Chapter 46 – The Intersection of Transmutation and Transmogrification


Month 12, Day 9, Wednesday 2:15 p.m.

Professor Lacer was back in the Practical Casting classroom on Wednesday. For once, he was there ahead of the students. He leaned against his desk, which displayed a scattering of components.

A demonstration,’ Sebastien thought with excitement. Professor Lacer’s classes tended to be filled with a lot of practice, but he also often lectured on the kind of fascinating topics that were beyond the purview of their other classes. He introduced ideas and talked about spells that they couldn’t explore at their low level of skill, but which were still fascinating. Sometimes he made them do thought exercises that seemed designed to force them to think creatively and come up with non-standard solutions to problems.

But everyone enjoyed the days when he demonstrated free-casting the most.

As soon as they’d all settled, Professor Lacer pushed away from the edge of his desk. “Just as our understanding of magic has changed as we created the modern practice of sorcery, our labels have evolved. Ancient humans had no concept of a delineation between transmutation and transmogrification. It was all magic. Now, we say that transmutation is based on natural conversion of form or energy, and transmogrification is a borrowing of concepts. Of ideas. Intangible properties. Today, we are going to explore the intersection of transmutation and transmogrification.

“Transmogrification intersects with transmutation in three main ways. One, when both are used for separate aspects of a spell to create a synergistic effect. Two, when transmutation is not enough, and so we boost the effects by adding transmogrification toward the same purpose, adding a punch of efficacy to efficiency, as it were. Three, when the caster is using transmogrification not toward an intangible idea, but to copy a process, or, as happens more often, to copy part of a process in addition to the idea of the process that the caster does not understand.”

He crouched down and drew a Circle on the ground, about a meter across. “We will start with the simplest of intersections: spells that use both for a synergistic effect, transmutation for one facet and transmogrification for another.”

He turned to his desk, moving a block of heavy clay, three small white balls floating in a jar of yellow pickling brine, and another jar of water containing a frond of seaweed and some sand to the floor. From his pockets, he pulled out his Conduit with one hand and a beast core with the other. The block of clay rippled and morphed into the shape of a turtle, surprisingly detailed and lifelike. “A simple shape-change transmutation, using the provided clay and the energy from this beast core to mold it according to my Will. What comes next is, arguably, more interesting,” he said.

Within the briny jar, the three white balls disintegrated.

Color and texture seeped over the turtle, turning it from clay to flesh and shell.

It came to life with a sudden jerk, like someone awoken from a nightmare to find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.

“Pickled turtle eggs for the animation, the concept of the life that would have been, borrowed and molded into a lifelike simulation. Transmogrification. Let me point out that I have no idea if those eggs were fertilized or not, or if there were stillborn turtles within. And in case any of you have not been paying attention when we talk about theory, let me also point out that I have not created life. I have created a lifelike golem that will last as long as my concentration does.”

A student raised her hand, and he nodded to her, indicating that she could speak.

In a slightly hushed tone that nevertheless was clearly audible in the classroom—the rest of the students held their breath, as if any disturbance would break the spell—she asked, “Is it possible to create life? I’ve heard there have been experiments, but the creatures always die as soon as they let the spell drop. Professor Boldon said creating true life was one of the inherent limitations of magic.”

“Of course it is possible,” Professor Lacer immediately dismissed. “If you believe anything is impossible, it is because you are too primitive to understand how it works, or too weak to make it happen. If a woman can create true life in her womb, a thaumaturge can create true life with magic. Eventually, someone will cross that seemingly impassable barrier, just like we have crossed so many before.”

The girl sat back, frowning but silent.

Sebastien remembered Professor Gnorrish’s class on the theory of spontaneous generation. ‘Is it that we don’t understand what makes something “alive,” and so we cannot create life? Or perhaps there is something—a soul?—that requires too much energy, or that we are not giving the proper Sacrifices to recreate. But if that were the case, we would be able to measure the soul escaping from the body upon death, correct? I don’t believe there is any evidence of that. Unless the “soul,” or whatever it is that we’re missing, doesn’t actually reside within the body.’ It was a fascinating idea, with interesting implications. Who wouldn’t want to escape death? If you could understand enough to create life through magic, surely that was a huge step toward staving off death. One might even be able to simply transfer themselves into a fresh body when they got too old. ‘Of course,’ she thought wryly, ‘Research into the topic would almost certainly be classified as blood magic, whether it deserved to be outlawed or not.’ Before she could lose herself to contemplation, Professor Lacer’s spell drew her attention back.

Seawater burst out of the final jar, dispersing in an artful splash around the spherical confines of the Circle, and then seeming to expand impossibly while simultaneously disappearing.

