Jessie dug a matchbook out of her purse and slid it across the table to Kyle. “I don’t smoke, but I was a Girl Scout.”
“It will work beautifully.” He tried for a confident charming smile. He wasn’t certain he managed, but he was pretty sure it didn’t seem as toothy and crazy as the one he’d used before walking over.
He focused and drew in energy. Since he wasn’t tried it was a fairly quick process. He grabbed as much as he could hold since he was about to do battle with every other mage trying to light a fire with magic everywhere else in the world. The glow was impressive and Jessie pulled in a quick breath at Kyle’s shining amber eyes. That was a pretty good start, but it was just a light show unless he could pull off some spell.
First, he tried Marcuse’s exciter. When it worked it looked impressive. He sketched the equations for Brownian motion in the air, then adjusted a term so the molecules would move more rapidly at their current energy level. It was no good. Each atom felt the size of a bowling ball. He hadn’t expected that one to work, so he cut the spell before he lost much of his energy to failure.
Next, he tried Fundamental Joining. It was a cool spell because it actually cranked the strong force way up in range allowing normal temperatures to cause a tiny bit of nuclear fusion. He had a little bit of luck, a few atomic cores responded to his spell. It made the match in his fingers hot, but he could tell that’s all he was going to get.
He gave Superior Graphite Alteration a shot, but was shocked how hard that was. When Kyle learned that one it was kind of obscure. He barely knew Failed Mass Addition, but with a little fumbling he got that going, and mentally felt the match start to get almost hot enough to burn. Almost. Again it wasn’t enough.
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.
Kyle decided surrender was maybe the better part of valor, and gave the match a glare before looking back up at Jessie. He’d expected her to be bored out of her mind, but she was actually leaning forward watching him quite intently. A few tables around them were looking as well. His light show had been more impressive than he’d realized. Still the match was only about 10 degrees above room temperature.
Then inspiration struck. It was an idea so wild and so original he almost lost the magic he was still holding. His hands shook just a bit. If this worked… He had been manually paging through a dozen spells to determine which one would output the most energy. Energy is pretty fungible, he was aiming for heat but light would work just as well especially if it was focused infrared. He knew exactly how to detect which of several spells was putting out the most light. He’d been playing with that in his lab for years now. What was making his heart race was that he also knew how to make billions of spells all at the same time.
He could combine the two!
Basically forgetting about Jessie and the other watchers he sketched bindings in the air. Bindings weren’t really spells, they were just patterns of magic that modified magic directly without changing reality. One of them was a little used thing that split a line of magical current into different paths for every different effect it encountered, a second one represented a reservoir of power, and finally he added the binding he’d been working with to limit magical flow where there was no light tuned to sense IR. He dumped most of his remaining energy into that reservoir. It was a tiny puff of power, but hopefully he wouldn’t need any more than that, and it wasn’t smart to experiment with a large charge. He didn’t know if he’d be able to light the match. But it should be impressive. “Here goes nothing,” he mumbled to himself.
Jessie heard him though and nodded her expression still reasonably bright. “Sure.”
Attempting to give the gesture a bit of showmanship, Kyle set the match down under his magical field, then placed his finger at the nexus of the energy now floating above the table and let loose the last tiny shred of his power. Force rippled out of his body, down through his fingers, and out into the real world. But, rather than focusing it fully like he was doing a spell, he let it wander half-wild and foam up space. Essentially a Chi punch. The changes to space were minute, vastly too small to feel individually even using the magical sense that let him perceive the quantum states of molecules. Instead the entire region popped in and out of his mind as a general impression of chaos. But, in the millisecond that impression lasted, he was able to sense that some of the changes were making infrared light. His spell was able to sense it as well. The forking binding had extended a thread of energy into every region of space changed by the spell. Where there was more light his transistor like component made magic flow more easily. Those regions were fed by the reservoir of power. Regions being fed expanded as other parts of the spell died. It was self reinforcing. In a chain reaction spells starved, swelled, and then starved as the magic basically sorted out the most efficient effect for producing light. Finally only one remained.
A beam of infrared lanced down out of the spell. Only it was visible, so much light passed through the air that it heated enough to glow in a tiny pencil thin column of flame. The flame intersected the match, and obliterated its end so rapidly none of the remaining paper caught fire. However, the table absorbed all of the extra heat in one spot. It caught fire just fine.
Kyle stared in amazement for a moment at the flames. He hadn’t been expecting that! Fortunately, Jessie’s reaction was more practical; she doused the flames. The small wave of ice water that cascaded over the edge of the table and landed in Kyle’s crotch snapped him back to reality and he looked up meeting her eyes.
Jessie’s eyes were wide. “That’s fire all right. Also, um, I think the table may be a little messed up. Did you intend for that to happen?”
“Not like that!” Kyle couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice.
Before Kyle could explain, or someone could arrive to drag him out of the bar, they were interrupted by a loud shout. “I am not that kind of girl!”
It was Suma yelling, and standing there with a bright red hand print on his face was Ketan. Kyle had no idea what had happened but the Indian girl was pissed and his friend looked seriously sheepish.
Jessie had also noticed. She raised her eyebrows and shrugged at him. “I think I’m going to have to go now.” She hesitated, “It was nice. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, see you.”
Kyle watched as Jessie slid out of the booth, collected Suma, shot Ketan a glare, and they both pointedly walked toward the door. The Indian girl gesticulated wildly as she explained something. No doubt it was the slight that had resulted in her abrupt change of mood and departure. Ketan came back to the table.
“Dude, what did you say? And why did you have to say it just then? I think I was starting to make a good impression.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Really? Because that’s not how it looked from here or anywhere else in the bar.”
“Nah, it was going well. I had just asked her if she wanted to come back to my place for a nightcap.”
Kyle raised his eyebrows, “That’s all you said?”
“That roughly what I said. I may not have said ‘night cap’, but I thought she was up for it.”
Kyle nodded. His mind was already circling back to his magic. His approach had been rough, incredibly so, but it also had some extraordinary possibilities. As Ketan explained how crazy women could be Kyle mentally tried to remember a few things he’d read, or at least where he’d seen them. When they called it a night not long afterwards Kyle went directly home and started looking things up.
He didn’t sleep at all that night.