Definitely an Alley

The man was wearing a suit.  There wasn’t enough light for Jessie to tell if it was a good suit or not, but it didn’t fit.  It had either been made for someone else, or the man had lost a lot of weight at some point.  The pants rode too low on him, and folded into crinkles at the ankles; the shoulders were too broad, the cuffs of the garment hung out over his hands somewhat, and the waist hung slack with black shadows gathering where it folded in odd places.

Taking in his other features Jessie decided the man had probably lost weight.  His cheeks were so hollow they vanished into black shadows, and his forehead was tight and round as though stretched by the skull beneath.  He was bald, or had shaved his head, and the ends of his fingers were like twigs.  Jessie couldn’t tell if his complexion was healthy or not.  Under the sodium bulb, his skin looked as yellow as a daisy.

“Come on,” Jessie hissed to Suma then started to tug her away.

There was a sharp bang from behind them, and Jessie looked back again.  The man had been standing in the center of the alley.  Now he wasn’t.  It took her a moment to find him again.  Now he was perched on the edge of a dumpster that had been a full five paces in front of him when she’d last looked.  How had he moved so quickly?

The man answered her question by leaping into the air. The jump carried him into the blackness beyond the street lights.  Jessie couldn’t tell how high it was, but the lights were hung at the top of the first story of the buildings to either side of them – at least 10 or 12 feet up.  A moment later the man fell back out of the gloom and landed exactly where he had been on the edge of the dumpster.  He was in the same crouching posture in the same spot.  Were it not for the bang echoing through the alley they might have imagined his jump.

He repeated this feat another 4 times while both women watched, stunned.  At least I know what the noise was about earlier, Jessie thought.

“Enchanted,” Suma whispered.

A spell could be cast on a human.  Such a spell could do a host of things, sensory and cognitive enhancement was common, and spells had medical uses. Physical enhancement, as in the man’s case, was also a possibility. Such casting was almost almost always illegal, despite its usefulness, because it quickly became addictive.  Sometimes the addiction was purely psychological, people just liked being able to hear a whisper at 50 yards.  Sometimes there was a chemical factor as the brain got used to its altered state, and sometimes the addiction was magical.  That was probably the case here.  The man was probably always somewhat under the effect of the spell.  It had probably become entangled in his subconscious mind or DNA such that he couldn’t stop casting it on himself even if he wanted to.  Such a person was known as an Enchanted, and they were frequently twisted and unpredictable due to their magic.

Jessie looked forward again.  They were only ten steps from the more brightly lit and hopefully more heavily trafficked street.  She wanted to run for it, but that wouldn’t have been smart.  There was a chance the man behind them had nothing to do with them at all.  Perhaps dumpster jumping seemed like a great workout plan once your mind was jacked with some strange chunk of magic.  But if they ran he might get angry for the perceived slight.  Alternately he might think it was fun to chase them.  It was safest to treat him like an unpredictable dog and retreat slowly with confident body language.

Jessie took a step forward tugging Suma after her as she did so.  She felt the other woman stumble then lurch into motion as she took a second step.  Jessie looked up and caught Suma’s eyes.  They were wide and scared, but all trace of alcohol seemed to have fled and the Indian woman seemed to be on board with the plan.  Together they took a third step. Jessie ignored the bangs coming from behind her.  That’s fine, she thought, just dumpstersizing.

Only 7 or 8 more steps to go.  Jessie tried to straighten her back.  There was nothing to worry about, they were just walking to the bus.  Everything was fine.  It wasn’t even an alley they were in, just a narrow street.  One way, perhaps, but at the very least a dump truck must drive through here regularly.  It wasn’t the sort of place crimes happened.

Then a dark shape rushed through the air above them.  And with a rustle of loose suit the man landed in front of them.  He was as perfectly still as he had been at every other point when he wasn’t jumping.  He still seemed thin and unhealthy.  He was looking right at them, but he wasn’t wearing much of an expression.  Then he pulled his lips slowly off his teeth letting them gleam yellow in the off colored light of the alley.  He took one slow step toward them.

Jessie decided a change of strategy was in order, “Run!”

Not an Alley
The Main Street isn't Much Better

For some reason I cannot adequately explain, even to myself, I'm trying to write and to write better. So if you like my story let me know. All feedback is appreciated.

