists there is some quibbling over whether the interactions of the four branches of magic form one circle or multiple intersecting ones. In the end, there is nothing to it but semantics. For our purposes, you may call it what you will.”

He stepped to one side to give them a clear view of the diagram and held out one hand; a long, slim stick of polished wood appeared silently in his grip. With this, he began tapping parts of the image in turn as he explained them. “You will note, first of all, the four small circles at the upper, lower, left and right positions on the perimeter. Each of these represents one of the four classifications of magical energy. Clockwise from the top: the divine, the fae, the infernal and the arcane. I apologize for my artistic skills; the illustrations are really the least important part of the diagram. What matters is their position.”

Each of the four small circles had an image drawn within. The ankh symbol of the Universal Church occupied the uppermost position, signifying divine energy.

“Is that a tree or a leaf on the fae one?” asked Gabriel.

“It works either way,” Teal said, grinning. “What I want to know is why arcane magic is symbolized by an eye?”

“An old tradition,” Yornhaldt rumbled. “And, as I say, not really the point…”

“What’s that thing on the bottom?” Gabriel asked. “The twisty, spiky circle deal?”

“A wreath,” Trissiny said quietly, and a momentary hush fell.

Professor Yornhaldt quickly took advantage of it to bring the discussion back on track. “Again, what is important is the position of each of these with relationship to one another. The Circle of Interaction is just that: it describes the way magical powers interact when exposed to each other. This diagram connects each to each of the others by one line, and it is the position of those lines which delineate the nature of their interactions. There are three kinds: first, the opposite actions.”

He traced the horizontal and vertical lines quadrisecting the circle with his pointer. “It is widely known that the divine and the infernal are in direct opposition. Less commonly understood in the modern age is that a similar relationship exists between arcane and fae energies; this is why, in our new era of increasingly widespread enchantment, fairies of all kinds are becoming a rarer sight within Imperial territory. The more arcane magic becomes commonplace in our society, the more hazards abound for them.”

Yornhaldt turned from the diagram to face them directly, idly tapping his pointer against his broad palm. “Opposing magical interactions tend to be…violent. These are two sets of forces which attempt, by their very nature, to snuff each other out in the most brutal fashion possible. The visible effects are often flashy, and potentially dangerous in some cases. It is also important to note that the contest—and make no mistake, it is very much a contest—always comes down to a quantity of raw energy. In most cases, the skill and intelligence with which you wield magic counts for far more than your mana pool, but when you are flinging spells of a certain kind against spells of the opposite kind, the spell with more oomph behind it will triumph. If it is a close difference, it may be an empty sort of triumph, leaving the ‘victorious’ spell ragged, unstable and useless. It is for this reason that the clashes between diabolists and clerics have always tended to be particularly brutal. Victory in that kind of contest means bludgeoning your opponent down with as much overkill as you can muster.”

He lifted his eyebrows, pausing for a moment to glance across their group as if waiting for questions or comments. When none were forthcoming, he turned again to the diagram and traced his pointer around it.

“As you can see on the exterior of the main circle, there are arrowed lines indicating movement in a clockwise direction. This is the Circle of Interference… Which is sometimes known as the Circle of Annihilation, but as that term is both needlessly melodramatic and less than accurate, we won’t be using it in this class. I mention it only so you will know what is being referenced if you encounter the term in your reading. Ahem… The directional markings indicate which power interferes with which. For example, the divine is disruptive to the fae; fae magic disrupts infernal, and so on and so forth, around the circle. These interactions are much gentler in nature. Rather than being an outright contest of power, the interfering form of energy simply causes the interfered to fizzle, to sputter out into nothingness. Quantities of energy are a factor, but a much less significant one. Very minor diabolic spells, for instance, can still disrupt arcane magic of significant strength, which is a major reason—aside from the obvious, that is—why diabolism is in disfavor in the modern world. Warlocks can do incalculable damage to a modern enchantment production line simply by being there. Spells of roughly equal strength cast into opposition will usually cause the complete negation of the spell from the school of magic positioned clockwise on the circle.”

