Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spellbent: Chapter One, Part 7

We left the freeway and drove up Broad Street. On one side loomed the St. Joseph Cathedral (which had been home to more than its share of miracles because it was so close to the Grove), and on the other the high stone garden wall that surrounded most of the park. The fence had gone up in the '60s when traffic got bad enough that wandering Grove creatures started running a real risk of getting squashed by cars.

The only open side faced the Statehouse, and it was also the only part that attempted to masquerade as a standard city park. There was a half-acre of mowed lawn, some decorative cherry trees, a goldfish pond surrounded by concrete benches, and a few picnic tables. A line of ward-charmed rocks marked the border between the lawn and the western edge of the Grove. The wards were subtle, but effectively kept most mundanes out of the Grove and reminded most Grove denizens to stay put.

Cooper turned the Dinosaur left onto 3rd Street and then took another left into Taft Park's tiny parking lot. He gunned the motor to get the huge car over the curb and drove it across the grass, dodging picnic tables and startling a small flock of sleeping Canada geese. The tires left no marks on the turf; Cooper had long ago enchanted the wheels.

"Yuck. Grass is probably covered in goose shit," he said as the geese flew off, honking alarm. "Annoying birds."

"Could we use it for anything?"

"Use what?" he asked. He hit the brake and put the car in park. We were about a dozen yards away from the ornamental fish pond.

"Goose poop."

That's the core of ubiquemancy: magic is in everything. The spell-caster just has to figure out what kind of magic, how it can be used, and then invoke it in a spur-of-the-moment chant that sounds like a Pentecostal speaking in tongues to those who can't understand the primal languages. Unlike other magical disciplines, ubiquemancy seldom involves calling on spirits directly. Instead it relies on instinct, improvisation, and imagination to focus ambient magical energies.

Some people think that we can do any kind of magic with ubiquemancy, and while that's theoretically true, in practice it's whole a lot trickier, especially if things have Gone Terribly Wrong. It's not just about coming up with the right words. It's a lot like singing -- some spells are about as hard as "Mary Had A Little Lamb", but some of them are as challenging as La Bohème. Few singers can do a difficult aria the first time out of the gate, and if they don't have the right natural range they might never be able to do it. And even if a singer has range and skill, being able to improvise and perform a brand new aria right there on the spot while the audience is ripping the chairs out of the aisles and throwing them at your head ... well, like I said, it's tricky. But then again you can get lucky sometimes.

Ubiquemancy worked very well with Cooper's manic, live-for-the-moment mindset. People who dismiss the style call Cooper and our kind Babblers; the name's stuck enough that even those who respect the art use it.

Spellbent coverMagical talent is the biggest thing that makes a good Babbler. And Cooper had talent in spades. On his good days, he was one of the best wizards I had ever seen; I couldn't have asked for a better master. Unfortunately, on his bad days he had a tendency to give in to his self-destructive streak and drink himself senseless. At least after we became lovers he'd cut way back on his alcohol intake.

I sometimes got frustrated with ubiquemancy's magical anarchy and Cooper's pat "oh, you just know" replies to my questions. Sometimes I thought I would have been better off learning a more formalized magic like Mother Karen's white witchcraft.

But darned if Cooper's crazy magic didn't work.

"Goose shit," Cooper mused. He turned off the ignition. "It'd be great for curing barren earth ... fire tricks ... controlling geese ... summoning predatory animals ... spoiling food and water ... plant growth ... and maybe flight. Lots of stuff we don't need to do tonight."

"Should we go to the pond?"

"No, we don't want to be right by water. Over there by those oaks looks good. Let's get undressed."

>> Go on to Spellbent: Chapter One, Part 8

(Danger! Sex ahead! Don't click that if you're under 17 or easily offended.)