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Of Muffins and Magic

Vazra took a moment to enjoy the warmth of the hot spring before continuing his lecture. He found the warm water and proximity to nature far preferable to the cold confines of a classroom. He reclined against a rock and savored the contrast against the cool air just above the surface. He took a deep breath and began.
“See, Mage Armor is an extremely volatile aura of arcane protection. Ordinarily, any attempt to add a second layer will result in the premature activation of the first, canceling both out. Essentially: Mage Armor, as we once knew it, would react to other Mage Armor. Ultimately, we found no amount of tampering with the frequency would bypass this issue, instead we found a solution when we created an entirely second spell mimicking the first in practice, but fundamentally different in theory.”
He took a moment to make sure his students were still with him. Some of the Ulven, particularly the males, split their time between remarkable dedication to their training and denouncing the practice of magic entirely.
“Right, so ‘Improved mage armor’, as it’s commonly known, is actually a contingent enchantment. It doesn’t do anything until an outside action triggers it. This way the spell doesn’t interfere with the protective aura of the traditional Mage Armor. Instead, it sleeps until exposed to a significant source of energy, physical or magical, at which time the spell freezes the caster in stasis for the imperceptibly short moment of impact.”
A young Syndar girl who had previously gone unnoticed raised her hand inquisitively. “So…. It stops time?”
“That would be a gross overstatement,” Vazra replied, confused to her sudden presence. “Relax, you’re overthinking things.”
Some of the other students gave him strange looks, while to his annoyance, the young Syndar girl raised her hand again. This time Vazra noticed a gruesome gash across her arm.
“Yes?” he replied, so startled by the sight of the wound that he failed to acknowledge it at all.
Her tone turned dark and she looked to him accusingly. “Why did you let us die?” she hissed.
Vazra froze, the feeling of guilt crawling through his gut. As he looked on in horror, blood began to trickle from the girls eyes like red tears. He tried to stutter out an apology but couldn’t find the words. The world began to spin as he watched horrific apparitions of the dead appear and sink vicious claws into her cheeks and gut. They mutilated the girl, tearing her apart piece by piece. In a panic, he scrambled out of the spring and shut his eyes, cowering before the horror.
“Arch-Mage?” a voice snapped him back to reality.
Looking back to the pool, he found that the girl, creatures, and gore were gone, leaving only the faces of confused students behind. They exchanged awkward expressions for a long time before at last the silence was broken.
“Let’s umm… move on to another subject.” Vazra cleared his throat, trying to escape the situation.
“While at the most basic and fundamental level there is no difference between Arcane and Divine magic, a distinction is drawn based on preconceptions and variations between practices.”
He continued, regaining his confidence as the students eased back into the lesson.
“I can guide you down your own path of discovery, but ultimately each and every one of you will need to discover your own individual practices of spell casting. These defer between cultures and people because mana tends to behave differently depending on your relationship to it. You must accommodate these variations and discover in what manner you are personally connected to the mana stream. Meditate carefully and observe with which methods mana proves most malleable and then synchronize yourself accordingly.”
“These fluctuations have drastic practical implications. For example, under ordinary circumstances, a Syndar cannot become a so called ‘witch-mage’. This is because their spirits are more inclined to attune themselves to a particular practice. This doesn’t mean they are less capable mages by any means, quite the contrary. It would be more accurate to say: it is within their nature to specialize. They personify these distinctions as the influences of their deities ‘Luna’ and ‘Sol’.”
“Speaking of which, many of you also personify the mana stream or its source in your own way. None of you are necessarily wrong, and I am in no way commenting on the legitimacy of those beliefs, but instead wish to impart an open-minded approach to magic and the realization that the practices of other cultures have much to offer your own studies. These lessons will apply across the board regardless of your tradition.”
“With that addressed, let us return to some of the practical implications. Apart from the Arcane/Divine distinction, some of you will be able to draw mana faster than others through meditation, and some of you will have massive reserves but will be slow to replenish them.”
“It is helpful to imagine mana as a body of water while considering this. Some of you will be like white water emptying into a shallow pond, others like great and old lakes fed by the narrow mouth of a slow river. The water metaphor can also be applied to the various states of mana and how different individuals excel at shaping it in different ways. Some of you will be best suited to sculpt ice, others to dig canals or to pack snow. Others still are snowless. Snow is a lot of fun and those without it tend to be rather depressed. We call those sticks in the mud ‘Hallowed’, and tend not to invite them to parties.”
Beginning to digress and growing tired of lecturing, Vazra then took his students through a long series of breathing exercises, letting them slowly drift into deep meditation. Once their attention was refocused, he slipped away unnoticed, or so he thought.
“Arch-Mage?” a curious human student by the name of Maxwell had pursued him from the pool. “You haven’t elaborated at all on your own methods.”
“Ha!” Vazra laughed, turning back. “So you want to take after the best?”
“At my core, I accept the truths I’ve shared. Every preconceived limitation is simply a mental construct born of ignorance. Mastery of magic comes from spiritual growth, physical training and relentless practice. Above all, however, it comes from the imagination.”
“The imagination?” Maxwell laughed,
“Yes, imagination.” Vazra scolded. “When you truly accept the possibilities as limitless, that is what they will become. Behold.”
Vazra knelt and chanted an incantation, circling his left hand over his right. Within his palm crackled yellow energy. “Piercing bolt.” the Archmage smiled,
“I’ve never seen that spell before.” Maxwell commented.
“and it did nothing to save us.” the Syndar girl added accusingly.
“Few have.” Vazra replied, trying his best to ignore the girl and shake off the hallucination.
“What good did your tricks do when the dead rose from their graves? When they killed us in front of you?” she spat.
The world began to spin and close in around Vazra, he felt as if he was suffocating. Like every breath was being stolen from him. Increasingly uncomfortable, he motioned for his student to join him as he fled the woman’s scorn. A long time they walked, and for a while nothing was said. Vazra just looked back and forth nervously, jumping at shadows and muttering nonsensical apologies.
Eventually however, the anxiety passed, and he gained the nerve to continue as if nothing had happened.
“What we call ‘Piercing bolt’ proves far too volatile to practically employ, but serves to demonstrate a point: that the spells you commonly encounter are the constructs of casters who gravitate towards a tried and true selection rather than the limitations of magic itself.”
“The energy called ‘mana’ can be manipulated innumerable ways once you understand its nature. I have also dabbled in a spell containing the personified essence of muffins. In fact, I once attempted to call lightning down from the heavens to strike my opponent dead. I mean, it didn’t work, but the point remains and I have some sexy scars to show off as a result. Woman love scars, that’s another important point.”
“Arch-Mage?” the student asked, confused by the sudden change of topic.
“Hush Maxwell. You’re a man now, you need to hear this. See, you have to be confident but not arrogant or narcissistic. Sensitive, caring, but also independent. Nobody likes a yes-man. You should always strive for self-improvement, but above all, you need to be yourself. Nobody likes a fraud or wants to be loved for somebody they’re not.”
“Arch-Mage, ermm, aren’t we getting off subject? What about the magic?”
“Love is magic. Youth today, you have no appreciation for the romantic. Once, back in Faedrun, I witnessed a conflicted Penitent cultist offer a Vandregonian woman a mushroom as a token of affection. As much as I loathe the Penitent I have to admit: it was a clever twist. See, he took a romantic cliché and made it personal and unique.”
At that moment Vazra abruptly lost interest in any further conversation. Without a word, he departed back to the Spire, once again leaving behind a student scratching his head in confusion.

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