“What about when the interfering form of magic is much stronger than the interfered?”

“Then, Ms. Avelea, a great deal of energy is wasted. There is no reason to dump a bathtub full of water on a campfire when a bucket will suffice.”

“And that’s why Juniper is impervious to warlock spells!” Fross said brightly.

“Indeed,” Yornhaldt said, his eyes crinkling in amusement. “I’ve heard some details of your adventure in the Golden Sea. Yes, despite her lack of offensive spells, our Ms. Juniper is a magical powerhouse, as it were. There are few fairies more well-stocked with energy than dryads. Casting infernal magic at a dryad is very much like pelting the ocean with fireballs.”

He traced the pointer around the inner edge of the circle in the opposite direction. “Moving counter-clockwise, we have the Circle of Augmentation. Whereas the previous two forms of magical interaction are naturally occurring—if you bring such and such powers into contact, what follows will be a simple matter of natural law—this describes a type of interaction which requires a certain amount of expertise to put into effect. It has, in fact, been a point of debate among the wizarding community for many a year whether it even deserved to be recognized in the Circle, but the form of this diagram as you see it now has been in use for more than two centuries. The expertise needed to use the Circle of Augmentation is really quite minimal in all cases, but its forms are different, depending on which school of magic one is using.

“What this means is that, if one knows how, one can absorb magic of a given school, redirecting it and using it to power spells of the school counter-clockwise on the Circle.”

Again, he gave them a moment to consider. This time there were frowns and murmurs as the class digested the implications of this.

“Wait,” Gabriel said. “That means… Hell, every school of magic is a complete trump card to the one before. Is that right? It seems…weird. Like, there should be more, I dunno, balance.” He shifted in his seat. “And yes, we can now have the obligatory comments about how an eighteen-year-old ignoramus doesn’t need to be criticizing the laws of magic.”

“Well, Mr. Arquin,” Yornhaldt said with a smile, “for a teenage ignoramus, you strike very close to the heart of the greatest debate in magical theory. The fact is, we don’t know why the interactions are what they are, and it puzzles and infuriates many of the wizards who study magic. Very many, including those who have made the study of magic their life’s work, keep coming back to the same point you articulated: it seems wrong. In nearly all other aspects, nature appears to seek a balance between opposing forces. When it comes to magical forces, however, there is an overall balance of a sort, but it is that of dogs chasing each others’ tails. Whatever the reason, you are quite correct: if you are any kind of spellcaster, you absolutely do not want to be in an altercation with anything that stands counter-clockwise from you on the Circle of Interaction.”

He half-turned so he was staring at the glowing chalk diagram. “This fact has done much to form the nature of magical society as it stands today. Fairykind have always avoided temples and other holy places. Many a powerful wizard has been brought low by a fairly inexperienced warlock. The very same Black Wreath cultists who aggressively seek out and attack clerics will flee in a panic from a village witch or wandering satyr. The long-standing cultural tension between the Church and the wizarding community has little to do with any hostility on the part of wizards, but rather with the vulnerability of the Church’s agents. No one who considers themselves a representative of the gods’ will enjoys being at a painful disadvantage.”

Yornhaldt shook his head as if to clear it, then traced his pointer across the diagonal lines intersecting the Circle. “There is a final point of these interactions which we must cover, and that is the imbalance in the Circles of Augmentation and Interference. You will note these straight lines, moving from the upper right to the opposite side. These indicate the fairly balanced nature of these interactions. However, see how the lines crossing in the other direction are considerably wider at one point and narrower at the other? That is because this,” he tapped the arc between fae and infernal magic with the pointer, and then the one opposite, between the arcane and divine, “is considerably stronger than this. Fairy magic is an absolute menace to diabolic magic of any kind, to an extent which goes well beyond any other interaction on this circle. Very few fae have anything to fear from the infernal; in fact, some species of fairies which are not noted otherwise to be predatory make a habit of hunting demons and draining them of energy. Conversely, the interfering effect of the arcane against the divine is substantially muted, compared to the other interactions between magics. Wizard spells do disrupt deific workings…somewhat. They are not nearly so effective at it as any other school is at disrupting its clockwise counterpart.”

