Friday, 30 March 2012

Friday Flash Fiction - The Listeners

Today is a big day for me at Westbridge Magical Academy. I am presenting my doctorate thesis to the Mage's Council, one on which I have worked for the past six years, and they are not going to like it.

I take a fortifying breath before pushing open the door to the large Council Hall. It is empty except for their stately oak desk at one end, engraved with all manner of magical symbols. The Mages watch me with slightly disdainful looks as I approach the long distance across the echoing wooden floor, passing in and out of the sunbeams streaming in the windows. I stop abruptly and my robes sweep forward, kicking up a little dust. It would be usual to conjure up the title of my thesis, "The Language of Magic" to float in the air beside me, and to make full parchment copies also appear on the Council desk, before each long-bearded member. I have delivered handwritten copies to each member of the Council in advance, and I do not conjure my title at all.

"Proceed" says Head Mage Arcturum when it appears I will not be conjuring anything. I nod slightly and clear my throat.

"We have long known magic to be bound to language. Incantations, whether spoken or written, appear to be essential, and the symbols and signs we use are also language, though in pictographic form. That realisation of the centrality of language to the magical arts, and the observation that incantations and symbols are both forms of language, led me to explore in detail the different forms of language that may be used to invoke certain well-known spells and effects, particularly basic levitation, production of fire, illusion and far-sight.

"My research and experiments eventually proved that all of these basic elements of magic are reproducible in almost any language known to man, spoken or written, including the isolated natives of many small island nations, but also sign languages, dead languages, and even music and mathematics. I also demonstrated that a known incantation in a language unknown to the speaker, failed to produce the same results as the same incantation in his or her native language.

"This last anomaly led me down an unexpected and puzzling path. Why should a wizard need to know the language of an incantation before it produces the desired result, and why do incantations translated to new languages still produce those results?"

I had their attention now.

"We know that three things are required for language: a message, a shared code, and two or more entities. Mages, we wizards are not the most powerful beings on this planet. You yourselves are not even the most powerful beings in this very room, nor am I. Someone, something has been listening to our incantations, learning our languages, and doing our bidding at their whim for centuries. They are here. They are all around us, and we do not know what they want. Until we do, I cannot, in good conscience, perform any magic, though I intend to continue my research. Thankyou."

I wait for the stunned outrage, the nervous whispers, the quick flicking of pages to check the details of my research, or even just a dismissive smile and handwave. I get none of these. They stare at me, deadly serious.

Arcturum speaks slowly to break the silence. "You were, I take it, under the impression that this was unknown to the Mage's Council?"
My jaw works up and down a few times, apparently unwilling to form any words. "I ... yes, sir."

"We are," he continues, "well aware of such entities, though, as you say, unaware of their ultimate motives. You will be assigned to work under Doctor Millinum as he attempts to unravel the entities' intentions. Doctorate granted."

He taps his wand on the desk with the sound of a gavel that echoes through the big empty room, and the Council files out silently, leaving me alone. That ... did not go as planned, but in hindsight, it probably could not have gone any better.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Personally, I think this is the only way magic could actually work.
PPS - Which makes it a bit non-magical, I suppose.

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