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All That Glitters...57

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#1 Guest_Tenebrous_*

Posted 22 April 2004 - 06:56 AM

Chapter Fifty-Seven

"Dealing With Evil". Straightforward enough, Anomen thought to himself as he sat down at a reading table and opened the book. The author was one Sander Cariltar, a priest of Tyr, and the book was fairly recent, within the past hundred years or so. Every book was kept in good condition by the enchantments placed on the library, but it didn't sharpen corners and there were easy ways to determine how new a book was. Especially easy for the squires who had spent much time working in the libraries, and Anomen had been no exception. He turned to the first page and started reading.

Evil is a particularly loaded term. In fact, its application has grown so wide and so vague that the word itself has lost specific meaning for many people. Does evil exist? Most certainly. Beyond that, however, there is little to be known about evil and its nature.

There are no evil people. Actions may be evil, but people are not. Even the holy paladins, the hands of the gods of light themselves, have only a limited capability to detect an intention to cause harm to others for personal gain, which is not a particularly good definition of evil nor any sort of way in which to separate the evil from the good as black from white sheep. Calling someone evil is not a judgement we are prepared to make or should make. Perhaps the gods can judge so; if they can, they have withheld these judgements from us, and for good reason. It is enough for us mortals to recognize that by any standard we are to use, no person is fundamentally evil and that there can never be a situation which does not hold the potential for change.

That is the core of dealing with evil. As long as men have free will evil cannot be destroyed, and so the true believer in Justice does not seek to destroy evil. One does not and cannot slaughter one's way to purity. Evil can only be truly defeated through understanding and compassion; killing is, at best, a draw, halting the commission of evil acts, but not defeating evil. Paladins are not armed with swords so that they can use them first; they are armed because as a last resort they may need them, and so that they have that option. Because as long as men have free will, good is never completely defeated, either, and many are the ways in which it can emerge victorious.

That doesn't make sense. Nalia frowned at the spell she had written down for the seventh time. It was the same one she'd cast that morning. Now, I have...four problems here. First...why didn't it go in the direction I wanted it to? Second, why didn't it take the shape I wanted it to take? Third - why was it so weak? She spared a brief thought for Anomen's hand. It wasn't that she had wanted to hurt him, but her spell should have blown off a finger or two. She was glad that it hadn't, but she still wanted to know why. And fourth - where did the fog come from?

Unbeknownst to the others, the spell had started out as a swirling cloud of fog, and Nalia had had no idea from where that had come. She had taken pieces of three spells she knew very well and combined them - and none of them produced fog.

First things first, she thought sternly at herself, and, setting bookmarks in three places in her spellbook, began to page back and forth between them, examining the parts that set the spell's direction.

At the least, the Law should guard the freedom and rights of the individual. Good rulers recognize this; poor rulers do not. Kingdoms are more prosperous when individuals are free to do what they wish; but even if freedom did not bring prosperity, it would still be the purpose of the Law to defend it. All mortals are born equal, and deserve an equal chance to accomplish all they might. As much as possible, the Law maintains this, by creating and enforcing a structure that ensures fairness and just reward for honest work. (For the counter-argument that mortals do not need structure to be fair and honest, see Appellion of Lathander's argument on page 480, and the response afterward by Aluviel of the church of Torm.)

Anomen turned to that page and began to read, but paused, then tore a strip of blank parchment from Kal's note and set it there, going back to his original page. He did not need to rush. He would get there eventually. He kept reading.

The relationship of this structure to crime is to inform citizens of the import and consequences of certain choices. The Law cannot stop people from committing crimes, but it can and does draw the line, such that those who choose to break it know what it is they do...

Nalia chewed at her lower lip, deep in thought. Evidently, the part she had understood to be the motions and gestures that set the spell's direction did not do that, or at least functioned in a different way. The original spell sprayed a fan-shaped wedge of bright colours, and Nalia had hoped that by duplicating a part of it she could cause another spell to take that effect. In this she worked both like and unlike other wizards.

Most wizards never got into the minutiae of their spells as did Nalia. Many adventuring mages, or battlemages attached to military forces, or even members of a magical order, simply learned their spells by rote. One did not have to know what parts of a spell did what, so long as one knew what they were being told to do with regards to preparation of the spell beforehand, and knew what words and gestures went with the casting of each spell. For such mages, they only learned spells by copying spellbooks and scrolls, and dutifully repeating the inscribed instructions to cause spells of similar effect.

