(A giant ink blot shows on the top of the page and trickles down the center of the book. There are a few other stains and smudges on the page of various colors.)
It has been 5 years since the last desperate long winter, the last time that I thought I would have to face the rest of my life alone in Birya. It has been 4 since I wrote here at all, except for scraps of memories that were thrown away. It looks to the reader as if those years never existed. Perhaps it should have been that way.
I loved her. I love her. I don't even know anymore what to feel. It all made a glorious amount of sense, as if the heavens themselves opened up...and then proved, after walking into the pearly Gates, that nothing had been changed at all. As if Heaven itself were just another run in the same world one just left (perhaps in peace). It was all a lie. But it can't have been anyone's fault - no, not at all.
Anyway, I get ahead of myself, as I always do. First, an accounting of the current state of affairs, before continuing.
Iili, senior Ritual Mage of the Vista Hospice, location in the Noocracy "Republic" (Plutocracy by any other name) of Wyvernbight, small rotund gray mouse starting to gray yet further into white, alas. As ever before, increasingly wealthy in material, but spiritual wealth always begging for assistance.
I have grown older. It is traditional at this part to say that I have grown wiser, but I cannot speak those words in this case. If anything, I have grown less wise and more obstreperous than ever before to make up for all of it. And now I'm facing yet another long winter, with in many ways less hope than before. And it's no one's fault, not even my own, I believe. It is just a state of affairs, a known thing, another tabula rasa.
I have ended up in the Westlands yet again, despite every promise I made to myself that I would never deal with the Westerners again and their fake sense of sincerity. Yet Wyvernbight has that without the sincerity - it's being false without even bothering to put a facade on it. Yet, compared to the Wastes in between, it is a faithful home of many, including several competing dragons (more on that later)...
Why am I here? I've been asking myself that for months. All because of her that I left Birya's darkened comforts and known alleys.
So, life. Life is mostly work, but other than that I've ended up at the Scholar's Quarter of West Wyvernbight, which is perhaps a small area of respite for me - I see the eager students pass by and through the streets on a regular basis, and this part of the city is lively - if extremely dingy, even by Birya standards. But it's about as close to home as I would get without surrendering yet more of my possessions and my history and going back. And then there's that lion.
And work... the Hospice is terrible territory for a mage. All the worst things you could put together in one location: the innate cautiousness and meticulous nature of a Hospice, where mistakes in magic may not be fatal, but can come close; the Byzantine nature of an Academy, with the various factions and schemes; and the resistance to change and time of a Crown organization. So, in short, you can't do anything; no one wants you to do anything; and it's fine, because you don't want to do anything anyway. (Well, most don't. I can't stop from intervening (whining).)
Except when something breaks. Not when it is on the verge of breaking, mind you (an awkward comparison to the practice of medicine itself in these times), but when it is broken and bleeding all over the floor of your Grove and why haven't you fixed it already. It is madness. All of my time in the Bight has been madness of one shade or another. I am growing weary, and perhaps desperate for some sign that any of my travails have proved of any worth at all. I fight and I fight and I fight and I get nowhere at all. Why.
Why am I here? It was chance, circumstance, luck that any of this came together, and chance that it all fell apart. At least that's what I keep telling myself. The possible alternatives are just too hideous.
It has happened yet again, dear reader. I visited the Mages' Guild again and I have forgotten about this journal again.
I would not say that I have been lax at gaining more magical skills, as that is most certainly not the case - the Academy has kept me quite busy enough, thank you very much. In fact, enough that I feel like I rarely have had time to go out and enjoy the Kingdom, and that is much a regret in my mind as the winter comes and the world hibernates once again. My waistline has not suffered either, much to my additional chagrin.
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As I sneeze away the pile of dust that has gathered around this diary, let me excuse myself by noting that I have been very very busy.
For most of a year.
But I shant talk about the year now, when I can talk about the day. I woke up this morning to a dark orange glow. I actually set up a Warning Crystal next to the bed, of course, to inform me (gently) just how bad things are at the Academy. Orange, in short, is "there is trouble but it's not worth getting out of bed any earlier than usual to take care of it." So I went back to sleep. Suffice it to say, I normally awaken to a nice gentle blue. But that was not today. Oh no. But in order to explain, dear reader, perhaps it is best that I speak about crystals, lattices, and halls - this might allow for a small bit of enlightenment toward the excruciating suffering I have gone through lately, and quite especially, today.
( A discussion of crystals, and what they're not supposed to do.Collapse )
One of the Great Lords of the Manylands decided to visit the Academy's Great Hall today to speak about "how we could prevent a recurrence of the Dragon Wars by conserving mana for emergencies." I missed the pageantry altogether. What a shame.
