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CHAPTER 52 ~ MAGIC
Well, now that we have plumbed the miserable depths of my youth, shall we move on to a more... palatable subject? I know that you are curious about the Veil, but of that you have learned much through hearing of my explanations about it to Gunther. So, hm... shall we discuss magic? Ah! Your eyes lit up at that. Magic it is, then. Do, please, help yourself to a slice of cake.
*chuckles* No, it was indeed not there a moment ago, but it is delicious, I assure you. Not for nothing did Mortimer love it whenever a baking fit came over me. It didn't happen often, mind, but when it did I had a faithful shadow in the kitchen.
Let me see... well, I suppose it would be best to speak first of magical inheritance. Who may practice it and who may not, you might say. Magic is, indeed, inherited. It cannot be taught—
Ah. Yes. Well, Gunther and the apple. That was... a pleasant little fiction; a distraction for him at the time. Gunther has no magical skills at all, for he is fully human. Not even the slightest dilution of witchcraft going back many generations, though his great-great-great grandmother was suspected of it.
Oh, magical trickery can be taught, of course. The sleight-of-hand of the stage magician is simple to master, for it is only illusion. There are a few stage magicians who possess and utilise true magic, as a matter of fact, but it would violate the unwritten code of witchery—not to mention that of the Magic Circle—to reveal their names. Not only that, but I believe the Magic Circle itself does not even know of their true nature.
However, a witch cannot hide from another of their kind, unless they are truly skilled at their craft. It is for that precise reason that elder witches keep a weather eye out for the young and inexperienced within their families. Had Esther's mother lived longer than she did, and had she been noticed and trained by another of our kin, she would have recognised her daughter's skills. That, though, was not to be. Luckily for Esther, I was in her general circle of acquaintance, and there truly is no witch in history better qualified to train another.
Why? I have already told you that my father was the most powerful magic-user ever known, and that he passed all of his abilities to me. Does that not qualify me as the most powerful magic-user ever known? Especially as I have continued to study for a thousand years, honing my skills and manipulating time itself.
The Veil keeps meticulous records, as I have already mentioned. It is possible to access information on one's entire lineage through those records, and I have spent many an hour with books so ancient that—were they in the mortal realm—would be behind glass, in thermostatically controlled rooms, and handled by nobody but the most important of experts wearing pristine white gloves.
No books fall apart in the Veil. No scrolls, nor manuscripts are untouchable. The magic within the Veil is so great that it conveys a kind of stasis to everything within it. This is, as you might imagine, a boon to books; those most fragile and precious of things.
But, it was while reading back through my own lineage—far past the days of my father—that I learned of even more distant ancestors who were magical practitioners. Magic itself goes back through many, many ages of the world, and at a certain point the written records of it cease, because... well, writing had not been invented. It is then that one must access deeper records: those of thought and memory. These records take skill to analyse, and I cannot truly explain to you how it is done. But nonetheless, I could still trace my ancestors through them, back to a point where magic first began, or at least became known.
Most witches attain their ability through some ancestor who mated with another possessed of diluted craft. My ancestors were undiluted—witches mating with witches—going far, far back; hence the strength of my own magic. In truth, though I joked about it with Gunther, it would be perfectly possible for me to turn somebody into a toad. However, that would require a great deal of mental effort for very little reward, other than a lot more trouble than it is worth.
Oh, it is indeed a wonderful skill to possess, and no doubt you might wish that—at some point in your life—you'd had the ability to turn, say, an unkind teacher, or an unpleasant co-worker into a toad. But one must think of the wider ramifications of such a spell. The teacher, now a toad, cannot provide for his family. His wife has lost her husband—not simply to the fact of being a toad, for how indeed could the toad convey to her that he was once her husband?—but in totality. No policeman would believe the toad was once a man, if the toad could even tell them, and so the husband would become a missing person. His children would lose their father. So, you see, the knock-on effect of such a drastic spell would be far greater, have much wider-reaching and devastating impact on innocent lives than the feelings of righteous revenge that the spell-caster might feel—however briefly—would be worth.
Magic is a skill that can best be described in the words of Queen Elizabeth the First in what was later dubbed her "Golden Speech": "To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it." It is a skill that requires constant control and care for one's words and actions. I raise my hand, so—
—and instantly you see the power that comes without any intent save that of raising my hand. A casual flick of my fingers could turn the cake in your hand into a cockroach, without much of a second thought, although my dear friend... I would not dream of doing such a thing. It is, however, to this end that witches are required to keep a constant watch over themselves. It is also why young witches must be trained in the art by an experienced elder; preferably as soon as their skills begin to manifest in ways that may appear inexplicable to outsiders.
But magic itself, and how it works... hm. This may take some explaining. Are you sure you do not wish me to return to my story?
Very well. A little more explanation while we continue walking, and then perhaps we should return to Gunther's long weekend with me in the Veil. Let me see now... the physical properties of magic itself, explained in a manner the layman could understand...