Posted in The Beginners Guide to Magical Site Licensing
14 comments on “Definitely an Alley
  1. Thaumaturgical_Support says:

    So here we learn why Jessie had to go to shady underworld characters to get healing spells cast on her mom. As I mentioned a few updates back anything which can contain information can trigger spells, and everyone can focus magical energy. This is not so great when we’re talking about magical crack.

  2. DeNarr says:

    [The pants road too low on him,]

    road=rode

    Also, a really helpful thing to do when referencing previous chapters, is to provide a link to the relevant chapter. That way when you mention something, people can quickly click the link to reread it.

    • Thaumaturgical_Support says:

      I corrected the rode, thanks for pointing it out.

      I thought I talked about what triggers magic here: http://starterserials.com/the-beginners-guide-to-magical-site-licensing/fire/ but I guess what I wrote was:

      “All of the spells he was using were new style things, invented by changing physics in some specific well understood way, those were vastly easier to remember then the otherwise meaningless symbols, gestures, and incantations of old school spells. Unfortunately, that was exactly why they were all failing. Lots of people were probably doing exactly the same thing. He tried to remember one of the older style fire spells. Prometheus’s Gift was a squiggle that looked sort of like a tree drawn with your right hand while moving your left around in a circle, wasn’t it? He tried that and the power just hung in the air. It either wasn’t, or he hadn’t drawn it well enough. Or he’d moved his hand too fast. Or the circle was actually a bit of an oval. That’s why no one likes the old spells, he thought.”

      I don’t quite clarify that the trigger for a spell is anything that communicates information. Equations, in the case of new spells, meaningful gestures in the case of old spells. Maybe that’s stated explicitly in an update I’ve only scheduled. I’ll have to check. I would like to get that into the story, though it’s not a big enough detail to twist up that narrative for.

      It’s not a spoiler, or even particularly important beyond the fact that spells can be triggered by DNA. *That’s* only important because I wanted a way to make all the traditional magical creatures make sense with the magic of the setting.

      Anyhow – bonus for people who read the comments! Magic has no preference for psudo-latin. Spells are triggered by anything which 1) contains, 2) encodes, and 3) manipulates information. This means magic can show up in some very odd places. (It also means Jessie is wrong when she thinks you can cast a spell subconsciously, no formal encoding to the information there, but DNA is *great* for triggering spells.)

      • Kazorh says:

        How does that work exactly? Do you… alter your DNA such that it has a particular pattern that is inherently magical?

        Actually, what decides what is magical or not? When people made a new old-style spell, did they DISCOVER something that already existed by itself, or did they CREATE something, such that this particular combination of gestures/words/whatever would not have triggered a spell before?

        • Thaumaturgical_Support says:

          > How does that work exactly? Do you… alter your DNA such
          > that it has a particular pattern that is inherently
          > magical?

          Triggers, be they DNA or equations, gestures, or whatever are not inherently magical. Rather they describe the affect of the spell then you pour magical energy into them and the spell happens. I’m thinking of claiming that you have to feel the spell at least once before you can use the trigger. But, um, that isn’t cannon yet. 😉

          With a DNA trigger you might see something like a stutter in the section of the genome that codes for muscle protein triggering a spell that makes a person stronger. That isn’t a perfect description of what the spell does, of course, but language *never* *perfectly* describes anything, so we know triggers aren’t perfect.

          > Actually, what decides what is magical or not? When
          > people made a new old-style spell, did they DISCOVER
          > something that already existed by itself, or did they
          > CREATE something, such that this particular
          > combination of gestures/words/whatever would not have
          > triggered a spell before?

          They are both creating and discovering.

          They would sit around, meditating and filled with magical energy, for hours, days, months, years, or maybe decades using their magically expanded awareness to seek an alternate configuration for physics that allowed what they wanted to happen to happen. For this story, one of the versions of string theory that postulates an utterly ridiculous near infinite number of alternate possibilities for physics is right. So they were DISCOVERING something that already existed. (As are modern mages, they just have a roadmap because they know the part of physics they’re trying to change. I should also note the old process for making spells isn’t entirely dead, but it’s not corporate. There are “treasure hunter” mages out there still using it.)