Oh well, the tales I hear make me quite certain he is a nincompoop.
I suppose I should update from the frustration last week. Things are better now, thankfully.
The new fellow impressed Delvar. No one impresses Delvar. Last time I checked, in fact, no one gets past the stoat unscathed. The stoat basically tore me apart in my interview and handed my entrails back to me. Except this fellow, Aren the fox. So it looks like he's our shot at extending the Council, assuming he can learn to stave off the impulse to seal off large portions of the Academy grounds. And I should learn to not be hasty in my judgments of people.
It has gotten increasingly clear that the events of January have created a great trouble in my mind. It does not make me particularly happy to be in an environment when I'm blamed for a problem even after it was proven that I really honestly had little to nothing to do with it. This does not bode well for me, and it started eating away at those small wells of confidence I had built inside of myself.
So I went and spoke with my boss, telling him how I felt about the Grand Security Spell of Potentially Massive Insecurity, and frankly how nervous I was that basically if anything went wrong in any particular direction that I was going to take the blame for it, and be tossed out for daring to keep my wards as strong as I can make them in this chaotic environment. "You do realize that the Council had to rebuild all of its Ritual spells about 5 years ago, right?" No, actually, that hadn't quite gotten mentioned in the several months I've been here. There was the mention that there hadn't been problems in 4 years; I had assumed the problem before that had been a previous archival leakage that I had heard of previous... "Oh, no, actually, there was a chain reaction that blew up every Ritual spell we had. People were playing a bit fast with how things were getting set up, didn't complete their symbols properly, added a few things they shouldn't have, didn't close the wards. And they all blew up. ...you might also notice that the people involved in this did not get removed from their places on the Council."
That alone threw everything in perspective. Through all that has passed before, Council membership has been permanent, and all the reasons for the caution half of the rampant caution/incredible speed dichotomy quickly become clear as the (frigid! blustery! why do I need full dress regalia this late in the winter?) early spring skies. There's a desperate need to do things well, and do things fast, but slipups are forgivable. That revelation alone made me feel significantly better, going into my walkabout into the wilds later this week.
Oh, and I finally completed the first run of the Dimensional reweave that I've been practicing performing for more than a year now. I wait an entire year, begging for a chance from the Council for something that took all of two hours to perform, with seemingly no trouble at all in the invocation. The window of time opened for the briefest of moments, and I had to step through and beyond. Hopefully the weave will hold this time; last time I took a shot at it the crystals started deharmonizing in the middle of it, and I cannot describe to you the incredible din that occurred as a result... the ringing in my head took a week to cure.
The rest of the council thought today's fellow for the protection job was great. What exactly makes you concerned, Iili?
Even after we repeatedly told him that we are an open Academy and that will never change, he wanted to force the standard Ritual assumptions of a closed environment down the Academy's throat. And it was quite obvious that the fellow hadn't protected an individual crystal in his life and it had barely occurred to him to do so. (Not that I had either in his place...)
But everyone else loved him. And it wasn't because they knew you didn't.
I'm taking a walkabout into the wilds next week to get lost and get over the Academy and the Council. It can't happen fast enough.
People are courting disaster, I believe. It's time to start planning an escape route from the Council, even if such a plan is never used. Of course, it is entirely possible that I'm completely, utterly wrong here and utterly, completely out of my mind. But would anyone believe me either way at this point?
The fabric of the Academy is starting to tear. I suppose it was rather inevitable after everything that's happened.
I have been weaving and unweaving spells at a massive pace over the last several fortnights; I've quite taken to calling this the Long Winter, as it has been harsh and it has been cold, both inside and outside. No one knows what's going to happen at this point, and there are few signs of hope at this point, no light at the end of the tunnel, nothing but more madness. And the cold is still present, although it has lessened some in the past few days. Still, I shiver in my chair writing this.
It turns out that the Academy lost significant resources in the attack on the Grove. The ramifications are only hitting the Academy in whole this week. They were mostly trying to account for what they had, but they've lost probably a fifth of the wealth that they amassed to the attack. They were far from alone, but that's a fifth of the resources no longer available until some miracle occurs, or the supposed Crusade ever shows up to get the resources back. (Most have written that off, though, and with good reason. We really are on our own.) Everyone must tithe for the sake of the Academy as a whole, and those funds have come at the cost of people in many places it seems - great libraries seeing their caretakers disappear, for one. And the (few) ranks of the High Mages are seeing their ranks dwindle, quite shortly. The Merchant's Guild (thankfully) has avoided that kind of fate, but at this point we consider it inevitable. As Fate would have it, the axe is unlikely to fall this year. But next year, things could start happening that the entire Council could regret. It will remain a phantom over our heads, waiting to strike, for at least the rest of this accursed year.