Everyone is born with a certain amount of what I shall call "earth energy" within them. Earth energy is a latent magical energy, and every man, woman, and child comes into the world with a finite quantity of it. Most never harness it, or at best they experience it as blissful moments in life, such as watching a beautiful sunset with a loved one, or holding their child in their arms in the moments after its birth. Those precious seconds of sheer joy? That is your earth energy, touching your unknowing soul and infusing it for just those moments with the wonder of ages; the breath-stopping and unadulterated joy of living. There is a reason why, for most mortals, those moments are brief. They are so blinding that only the oldest of souls can bear them for long.
A witch experiences earth energy a little differently. Of course, we have those same moments of bliss as mortals do, but earth energy is also the source of our abilities. It is earth energy that grounds our spells and gives them physical power, but it is not the only energy that we can harness. As a witch grows in ability it becomes possible to utilise two of the other three energies, which are—you might have guessed—air, fire, and water. Fire is too dangerous and damaging to be anything but a destructive energy, though some use it for cleansing. And thus, the energies that all trained witches call upon are earth, air, and water.
Some witches focus mainly in one energetic arena. Natalie's mother, for example, is an earth witch. She is perhaps the closest to a traditional witch that you might see in a book of fairy tales. She knows the ways of the woods, is skilled in herblore and divining, in crystal healing and the reading of crystal balls; the age-old concept of the "wise woman," I think you could call her.
Natalie is a little different; at least, from my initial and discreet examination of her abilities. She appears to be an air witch, though her magic is diluted somewhat and she may never attain the possible heights of that ability. Air witchery is indeed quite rare, and it concerns weather and augury—divination through the flight of birds that was so prevalent in Roman times—and, of course, the mastery of flight. *chuckles* With, or without the aid of a broomstick. I doubt that Natalie will make it that far, but I suspect that she will be able to cast a raincloud when one is needed, or to persuade a rainy day to depart if the forecast augurs badly for a wedding or other outdoor event she wishes to attend.
Weddings. Ah yes, you have noticed behind the red ring, hm? I kept it hidden from you until such time in my tale as I could reveal Gunther's proposal. I wear it still, although I do not know if Gunther wears his, also. *sigh* I suspect not.
There is one other witch in my story that I have not yet told you about; mainly because I only realised their true nature when it was too late. I think it best that I tell you about that when the moment of my realisation comes in the story, and not before.
As to my own witchcraft, I work in all energetic arenas, although I avoid fire whenever possible. My first mortal death came as a result of a house fire, and although I had timed things so that I might be asleep and overcome by smoke before the flames reached me... things did not quite work out that way. Ironic, really, that a witch who avoided being burned for all the centuries in which it was practiced ended up dying the most agonising death imaginable in a common house fire.
I cannot explain fully how spells work, for each one is different. Some do indeed require certain ingredients, whereas others may be cast by simple thought alone. Some require a source to focus upon, which is where the traditional wand comes in, and others need to spread far and wide, and thus hands are used. Ingredient spells can be tricky if one has not the ingredients to hand, necessitating further conjuring just to bring them into one's possession.
Personally, I prefer to work by simple expediency of thought, and I have spent many decades transforming certain ingredient spells into thought spells. I suppose you might think of that exercise as something akin to a difficult crossword puzzle. It keeps my mind focused, and provides an excellent challenge in an everlasting life that could easily seep into endless ennui, hm? Perhaps one day I shall publish them in a book, although in this increasingly secular and mundane world such things as belief in anything fantastical are left at the nursery door, or—if they last a little longer than that—at the first playground teasing for being "weird."
Regardless, no matter the specialisation, every witch must replenish their earth energy. We, too, receive a finite amount of it at birth, but whereas the average human never gets through all of theirs, we go through it at an alarming rate. Replenishment is such a simple thing to do, and it has given rise to all manner of strange beliefs about our kind.
We must be one with nature, which can be something as pleasant as wading through the surf on a beach or walking barefoot on wet grass. I love to sit with my back to an old tree, soaking up the strength and wisdom of its age as I watch the insects and small animals scratching through the grass and leaves on the ground. And yes, there are times when nakedness and moonlight are involved, although in this day and age one can easily end up in a police cell and charged with indecent exposure if one is not careful! The safest place to perform that specific oneness with nature is within the Veil itself, for every tree that ever existed reaches into the Veil in a way that mortals cannot understand, and it is why the Veil is most frequently seen as a forest.
Your eyelids are drooping again. You seem inordinately tired. Might I suggest that it is time for you to sleep? I really do think that would be wise...
Nonono. I would not dream of expecting you to book into a hotel for the night. I have several spare bedrooms in this house, and one is always made up in case of unexpected guests. Please, do feel free to stay the night. I do not plan to sleep, for I have work to do, but when you wake I will have a good breakfast prepared for you, the better that you may be ready to hear the rest of my story.
Goodnight, my friend. Sleep well.