De Magia 15: Cut From the Same Cloth

The only time one can know if one has made a good decision is long after one has actually made it.

Not knowing the future is inconvenient for dragons and those who work for them. Unless one happens to have a hoard the size of Bridgeport and has little care for how long it remains that size, one must make choices about how and when one spends one’s coin. This will inevitably lead, at some point, to the necessity of making a purchase without knowing if it is the right purchase to make. Perhaps one needs to invest in a larger home, or to find one honest hostler out of an inexhaustible list of horse-thieves. It could even be as simple as trying to determine the best time to buy, or even whether to buy at all. Whatever the situation or the cost, one is inevitably bound to assume, five minutes after committing one’s silver, that one has wasted one’s money.

Avoiding this constant sense of misappropriation requires a means of judging one’s odds of success. One could, perhaps, go through life merely assuming that one has always made the best possible decision, but this is a strategy for constant confusion and disappointment. Based on that, one might assume that the opposite approach is the better one, and to simply assume the worst. However, we did just establish that that was not only undesirable, but that it necessarily leads one to ask why one bothers to make decisions at all. If one is fated to make the worst possible choice, then the right answer would simply be to abstain from such unpleasantries. Of course, “not making a decision” is itself a choice, and quite a popular one if my own experience with councilors is any indication. However, as one might surmise, refusing to decide how to spend one’s coin often results in Fate doing so on one’s behalf. In short order, one often discovers that, however poor one is at making monetary decisions, Fate is even worse.

Thus, one must find a coping strategy with having to spend coin without knowing if one has spent it wisely. As a wage-laborer, this may be extended to spending time in the same fashion, as the two are intimately intertwined. At the barest, this means cultivating the patience of a saint, but it also suggests a few specific key skills: to tell which approach to solving a problem are more likely to succeed, to identity which superiors are most likely to further one’s future rather than cut it short, to know when to be conveniently away from the charter hall and beyond the reach of scrying pools, and—above all else—to spot those fellow mages with whom one will work well. Given enough time, one may outlast any intractable problem, insufferable overseer, or mandatory overtime. However, an ill-fitting coworker will make enduring that long impossible.

Identifying a fellow wage-laborer with whom one can interact can be a challenging proposition. It is, of course, customary to interview potential hires, but the thirty minutes that one typically spends at such an endeavor is hardly representative. Potential candidates are almost freshly scrubbed and pressed, on their best behavior, and filled with prepared statements and rehearsed answers to a variety of trick questions. One must do one’s best to try to see past the presented face, to that which one will confront day in and day out for the next few years. One must try to decide, based on only half an hour’s conversation, if someone will be worth one’s time.

Squinting at Minos’ references, he certainly seemed like the kind of person that I wanted around, though it was hard to concentrate through Theodore’s incessant humming. “Journeyman enchanter with six years of experience. Two years of spellcrafting experience with a focus on divination. Your largest grovetending assignment was… what, again?” Miles flipped through sheaves of parchment, looking for a number.

Minos dabbed at his bald head with a hankerchief; despite his dark skin, a sign of his Hotlands heritage, he was sweating profusely. “Ah, seven-hundred crystals?” Minos’ heavily-accented reply sounded like a question in return. “That sounds right, yah.”

“Sounds about?” I asked, tapping on my copy of his references. “Do you not remember?”

Minos’ eyes widened, though he already had the look of a deer that had just caught wind of a hungry wolf. “Well, you see, I didn’t work directly in the grove, no. I was in the charter hall, you see? And the grove was on the far side of town, by the river. So I never counted the crystals, no.”

I nodded slowly, trying to not scowl. “So, let’s say that I needed you to tell me how many crystals I had tuned to a specific aetheric resonance. How would you find out?”

Minos blinked several times, then rose from his seat and gestured towards the wall beside him. A disc of light began to glow, and he tapped inside it with a finger, leaving a small red dot. “Ah, aetheric resonances.” He began to draw in the air, a collection of circles to represent crystals, and then a single one at the center with a small figure beside it. “So, you want to know how many crystals are in this field, here.” He traced in a series of wavy lines around the crystal in the middle, then lines out from it to touch the others. “And this is the one with which we are working, you see, and that means we know we have one, so we can start our count with one. And then, we can search the field from that one, and that will tell us, you see. One plus that number.”

I let loose the frown I’d been keeping in reserve. “Yes, but how would you search the field? Tell me a bit about the spells you might use, the techniques you—Theodore, would you please stop humming?” I turned to the boy sitting beside me and sighed. “Honestly, if you can’t keep your focus on—”

“Oh, was that Accidental Encore?” Minos asked. “You like Jerrica Yancy, yah?”

Theodore’s eyes widened and he nodded enthusiastically. “I’m more a fan of her older works, but Carnivale was definitely worth hearing. I actually got to see her conduct that one in person, the last time she came to Wyvernbight!”

“Yah?” Minos’ eyes brightened and a broad grin suddenly split his face. “I preferred Depths of Amnesia, you see, but I am much more the fan of the ambient soundscape. Carnivale was very active! Very energetic.”

“Excuse me,” I tried to interject. “I did ask you a question, Minos, if you could—”

“Quick,” Theodore cut me off. “Veronica Castor or Daman Linota?”

“Ah, Castor every time,” Minos said as he wiped again at his forehead. “Her control of her instruments is so much more precise, you see? Subrides is phenomenal, such sweeping lines!” He then raised his arms and, as if conducting himself as an orchestra, launched into the aforementioned concerto’s melody.

Theodore quickly jumped in with counterpoint, and then they proceeded to fill the conference room with their enthusiastic a capella rendition of the Castor “classic.” To his credit, after only two minutes of broad gestures and excruciatingly slow note changes, he pulled himself back to the interview. “I could go on for the whole half-hour; I’ve committed it all to memory. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have that much time left, do we?”

Minos shook his head and took his seat once more. “Oh, no, sorry. I get so swept up in the music, you see,” he said apologetically, gesturing to Miles. “Did you have any last questions?”

Miles smiled tiredly in response. “No, I think we’ve learned what we needed to know. Thank you for your time, Minos. I’ll be in touch with Ariston.” He rose, then shook the other man’s hand. “I’ll see you out.”