“Why?” asked Toby.

The Professor shrugged exaggeratedly. “That, Mr. Caine, is something a great many people would give a great deal to know. It is what it is. The Circle simply is not fair; it is not necessarily reasonable. It was just not designed to be.”

“Who says it has to be designed at all?” Ruda asked. “Sometimes, things are just what they are.”

“The gods had their say in every aspect of the world’s creation,” Trissiny said.

“Oh, will you stow that already,” Ruda groaned, rolling her eyes. “The modern gods are like eight thousand years old; they didn’t make the world.”

“If I were a god, though,” Teal said, “I’d definitely set things up so my followers’ natural enemies were at an unfair disadvantage. Which seems to be pretty much what happened.”

“I fear I must step on Professor Tellwyrn’s toes somewhat,” Yornhaldt rumbled, “as it is simply not possible to cover the origins of magic without delving into history. You are correct; the gods have had their say. Magic, as we have discussed previously, is simply a means of classifying certain kinds of interactions of matter and energy. It has assuredly always existed, in some form or another, because it is a fundamental part of existence. The schools of magic as we know them, however, are the direct work of gods. They stem, specifically, from the events of the Elder War in which the modern Pantheon arose.” Again, he tapped relevant points on the Circle of Interaction as he spoke. “The divine as we know it was the gift of the new gods to the people of the world; using the energies of the slain Elder Gods, they created a field of energy by which they were bound to the world and the mortal races, which we mortals can access and use with their blessing. The fae and infernal schools, however, each owe their existence to one of the only two surviving Elder Gods, the two who remained neutral in the war and thus did not fall afoul of the rising Pantheon. Fairy magic is, of course, the gift of Naiya. The infernal was the…ahem, gift…of Scyllith, the original goddess of evil and queen of demons.”

“Wait, what?” Gabriel straightened up, frowning. “I thought Elilial was the queen of demons.”

“She certainly is now,” Yornhaldt said, nodding. “But before the Elder War, Elilial was an ally of the gods who would go on to form the Pantheon. Her betrayal came after the war’s resolution, at which point she was cast into Hell by her former compatriots. There, she overthrew Scyllith, whom she expelled to the lowest points of the Underworld. Today, Elilial rules Hell and Scyllith rules the majority of the drow, save those nearest the surface who follow Themynra.”

“Huh,” Gabriel mused, frowning into the distance.

“All of which, I fear, is getting us somewhat off track. Elder Gods are…a thing unto themselves. Pound for pound, they are substantially more powerful than the younger generation of deities, but they are more diffuse, more rooted in the nature of the world and less able to act independently. Thus, these two dispersed their own natures across creation, giving us these forms of magic.”

“What of the arcane?” Shaeine asked. “I am not aware of any deity having had a hand in its creation.”

Again, Yornhaldt spread his hands. “That, Ms. Awarrion, is another mystery. Given the provenance of the other schools of magic, it does certainly seem that the arcane ought to have been created by some deity or other. But of this, we know nothing. No god has claimed credit; none seem interested in discussing the matter, though that may or may not be significant as gods do not tend to dwell on any subject not of immediate interest to their designs.”

He sighed heavily. “And with that, we must depart the realm of pure theory and come to more…practical matters.”

“Ooh, I love practical matters,” Ruda said, grinning. “This is where we learn how to kick different kinds of magical ass, right?”

“As a rule,” Professor Yornhaldt said, looking almost pained, “I don’t encourage my pupils to think in combative terms. It distracts from the academic nature of these pursuits and, sometimes, tends to exacerbate preexisting tendencies which… Well, your class is relatively close-knit, so perhaps that will not be such an issue as in other years. Suffice it to say, while we are discussing unfortunately…visceral…aspects of magical interactions, keep in mind that I am not suggesting you go out and do something.”

