Mar 18, 2019 8:45 PM
James wakes up alone in a room
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Phaleritan observes, asks questions about Zheras's experiences, and occasionally requests demonstrations. He pens notes in a notebook and makes a lot of thoughtful sounds and occasionally asks Zheras to please wait while retrieves reagents or charms so he can properly analyze what's going on.

Eventually, once Zheras has run out of things to burn:

"I would say that your control of fire is unprecedented, but strictly speaking, that would be incorrect. There has been a minor loss in finesse and power as compared to the average djinn. However," he continues, holding up a finger, "you are significantly less overt while exerting that power. When djinni cast flame, it is indisputable that it is a djini's work, even after the flame has long since died out. In fact, when a djinn is nearby, it is similarly unmistakable that one is present, to sorcerers and wards and observant mundanes and even some animals that aren't particularly noted for magical acuity. With you, there is no such obvious and unmistakable signature. Of your magic or your presence. Of course, for long-burn fuels like coal, a signature can still potentially remain, and I imagine you could leave one if you were particularly careless and indiscreet. Regardless, though, you are more subtle than a djinn, and more powerful than a human with even the most exquisite sprite binding."

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He grins. He is not sure why he would want to be subtle but he is not sure why he wouldn't either and presumably he can be unsubtle if he wants.

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"There are some other things I'd like to test in this sphere, but they should perhaps wait until after we've seen your power in regards to things outside your specialization. Unless you'd like to continue focusing exclusively on pyromancy?"

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"I think we can move on."

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He nods evenly.

"Then we'll start with fundamental warding. We'll need materials to work, please wait here while I retrieve them."

When he returns, he has a long length of twine with two sticks tied onto the ends, and several large jars.

"We'll start with a salt ward, since even mundane humans can make a rudimentary one. Strictly speaking, we do not have to be in this warded room because this is unlikely to go poorly even if you mess up very badly. However, practically speaking, it's a flat space that's built for easy cleanup, and it's worthwhile to begin with good habits so as not to fall into bad ones later." He sets all jars but one on the floor, then hands the remaining one to Zheras, along with one end of the length of twine. This accomplished, he brings the stick tied to the other end of the twine to stand on the middle of the floor.

"This," he says, motioning to the stick and twine, "is a sorcerer's compass. It is for beginners. Please take the other end and begin pouring salt from the jar in a circle, taking care to make the width of the line the same throughout."

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Zheras attempts to do as instructed!

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It’s pretty straightforward to pour salt in a circle! Slightly more tricky to get the line the same width, but not particularly so.

“Do you have any guesses as to why a circle in particular?”

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He frowns at it. "What is it meant to do? The compass, that is."

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“Make it easier to pour the salt in a perfect circle. If you look, the compass isn’t magical at all. Just a tool to get an end result, given an admittedly slightly pompous name.”

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He smiles, then hums thoughtfully for a couple of seconds before trying an answer: "Circles - and spheres - are very stable. They are the same from every direction and any forces trying to break into them will sooner disperse along their surface than actually break in."

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“Correct,” he says, sounding mildly pleased. “Pouring the salt in a circle is not required, but it is a simple way to easily prevent in-built flaws in the ward itself. Congratulations. You have made a basic, stable ward without using any magic at all. Shades and spirits and the like will have trouble crossing the line of salt, and most won’t even bother putting forth the effort, when they can go somewhere else that isn’t quite so unfriendly.

“Now, what are the ways it can be theoretically improved?”

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"Adding any magic at all to it?"

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“Yes, but magic is not a bludgeon with which to solve our problems. It is a fulcrum by which we leverage solutions. Concrete ways it could be improved without a hand wave of ‘add magic to it,’ if you please.”

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He keeps grinning but asks, "Is this meant to be a ward for shades and spirits only, or for more things than that?"

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“Spirits and shades only, in this case. Warding in other ways will come later.”

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"So... what exactly are spirits and shades and why does salt repel them?"

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“Spirits and shades are catch all terms for weaker types of ephemeral magical beings that share our world with us. Colloquially, spirits refer to beings friendly or neutral to humans, while shades are decidedly unfriendly. Some are wandering lost souls of unburied humans, some of animals, some are conglomerated bits of proverbial magical dust that have stuck together well enough to form something that could dubiously be called alive. Some are a mix of all and more.

“Salt is notable because it is opposed to much of what weak and wayward spirits feed on. Or to be more precise, it is opposed to much of what most were made from. A high salt content prevents meat from spoiling and plant life from taking root. Imbibing salt water leaves one thirstier than when they’d started. For beings that form primarily from bits and pieces of things left to decay, it is decidedly unpalatable. It does not taste like something that could give the spirit more power, and it reminds them of something they avoided in life. And so now avoid in death and beyond.

“It is not, to be clear, the best warding material available. Just plentiful, straightforward, and simple to use.”

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"Things that are alive," Zheras suggests. "Life magic? Does that exist?"

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“That depends very much on your definition of life. There is no singular branch of magic or matter that can be pointed at to be responsible for all definitions of the word. Just a web of interconnected substances that nourish and fuel what we call life.

“Things that are alive is not an incorrect premise, but they would need to be very particular living things indeed. Usually living things become dead things. If you chose plant or animal matter to oppose the animated fragments of the dead and lost, you would be opposing the predator with the unslain prey. Not the worst thing you could do, but certainly not the best.”

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"Fire?" He makes a little glob of colour-changing fire float above his palm.

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“A better ward against the dead than salt,” agrees Phaleritan. “Since it eats the proverbial prey before the spirits do, and seeks to consume the spirits themselves besides. Countering something is a matter of removing that which fuels it.

“But we’ve gone further into theory than necessary for improving this ward in particular. There is a very simple improvement that could be made to this defense, and you’ve actually already said it. Let me ask you a question: what makes you think all spirits and shades are constrained to the ground?”

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Zheras blinks. "Nothing. A sphere?"

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“Correct. Here is where we may place our fulcrum. You’ve learned how to sing pyrotechnical reactions from fuel, to create and stretch out the flavors of fire magic across a wider space. So why not do it here, with the aura of salt, to create a more complete protection?”

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"...how?"

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“You’ve learned how to stretch out your magical senses to taste your surroundings, and how to reach out and affect them.” It is not a question. “In this case, the change you are making is not to the makeup of the salt, but to where it exerts influence. First, reach out and feel the circle. Feel the taste and aura of the salt. Then, nourish it with your magic and watch it respond. Try to keep as much flavor of fire out of it as possible; Fire is not diametrically opposed to salt, but it could complicate things overmuch.

“Once you have the salt’s aura hooked, when it wants to follow the source of power available to it, slowly spin the line of power up,” he motions from the ground to above them, “and then down on the other side. If you are careful and slow, it will follow.”

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