The turtle rose up, swimming around the air as if it were in a dome-shaped aquarium. “And here,” Professor Lacer continued, “I have taken that concept of buoyancy that a creature might experience surrounded by seawater and applied it to the area under my control. I have slowed down the steps of this spell so that you can see the delineation between transmutation and transmogrification, but in many other spells both effects are simultaneous. We go as far as we can with transmutation, and bridge the gap with transmogrification.”

It’s true. Spells do that all the time. And it makes sense, if there isn’t any actual difference between the two. The two T’s are just labels we’ve used to explain what we’ve always been doing. A divider that’s only in our minds.’ It was an interesting way to look at things, as if she had tilted her head to the side and saw that the shape she’d thought was a square was actually a diamond, but it wasn’t some world-shattering revelation. Things like this were why she loved this class, as tedious as the magical exercises could sometimes be.

Professor Lacer dropped the spell without further fanfare.

The turtle fell to the floor, lifeless and a little damp.

He picked it up and tossed it into a box beside his desk without care, then grabbed a glass bottle of amber liquid. “For the second most common intersection of the two, take this whiskey spelled to impart a sense of warmth and wellbeing by the shot. Alcohol does this naturally, and the fermentation and distillation are a form of transmutation, whether processed magically or not. The addition of transmogrification magic uses that same alcohol and a couple of other ingredients to boost the effects beyond simple inebriation.”

“Do we get a practical demonstration of that, too?” a student called out. “I could do with a shot of warmth and wellbeing.”

This caused scattered laughter, and even Professor Lacer allowed a small quirk to his lips. “Even if University rules allowed it, I would not be so reckless as to give students anything that would combine lowered inhibitions and a sense of wellbeing. You already mistake yourselves to be invincible.”

He picked up a metal box, touching the controls to turn the walls of the artifact transparent. Within lay a shimmering, tapered slab of something that looked like dark oil.

That’s the same kind of evidence box the coppers use to keep things in stasis.

“Finally, transmutation intersects with transmogrification without us realizing it. The spell cast using this fish is one interesting example.” He opened the top, placed the box down, and then cast a levitation spell on the specimen using only his Conduit and the beast core for power. Even the Circle was maintained within his mind, and cast at a distance, just as he’d spoken of on their first day of class.

Sebastien grinned just to see it.

The fish floated between Professor Lacer and the students, turning slowly so they could see its flat, slablike form. “The dorienne fish survives and hunts using particularly impressive camouflage,” he introduced. “It can see through its skin, and it processes the input from one side of its body and mimics it on the other with precise control of its pigmentation. The dorienne is only able to do this from one side at a time, and will turn to keep one broad side facing a predator or its prey, so that it remains effectively invisible.”

He floated the dead, preserved fish into the Circle he’d drawn on the floor earlier, then placed a foot-wide mirror with a frame of ornate scrollwork across from it. “Although we are aware of how the dorienne fish works, those who first discovered it knew only that the fish could be invisible from one side at a time. They created a spell that seems to copy that process.” He pointed, and the mirror became invisible, frame and all.

With a deep breath and a scowl of concentration, he moved slowly to face the students again. Now floating in front of him, the partially invisible mirror rotated to its visible side, and then around again. “The spell does not actually copy the process of the fish. Can anyone tell me how they are different?”

Sebastien leaned forward in her seat, her eyes devouring every movement as the mirror continued to spin at different angles around its axis. “It’s actually invisible.”

Professor Lacer turned to her. “Explain.”

“With the way the fish works, light hits both sides. It’s only changed what one of its sides looks like to mimic the effect of light passing straight through. The spell you’re casting has made one side of the mirror invisible. When the invisible side is facing the light source, it casts no shadow. Light is passing right through it.”

With a very slight smile, he floated the mirror over to the lamp on his desk to show the effect more clearly. “Mr. Siverling is correct. The dorienne invisibility spell is more power-intensive than it should be if the process were truly being copied. It killed its creator on his initial test casting. Transmogrification is unclearly defined. The trade for your Sacrifice is not always an intangible property. Sometimes, rather, it is a tangible process that you could create with transmutation, with enough study. Sometimes, transmogrification molds connotative associations, which are intangible and often beyond our powers of transmutation. But other times, transmogrification simply copies a state or process from the Sacrifice, whole-cloth. And occasionally it does one while the ignorant researcher who does not understand the limitations of their subject believes it to be doing another.

“This spell was created to copy the process of the dorienne, a much less power-intensive shortcut than the true invisibility spells of the time. And yet, in their lack of understanding, the creator of this spell did not copy, but drew on their idea of the dorienne’s invisibility, never having noticed that the dorienne casts a shadow or understanding what this means.”

He placed the fish back in the stasis artifact and then snapped his fingers.

Boxes appeared at the back of the classroom as if they’d been there all along—and they probably had been. “We will be moving on to another exercise today. You have had five weeks to practice moving a ball in a circle, and while you should continue to practice so that you do not grow rusty before the mid-term tournament, it is time to stretch your Will in other ways. Come up and grab a set of components. They are rated by thaum capacity.”