“Psst.” Ruda leaned over to nudge Trissiny with an elbow. “That means no stabbing anybody.”

She gave the pirate a sidelong look. “No promises.”

Ruda barked a laugh; Yornhaldt cleared his throat loudly.

“To proceed,” he said firmly, “we will now discuss the use of multiple forms of magic by individuals, with a specific eye toward taking advantage of magical interactions, and compensating for the weaknesses imposed by them.”

“Can you do that?” Gabriel asked, perking up. “Use more than one kind, I mean?”

“Uh, hello?” said Fross. “Fairy arcanist here. It’s a thing.”

“It is, indeed, a thing,” Yornhaldt said with a smile, “but your question is valid. The answer is…it depends. There are some paths of magical practice which preclude…multitasking, so to speak. Some followers of certain gods become so saturated with holy energies that they cannot sustain any other form of magic. Some demonologists become so hopelessly corrupted with infernal magic that they cannot use other forms, but rather aggressively hunt arcane power sources to feed their addiction. Certain kinds of fairies cannot use other forms of magic—”

“Can dryads?” Gabriel asked.

“Nope!” Juniper said brightly.

“…and, though it is by far more rare, there are wizards who become so immersed in the arcane that they are unable to make use of other schools. For the most part, however, and for most people, magic is a thing they do, or that they have, not a thing that they are. There is nothing stopping the majority of practitioners from branching out… Except the almost comically mundane barrier of time.”

“Time?” Toby frowned.

“There are only so many hours in a day,” Yornhaldt explained, grinning, “and so many days in a lifetime. Mastery of a school of magic is like any other craft: it demands a great investment of time and effort. Most multi-practitioners are specialized in a certain school of magic, with enough of a minor focus in a second one to offset their liabilities. Some do attempt to study three or even four schools, but there are inherent barriers that have little to do with the magic itself. Working magic is tiring, stressful; working multiple kinds imposes different kinds of stress, and combining too many leads to simple exhaustion. Also, everyone has to learn from someone—this is not the sort of thing you can pick up from a book—and few teachers are interested in spending their own valuable time and effort on a distracted pupil with scattered focus. Then, too, every hour spent studying an extra form of magic is one not spent studying a different one, and those hours add up quickly when they prevent one from delving deeply into the essence of a given school.”

Again, he raised his pointer to indicate the diagram. “The majority of secondary specializations fall into two categories: A practitioner will either study and pick up a few spells in the school against which their primary magic is strongest—that clockwise on the Circle from them—or, less commonly, they will learn some of the opposite school. There are usually cultural reasons why the second option is not done, though it does come with the significant benefit of having spells which are strong against the school which is strongest against their primary school. By the way, the cyclical nature of this discussion makes for tangled syntax,” he added ruefully. “Please don’t hesitate to stop and ask for clarification if I trip you up.”

Nobody took him up on it, but Shaeine did speak. “And, it seems, the benefit of the first and most common option is to have access to spells which diametrically oppose those which are most dangerous to the practitioner.”

“Precisely,” Yornhaldt said, nodding approvingly. “With the additional benefit that if a practitioner chooses this arrangement, he or she has access to a form of power which can be used to feed his or her primary spell arsenal. This arrangement, class, is downright commonplace. Many clerics know a little witchcraft; many witches practice a little diabolism, and it is unfortunately common for warlocks to know some arcane magic. The exception, again, falls at the point where the Circle of Interaction is weakest.” He tapped the upper left quadrant with his pointer. “It is considerably less common for wizards to know or use divine magic.”

“Is that an…inherent problem?” Toby asked. “Or more cultural?”

“To the extent that the culture is inherent to the magic, both. It is not uncommon for dwarves to be born with the ability to channel divine magic directly, without forming a pact with a deity, but this appears to be a peculiarity of my race. For most, the divine is accessible only by making a commitment to a god or goddess. Who, in turn, tend not to encourage their followers to practice the form of magic which is most disruptive to their workings.”

“What about picking up spells in the type of magic against which you’re weakest?” Trissiny asked.

