Kyle smiled, but it was fake again. He had always wanted to buy unlimited use rights to some little spell for moments like this. He’d looked though, anything remotely useful was pretty expensive. There were a host of destructive spells that could be had cheaply, that was the nature of magic, but those didn’t really lend themselves to casual use. That’d be easy to introduce, Sure I can show you what my fancy magical degree is good for, grandma. Let me just blow up this end table.
He’d have to work with something in the public domain, but anything reasonably easy to remember and perform was overused. There was a 50/50 chance he’d end up looking like an idiot. “Um, maybe I can manage a spell.”
Kyle tried not to sound put upon. He’d had this conversation at least a dozen times with people who’d learned everything they knew about magic from TV. “Without coordinating the spells ahead of time I’ll run into problems with the power requirements. Have you ever taken a magic class?”
She shrugged, “Senior year of high school. We just learned the basics, and practiced focusing energy.” She grinned, “I fell asleep in class a few times trying to do that; it was at 8am.”
“Did they ever let you cast a spell?”
“For the final. All the magic classes met in the gym and together we cast a spell that let us know where the nearest sheep was. That was so odd! We all focused as much energy as we could and used, um… ‘bindings” to hook ourselves together, then our teacher made some gestures, chanted some Latin, and I knew where the nearest sheep was. I just knew it was kind of north by northwest about 5 miles away. It was like feeling where my own foot was. That was the final. We went back to our class rooms and wrote down where the sheep had been. If you got it right, you got 75% and if you’d contributed energy to the spell you got the other 25. I don’t know how they knew if you’d managed to contribute any energy, but I got 100.”
Kyle grinned. He’d done Yorkic’s Sheep Finder as well back in high school. It was a popular spell for classroom demonstration. It was relatively simple, in the public domain, could be applied to an entire group of people, and there was no practical use for it what-so-ever. Modern farmers tracked their livestock using implantable GPS transponders and smart phone apps. Even if you wanted to use a spell, there were better ones, so you were never fighting with some poor shepherd over the spell’s power requirements.
Kyle had looked Yorick up after learning the spell. Everything the modern world knew of the spell and it’s author came from “The Magic and Mages of the Dutch” a volume written by a near contemporary of Yorick. “The Magic and Mages,” was one part spell book, one part who’s who, and one part self aggrandizing memoir. It’s author painted Yorkic as a jerk who would require one-quarter of the meat from any animal he found whenever it was butchered even if that price deprived the shepherd of the food they needed to survive. Then again, “The Magic and Mages” seemed to have something bad to say about every magic user other than its author.
The Sheep Finder might just work at the moment, it was getting late on a Saturday night after all. Kyle tried to remember the words and gestures used to trigger it, but came up blank. Like most of his contemporaries, Yorick had used Latin to trigger the spell and some gestures to tune it. Kyle had taken classes in that sort of thing, but his focus in college had been “Contemporary Magic”. Modern spells were all triggered by directly denoting the equations they were intended to change, because most were developed bottom up based on real world science. Yorick and his contemporaries had used trial-and-error. It allowed them to pull off some utterly inexplicable things, a physic connection to the location of sheep included, but developing new spells had taken years or even decades. As such, only the most important of legacy magic saw use, and even then modern users tried to reverse engineer them into modifications of real world science.
“Did you have to do that spell at an odd time?”
“Oh yeah! We all had to come in at 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday. A lot of the kids really hated it, and it was really hard not to fall asleep meditating that day. We were avoiding normal school hours because of the scale law.” Jessie drained the last of her drink, a neon pink thing with an umbrella sticking out of it. She looked around like she was trying to find a waitress. Kyle wondered if he should offer to buy her drink.
“The non-scalar law,” he corrected then immediately regretted the pedantic impulse. “It’s the equation that dictates how much magical energy is required to do a spell. It’s the minimum of the golden ratio, expressed as 1.61803399 or the theoretical amount of energy the spell would take if only one person were doing it, times the cube of the number of people currently doing it minus Merlin’s constant, divided by the number of people doing it.”
Jessie raised her eyebrows. Kyle realized he was in a bar reciting a mathematical formula.
Taking entirely the wrong tack he tried to explain the same thing, only without the math. “What a spell does, any spell, is it warps space so the rules of reality are different. Like, you can give gravitons an electrical charge so they can’t penetrate the ground. That makes things float in the spell area. But the more you warp space the harder additional change becomes. So if more than one person tries to do a spell at the same time it’s like a bunch of people trying to stretch a huge rubber band one inch a piece. The first guy that does it has a pretty easy job. Then a second guy comes along. Now together they need to stretch it two inches. It’s still easy, but each guy pulling has to work somewhat harder. As more and more people join the group it gets harder for every member of the group.”
“I guess that makes sense,” she sounded distracted and looked around for the waitress again.
“The sheep finder is particularly lousy because whatever it does to entangle your brain with the nearest sheep is really far from our own reality.”
She gave him a lopsided smile, “I suppose it would be.” Then she grinned and said in a teasing tone, “And that’s why a big strong mage like you can’t even magically light a match?”
“Well,” he hedged. “I didn’t say I couldn’t, I said it would be hard! Um, without the lecture it’s not at all impressive if I pull this off. But, yeah, public domain spells are really hard to use. If they weren’t I suppose more people would use them and then they’d get hard to use.”
She winked, “You’re all talk.”
He sighed theatrically. He had no idea if she was impressed or bored out of her skull and worried for her friend. Still, at least she wasn’t hiding in the bathroom. “I can try. Just don’t laugh at me if I can’t manage it.” Kyle hadn’t said anything about fire, but lighting a match was probably a good bet. There were about as many ways to make heat with magic as anything and enough heat to light a match was only marginally useful. If there was a spell he could probably do it would likely be some tiny bit of pyromancy. “I don’t suppose you have something that will burn?”