Once all the students had filed down, retrieved the appropriate components, and returned to their desks, he continued. “You each have two bottles of dirt and a small dragon scale. Your dirt varies both in volume and the ratio of clay to sand. Those of you with a larger amount or sandier material will find this exercise more difficult. Your goal is to turn particulate earth into a solid sphere capable of withstanding pressure, and then back again. You will use both transmutation and transmogrification to achieve this. The dragon scale is to be used as a template of form as well as for the idea of its strength. In a month, you should be able to create a sturdy ball of earth from any combination of methods. From pure transmutation using pressure or heat or whatever natural process you can come up with, to accurately copying the internal structure of the dragon’s scale, to imbuing your ball of earth with the defensive power of a dragon.”

Professor Lacer had his own set of components on his desk, along with a steel mallet. He poured out a jar of pure sand. Under his hand, it glowed brightly with heat, flowing and melting into a sphere of opaque glass. “Transmutation,” he said.

He slammed the mallet down onto it, shattering the glass sphere into powder and shards. “Fairly weak.” The pieces drew back together before melting again into a ball. “Do not forget you must not only create the compressed sphere, but also return your component to its original state.” The reformed ball crumbled into sand under his Will.

He picked up the dragon scale and laid it next to the pile of sand. The sand once again glowed and drew together into a sphere, but its surface was matte this time, and Sebastien thought she could make out the same patterning as the dragon scale sitting on the desk beside it.

“The simplest form of transmogrification,” he said. “Copying. The internal structure of a dragon’s scale is no more an intangible quality than its color is. Both are knowable, explainable by the natural sciences. And yet, spells like this have been labeled and cast as transmogrification by those who don’t understand how these things come to be. I will move the sphere to the floor this time. I do not wish to damage my desk.”

He brought down the iron mallet even harder than before. The sound of the impact was like the muffled crack of a frozen tree branch fracturing in the cold of winter under the weight of too much snow. The sphere was scuffed where the mallet had struck, but remained whole. He repeated this several more times to the same effect. Turning to one of the other students near the front, a strong-looking young man, Lacer called him up to take the mallet.

While the young man kept bashing away at the sphere, Lacer stood and continued lecturing, his words punctuated by the cracking sound of the mallet against the ball. “If I were to take the time to understand how the scale of the dragon is created, what the cells are made of and how their structure provides such defensive qualities, I could mold the sand without the need for a template to copy. The advantage of this method, as well as transmutation, is that as long as the transformation is complete by the time the casting stops, the changes will remain. I have created permanent change from a temporary application of magical power.”

Finally, after a few dozen more whacks from the enthusiastic student, the sphere broke, falling to jagged shards like a piece of hard candy.

Professor Lacer had him stand by while he returned the pieces to sand once again, this time using the second jar as a component. “What you can copy in one direction you can copy in the other. Rather than disintegrating this through transmutation, I am copying the state of the sand.”

The sphere’s recreation took slightly longer the third time, and Sebastien imagined she felt the weight of Professor Lacer’s Will brushing against the air.

When he finally held it up to them, it looked like the first time, shiny and semi-transparent. “This ball is a simple-structured glass imbued with the concept of a dragon’s defense. True transmogrification, completely conceptual without any accompanying physical change. It is an actively cast spell, not an enchanted artifact, so the magic won’t hold long, but while it does…”

He tossed the sphere to the man holding the mallet, who caught it clumsily, then placed it on the floor and whacked.

The sound was different, not such a clear crack, but deeper and hollower, as if the force of the blow had reverberated through something bigger than the sphere. The man repeated this dozens of times, but the sphere remained completely unharmed, pristine and unscuffed even after he began to pant and sweat.

Finally, Professor Lacer stopped him, once again turning the sphere back into sand, then levitating that sand back into its bottle. “Your turn,” he said to the class. “Homework will be theoretical research: the glyphs and spell arrays you could use to make these effects happen. Three glyphs, maximum. Be creative, be exhaustive. Due next Wednesday.”

Sebastien’s jars weren’t quite filled with pure sand, as the ones Professor Lacer used for his demonstration had been, but they were far from the clay dust she saw some of the other students working with, and there was enough to create a ball almost an inch in diameter. It would require both more power and more skill. With only middling success, she attempted to transmute the sandy dirt into a rock. By the end of the class period, she was frustrated with her dinky little Conduit. It kept her from crushing or heating the material with enough strength to create anything more than a lumpy ball with the consistency of sandstone.

Author Note:

Hopefully my explanations about how the magic works under the hood are clear. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, because I’m coming at it from the mentality of someone who already understands, since I’m the one who created the system. Please let me know (at any point) if you get confused so I can work to make things more transparent!

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