“That,” said Yornhaldt, “is very occasionally done…but not easily. Using those spells can be highly disruptive to any workings one has in one’s primary focus. Possibly to one’s very self, depending on the circumstances. For example, Ms. Avelea, you could safely study and use some basic arcane enchantment, but you would need to be careful, or you’d run the risk of eroding the divine blessings on your weapons.”

He paused to grimace faintly. “Since we have broached the subject of combative interactions, it is worth noting that one of the major contributors to the Tiraan Empire’s military success is its practice of asymmetrical warfare. All units of the Imperial Army have attached casters—of all four varieties. In addition, the Empire fields squads made entirely of spellcasters, again, with a balance of the four schools represented. Thus, no matter what magical threat they come up against, they have on hand the means to counter it most effectively, and they are well-trained in identifying the nature of a foe and bringing up the relevant spellcaster without needing to stop and strategize.”

Professor Yornhaldt paused, staring abstractly into the distance. Oddly, he seemed to be wrestling with reluctance to continue, to judge by his expression. The students exchanged a round of uncertain glances.

“There is, of course, another means of wielding the power of multiple magics,” he said finally. When he returned his gaze to the class, it was serious, even grim. “How much have you heard about elven headhunters?”

For a moment, they were silent, several frowning at him.

“Headhunters are…um.” Gabriel’s tone was scornful, but he caught himself mid-sentence, apparently reconsidering whether the Professor would raise an obviously specious topic. “I thought they were a myth.”

“They’re real,” Trissiny said quietly, and grimly. “Rare, but real.”

“They are, officially, considered a nonexistent legend,” Professor Yornhaldt said. “This, class, is politics and nothing more. The nature of headhunters is such that they are an unmatched threat; when one trespasses into Imperial territory, it is dealt with swiftly and decisively by the Empire…to the extent that this is possible. Bringing down a headhunter usually results in a loss of personnel, but the Empire’s priority is always to keep the matter quiet. If it became known what they are, and that one is on the loose… ‘Panic’ would hardly begin to describe it.”

“Well, that’s bullshit,” Gabriel said, looking angry. “Where do they get off hiding the truth from the public?”

“That, Mr. Arquin, is one of the most common uses of governmental power anywhere. Allowing panic to spread is a quick way to make a disastrous situation even worse. It would be one thing if informing the public would help alleviate the problem, as with most natural disasters. However, mobilizing against a headhunter is simply not an option. Conventional troops are useless against them; the public would be little but a parade of victims. Worse, the specific nature of the creatures is such that large groups of people attempting to flee them tend to invite them to attack.”

“Wow,” said Fross. “Are they really that dangerous? And, y’know, mean?”

“I assure you, they are.”

“Okay… Second question.” She bobbed in the air. “What’s a headhunter?”

Professor Yornhaldt sighed heavily, clutching his pointer with both hands so hard it seemed about to break and staring at the ground. Finally, he looked up at them. “Once again, I must trespass on Professor Tellwyrn’s territory. The story of headhunters is the story of the orcs of Athan’Khar and their demise, the story of the Enchanter Wars. Not only is it outside the realm of this class, but Professor Tellwyrn was actually present and heavily involved with those events; it would be presumptuous in the extreme for me to try to relate them when they are due to be covered in her class. However, there are a few basics that you must understand to know how these things came to be.

“The term ‘headhunter’ actually refers to the archetypal orcish warrior, as they existed before the Enchanter Wars about one hundred years ago. The war was named after the weapons used to ignite it. The original mass-produced energy weapons, class, were not wands and staves, nor even their larger cousins in magical artillery. They were considerably…grander…in scope. What, exactly, they were and how they worked is no longer known, and you may be grateful for that. For purposes of this discussion, you need only know that the Tiraan Empire created and stockpiled certain armaments which were intended to shock all enemies into subjugation through pure fear, weapons whose destructive power was truly unthinkable. And, for political reasons I won’t go into, they were all deployed simultaneously against the orcs of Athan’Khar.”

