"Qualia, Septin and Cogil. These are the foundational elements of all magic."
Qualia represents the conscious construction of the spell.
Septin represents the unconscious will infused into the wish.
Cogil represents the corporeal multiplier for a magical transaction.
These elements when combined will manifest a distinctly unique experience.
"Did you get that Mel?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah! I got it". She nods her head vigorously.
"...Okay, then I'm going to quiz you. What's the name of the magical element for consciousness?
She pauses for a while to think, striking a pensive pose.
She nods once again, full of confidence. I stare at her for a few seconds.
A few seconds more.
Then I burst out laughing. She looks at me with a puzzled expression.
"But.…but… wasn't I right? I was paying attention!"
"Yes, I suppose you were close enough. You little monster."
"Not fair! I can tell you're lying. Your voice says it all."
She comes over to where I'm sitting and punches me on the arm.
Soon a barrage of fists are headed to my arm which is really starting to feel sore.
You know what? I don't have to take this.
I Immediately tackle her on the ground and start roughhousing with her a bit.
While tousling her hair, I tickle her side and she starts giggling uncontrollably, while I laugh alongside her.
With almost choreographed precision, I push her into the air and she does a half body rotation before landing on my limbs which retreat gracefully to brake the fall.
Then as we're tumbling around on the floor, I have an unusually abstract thought.
There aren't many things that make me appreciate life more than this. The pure, unadulterated joy I get when sharing these innocent moments make me really believe that life and people are born good.
Seeing the birth of life shaped into curiosity and wonder for the world allows me to vicariously experience the joy that is only possible at inception. The emerging understanding of the world as one of endless possibilities.
Alas, reality is not so kind as to allow this kind of innocence to flourish. When you naturally learn more about the world of possibilities, so too do you learn about your own impossibilities. The limits of your existence become known. At the same time, the demands and expectations of your being ever increase. The truth will eventually rears its inconsiderate head.
Even worse: As our communities grew larger and more complex, the environments that allowed for that innocence to thrive were reduced. The repeated interactions necessary to maintain trust are no longer necessary to survive. Lying, intrigue, deceit become selectively more valuable.
And so, these rational behaviors drives us towards a slightly crueler equilibrium. Only our knowledge, experience and feelings can help buffer against this gap in expectations.
With that somber thought, I straighten Mel up and lift her back to standing position, adopting a sterner look.
"Okay Mel, let's be a little more serious here. You asked me earlier to help with your school work again and I'm trying to do that, but you're not making it easy."
She sits down back at her desk with a slightly frustrated expression on her face. I bolster my resolve and try to maintain the teacher-student dynamic.
"So the correct answer is Qualia. But I'm not concerned about you memorizing every little technical detail. What's important to me is that you understand the concept of a magical spell."
"Concept of a magical spell?"
"Right. So think of a spell as a combination of parts. Cogil is the physical part of the idea. Stuff like strength, health, weather, material quality and talent all fall in this area."
"Strength and health? Ahh, so that's why mama and papa make me eat all those nasty vegetables."
Her face undoubtedly frowning at the taste of yesterday's boiled cabbage.
"I'd say they're more interested in seeing you live a healthy life. Of course, getting better at magic is a plus. "
"I seeee. Oh but what if say, I'm in a bad mood. Will that affect my magical ability?"
"Good question. So it was first thought that things like emotions and feelings were solely in the Septin domain. But as our understanding grew, we realized that it was at least in part shared with the Cogil domain.
"Aah, Septin deals with the unconscious mind, right? So then you're saying that your mental state will affect your physical capabilities."
"Correct, it's all connected. And like you said, Septin deals with all the unconscious parts, so anything you can't perceive with your senses or hidden in your psyche will show itself here. There are important consequences to this."
She tilts her head in response to that obvious leading statement.
"Hmm.… so… let's say that you're really, really angry with someone. So angry that you might even think you want to kill them. But If you're like most people, your conscience will be deeply disgusted at the thought of murder and prevent you from casting a spell that could kill that person."
Her eyes widen at the sudden visceral example.
"...I've definitely felt that way before. It's a good thing something like that exists, or it would be really easy to kill without thinking."
"Exactly. And one consequence of that is that magic becomes a less efficient weapon. With conventional weapons, there is a way for people to kill without thought. It was the tool that did the killing. With magic, there is no such excuse. You need congruency between action and intent to do anything."
She nods thoughtfully to herself, as if processing the information. I can already tell this conversation has been productive.
"On the flip side of that statement, this means that magicians that specialize will always have patterns in their personality. The ones who dedicate themselves to warfare and intrigue tend to be ruthless and disagreeable. While the opposite is true for those who want to use their talents to better the living society."
"Aah, and that's the kind of magician you want to be, right Max?"
"Yep. If at all possible, I want to work towards making the world just a little bit happier."
"Well, I'd say you're off to a good start with me." She gives me a sheepish smile.
I smile back in response. While I can't say that my immediate relationships have been the best, I know Melina and I have shared a special bond growing up together. Since we were young, our parents were both away from the house very often. Father is a traveling merchant by trade, so he spends most of his time away from home. Mother works as a homemaker, so she only returns home around dinner time.
It wasn't always easy, but because it was just us two it allowed us to really appreciate each other. In hindsight, I doubt we would be as close if the whole family was always together.
"So, the last one was 'Qualia' right? Can you explain that one too?"
She emphasizes the pronunciation of Qualia to confirm she got it right.
