Chapter 32 - JIT Compilation

It is not the Gods that made the Status Window, but the Status Windows that made the Gods."

~ Adam Lovelace

Adam Lovelace, commonly known as Count Lovelace, was a prolific writer and a genius magical researcher. His exact Class is lost to time. He was the first to recognize the utility of Runes that had applications beyond pure Circles, and to have created the first Scroll. He is also regarded as one of the last Spell-Makers and counted among the legends of the world. His views on predominant religious views of the era often brought him into conflict with the Churches of the time. Many of his writings were declared heresy and destroyed. He died at the age of 36, supposedly of poisoning. As a teenager, his magical talents led him to a long working relationship and friendship with fellow Mage Charlene Babbage, who is known today as "The Last Prophet". It is through her notes that Adam's only surviving Spell and partial research into Scrolls was left for posterity.

“We must start from the bare beginnings, it seems.”

Neysaa frowned, her thoughts churning around the latest predicament. All my “syllabus” was based on the assumption of knowledge known to a Mage of my level. Hell, much of it was simply common knowledge.

“Our young Mages start learning about Runes before they even select their Class. To think Sir Pat reached level 20 without even the basic knowledge is just…” She grimaced, hunting for a proper word.

“Outstanding? Phenomenal? Exceptional? And just Pat, please.” I offered like a proper gentleman.

She snorted. “Highly confounding,” she countered, pushing her chair back and standing up. “Let us commence with the rudiments then, Pat.”

“This is a Scroll.” She pulled a piece of vellum out from the stack of broad and heavy books. “Notice the pattern laid drawn here.”

I took the Scroll and examined it properly. My Perception could pick out multiple Runes scribbled on it. I wondered if I could Identify it? Runes gave obnoxious garbage but Circles worked fine. Scrolls were supposed to be somewhere in the middle. Unaware of my thoughts, my tutor continued, pointing to a specific character that stood out. It looked like a mix of capital A and Q.

“This here,” her finger tracing said character, “is a Rune.” Her finger continued along the line into another scribble that was halfway between W and R. “So is this one. The contour that I followed is a mana channel - a connection between the Runes. Although you can connect Runes from any point, some locations are better than others.” Her finger came back to the empty top of A. “If I were to start the connection from here, for instance, the flow of mana would be halved. Other cases include the backflow of mana and unstable volume or velocity. In the case of more than two Runes, the difficulties are compounded. Best case, it explodes in your face. Worst case, you drag the entire neighborhood into it.”

I wondered what the reason was for such restrictions. She must’ve seen it on my face. “Do not worry, we will go over proper edge points of common Runes. As for why some outlines work better than others? It is not known.”

“I see…” ‘I can make a few guesses.’

“Now for the crux of the matter. What is a Rune?” She took a breath for dramatic effect as I perked my ears.

“A Rune is how we Mages manifest our Spells in the physical world.” She declared, perhaps expecting applause. Instead, she got a confused query. “Why not use the Spells directly?”

“Pah, now you speak of legends and myths.” She had a motherly smile on her face. A lot of kids must ask this question when they’re first informed about Runes. “No one knows how to use Spells. Some claim there was a time when we could. But it matters not here and now, does it? We copy the Spells from Spellbooks into our Status Windows, then scribe Runes from Status Window onto a suitable surface.”

“And how does one go about… Scribing the Runes from those Spells?” ‘This is it, the key that has eluded me for so long!’

“Using the Skill, of course. Every Mage has it! It is perhaps the easiest part of the process. Hold on, I’ll get the Status Sphere and we’ll read the description of - Oh!” ‘Ah, now she remembers.’

She stared at me silently, unsure of how to react. I was expecting this, however. “It’s okay, there must be another way. We’ll find it.” She smiled reluctantly in response.

“Nevertheless, as your tutor, it falls on me to ensure you are well-versed in all aspects of magic, including its history. So let us study the life and time of one who was one of the last Spell-Makers and his influence on rune-craft thence.”

¤ ¤ ¤

With the current war efforts and scarce manpower, all manner of research not directly beneficial to wiping out the enemy was put on hold. In fact, most of the effort was focused on producing as many items and consumables as possible. Neysaa was no exception. We had lunch in the small room inside the tower, then leaving to read a book about possible interpretations of the prophecy, she left to finish her quota of Scrolls for the day. If nothing else, the book did explain why the NPCs were so well prepared for our arrival.

There were many advantages I had that over the NPCs here. Being left alone with a chock full of magical artifacts was a perfect opportunity for me to exercise those advantages.

I kept the large book - a tome, she called it - aside. Snagging a two-Rune Scroll, I started my experimentation.

“Identify” I whispered.

Scroll of Humidity

‘Whoa! It works. Hmm, why humidity? Is this one of the harmless Spells they use for teaching purposes?’

I focused on the AQ Rune - “Identify.”

x7761746572 = x7768696c6528747275652977617465722b2b

‘Hmm, figured.’ Just for kicks, I tried the other Rune as well.

x686561740a = x7768696c65287472756529686561742b2b0a

‘Oh well.’