He stared silently at the ground for a moment before continuing. “That is why there are no orcs on this continent, why Athan’Khar is uninhabitable to this day, why the Tiraan Empire is declared permanently anathema to the orcish people and why every surviving tribe throughout the world exists in a state of declared war against Tiraas, until the Empire is destroyed or the last drop of orcish blood has fallen. What was done to that land obliterated every sentient being in it, including the very god they worshiped. It twisted and distorted the land itself until it was more magically unstable than the Golden Sea or the Deep Wild, turned every surviving thing there, animal and plant alike, into a warped abomination. The very insects and flowers in Athan’Khar are venomous, viciously aggressive and capable of casting offensive magic. Time itself is disrupted in the region, rippling like an unmade bed, with its most damaged point being the Well of Entropy, a place where one year passes inside for every minute in the outside world. It is the most haunted place in existence; so badly was reality itself broken that every soul that died, mortal, fey and even demonic, was denied any normal afterlife, condemned to prowl the land. That is what the first energy weapons wrought. That is what broke the Tiraan Empire.”

There was dead silence in the classroom. They all stared at him, none willing to speak.

“Athan’Khar,” Yornhaldt continued finally, “is a place of pure horror, now, a place where reality is unrecognizably twisted, where the dead hunger for revenge and every living thing seeks only to spread destruction. Any humans who trespass there are immediately destroyed, for those spirits know very well what race brought that down upon them. Some adventurers go there from the dwarven and gnomish peoples, even a few lizardfolk, as some of the weapons that destroyed the land and people did so without destroying all their wealth. But what we are concerned with are the Eldei Alai’shi. The elves who journey to Athan’Khar. Those who become headhunters.”

He sighed heavily. “It is not a thing done lightly. It results in immediate expulsion from one’s tribe; to make the journey to the dark land is to become a thing too dangerous to associate with. But when an elf has a need to become a living weapon, a foe who cannot be defeated through any ordinary means… Some make the journey. Most of those who try are simply destroyed by the insane inhabitants of Athan’Khar. But some few do manage to take those spirits into themselves and emerge as headhunters.

“They have no conscious control of the magic; all of that belongs to the spirits within them. Those spirits are of everything that died in that land, twisted and mixed together, and between them they command magics of every possible kind. To face a headhunter is to face a thing which may spin out spells of any sort, automatically in response to the needs of the moment. In terms of raw firepower, they are not usually a match for a well-trained wizard or cleric, but this is a case in which raw firepower is meaningless. No matter what you throw at a headhunter, they have the perfect counter for it. And that counter is cast by the spirits within, not by the headhunter himself. Be assured that those spirits think and react much faster than anyone mortal can.” He stared hard at them, as if trying to pound the importance of his words into their minds through the sheer weight of his gaze. “And those spirits are completely insane, consumed by thoughtless rage, and have all the instincts of predators.”

“Can… Can’t the Empire fight them?” Teal asked somewhat hoarsely. “I mean, you were talking about asymmetrical warfare. It sounds like the same thing.”

“Indeed it is, Miss Falconer, and it usually comes down to that. Not only because the Empire is the only organization with the capability, but also because once a headhunter has done whatever they made the pact to do, the spirits usually drive them to attack Imperial interests. But the Empire’s asymmetrical tactics involve the use of multiple people. Well-trained and well-equipped people to be sure, but people who simply cannot react or adapt as fast as the headhunter can. In the end, the Empire’s might and resources have always prevailed… But in every headhunter attack of which I’m aware, the cost was steep. None of the first wave of Imperial agents sent to counter them survive.”

“What would you recommend,” Trissiny asked quietly, “a person do if they faced a headhunter in combat?”

Yornhaldt closed his eyes for a moment before answering. “I will repeat my earlier warning, Ms. Avelea; we are speaking of theories, and nothing we have discussed is meant to be taken as a call to action. But…to answer your question…” He looked directly at her, his expression solemn. “Whatever paladin, dryad, archdemon or whatever else you are, if you face an Eldei Alai’shi, you run. Pray that they aren’t interested in you, and flee. Let the Empire and the gods deal with it, because I promise you, no one else can.”

