1.36: Water, Wine, Loaves and Fishes

Silence reigned as the Fiore walked into the Basic Magical Theory classroom and carefully settled Socks on Intruktanto Miratova’s desk. While the cat immediately curled up for a nap, he pulled two wine glasses and two dinner plates out of his bag and lined them up left to right, glass-glass-plate-plate, on the fire-damaged student desk in the front row. He considered this a moment, then pulled a sheet of paper covered in complicated rings of symbols out of his bag, setting it under the last plate. Only then did he look up and address the class.

“Let’s talk about change spells,” he said. “Can somebody define a change spell for me, please? Yes, Non – ah, Max.”

“Change spells are physically based spells that involve the physical alteration of one material or state to another material or state,” Max said, as if he were reciting a textbook. “Possibly because of their rather broad classification, change spells make up between seventy and seventy five per cent of all known spells, using the Cardinal classifications of course. Change spells under the Cardinal system encompass the Liona system’s change spells, most of Liona’s destruction spells, and the creation and illusion spells that were not transferred into the Evocation category. Some argue that the Change category should also encompass Evocation, but the more popular argument is that the Change category should be further divided into change types and sources, as such a singular nebulous category that encompasses the majority of all known spells isn’t as useful a classification category as it could be. The problem that divisions keep running into is that it’s difficult to come up with criteria for subcategories that don’t also encompass spells from the…”

Max trailed off, seeming to remember where he was. Most teachers would have cut him off by now, but the Fiore was listening with polite interest.

“Anyway, that’s what a change spell is,” he finished lamely.

The Fiore nodded. “A wonderfully thorough explanation, Max; you are a credit to your tutors. However, today we are less interested in the theory of old men debating category classifications and more in the theory of practical spellcasting.” He reached into his bag again and pulled out a little white pouch filled with something. “As Max said, the majority of known spells are change spells. While the proportion in the spells offered in the Pit is a bit lower than the global proportion, they still make up more than half of the spells you will have access to. Therefore, there is a fairly high probability that any of you may become change mages, so I urge you to pay attention in this lesson.”

I exchanged a glance with Kylie. Did that mean we didn’t have to pay attention in this lesson?

He upended the pouch over the first wine glass, filling it with white sand. “Different spells have different quirks and preferences. If you are unlucky, you might find that your spell only wants to do very specific things that are quite complicated, and simple things will be hard for you. But this information should be useful to you regardless.” He picked up the wine glass and began swishing it around, like a posh man with wine. The sand flowed about like liquid until it seemed to disappear. No, not disappear – become transparent. He gave the glass of water a few more swirls, then set it down.

“Materially, turning anything to water is one of the easiest ways to cast your average change spell. Can anybody tell me why?”

There was silence, until Clara timidly raised her hand.


“Because it’s chemically simple?” she asked.

The Fiore nodded. “Change magic is the most physical category of magic,” he said. “Evocation is physical in nature, but tends to rely less on calculation, as it is immediate and direct. Translocation magic is the opposite; it involves so much preparation that the physicality of it is trivial. Contract and prophecy magic, of course, have little more than a passing acquaintance with physics, but if you are a change mage, you will be spending a lot of time thinking about what, specifically, you are doing. It is fairly easy to transform simple solids or liquids into pure water; water is made of two elements, in a very simple and stable configuration. It is a liquid, so there is neither the structural limitations created when trying to produce a solid, nor the density limitations of producing a gas. It is worth noting that the complexity issue goes both ways – if I’d tried to turn, say, a pen into water, this would be harder than turning sand to water, although not nearly as difficult as turning water into a pen. Making pure water consumes a lot of energy, but it is easy.”

He poured the water from the first wine glass into the second wine glass. “Now for something harder.” Again, he swirled the liquid around, until it began to darken. Soon, it was a rich red. He wiped some sweat off his brow, checked on Socks, and again looked to the class.

“Here, we have wine. Wine is significantly harder than water. This is because it contains multiple molecules that all need to be made in fairly specific proportions. Many of those molecules are very complex. The one big saver in producing wine is that it is still liquid, which means that the molecules can be produced and will diffuse out, without needing to be created in a specific sequence. Yes – Kayden, is it?”

“People have been doing magic for longer than we’ve known about molecules, right?” I asked. “So if that stuff is important, how did people do it in the past?”

The Fiore nodded. “Indeed, we have been changing substances for a lot longer than we have known what those substances are made from. We have also been fermenting wine and cheese for far longer than we have had microbiology. However, now that we understand the biological mechanisms behind fermentation, we can do it cheaper and safer, in much larger quantities. The same is true of magic – you can alter substances without understanding the background processes of what you are doing, but you can do a lot more if you do understand. Does that answer your question?” He waited for me to nod before continuing.

“Alright. This next one is very difficult. We are about to go from a liquid to a solid.”

He picked up the glass of wine, focused, and began to swirl it about. Slowly, the fluid inside turned milky white, and as it did, it swirled more slowly, becoming thick. When it was about the consistency of maple syrup, he poured it onto the first plate, letting it thicken as it poured, forming a little pile on the plate. He put the glass aside and rolled the pile into a ball between his hands. The Fiore’s face reddened as he squished the ball into an oblong shape, put it back down on the plate, and concentrated.

The object darkened to a pale brown. The Fiore swayed and grabbed at the edge of the desk. Something moved in the corner of my eye; Simon, getting up. As his uncle steadied himself, he reluctantly sat back down.

The Fiore picked up his creation and broke it in half, revealing the inside of a loaf of bread.