Neysaa refused to show me any of her Spells. Apparently, those were considered valuable resources in their own right. The families that owned the Spellbooks considered them their family heirlooms, letting only their direct bloodline access to it. Closed source software taken to the extreme.

Given that their world was about the end, I assumed they would loosen their wallets a bit. No such luck. And so I was stuck once more.

I could make Spells. But I needed more references on how to actually make some. Blind experimentation can only take one so far. I’m glad I had not imploded into singularity yet, given Neysaa’s horror stories of how new Scrolls and Circles came to be.

Thought I had grasped what the Runes were in their entirety. While the Spell in my repository was the “source code”, Runes were the compiled “byte-code” of the same. From a similar perspective, the number of modules or the overall complexity of the source determined the resultant pattern formed. A simple function, say to induce heat, formed a single Rune. To have complex behavior with multiple functions required “connections” between the Runes. Scrolls were simple, crude, low complexity programs while the Circles were the exact opposite. One major thing that separated my understanding of this system from the NPCs was that for me, there was no difference between a Rune, a Scroll, or a Circle. From my point of view, they were all bundles of compiled code.

I held the Humidity Scroll in my hands, caressing the soft surface. ‘Should I just forget about Runes? I can use Spells after all.’

I traced my finger over the clumsy lines. ‘Neither the ink nor the surface makes a difference. Something to draw with and something to draw on - that is what matters Neysaa says. I could just as well use a crayon and squiggle on a wall. What makes it a Rune though?’

“Greetings, Pat!” Francisa strolled into the room, bright-eyed and out of breath. “Studying hard?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Apologies, I could not join for luncheon. My mother was quite insistent on sharing the table with me today.” She sat down on a rickety chair with her usual grace and picked up the copy of interpreted prophecies I had previously abandoned. “Written by a student of the Last Prophet. I used to read this when I was a child. Oh, such nostalgia.” ‘You used to read inches-thick densely-worded academic tomes as a child?’ I wasn’t sure if I should be impressed or saddened by her upbringing. She continued - “You seem to have seen chipper days. What dilemma casts such a shadow on your day?”

“Um, well. I’ve just been thinking about something.”

“And what might be perplexing you so?”

“I was just wondering what Runes are made of, you know? Like, not ink and stuff, but what they are really made of? What makes a Rune different than say, a normal letter.” I hoped the point got across somehow.

“Why, it’s the mana, surely!”

“I-it’s the… Mana…” ‘ARGH! WHY AM I SO DUMB?’

¤ ¤ ¤

“Alright, here goes nothing!”

I held the quill in my right hand, the left holding the papyrus-like paper down, posed to trace the outlines at a moment’s notice. Francisa stood in the corner near the door, staring with avid interest although ready to flee all the same. The sun was straight in front of the window by the side, wavering between the light azure of the day and yellowish-orange of the evening.

I had wrongly believed that Spell used mana to manifest. Though not entirely incorrect, my mistake was in assuming that all the mana went into making the Spell come into reality. It was a more involved process though. Roughly speaking, half of the mana went into “compiling” the spell and the other half went into “executing” it.

My method of creating a Rune was to somehow stop after compiling the Spell. To copy the compiled data onto the surface and defer execution for later.

As with all things in this Simulation, the intent to do something mattered a lot. I had to precisely visualize exactly how I wanted the whole process to go.

On a whim, I selected the yet untarnished piece of paper. “Stupefy,” I murmured.

I felt some mana loss. The quill in my hand did not move. I looked at the paper and noticed a figure appearing on it.

It was a radially symmetrical pattern, perfectly aligned. Two large Runes adored the perimeter, diametrically opposite of each other. Four smaller Runes surrounded the former two, not unlike rubies to add spice to larger diamonds. None of the Runes had any similarities to the alphabets I knew. Yet there was a raw beauty to them. Like a master calligrapher had a divine epiphany. Hell, even the threads that were now connecting them somehow felt like silky treasures. I stared in awe as the pattern was completed.

And then it burst into fire.

The princess immediately flushed the parchment off the table and away from the other materials. I stared dumbly as she tapped out the fire. “Cheap paper couldn’t handle that much mana.” She laughed. I laughed as well. ‘I fucking did it!’

Just a change in perspective. A slightly different way of looking at things. That was all keeping me from etching Runes for so long. ‘Hindsight is always 20/20. Anyway, I am no genius.’ Better to be thankful that I had managed something after all this time.

“Notwithstanding the ultimate fate, that was an impressive showing.”

“Yeah, I can finally form Runes. That Scroll was quite something to see.” I exhaled a breath I didn’t realize I had bottled up. ‘When did I get so tired?’

“It was a sight to behold for sure. But if I’m not mistaken, it was no Scroll, Pat. It was a proper Circle.”

I stared at her dumbly. Again. I was doing that a lot today.

Before I had more time to ruminate on my success, Neysaa returned. She wasn’t alone. A harried and wide-eyed Arya accompanied her.

“Arya? What happened?” I forgot all about Runes and Circles for the moment.

“It’s Carol.” Arya stammered, taking short strained breaths. “She’s missing.”