Yet some did examine their spells. Elminster of Shadowdale, to name one, as well as many other powerful mages and even some lesser mages interested in the Art for itself and not for its use, did, and accomplished by hard work and careful study what Nalia had mostly achieved through her mysterious gift, learning what pieces of spells meant what. Sometimes, the same gestures and same words would mean completely different things, depending on what came before and after; sometimes, the same gesture did the same thing wherever it was used. Often it took trial and error to figure out what particular words and gestures meant, which was what Nalia was employing now.

Which wasn't to say her gift was useless. It allowed her to bypass what scholarly mages called "the Blank Wall", or "the Wall" for short. The Wall was that moment at the very beginning of magic studies when the mage first began to pick apart a spell. At that time the mage did not know what any gesture or word or preparation did, and was therefore forced into picking one and building a number of spells from it, attempting to thereby infer its effect. It was rather like shooting arrows at crows in the dark, and the Wall had foiled a number of aspiring scholars. Others' notes were often of little use; a fact that mages had long since accepted was that spells appeared slightly differently to each mage, and while many of the words and gestures tended to be the same, there were often subtle differences in how each one cast spells, and hence in how they worked for each individual.

Nalia had three advantages where the Wall was concerned. Firstly, she already knew what some words and gestures did, and had some idea of whether they affected or were affected by others. By eliminating those her task was made much easier. Secondly, however, she was also able to look at a part of a spell and intuit what its general purpose was, which was how she knew (though she was not exactly sure of how she knew it) that she was examining the sections of the relevant spells that concerned their direction. And thirdly, Nalia could read and see the spells as they took shape. Other mages could only know what spells did as they observed their effects, and they had to design elaborate experiments and then determine what was natural variance (as many spells, even well known ones, often varied in their effects from casting to casting) and what was the result of how the spell was put together. Nalia needed only cast it once and she could see how the spell was acting as well as how it had been written to act; she could tell the difference between a spell which lit wood by heating the air around it and one which did so by heating the wood directly by observing the spell's action and not just its effects.

Nalia turned the page in frustration again, leaving the first spell and flipping back to the lightning bolt. Her eye caught something in between and she opened her book to that page. Wait! This spell has that part too, and it doesn't go out in a fan. It goes straight. So that really doesn't make sense, unless...unless each part of the fan goes straight in a different direction, and some other part of the spell makes it fan out....

Those who believe that prison and penalty are meant to punish criminals, to answer pain for pain, miss the point. Nothing can undo a crime committed. To what useful end is more pain caused? Suffering can be noble. Not so the infliction of suffering on those unwilling.

It was strange, Anomen reflected, on an Ilmatari writing about the nature of crime and punishment. Yet while the Ilmatari position was slightly more sympathetic than that of Torm and Tyr, and definitely more than that of Helm, it was not all that different on its core principles.

Anyone who enters the justice system is put there on the assumption that they will eventually reform and return themselves to society. For minor crimes this is not an involved process, and so sentences should be relatively light. For serious crimes, sentences should be longer - not because they deserve greater pain, but because it takes time to reform them, and in the meantime it is imperative that they be kept away from people they can harm.

While we of the Crying God do not advocate the death penalty, other churches keep it. Even then, however, they, as we, recognize that the application of the death penalty is a reflection of our own failures and limitations. Death is sentenced when it is beyond our power to return the subject to society, or when the subject is too powerful to properly contain without undue risk of death and injury. And death is often, sadly, the result of situations which simply hold no possibility of practical nonviolent resolution. This is to be regretted, but, if necessary, not avoided.

Nalia scribbled a quick correction on her new spell. She thought she had figured out which parts corresponded to direction and shape, and had trimmed out pieces of one of the original spells which she had not needed to include, which had transmuted much of the lightning into harmless light, weakening it. Now all that was left to do was figure out where the fog had come from.

That was baffling her. None of her original spells had included fog in any way, or had made any provision for a cloud-like shape. She thought it might be vaguely related to the lightning, but a quick look at the lightning bolt spell showed that it was not the case - nothing jumped out at her as relating to manipulation of the weather. After all, it wasn't the priest spell that manipulated a storm's natural lightning, but the wizard's version which created a bolt at any time and any place.

