De Magia 13: Too Many Mages

One cannot cast a spell in half the time by doubling the number of mages casting it.

Whether the turning of the seasons or the training of apprentices, some activities simply take as long as they take. They answer not to the timetables of archwizard or councilor, keeping a schedule as ancient and inscrutable as the changing of fashions or weather. One cannot ask the moon to rise new and set full, or the student that has just cast his first spell on Monday to be proficient by Friday. This does not stop councilors from asking for such things, of course, but it does establish a certain practical limit to the speed with which certain activities can occur, however unpalatable they may be.

This is not to say that one cannot take the occasional liberty with the process, but what one gains in time, one often loses in quality. One may cast a spell that demands the moon’s fullest when just at its cusp, but the ritual will likely fail before the month is out. One may cram an apprentice full of lessons, but each new instruction risks muddling those that came before. One may cook a roast for five minutes in an inferno rather than over coals overnight, but then one would have to eat it. Or, As Nicodemus once said—at a grand convocation, mind you, and in the presence of Ajanax himself—a dragon cannot have a hatchling in a month by laying a dozen eggs.

This attitude, of course, is never popular with councilors, because it gives the lie to the notion that time is a commutable property. As the courier may measure speed in furlongs per week or the innkeeper may calculate cost in silver per night, so too do overseers—and the academies which train them—like to think of magic in terms of mage-days, which is to say the amount of effort one mage may produce in a single day. This seems like a perfectly straightforward calculation, and it greatly simplifies the nature of record-keeping that the typical charter requires to track the projects one manages. Thus, if one says to one’s overseer that it will take four mages thirty days to cast a particular spell, one’s superior may simply note a need for one-hundred-twenty mage-days of effort for that ritual.

Unfortunately, unlike furlongs per week or silver per night, the mage-day is much more nebulous. The ritual that must start and end on the full moon and must be sung in four-part harmony takes the same number of man-days as the one that must be performed in solitude by a single mage for four months’ time. An enchantment which will take two mages a month to prepare looks the same on paper as the one that needs a score of mages for three days. The concept of the mage-day normalizes the vagaries of ritual by first presuming they don’t exist and then proving its case by induction. If ten mages could cast a spell in five days, then surely five could do the same job if they took twice as long. Conversely, one may always speed up a late project by tasking more people to complete it. Quod est demonstratum.

It is for this reason that, when Miles invited me to his office and asked me too casually if I was in need of any help, I quickly reminded him that my plate had been cleared prior to my present assignment. “Kyria has all my translations, and Cidan’s taken over my miscast analysis. Aside from divining Hypatia’s successor and training Theodore, I’d say I’m fairly unburdened at the moment.”

“Are you sure?” Miles asked with a weary smile. “I wouldn’t want you to become too taxed in your work. You’re one of my best mages, Carissa, and I don’t want you suffering too greatly from the burdens of your work.”

I blinked and leaned reflexively away from my overseer’s desk. “I’ve always said I would rather be too busy than too bored, Miles. Why, is someone questioning how I spend my time?”

My superior shrugged and ducked his head in a show of mock-contrition. “I’m just concerned. Councilor Franciscus asked Barbara today how his nephew was faring, and she said that from Theodore’s last report, he felt his training was proceeding too slowly. I was just trying to see if perhaps I could free up more of your time for teaching.”

That brought a sigh of exasperation to my lips. I sagged back in my seat and covered my face in my hands. “Miles, my time spent with Theodore is not the limiting factor on his rate of advancement. Some people are simply not meant for magic as a profession. He may be a skilled dabbler, but I’ve yet to see him actually master a gesture on the dozenth try.”

Miles clucked his tongue. “He’s got the talent; he just needs the training. Why, I saw him cast that lightning spell myself! At least, I saw the remnants of his efforts.”

I rolled my eyes. “He shattered another shard trying to duplicate his efforts and the artificers have already said they won’t give me a third. I’m back to abstract lessons with him, and I’m not even sure he’s listening! He spends more time drawing portraits and scribbling thankfully half-formed glyphs than following my motions.” I sighed again. “Are you sure we couldn’t suggest he consider some other noble profession, such as street-sweeping or brothel-tending?”

My overseer chuckled without mirth. “I’ve warned you about your tongue before, Carissa. It wouldn’t do for Councilor Franciscus to hear such things. I’ll notify the artificers to send you a denser crystal, and I’ll see if Barbara will afford Theodore one of his own so he can fracture it to his heart’s content. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can’t get you some additional help.”

That made me groan. “Miles, the problem is that I have nothing to do with my time but work with Theodore. When I’m not trying to get a straight answer out of Jason or Faxon regarding Hypatia’s replacement and their own preparations, that is. Or trying not to shatter the whole grove with a great circle that can hold enough copies of Hypatia.” I paused, then squinted at my overseer. “Wasn’t it supposed to be Theodore’s job to keep track of everyone’s efforts, and learning magic was merely a side benefit?”

“So, it sounds like you really do need some help,” Miles countered, as if not having heard a thing I said. “I’ll look into getting you some temporary assistance. We wouldn’t want to interrupt Theodore’s training with anything so trivial as notetaking for your project, would we?”