"Yep, so Qualia is all about being precise. Since you're consciously manipulating objects without human intuition, you need to be careful about what kind of instructions you're using. All sorts of weird things can happen if you're not careful."
"Hmm, what sort of weird things? Can you give me an example of that?"
"Better yet, I'll show you. Come with me."
I get up and begin walking to the kitchen area of our home. She follows behind shortly after.
Compared to the average person, it can't be said that we're poorly off. The house we live in is much larger than your typical home, with separate rooms for each person. Smooth paved floors created the paths with rich tapestries lined across the walls.
Since our family is in the unusual situation of having two laborers, the additional income affords us better living standards. Whether this setup is better than having closer parental bonds is something I'm still considering.
We proceeded to the kitchen area where I open a small chestnut drawer. Inside I see the bread knife, shears, chopping board and other normal eating utensils.
I pick up the wooden spoon I'm looking for and after place it near myself on the ground. Turning back with great pomp and circumstance, I announce:
"For my next magic trick, I'm going to take this spoon and place it on the table without using my hands."
I look to the spoon and scowl slightly, while gesticulating wildly with my hands to build suspense.
Hands sprawled in an open pose, while taking a wide stance I shout those words.
But nothing happens.
I look to Mel to confirm her reaction. As expected, she has a puzzled expression on her face.
"Yeah. Oh by the way, everything I just told you was a lie. I'm actually trying to become a professional con-artist. How'd I do?"
She scoffs at me and pretends to look away.
"And I thought you were trying to tell me that I needed to be more serious."
I give her a smile right back.
"Ok, you're right, you're right. Here, watch closely."
I retract my pose to a normal standing position. Taking a deep breath and without any superfluous gestures, I quickly enunciate the following:
"Lift the wooden spoon closest to me onto the center of the kitchen table in five seconds."
A faint blue light begins to emit from my body. Immediately, the spoon rises and gracefully follows the shortest path to its destination. Exactly five seconds later, the spoon lands on the table.
Looking at Mel, I already know the questions are churning in her head.
"So I saw it happen… but did anything really?"
"What do you mean?"
She frowns, thinking about it for a second.
"Where were the hand gestures? Where were the magical words? It all seemed so… ordinary. Also your instructions were quite a mouthful. Wouldn't that be bad if you needed to do something really quickly?
"That's a lot of questions, so let me explain a bit more in detail."
I sit down at the table and she follows my cue, sitting across. After organizing my thoughts a bit, I decide how to answer her.
"So like you saw, there are no actual physical movements needed to cast a spell. Even saying the instructions is unnecessary, I only did it to show you the kind of precise language you'll need. Normally, you'd just think of the instructions in your head, making it a lot faster than speaking."
"Also, the reason for all that language is so that there's no confusion about what you're trying to do. Imagine if there were two wooden spoons exactly the same distance from me on the floor. Since I only specified for the single closest spoon to be lifted, the spell would not be clearly defined and nothing would happen."
"Or if instead of lifting the spoon onto the table, I could've told the spoon to break in half. In that case, nothing would also happen since my conscience wouldn't allow for wanton destruction. I would've needed some kind of justification to break the spoon, but with none, the spell would've been blocked by Septin.
"Oh and if for whatever reason the spoon was already broken into pieces, then the spell would also take no effect. Even if I personally understand that the object is a broken spoon, if the concept does not match closely enough to the material reality then it will also have no effect."
"Aah, I see, I see…"
While driving my train of thought, I glance back to Mel to make sure I'm getting good feedback. She seems interested enough, but I can tell some of it's going over her head.
"Sorry, I know it's a lot to take in right now. I'll finish this up with something more visual."
I grab the nearby ink and parchment and draw a diagram of a spell's content.
"I wrote this out but don't bother trying to memorize it or anything. Just have it as a reference for what to think about when trying to cast a spell."
"Oh thank god, I thought you were going to start quizzing me again on this stuff."
She flops on the table, clearly exhausted at this point.
"Well, the whole point of this was to help you on your school work. I think we've more than accomplished that."
"You can say that again."
As we're resting in this comfortable lull in the conversation, I suddenly hear a few knocks on the entrance door.
Aah that's right, I agreed to meet today and it's about that time for them to show up.
"Hey, is that who I think it is?"
I can feel the smugness lurking behind that question without even having to look.
"Sorry to disappoint, but it's not that kind of meeting. We're just having a conversation about magic."
"Sure, sure. I'll get out of your way for now. Don't worry, I won't peak out of my room."
She heads back to her room but not before giving me a not-so-subtle wink and shuts the door.
Why do I get the feeling that some sort of misunderstanding just happened?
Wanting some air first, I opened the nearest side window and look outside. I didn't realize how much time I spent teaching Mel. The sun is already setting, creating a nice milky red gradient across the sky. The air feels cool and just the right temperature for a brisk walk. If I were to set this environment while walking along the nearby meandering river with another person, it would be quite the romantic setting.
The knocks are getting even louder. Jeez they're persistent. Don't worry, I'm coming.
Though I'm trying to convince myself that this meeting will be nothing unusual, my constant thoughts have created higher expectations to the point of almost reaching anxiety.
After a deep breath, I approach the entrance of our home and notice a faint moving silhouette next to the door. The setting sun and enveloping darkness continues to distort the shadow. As I get closer to open the door, I can feel that my expectations for this meeting will not go unanswered.