The forest creatures near the Raven Woods estate skitter about in preparation for winter gathering nuts while others gorge on what they find to be ready for hibernation, but none seem too concerned over the looming shadow overhead suddenly widening: for as the late afternoon begins its transition into early evening, the sun has an unexpected dance partner in the sky that joins it as it it dips closer to the horizon.
The Prism Keep, now almost as constant a fixture as any constellation, begins to sink lower in the air. It reaches a mere couple of hundred feet from the treetops near the northern edge of the estate before silently slowing to a halt. Anyone or anything else paying attention to the curious fortress would witness nothing more for some time to come. But directly below – in a small clearing just outside the grounds – something might be noticed.
A slight stirring of the wind and leaves, and then the flash of a small bend appears in the fabric of reality – an almost unpinching of space – as two figures appear on the ground. They step through the portal haloed in shimmering amber light as the portal closes behind them; as though reality were awakened from a slumber to briefly open an eyelid before lazily shutting it once more.
The older figure continues his stride without interruption as the younger one takes a moment to take in the new surroundings before catching back up to the other.
“Well, Master, I have no problem with the fit. It’s perfect, in fact. I was just curious about the design.”
“Is it too garish? I’m afraid I am far too out of touch with the fashions of this…” His stride pauses “…millennium? Oh by heavens, if this walk into town wasn’t going to make be feel my age enough.”
Giving his staff a knock on the ground, he resumes his pace as the younger one takes a place next to him. They walk toward the edge of the glade, nearing a forest path snaking its way toward Hope’s Bastion. The younger man looking down at his robes: a mix of dark silk, linen, and leather interwoven with fine embroidery and the sleeves, lower half edge, and silk sash in a bright golden amber. He holds up one of the sleeve edges to the waning sunlight.
“I was just wondering about the mice.”
The older one stops, turning with a cocked eyebrow. “Mice?”
Galen holds the embroidered edge of his sleeve up to eye level of his master – catching the fine pattern barely perceptible in the approaching dusk. Along the golden silk band can be seen a repeating pattern in the same color thread, but a different angle and thickness: blocky shapes that are unmistakably two mice facing each other. Their tails forming angled spirals on the ends as they interlock with the next paired set and the pattern repeats.
“Oh yes. Well, I must’ve told you about your menagerie?”
“Your reserve of magical energy that powers your spells?”
“OH! Yes, of course. You said that there were many different metaphors I could use to envision it. Mana Pools or Spell Slots were the ones I recall. I don’t remember you expounding on the ‘menagerie’ metaphor all that well, I’m afraid.”
“Have I not?” Alarius looks genuinely surprised, his eyes gazing off into the middle distance. “Tis one of my favorite analogies, I must’ve assumed I had already told you.” His face suddenly lights up “Well! Nothing stopping me now, is there?” He says with a happy grin as he starts his walk again; this time his hand producing a simple wand. He begins weaving a small illusion in the air before him; tiny silhouettes begin to form and animate as he speaks.
“There is a danger in thinking that magic is a mere substance that fills a vessel, or slot. That is, one could easily wonder why a wizard would not combine 2 slots of the first circle to fill a slot of the second circle.”
The illusionary puppet show before Galen depicts two small cups filled with a liquid pouring their contents into a cup twice their height and filling it up.
Galen energetically replies “Yes! I had wondered why that wouldn’t work. It seems logical, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed it does!” Alarius agrees. He can see Galen was already exploring the deeper questions and theory behind the nature of magic way ahead of his studies. He will make a fine Mage, he thought.
“And that’s the issue. If you envision magic as an amorphous substance that just fills slots, or pools, or what have you, then it should be possible to simply combine the contents of two 1st circle ‘slots’ to get enough magical energy to power a spell of the 2nd circle, but all attempts prove fruitless.”
“That is why I prefer the metaphor of the menagerie. Think of the magical energy to power spells as distinct creatures at your beck and call. You may be able to fill a larger vessel with the contents of smaller ones, but you cannot combine four cats and expect them to do the work of a horse!”
“Huh… I suppose that is a better way of thinking about it.” Galen gives the illusionary performance an unsure look. “So, the mice are… spell slots?”
“Yes. As you are just beginning, they represent the power of your first circle spells. As you progress, your ‘collection’ will grow. Your two mice will become three, then four. They will not, however, be capable of powering spells of anything beyond the first circle.”
As he speaks, the illusion depicts mice carrying a key or fetching a quill, then trying and failing at such tasks as herding sheep or uprooting a tree stump.
“Soon you will learn to include other creatures in your service: creatures capable of performing more difficult tasks. You would wrangle hares, then cats, foxes, …eventually the mighty oliphant will be among your retinue.” As Alarius speaks, the silhouettes of each appear; eventually being dwarfed at the addition of a huge tusked beast at the end.
Galen falls silent for a bit of the walk, mulling over the idea. They eventually come to a rise just past the tree-line where the town makes it’s appearance below. The two take in the sight of it, both feeling a sense of welcome as the sounds and aromas are carried to them by the sharpening wind. It may not be a bustling university or a heady capital city the mage would’ve chosen in his younger days for the occasion, but celebrations were in order and this warm bit of civilization on the outskirts of the westlands couldn’t be more fitting for merriment at his apprentice’s new station, Alarius thought.
He gains a step on Galen as the younger man takes another moment to ponder the town. “Should we have made an announcement of some sort?” he calls after his teacher as he begins his own descent. “I am aware that not many in town know us all that well, but I feel a bit out of sorts not extending an invitation at the very least…”
“Well, we wizards do need to keep some air of mystery about us, do we not?” Alarius responds with a chuckle. “And where is it written that a surprise party can only have the guest of honor being the one surprised?” At that, he gives a hearty laugh as he makes his way down the gentle slope toward the opening in the palisades.