On the Applications of Magic
Night-time one week after my foray into the history of the land saw Rosalind once again finding me reading her books by lamplight. The book I was reading was on the origins and theory of magic – a particularly thick tome, with extremely small print. The language it used was excessively academic. I suspected that even a native speaker would have trouble deciphering it, but my gift, as well as my academic background, allowed me to easily understand what was contained within. I briefly felt the temptation to thank Yingquan for her gift, but quickly crushed the thought. She would never let me live it down. Knowing her, she’d probably use this little mercy to coerce me into doing what she wanted. Even though I had no intention of agreeing if she did, it would still be pointlessly annoying. My musings were interrupted by Rosalind’s voice.
“That’s… a really difficult book. You can read it? Even I have trouble understanding bits of it, and I’ve loved reading since I was a girl.”
“Mmm, it’s definitely harder than the rest you’ve let me borrow. I was able to understand most of it, but I’m a special case.”
“Good with languages?”
“Good with learning, in general.”
I closed the book and reached over to turn the dial on the lamp, dimming it. Thanks to the thick tome I had just finished reading, I now knew how it worked. I had assumed it to be gas-operated; I was wrong. The inside of the lamp was inscribed with a number of carved spells that kept a lit flame alight. Turning the dial controlled how much magical energy – mana, they called it – flowed through these incantations and thus controlled the brightness of the fire. It needed to be charged with mana about once per two days of continuous use, but once it was charged, no mana was needed to regulate the fire. It was a technology much like a gaslamp, but they used magic instead of fossil fuels. Now that I was paying attention to such things, I began to think about a number of things I had seen around me that operated on magic, and realised just how large a part magic played in the lives of the people of this world. I ran my hand over the leather-bound cover and smiled at Rosalind, who was again in her nightclothes.
“Done for today?”
Rosalind yawned and stretched. The first few days I had been here, Rosalind had kept up appearances and treated me politely, and with caution, but she had since seemed to have gotten used to my presence and loosened up. It was a development I welcomed. In a brand new world with brand new rules, I needed all the allies I could get. Rosalind ended her yawn and rubbed her shoulders.
“Yep. Bit later than usual, had one guy who refused to go home. As it turns out, he caught his wife in the act of cheating. Poor man was sobbing the whole evening. Nearly made me want to waive the charge, but I’m running a business here.”
Rosalind casually spoke about one of her customers’ fractured love lives, though in her line of work, it was likely a pretty common thread. Of course, some men were apparently more clingy than others – Rosalind was a real beauty of a lady. Tonight’s incident seemed to be one of those.
“Is he a regular?”
“Yep, comes in more or less every night. So I couldn’t exactly force him out tonight, I’d be losing good business.”
“I wonder what his wife thinks when she sees him come in here every night.”
Rosalind glared at me briefly, then relaxed. A smile playing around her lips, she changed the topic.
“Have you taken a shower?”
“Nope. We’re in a drought, no? Water’s too precious to waste.”
“I’ve told you it’s no problem, we have a separate supply.”
“Also I want to see you do that again.”
Rosalind sighed and snapped her fingers. Instantly, I felt the dirt and sweat of the day disappear from my skin and clothes, leaving the clothes crisp and fresh, as well as my skin clean and grime-free. I marvelled at the feeling, no doubt wearing an expression of wonder.
“Is it really that amazing?”
Rosalind folded her arms and leant against the doorframe as she asked a skeptical question.
“Of course it’s amazing! It’s magic!”
“It’s really only useful for hygiene and laundry though. There are people doing actually amazing things with magic out there, like shaping light into hard objects, or moving things with their minds. Unfortunately, with my Cleansing affinity, all I can do is this little trick. It’s convenient, don’t get me wrong, but hardly anything impressive.”
I shook my head.
“No, I can’t use magic, so this much is already impressive to me.”
Again I saw the curiosity flare up in her eyes. This time, I knew the reason.
This was a world of magic. Everyone could use magic. The extent to which they could use it and their innate mana capacity differed between individuals, but all humans could use at least some magic. Most people had an affinity, a branch of magic that they were able to tap into more easily and more readily than a counterpart without the same affinity. The range of affinities was vast, encompassing things like Rosalind’s Cleansing affinity – magic related to cleansing and purification – while also including impressive-sounding affinities like Gravity, or Pressure. There was also a minority group known as Paragons – people who had absolute mastery in one branch of magic, at the expense of being utterly incapable of using any other form of magic – but their numbers were small enough and their appearance infrequent enough to be negligible. The general population possessed an affinity while also being able to use other kinds of magic, albeit less effectively.
And then there was me. Try as I might, I could not use magic. No matter how many books I read, I could not use a single iota of magic. Rosalind had even told me that she could not detect any mana in my body. Therefore, unfortunately, it seemed that I could not use any magic at all. It was likely because I was not born a denizen of this world, and thus the gifts they enjoyed were not shared by me. It made me more than a little envious, but I had decided to let it go. I had gotten on fine without magic for the entirety of my life – I did not need to be able to use magic. Still, this inability made me marvel whenever I saw Rosalind cast her cleansing magic – simple though she claimed it was. It was apparently the spell she had used to clean my body and clothing while I was unconscious, and I could not help but wish I had access to such convenient methods of hygiene back when I was fighting in the War of the Six. At the end of a two-month siege, there was little I craved more than to be clean.
In any case, the curiosity in Rosalind’s eyes was likely due to my strange circumstance. I could not use magic, and I was likely the first person she had ever heard of with an inability to use magic, ubiquitous as it was in this world. No doubt, an anomaly like myself piqued her interest. If there was one thing I had come to understand about Rosalind over the last three weeks, whether through conversation with her or by reading the notes she had left in her books, it was that the woman had a nigh-insatiable thirst for knowledge and a keen sense of curiosity. I decided she had done more than enough for me. It was time to give her what she wanted. I pushed the book to the side, placing it neatly alongside the other books on the table. Then I crossed over to the bed and sat down, patting the space beside me. Rosalind’s eyes widened, but she hurried to join me, sitting down next to me. I leaned back and lay on the bed with my arms behind my head, speaking.
“So… you’ve taken extremely good care of me for the last three weeks, teaching me the language, giving me books to read, even helping me clean myself off. It’s high time I repaid you.”
Facing the ceiling, I couldn’t see Rosalind’s expression, but judging from the sounds in the air, I knew she was shaking her head frantically.
“Oh no, I need nothing in return. We’re friends, are we not?”
I chuckled. Friends. How loosely she used that word. Nonetheless, she was the only person in this world that I knew, and I did not find her presence undesirable, so I supposed it was not imprudent to call us friends at this point.
“I suppose that we are. Now, at least. But not at first. At first, you didn’t know me. You didn’t know a thing about me. Yet you saved me, gave me water, nursed me back to health. There’s a reason you took pains to teach me the language despite not knowing a thing about me. You wanted something from me. So what was it? What did you want to know? What do you want to know?”
There was a moment of silence. I suspected that either Rosalind had not imagined I would have seen through her intentions, or otherwise had not thought that I would bring it up now. I decided to believe it was the latter, if only because I wanted to believe that my friend did not think me a fool. As I lay there, waiting for a response, I was beginning to drift to sleep when finally she spoke again.
“I want to know everything. I want to know where you came from, why you can’t speak Gam, why you can’t use magic. I want to know your story. I want to know about you.”