Yet, we are adding a few more members, as quickly (and as quietly) as we can, before we are told "no more". One fellow (who I have not had the pleasure to meet) is being brought into the Council for overall organization (I have mixed feelings about this; we desperately need organization but I don't personally need another person on the Council yelling at me about unrealistic timelines after last time), another for communication magics (and this the Merchant Guild desperately needs), and, most applicable to my position, someone with experience in protection magics to take over and analyze the Grand Security Spell of Endless Debate, as well as to oversee the general state of affairs Ritual. At this point, I don't care if such a person might supercede me in experience or heft, as long as I'm not the only voice in the Council screaming about making sure our spells aren't flying off into the Aether. I've been in over my head here, and I quite readily have acknowledged this.
I must admit that the first interview, held this morning, for that position went much like my own little gantlet. If anything, Delvar was even more exacting and particular than he ever was with me - but then again, when they hired me they needed a Ritual Generalist (much to my surprise). Now we need a specialist with some ability to improvise generally, so I suppose it makes some sense that we need more particular qualifications. It is unclear, however, whether there is a soul out there (save, perhaps, Delvar himself) who could in fact fit the qualifications. The fellow this morning, however, wasn't that far off in my mind. I would regale you more fully with the discussions therein, but given the recent news my heart isn't terribly into recanting it.
(Although Delvar asked about responses to anchor unraveling on the Grand Security Spell. The fellow this morning suggested the standard response of breaking the troublesome anchor in question and reweaving it, which as far as I am concerned is a perfectly reasonable answer. Oh no, said Delvar. He managed to reseat the anchor by having the other anchors convince it that it was fine. I realize the unstudied may not grasp the audacity of this - it is somewhat akin to navigating the inside of a ship solely by having it tell you where you are. Delvar seemed somewhat offended that the fellow didn't know this incredibly obvious method of enchantment that none of us had ever heard of before.)
The Grand Convocation of Ritual Mages this year will be in the City of the Heavens in a few months. I suspect it will be a somber occasion, both personally and professionally. I suspect I'm not particularly going to enjoy returning to the City so soon after leaving. I also suspect it may be the last Convocation I will be allowed to attend for some time, so I intend to make the best of it.
The winter continues. I am getting increasingly concerned, myself, that events are spiraling out of control. A certain madness has begun to grip the inhabitants of Birya; it's only just showing on the edges right now, but it can be seen if you look hard enough. The public viaducts are getting clogged with snow and ice and mush and their passability is questionable at any given time of the day. No one feels particularly secure anymore. Everyone waits for the next shoe to drop.
In the South, there was a grand accalamation: We will pay the Dragons tribute! This should quell their anger forthwith! Indeed, we shall even had these funds to the mages who upset the dragons in the first place, because there's absolutely no reason we should question their judgment for leading us into this mess in the first place! And who better should receive the largess of the several Kingdoms than the dragons and the incompetents? Certainly the people have no need of such things! Not a call to fortify our defenses (if we could...), not a call to rebuild the destroyed buildings, not a call to hope or inspiration. Only fear, day by day by day.
The winter lifted for one day a few weeks back. Since then, it has been little but sheets of ice and howling winds. I swore that I would have no problem with the snow and the cold here, but it has begun to dwell on me as much as anyone else around here. This morning I slipped and fell on the way to the Grand Court of Northern Birya, where I had been summonsed as a possible trial juror. (Thankfully, I spent the entire day waiting and nursing my leg wound, but nothing of any import occurred.)
At the Academy, people are getting quite edgy. A proclamation went out to the community saying, roughly, "We know tha tthe War has had some impact on our affairs. We are still holding up fairly well, but we ask that all members of the Academy watch our finances to avoid straining the Academy any more in this time of great need." A fairly inoffensive statement, really, but it was carried by all the town criers for a few days afterward. There is no sign of layoffs - not yet, anyway. However, there are dark rumors as to the status of the Academy's grand endowment... In the meanwhile, the word came down to the Merchants' Guild that "all duplication of resources with the Academy should be reduced forthwith." Lest any of us forget, the entire Council of which I am a member could be considered a superfluous duplication of resources. And the Grand Security Spell itself was quite a duplicative extravagance, given the High Mages already have several of their own.