In the thick silence which followed, he sighed again, then turned and tapped the drawing of the Circle of Interaction with a finger. Immediately, its glow winked out, leaving it an ordinary design of chalk on the blackboard.

“No homework today. I suspect you all have plenty to think about, for now. Class dismissed.”

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22 thoughts on “3 – 3

  1. If you support visual aids, vote for The Gods are Bastards!

    This was almost a very different chapter. Lots of worldbuilding, I know, and after Book 1 I wanted to try to avoid blocks of exposition; this is meant to be a story of adventure and intrigue, not a standing-around-talking kind of drama. However, my plans sort of fell through due to the sheer weight of material being covered. The original idea for this chapter intercut Yornhaldt’s lecture with scenes of the headhunters in action, but that ended up being two full chapters of material. Not only would it have been a colossal chunk of text, I simply haven’t the time or energy to do the whole thing in one sitting, and it would have made me miss my deadline in the best case scenario.

    So, I fear, you’ll have to wait for headhunter hijinks until Monday.

    I did have a lot of fun making the Circle of Interaction, though. It was all done digitally in Inkscape. Now that it’s completed I look at it and for some reason all I can think is what an awesome tattoo it’d make.


  2. Just thinking out loud:

    A nice quiet chapter, except of course for the doomsday weapon history. Nice to know how things work. Now that we know how nasty headhunters can be, I look forward to seeing them in action. I wonder who Darling is going to unleash the “twins” on – can he find more Black Wreath that fast?

    “What was done to that land obliterated every sentient being in it, including the very god they worshiped.”

    Doomsday weapons killed a god. Arachne killed a god, and was close enough to see his expression. I wonder how many other gods have died. And how does one become a god? And how does one kill a god? But that is probably exposition for another time.

    So, if anyone really wants a challenge, they can go to Athan’Khar and play around. And there is at least one other magically powerful region: the Deep Wild.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Though possibly less often than she seems to. It occurred to me that assuming that she actually went back to Hell when she seemed to might be unwise, considering she set up when where and how her trip back was observed, and she’s somethng of a trickster.


  3. …So wait, that means witches aren’t the only ones who could use a pixie as a magical power source. A divine caster could do the same thing thanks to the Circle of Augmentation. And a fairy who didn’t know arcane magic like Fross does would be totally screwed in a divine prison.

    And… there are cultural reasons why arcanists do not learn witchcraft? If the proliferation of arcane enchantment makes for a hostile environment to fairies and witches, I can see how learning arcane magic wouldn’t be a very popular choice, but I’m not sure I see how the inverse works. Heck, if I was an arcanist, I’d make a point to learn at least some basic witchy tricks, just in case I ever had to defend myself from diabolic magic.

    Hmm, I’m remembering the arcane-diabolic fights we’ve seen so far. Arachne didn’t seem to have any trouble beating up a bunch of warlocks, though of course Arachne is a super-powerful archmage. If anything, the fact that she was annoyed at having to protect the sheriff proves that it really was a harder than usual fight for her. But in the Darling fight, those warlocks seemed to die as easily as anyone else. I guess not everyone is good enough to stop a lightning bolt and eat it.

    Other thought, this time with Opposition. That centaur warlock really didn’t stand a chance against Trissiny. She might have been older and more experienced as a spellcaster, but there is no way she had more magical mojo than the chosen champion of a goddess. So Trissiny was a better fighter and could just wreck any opposing magic. A one-on-one fight was NOT that centaur’s brightest idea.

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    1. Nice to see someone else thinking about this – I posted below before I saw your post. You are right about the Wreath / arcane fight we saw: the Wreath should have minor spells that could protect against most arcane magic. However, there were other factors at work:
      —The sheriff had a witch and fae magic is really good at shutting down Wreath magic.
      —The sheriff’s forces had cover and were firing into a tight group of enemies.
      —The sheriff’s forces were experienced combat troops. Probably not all of the Wreath were.
      As far as Arachne, see below for a possible explanation on that one.