She looked at her new spell again. Evidently there was something, some interaction of parts that was causing her spell's result to shift dramatically. Some side effect was occurring in addition to the one she had crafted, and she started pawing through the scroll cases to see if some other spell could help shed some light on which parts were interacting.

Knights are held to a higher standard because of the example they must provide. Yet knights must remember in all humility that the quality that allows them to reach this standard is not inherent superiority, but the drive to serve and protect those who cannot achieve what the knight has done. True servants of Helm must not place themselves above those who they guard, for knights of Helm are the eyes of the Watcher, and no eyes watch well that do not watch everywhere.

Anomen looked up from his book. No one else was left in the library, and the reddish glow cast through the small windows told him that it was time to go.

It had been a lot of reading, much of it, surprisingly and disappointingly, unfamiliar to him. But he resolved that it would not remain that way. His eyes had been opened - a little late, perhaps - but as a devoted priest of Helm he could not be anything but relieved that it was so. Even priests of the Watcher blind themselves sometimes, he reasoned. But not for long. I will learn.

A wall of fog. That was the spell. Nalia had uncovered the scroll in one of the cases Kal had given her. There was the effect that generated fog, but none of its components were similar to the spell she had written.

She looked out her window, just then noticing the sun setting. She had progressed, somewhat, but was still really no closer to understanding how to make her spell work as she wanted it to. Could it be that there were two completely different ways to write the same effect? And how long would it take for her to learn the second set?

At length she decided that she had better get started and unrolled the wall of fog scroll once more, allowing herself to look over it and examine the spell in detail.

And then she saw something similar.

She was not sure exactly what she had seen, but in a flash of inspiration she suddenly realized that the spells were, at their cores, the same. Wizards had long known that certain spells had different levels of power, simply by observing their effects, and wizardly orders tended to classify spells that way, as nine circles, or eight columns, or eleven ranks, depending on their personal interpretation of how many levels there were and which spells went where. Nalia saw then that the wall of fog, and the colour spray, both spells of the lowest power, were not necessarily lists of instructions that resulted in an effect. They were that, as well - and clearly less gifted mages would have to treat them as such, learning the many myriad ways one effect might be expressed as well as the many effects that might be expressed in one way - but Nalia didn't. What she saw or knew she could not write down, but she suddenly realized that those two spells were simply different ways of getting to fundamentally similar places, even if the effects were different...and that the spells did not differ so much, so long as one knew where to look for the similarities.

That morning, Nalia had prepared a few spells just in case of combat; a popular one that launched bolts of energy from her fingertips, a spell that cast others into a deep sleep, and one that created a puddle of grease on the ground. The greasing spell she had used on Isaea, but the other two were left, and as she turned to those pages in her spellbook she realized that they were not so different either, and as she read them her mind filled with all the possibilities she could create.

Nalia whispered a few words, beginning the motions of the sleeping spell, but altered the parts that somehow she knew were important. A crackle filled the air as blue lightning surrounded her hand, charged with electricity. With her other hand she made as if to cast forth bolts of energy, once again making a little, little change, and instead of firing missiles of light, her spell slammed her window shut and locked it.

Almost like...cantrips, she thought suddenly, and then, with no spell prepared, simply proceeded on the casting for a spell of light, and a bright white glow appeared above her desk. Laughing, she simply began running through words and motions which almost seemed to appear in her mind by themselves. A mug glowed with a magical aura; a cracked pane in the window repaired itself; a circular disk of force appeared beside her; she granted herself the ability to see heat as elves.

She spent some time simply delighting in all the effects she could create. Though they were minor, they were a step above the simple cantrips that she had been able to construct at will before. It seemed now that the ability to do so now extended to the first level of "true" spells after cantrips. Eventually she ran out of power, and her spells stopped working, but she had cast many before that had happened. I wonder if....

She paged rapidly to a spell of higher power in her spellbook, but she did not see the same similarities there, nothing that inspired her to the ability to cast spells like that one as easily as she cast cantrips. She wasn't disappointed, however. Perhaps, not now. But only for a while. I will learn.


Note for those who are following along technically. In game terms, Nalia no longer needs to prepare first-level spells - she can now free-cast any first-level spell or effect (even ones she doesn't have in her spellbook) with her first-level spell slots. Furthermore, she can sacrifice higher-level slots for a number of first-level effects equivalent to the level of the spell sacrificed.

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