I'm still being blamed for holding up their "little" project 2 fortnights ago. They sent me to the local Ritual Lycaeum of the Mages' Guild to study the best methods of Grand Security Spells, and I returned with the understanding that, if anything, I had been lenient last month. Someone on the council who has no business questioning me about the incident was teasing me about the problem. It took a grand act of will not to explode in their face over it. I'm not in any mood to be generous if my work, however irregular, is going to result in only grief. In any other situation, I would seriously concern myself with taking my leave, but at this point I have nowhere to go. None of us do. At this point I have to bow my head down and try to put up with this. Tomorrow begins the initial discussions on what to do with the Grand Security Spell of Grief. And the preliminary discussions to the initial discussions suggest that everything I thought would happen is indeed happening. None can keep their hands out of the cookie jar for long.
I did see a few friends the other day. They're holding up as best as they can. I must admit I didn't take away a lot of hope from the meeting. "We're happy to see you, Iili," they say, but all I feel is a stone in my own heart.
And so we get to discussing the two main methodologies of magic: Runic and Ritual, still known in some particular quarters as High and Low Magic, respectively. My knowledge of the exact evolution of Magic over time, I fear, is a bit sketchy, but I will try to explain this as best as I can for your edification.
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In other news today, the Council had a meeting about the exact future fate of our relations with the High Mages, given the troubles of the Dragon War. And we were told, simply, that we were going to work with the High Mages to ensure that we were all working efficiently together to benefit the Academy. "But what about our Grand Security Spell that we just spent a month arguing over?" I asked (since we had basically entirely turned our noses to the Highs in order to get said Spell done). The response I got was somewhere between utter surprise and a scowl at daring to be audacious.
I think I have a right to know exactly how much care is really being given to our work, to my work, in the Council. The response I got pleased me not at all. But nor was it surprising, since I seem to have become a running joke among certain members of the Council this past month.
There was a request made my one of my correspondents for a primer in local magics for the uninitiated. I realize that this journal spell is multidimensional, and that it is quite possible that magic does not work in your realms quite the same way it does in mine. After a fashion, I suppose it's an honor to introduce my world in this fashion to others; presumably the Advanced Texts in Magic aren't nearly as portable as this spell. (I would, of course, assume that the increase in magical knowledge will eventually make descriptions like mine quite redundant.)
I shall probably write of this quite haphazardly, and I do not claim for a moment to be a master of the Magical Arts, modern or ancient; instead, I shall relate what I know for your edification.
Our practice in magics dates to ahistoric times - there has always been beliefs in gods and monsters, and it is still said in myth that the knowledge of controlling fire was the creation of our modern civilization. But there is a significant difference between the Old Gods and modern times, and the difference isn't particularly subtle. Much of early magical creation (or, for that matter, philosophy) was spent trying to describe and narrow the elements of our natural world to their core elements: air, fire, earth, water, and aether (which was once synonymous with "spirit" but has since diverged). There are several derivations from these elements: mountains, rivers, oceans, life magics, null magics, and so forth. I would not be so naïve as to say that everything can be broken down to any particular arrangement of elements, but this is a general outline of the thought here. And many of these derivations were associated (rightly or wrongly) with specific deities, which arose out of the nature of our kind to categorize and name and personalize.
Unfortunately, study of the Old Ones, for the most part, is considered a bit quaint at best in these times. I hesitate to say that we are less Holy than perhaps we used to be, but our concerns have turned elsewhere. The art of Modern Magic is perhaps two centuries old at best, and many of its origins lay in the same philosophies that once studied and admired the Old Ones. But the main difference between Old Magic and Modern Magic is this: comparatively, we are terrible at Old Magic. In my mind, the old ways carry from emotion and the heart, two things I find rather lacking in my day to day observations of the world. The new ways, in contrast, tend to be very meticulous and logical: if something doesn't make sense, it's not the fault of one's communion with the Gods; instead, it's just one's own fault and it is best that you go clean it up, thank you very much. The mystery has long past; now, life proceeds like the pace of a clock. We are the masters of many things but not of our past, and not of our hearts.
While there are many factors that influenced the development of Modern Magic, none was really quite so helpful as the discovery of the standard crystal. It had been known from ancient time that the purple (well, the most common are purple) crystals found in caves had some sort of power that was innate to them, but it took many many years for anyone to quite discover how to harness that power. They were considered mostly harmless, and generally used as trinkets, jewelry and the like. Until someone had the idea to put a few very large specimens together, and found that they had a sort of resonance that is just detectable to the standard senses, as a sort of vague shiver, perhaps. This is now called modern Aether, and it was soon found that once a connection was made between two crystals, they tended to keep that connection, regardless of distance. And eventually, over a period of time, connections were able to be made with more and more as well as smaller and smaller crystals, until we have even the paw-sized ones of today.
So, having created this resonance, efforts were made to figure out how exactly to control and shape it. And that, dear readers, is how the study of Modern Magic was created. The wonder of our times was born when that power was brought, eventually, to the masses.