      All my thinking could be wrong – ultimately the writer decides, but it is fun to theory-craft.

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  4. —Using the circle of augmentation effects, you can interconvert magics.
    —Many practitioners have a major from one area and a minor power from another. Minors can even be an opposing school.
    —Automatic casting is possible.
    Therefore, it is ultimately possible then to have a multi-caster who can use any power, or at least deal effectively with any power. The basic idea is this:
    1. Become a significant power in one area.
    2. Learn minor spells in the other areas that do two effects well: power interconversion (augmentation) and interference. Once you have learned the interconversion spells, you can effectively power spells of any type.
    3. Set up automatic casting for the interconversions / interference spells that most clash with your primary spell power.

    There is probably some major power loss during conversion, but since interference is so efficient, it still means you can probably shut down any school of magic when you know this trick. Example: an arcanist is attacked by a warlock. The arcanist knows this trick and converts arcane–>deific–>fae power, losing a lot of power on conversion. However, fae magic is so good at shutting down demonic magic that the arcanist can still cast a low-level fae interference spell and shut down the (very surprised) warlock.

    The primary limitation to using this during a fight is likely to be time. So set up automatic casting or a low-level always-on spell that automatically starts building up energy in a trump magic school when necessary. Better yet, use your interconversion abilities in noncombat situations to create combat-helpful enchanted items from each school.

    The primary limitation to knowing that much magic is lifespan. Which elves have in abundance. So dedicated elf could learn to counter almost any magic. Arachne in particular probably knows exactly how to counter demonic magic; otherwise she would have died at the hands of powerful demons and/or warlocks long ago.

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    1. And once you have the interconversion working, you can convert any power to its opposite in two steps and cause feedback effects. If the interconversion spells hold up under the strain, you can drain any magic user down to nothing by continually converting their power to its opposite. That trick would probably kill magical beings too. A possible way to start clearing Athan’Khar, perhaps?

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      1. There is no question authors hate more than “where do your ideas come from?” Mostly because we never have an answer for it. They just come. I guess that’s what makes us writers.

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    2. I don’t think it actually converts power; it remains the sort of power it is, but can be used to cast other kinds of spells


  5. This is a fun discussion. I’m glad to see you guys running with the possibilities! A couple of points to consider:

    Wands, except for the custom-enchanted variety, shoot lightning bolts which, as stated in the prologue, are functionally identical to those which come from the sky. They use columns of ionized air to direct them. So while a warlock might be able to disrupt the workings of the wand itself–a long shot, as enchanted objects are inherently more stable than spells in motion–what’s coming at them is not magic per say, but a gigawatt or so of electricity and heat. Infernal spells are good for dodging, but not shielding, and nobody dodges that fast. Thus, the fight in Hamlet wasn’t between different types of magic users, but between magic users and armed soldiers who had advantages in position and weaponry.

    And yes, Arachne Tellwyrn has innumerable tricks up her sleeve but also gets a brute force exemption to most “vs” arguments. She is also a double-specialist. That’s almost a bit spoilery, but trust me, it’ll be a good while before it comes up in the story.


    1. Ah? So instead of making lightning appear ex nihilo, wands magically create conditions that naturally produce lightning? Is that just how lightning magic works, or is that deliberate to make it harder to defend against?

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  6. I don’t get, given that apparently Divine magic isn’t that weak to Arcane, you don’t just send lots of Divine Casters at headhunters.

    After all, the spirits aren’t too strong themselves, so odds are the Divine magic won’t have any issues.


    1. Yornhaldt says that headhunters can cast any magic almost immediately. The spirits counter the Divine magic and hit back with some highish level arcane spells. Besides, I think that the elves the spirits are in can still attack during this, and elves tend to be good swordsmen(or -women).

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  7. I’ve been referencing back to this chapter to understand other things in the story when interactions come up. So if you ever put together appendices of some sort this might be good to include so people can easily understand


  8. So that’s a good reason for Orcs to never appear in this story again. Does the author like Orcs?


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