          Once you’ve done the spell you can get back to it consistently and rapidly by CREATING a trigger. The connection of a trigger to a spell is poorly understood by the mages and physicists of this world. They think that it’s not matter and energy which can’t be created or destroyed but rather the information of that matter/energy. I’ve read stuff like that out of our physicists, so they might be on to something. But, at any rate, the spell bonds to its new trigger like two unstable particles combining and you don’t need to hunt up the spell each time – you just trigger it.

          • Kazorh says:

            I like the image of a mage going fishing through the endless versions of reality.

            So, to recap, someone discovers a spell to get super-strength (by going fishing or by actually knowing biology), they link it to a particular gene sequence as a trigger. Someone can thereafter put this sequence in their DNA, focus magic through the trigger, and be affected by the spell. Right?

            And… the part about not being able to stop using the spell? Is that automatic with DNA triggers, that they work all the time? Or does it happen when you overuse it? Or is Jessie completely wrong and there’s no such thing as not being able to stop casting a spell?

            Did people use DNA triggers before they knew what DNA was? Like, an old-style mage went fishing for a spell that would infuse someone with a trigger, and they stumbled on a DNA modification spell without knowing how it worked exactly?

            • Thaumaturgical_Support says:

              > Did people use DNA triggers before they knew what
              > DNA was? Like, an old-style mage went fishing for
              > a spell that would infuse someone with a trigger,
              > and they stumbled on a DNA modification spell
              > without knowing how it worked exactly?

              So I’ll start with your last question first, as this is how I see nearly all DNA triggered spells getting into circulation. Some ancient shaman says, “I want to give my tribe the power of the STONE! And I want it to be PERMANENT!” They cast the spell, it turns the tribe into something like Ogres, it writes the trigger into their DNA, and it rearranges their minds so they never stop focusing magic into the trigger.

              Old style magic is what Jessie was thinking of when she considered DNA triggers that can’t be shut off.

              She also thinks about physiological and mundane physiological addiction:

              “Sometimes the addiction was purely
              physiological people just liked being able to
              hear a whisper at 50 yards. Sometimes there
              was a chemical factor as the brain got use to
              its altered state”

              This is a real problem with magic because you’ve essentially got someone addicted to something they can manufacture, anytime, anywhere, without any equipment. Worse yet, an addict using the spell can cause it to fail for legitimately sick people due to non-scalar affects.

              Perhaps this could all be managed, but magic is such a flexible tool that the FDA and medical companies have found it safer and more profitable to focus on enhancing mundane treatments, or crafting magical molecules.

              I was also careful to leave myself a back door. 😉 Jessie thinks that casting spells directly on people is “almost always” illegal. Now and then, it’s the only option.

              > someone discovers a spell to get super-strength
              > (by going fishing or by actually knowing
              > biology), they link it to a particular gene
              > sequence as a trigger.

              Modern Mages have little motivation to use DNA triggers. First, it is counter to industry philosophy which (like programming industry philosophy) holds that you should always make your product as easy to understand and reuse as possible.

              Second, whoever is doing the spell development would also have to pay to design custom DNA and then have it inserted into their target’s genome.

              And third, as we see in the very first installment, magic can be cast mechanically. If you want someone to be able to cast spells without learning them you might as well just hand them a box to do the work for them.

              However, now that we’re talking about it, it occurs to me that there would be some benefits to storing a spell in DNA. It wouldn’t be detectable, it could be cast without any visible action, and you couldn’t take it away from the holder. So *maybe* someone *is* using spells like that, but they’d have to have tons of money and a very sneaky use for their spells… Hmmm magical black-ops?

              I haven’t plotted anything for that, but maybe I should!

            • Thaumaturgical_Support says:

              One last thought on a spell being permanent. Perhaps the spell has some mundane effect while it’s being cast that stays in place after it’s gone. Someone uses the super-strength spell and does a bunch of super strong stuff. That’s like a great workout, and while the spell is in place they grow super dense muscle, so it makes them stronger even when the spell isn’t being cast. But it causes a little brain damage so it makes them dumber. Eventually they start looking like an Ogre without any magic in play.

              A trained mage would probably say “no spell is being cast.” But from an untrained perspective it probably looks like a spell is still in play.

              I might need to come back to that section and tweak it just a bit now that we’ve talked about it.

  3. irrevenant says:

    Typo: “brain got use to its altered state”. Should be “used”.

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