Chapter 34 - The Chase (2)

The journey continued as the sun exhausted its last light upon an entourage riding with grave purpose. Pretty soon, it became dark enough that even watching the scenery stream by outside became impossible. I wanted to go through the "Utility Spells and their Origin" book I borrowed from Neysaa but the carriage was just bouncy enough to make reading it a burden. Never having traveled for so long with no means of easy distraction, boredom threatened to creep in my mind. Even Arya had started looking listless between her bouts of worry and rage. The young prince was asleep in the bundle of warm blankies in the corner.

"They look so life-like, don't they?" I wondered out aloud.

"What do you mean?" Arya replied, listlessness disappearing from her eyes.

"These NPCs. They seem so realistic." I repeated.

"Pat... I think they are real." She replied, glancing at the bundle in the corner.

"Oh, what makes you think so?" I was curious. I had yet to make up my mind about the denizens of this world. For the most part, I initially considered them characters generated by the same creators who made the simulation. But the last few days I spent among these "characters" increasingly challenged that perception.

"Um, It's hard to pin it down to one thing. They are just so... so...", the bundle in the corner moved, a part of cloth slipping to reveal an innocent face resting peacefully.

"Real?" I finished, both of us staring at the lightly snoring form. I decided to postpone any conclusion on the matter. Our conversations so far had inevitably led to either Carol or silence, so I tactfully forced another topic. "Well, at least magic is real."

She chuckled at that and continued, "You haven't been experimenting lately?"

"Naw, it's been like 5 days since we left tutorial?" She nodded, I continued. "First couple were spent talking and resting. There was that parade and stuff the next. Yesterday I spent the whole time reading random books. And today-"

"Today, you spend the whole time in a carriage. Why not experiment in the carriage then?" She queries.

"Apparently, when spells go wrong, they go really wrong. Like mad science explosions." I recalled Neysaa's lesson. "Didn't wanna take the risk here."

"But you've done it before, on the bridges. Did you not say that your spells are different from what Mages do here? Why not try something benign, you know water-ball or... Hey, how about light? Like those magical lamps back in the palace?" She concluded, her voice rising.

I thought about it. It really had been a while since I added a new spell to my repo. And now I had a kinda-sorta reference book as well. "Utility Spells and their Origin" was a thin Spell-book with about a dozen "open-source" spells that were taught to novice Mages for practice. Unfortunately for me, it was not filled with programs, but with esoteric nonsense like sift the wind, feel the energy, and other vague bullshit. This led me to believe that a "spell repository" and especially Spells themselves were shown differently to different Mages, depending on how they thought they best interacted with the world. I was almost sure that I would see some sort of poetry in Neysaa's Status Window instead of code like mine. If she has only opened it up for me to gawk at. Anyhoo, I could still parse natural phenomena from the ramblings and build something resembling a Spell out of it. Thus, I pulled out the book from an easily accessible pocket, skimmed through the pages until I found what I was looking for.

"Dark is a manifestation of ignorance. Verily, Light is the knowledge that dispels it." Arya whispered, her voice close by my side nearly tingling my earlobes. 'When the hell did she change places?' She must've noticed my look. "You get so absorbed when reading..." 'Well, true.' "Anyway, are you sure this is a light spell? Looks like a hodgepodge to me."

I glanced below the opening title and read out the contents. "But hate not the Dark, for it is a vessel. A child new to the world in an empty vessel, born in the dark and came to Light. It learns the lessons of its ancestors and thus the vessel is filled with knowledge. And Dark turns to Light."

"Hmm..." Arya hummed and pointed to a section on the page. "I think this is the meat of this Spell, the rest is fluff. Here," She began reading, "Wield the knowledge that fills thy vessel, as a fire rages against the wind and yet cannot survive without it; as the Sun - the greatest of the holy fires, dispels the ignorance of night; so shall thee harness thy... blah blah... lightning in the storm... blah blah... sparks of Light into a steady lamp that burns through the night. Hmm, it keeps going like that."

"Yes, that tells me exactly what to do." I stared into her eyes with a deadpan face.

She slapped my shoulder lightly and snorted. "Oh come on, at least we know that it is connected to fire and lightning. And the Sun, I think?"

"Right, right... Guess we should get a fusion going then?" Me, still with a stiff expression, hoping to express the depths of my sarcasm.

"Don't be an ass. Just try something already. What about LEDs? Can you copy how they work?" She chided me. 'Hmm, not a bad idea. I already know how to generate small voltages. Maybe she is on to something...'

I scrounged up memories from my junior college lessons on electronics. Light Emitting Diodes are basically special semiconductors; they emit light when electrons jump into empty places and release photons. 'These empty places, were they dubbed holes? Since I can generate a potential difference, I have a bunch of electrons ready to jump. Do I need to create the holes separately? I need to form a junction somehow. And also adjust the distance such that they emit light instead of just heat...' I was so lost in my ruminations that I almost missed the carriage halting. Even the kid had woken up in the meantime, Arya having left me to my thoughts and conversing with him. There was a knock on the carriage door and opened to reveal a figure clad in grey. "We've reached Monoreth, we will camp here for the night and leave at dawn. Does anyone need anything?" I shook my head, Arya replied in negative. "What about you, your highness? Having a pleasant trip?" She stared at the kid with a hint of a smile on her face. It was difficult to make out in the dark though. The kid murmured something and decided the carriage floor was the most interesting thing ever. Seline chuckled. "Come on out by the campfire later, there should be some stew and bread ready to go."

