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Maintaining the Balance Between Worlds

Text by Ursula Vernon, quoted from her blog.

There are two great laws governing magic, and at various times, in various worlds, they have been called the power of love, and the power of mathematics.

Among the magi of the Eastmarch, who are selected based as much on grimness and pragmatism as for natural talent in the mystic arts, these powers have grim and pragmatic names. There is something about the blasted desert of Eastmarch, a desolation of geometric shadows and panting, exhausted jackrabbits, that hangs like a millstone around the neck of the inhabitants. The magi choose their words very carefully, to use the least breath, and lose the least moisture into the overheated air. The names are ruthlessly precise, even long, because the magi know that it takes more breath to explain the vague then to name something precisely in the first place.

They call the laws thusly:

  • The conservation of mass; and
  • The conservation of worth.

The points may be illustrated best by example.

Say that you have a stone. It may be a rounded black river rock or a crumbling lump of sandstone, humped and threaded with dead roots. If your stone has become inconvenient to you for some reason -- if a few telltale drops of the blood of a murdered enemy have spilled upon it, say -- and you wish to be rid of it, you may transport your stone from our world into the next one over. But something of approximately equal mass must come back and take its place in our world, so that the weight of the universe remains in constant.

A responsible wizard will allow for this within his spell, so that when your stone has been replaced by something else -- a rather large pinecone, for example, or a tree branch, or most likely, another rock -- the replacement appears within the confines of the pentacle and maybe be dealt with responsibly.

An irresponsible wizard will simply fling his rock into the aether, and assume that somewhere, in an unremarked garden, perhaps on another continent, the replacement rock will appear, and that no one will notice. In most cases, probably no one will. There is always a chance, however, that instead of a rock, the universe will arbitrarily decided to send a dead salmon, and random fate will place it fifty feet in the air over Sxyllia on market day, where it will fall and cause a panic about a rain of fishes.

That is the law of conservation of mass, and it is fairly straightforward.

There is also the law of conservation of worth, and its ramifications are labryinthical and alarming.

It states that just as for every object sent, you must take back an object of equal mass, for every object sent, you must take back an object of equal worth.

How the great and unknown keeper of universal balance determines worth has been the subject of a thousand thousand treatises; heavy, bound volumes, themselves occasionally ricocheted through the space between worlds, and replaced with objects of equal worth -- geodes the size of a calf's heart, river rocks impregnated by veins of gold, a newborn antelope left shivering on the cold stone of the pentacle, until a kind-hearted novice picked it up and wrapped it in his cloak.

All the treatises might be summed up simply enough -- worth is partly price in gold, part sentimental value, part love, part hate, and at least one part that we simply do not understand.

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Page last modified on July 27, 2011, at 07:31 AM