“This is much harder than the wine,” he said. “Not only does a loaf of bread contain more chemicals, many of which are more complicated to manufacture, but their positioning within the loaf is important. They have to be in a specific structure, they cannot simply be made in whatever order I like and dispersed out. Furthermore, this particular loaf is very dense, because making gas bubbles is difficult, and tasteless, because bread had hundreds of trace molecules that contribute to its complicated flavour that are difficult to remember and add. And things like this, to answer the question that one of you will ask eventually, is one of the many reasons why mages have not replaced chefs, doctors, or manufacturing industries, on a massive scale.” He collapsed into a seat, and rubbed his temples.

“Is it safe to eat?” someone called out.

“Yes, but it’s always good to check as some change spells do come with undesirable side effects. My bread is safe to eat, if you’re a fan of dense, tasteless food. You can’t eat this one, though, because in a few minutes when I have my strength back, I am going to use it for a final demonstration.”

The class at large took this as a cue to relax for a few minutes. Most of the class pulled out their tablets to amuse themselves. It had been a week since the lab incident, and most people had gotten bored with the gossip, but a couple still shot glances at Kylie and me. Several people were more interested in studying the Fiore, who sat with his eyes closed, taking deep breaths and sipping from a water bottle. Socks curled up on his lap, purring; he scratched under her chin.

“So what do you think of this lesson?” I asked Kylie, mostly to have something to say.

She shrugged, not looking up from her tablet. “Doesn’t matter to us, does it?”

Technically true. “What if you pick up a change spell in the future?”

“I hope not. I can barely handle this one.”

After several minutes, the Fiore inspected Socks and set her back on the desk.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but Socks isn’t up to the next demonstration. The level of complexity after ‘loaves’ is ‘fish’ – the simulation of meat. Meat is far, far more difficult than something like bread. Why? Yes, Magista?”

“Because it’s made of solids and liquids?”

“Partially, yes. That does complicate the structure rather a lot. It also contains an unbelievable amount of different chemicals, several of which haven’t been identified yet. The structure on a microscopic level is very important – cells are essentially tiny bubbles fulls of water and solubles, and you have to make a lot of them. Any imitation of meat I could make would be poorer than the bread, and when people want to make meat they will usually cheat, making something fibrous with a similar enough taste and texture to meat without having to simulate the whole thing. Yes?”

“Could a really, really good change mage make realistic meat?” Clara asked.

“Yes, if their spell was cooperative enough. It’s rarely worth the time and energy, but it can theoretically be done.”

“Well, what about – ”

“Living flesh? Can a mage create a live animal? Somebody always asks that, and the answer is: theoretically yes, but in practice, no. In theory, an animal is just a complicated set of chemical reactions, and can be made magically just like anything else. But the complexity of living meat over dead meat is orders of magnitude more complex. A living cell is not only a complicated arrangement of several thousand different types of molecules packed together; it involves millions of chemical reactions all in different stages at any given time. You cannot ‘cheat’ with living flesh like you can with dead flesh, because if you get it wrong, it dies. Oh, there have been rumours of magically created life all throughout history, but nobody has ever been able to demonstrate it, or even demonstrate a spell that could handle anything so complex. And the most realistic imitations are the constructs of illusionists and contract mages, and don’t involve creating real flesh. It’s simply beyond our capabilities.”

“But there are tons of mages in medicine!” someone protested. I recognised him as the boy who,i in an earlier class, had said he wanted to be a healer.

“There are, yes. The vast majority of them are not change mages. The most commonly used spells in magic are prophecies and contract spells – the least physical categories of magic. Prophecies, particularly those that see the present, tend to be used for non-invasive diagnostics. Contract spells can be used to increase somebody’s ‘life energy’ or otherwise alter their odds of survival without intervention on a physical level. These less physical spells are the most useful in a practice as complicated as healing. The handful of change mages in medicine tend to be hyperspecialised; they may purify blood inside the body, for example.”

“What about Kuracar Malas?” I piped up.

The Fiore’s eyes flicked down to the patches of blue on my hands. “Kuracar Malas is a rare exception. First, it is worth noting that he has two spells; a prophecy and a change spell. They are very closely linked and reinforce each other; he would not be able to do the things he does with the change spell alone. He needs information provided by the prophecy in order to replicate anything. Second, you will notice that even he cannot create flesh. Malas does not heal people; he diagnoses their injuries with an unbelievable degree of precision and custom makes some of the most sophisticated bandages and temporary replacements n the world for them. I highly doubt that his creations have a cellular structure; they are simply designed to crudely imitate the structural and chemical effect of whatever they are replacing and promote healing. The body eventually heals, and they are not needed any more.”

“What if it doesn’t heal?” Clara asked.

“Then the patient will be dependent on the kuracar until they find another solution to their health crisis, I suppose. In my experience, although I admit my experience is about fifteen years out of date, Malas is extremely good at determining when his power can and can’t help, so if you’re ever in that situation I’m sure he’ll let you know. Any further questions about change magic?” He paused, and when there were no responses, stood up. “Very well. Then let us finish early today. Socks needs to rest.”


One thought on “1.36: Water, Wine, Loaves and Fishes

  1. Interesting. So transmutation is a thing, and it’s restricted more by complexity than purity. Lots of potential Chekhov guns tied to that, such as the impossibility of creating life(I already have ideas on how) and the ability to, say, turn a thin sliver of a material into lubricant to make a wall into a door.

    Water, wine, bread, fish- was Jesus a wizard?

    Contract spells seem to be a very powerful form of magic, if I understand it right. Making magical pacts that affect reality? Probably has a lot of restrictions though.

    Kuracar Malas’ magic isn’t 100% what I imagined; I figured his creations were a biodegradable sterile scaffolding that encouraged healing, but it sounds more like a bandage with some properties of a graft.

    Poor Socks. She’s probably always tired, and didn’t even get a psuedofish snack for her trouble. At least Fiore cares so much for her.


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