¤ ¤ ¤

Our retinue consisted of a couple dozen personnel loyal to clan Lohengramm. Most of them were double marks, a few triple. I stepped out of the carriage after Arya and Phillipe into the cold air, Seline easily visible in front of a bright fire stirring into something resembling a small cauldron. She beckoned us over with a wave.

"Here you go! Steaming hot rabbit stew and a day-old bread ready to serve." As she handed over our bowls - filled with bread pieces mixed in the sloshing liquid, I glanced around the camp layout. There were few tents pitched, I assumed most would either be on the lookout or sleep in other carriages. I sat down beside Arya on a conveniently flat boulder and tentatively sipped the mixture. 'Eugh, too salty!'

"So, what do you think?" Arya spoke up from beside me after tasting her own with a grimace.

"A little less salt would've been nice." I appraised.

"I meant about the LED Spell, Pat!" She sighed, "What do you think? Is it doable?"

"Oh, right." I adjusted the bowl in my hand absently as I thought about the answer. "Well, yes. It is doable. I just need to find a suitable surface, and then adjust the variables to emit light."

She picked up a pebble from the ground with her free hand and presented it to me. "How about this for a surface?"

"Yeah, it will do just fine. Wanna try right now?" I asked, as Phillipe wandered by and sat on the other side of Arya, supping nonchalantly out of his bowl. I thought about the kind of spell I would need to create a junction, and vary its size as well. Glancing around to ensure no one was paying attention to us, I swiped my finger up, opened up my spell repo, and added the testing spell.

light_up hr lr = create_high_point hr && create_low_point lr

For this spell, I would need to select two regions, and they should be close enough that the electrons from low potential could jump to the high potential region and form holes. With Arya's go-ahead, I spread my awareness and focused on the pebble in her hand. It was pretty small, the size of a fingernail. I managed to select its entire outer surface as one region and an inner sphere as another, just like modern LEDs. For dramatic effect, I raised my index finger and pointed at the selection, then spoke in a low but clear tone - "light_up."

Nothing happened. I noticed my mana ticking down. 'Something must be happening... But what?'

"So when is- Ouch!" Arya dropped the pebble hastily, "It burned my finger!"

"Ah, I'm sorry, are you OK?" I looked up at her, and then at the pebble when she nodded her okay. 'It got hot, so my spell ran fine. But the junction was probably too big so it just emitted heat.'

"Big sis..." squeaked a small voice out of nowhere. "Did you hurt your hand?"

I had forgotten about the kid. Arya smiled down warmly at him and showed her palm. "It was just a little hot. Nothing happened, see?"

"Okay, um..." he murmured and chewed his lip. Arya urged him to continue. "U-Uncle Kazif said Mages need to make Runes to do magic. B-But..." and he went silent, the unasked question hanging in the still air as the campfire crackled in the distance.

'Damn it. What do I say? Do I have to lie? Is this one of those pivotal moments Divin warned about?'

"Ah, but Pat has Runes carved into his robe already!" 'Damn, you are a life-saver, Arya.' My grateful eyes connected with hers dancing with silent mirth. "Do you see those red circles?"

"Y-yes..." the kid noted in a whisper, refusing to meet my eyes for some reason. Thankfully, he had no more questions. Arya chuckled at my apparent relieved face, and asked "Round 2? I'm not holding it though!"

"Sure..." I glanced around again to ensure our privacy, ensuring none but the little prince was privy to our experiment. Just to be safe, I drew some decorative gibberish patterns into the dirt around the pebble with the back of my spoon. This time, I did not raise my hands. 'Mana? Check.' Rather, I put all my focus on selecting the regions and keeping them selected while the spell was in progress. I started off with the same distance as before. "light_up," I whispered and watched my mana start to tick down. I moved the inner region close to the outer. My mana was going down faster, but the rate was quite tame compared to Stupefy.

'Closer... Closer... Closer...' And suddenly, the pebble seemingly turned into a bluish-white pearl, casting a dim light onto the haphazard curves drawn around it. Unbeknownst to me, my lips curled into a wide smile as I stared at the mesmerizing display.

"Cute! Is that a modified magic lamp Circle?" Startled, I lost focus of my selections and the spell was cut short. Seline had crept up behind me at some point. I was wondering how to reply when she resumed speaking herself. "Anyway, I have good news. My husband got eyes on the Scout-Hero. Told you so, didn't I?" She raised her hand to stall Arya's immediate questions. "She is alive and unhurt. And the Rangers have a plan, so worry not. We will be leaving early in the morning, so drink your stews and be off to your carriage-beds. Night-Night!" With that, she stalked off. Arya and I emptied our bowls, mirroring each other's wide smiles and straighter shoulders. The salty aftertaste barely diminishing our relief.

I pocketed the cold pebble and took it with me to the carriage. I wanted to recreate that spell again, try increasing the intensity, and direct the light somehow. I bid goodnight to Arya and the prince, closed the curtains to my compartment, and took out my experiment prop. With a thought, I renamed the 'light_up' function. A smile crept upon my face as I selected the regions and whispered softly under the cover of my thick blanket - "Lumos!"

Chapter 33 - The Chase (1)
Chapter 35 - The Chase (3)