Episode 137 – Clay Mines

Previously:

It’s Friday, the last day of Muni entrance exams. It is time for the last exam of the day – Special exam. Kiel and Elaru make their way towards Sapphire Quarters where there special exams will take place. Elaru is confronted by three old geezers who are acting high and mighty while Kiel shot himself in the foot – as it turns out, the Spell Replicating exam was not designed to test Kiel’s spell replicating ability, but rather, to test for a special talent that can only be revealed through the process of spell replicating. He is tasked to spell replicate several cogwheels and then given an intricate enchantment to place on star-shaped artifacts.

 

Episode 137 – Clay Mines

As Kiel was wholeheartedly absorbed in enchanting his third metal star, the professors had finished testing the last cog.

In his peripheral vision, Kiel saw them giving each other strange looks, their faces riddled with frowns. In the end, one of them set up a sound isolation barrier around their table so that they could talk freely without disturbing Kiel’s replicating.

Kiel tried to ignore their rapidly moving lips expressing clear doubts, tried to overlook the way they passed the papers between themselves, tried to disregard how their frowns kept deepening with each passing second.

Alas, it was too conspicuous. Each time Kiel finished an enchantment, he would take a breath, giving the professors a quick glance, and then his concentration would waver, worry invading his mind once again. He’d wonder if they had figured out that he was a fraud, that he didn’t have the talent they spoke of. That he was here by mistake.

He wondered whether they were upset that he was wasting their time and debating whether they should cut his exam short. As he looked at their faces, he could almost hear their debate.

The granny looked like she wanted to go by the book, seeing the exam until the end. The younger members looked like they were arguing that she was too traditional, that there was no point torturing themselves and the examinee further. And of course, there would always be that one person who’d try to pacify both sides and wonder whether the measuring apparatus was malfunctioning, and the examinee actually did have the required talent.

And then they would test the cogs again. Even going as far as enchanting another previously unenchanted cog for comparison.

Kiel shook his head and once again concentrated wholeheartedly on enchanting the hollow metal star in his hand, extricating himself from the outside world. Replicating this complicated enchantment required his undivided attention, for the professors had asked him to concentrate on accuracy instead of speed. Each woven line had to be the right width, the right length, even the density of mana had to be precise. With all his mental faculties occupied he had no room for his mind to wonder.

After the 6th replicated artifact, sweat drops were rolling down the sides of Kiel’s face as if he were a leaking faucet.

Sometime later and his breathing was labored.

Finally, after the last artifact was done, Kiel took the time to calm his breath.

The professors were no longer arguing. The old granny must have given them a tongue lashing so no one dared complain further. Instead, they gave Kiel a few silent minutes of rest before removing their sound isolation barrier to speak to him.

“How is your condition?” The old grandma expressed her worry. Perhaps she was worrying that he wasn’t in a good enough condition to display this special skill.

“Do you have enough mana for another round of tests?” The middle-aged man added tentatively. In Kiel’s opinion, “Please say no” was written all over his face.

Kiel briefly debated whether to take this chance to back out of the exam and spare himself more embarrassment and torture. They were clearly giving him a way out.

But just as he was about to say no, his dark side reared its ugly head filling him with rage and spite. It was their job to run this test, yet they wanted to cut the exam short?! Did they find him not worth their precious time? Were they looking down on him? Who did they think they were?? He’d be damned if he let them off early!

Thus, Kiel gritted his teeth, his eyes flashing unyieldingly. He nodded his head, stifled an angry snort, and squeezed out one of his signature smiles. “I’m alright. I have plenty of mana left in me. Feel free to test me further.”

If you think you’ll make me run out of mana and cut this farce short, think again! Kiel almost chuckled. Internally he was giving thumbs up to Elaru. Her soul was truly a bottomless pit. Besides being a bit mentally fatigued, he was in perfect condition. His body could handle his current mana channeling speed without issues for quite some time.

Seeing that he didn’t seem to be lying, his face healthily flushed, the middle-aged man had no other choice but to pull out a briefcase. He opened it to reveal several dozens of ash brown pebbles padded within the box as to avoid damage.

Unlike the previous artifacts that Kiel had to replicate, which he wasn’t familiar with, these seemingly ordinary pebbles were something Kiel recognized.

Made from a flexible yet highly explosive clay found in swamps, these pebbles could be used as weapons in various ways, however, most people knew them by their application in creating Clay Mines.

These pebbles would be enchanted with a spell modifier that triggered a temperature increasing spell if it detected sufficient deformation of the pebble. Thus, if one stepped on the pebble, flattening it, the sudden increase of temperature of the clay would cause an explosion.

The Clay Mine was a textbook example of a simple augmentation-magic-based trigger enchantment. In fact, possessing a single primal spell and a single spell modifier, this enchantment was one of the first enchantments Kiel’s class learned in school. (Needless to say, they were testing it on ordinary clay, and not the explosive variety.)

“Are you familiar with the concept of a Clay Mine?” The granny drawled, her question clearly perfunctory, for she was aware that Clay Mines were a part of the basic magic curriculum in most schools.

Kiel nodded. “Yes. Do you want me to turn these into Clay Mines?”

“Correct. We have a finished example here that was enchanted with the highest possible mana density.” The middle-aged man picked up one of the pebbles that already had an enchantment in place. “When enchanting you should aim to reach this mana density. You’ll know you’ve reached it when the clay starts heavily resisting further increase of mana.”

Most materials had a constant mana resistance and would start to crumble and fall apart if one went over their mana threshold. Higher the mana density, faster they would fall apart.

However, some materials had a different behavior if their mana threshold was reached. They would put up a mighty resistance to prevent mana density increasing above its tolerance threshold. Meaning that their mana resistance would suddenly increase sharply, making it incredibly difficult to go above its tolerance. However, if one still managed to increase the density, such materials would crumble almost instantaneously. There were like animals putting up a final struggle before death.

However, thanks to this property of the clay, Kiel would feel when his enchantment reached the required mana density. This was probably the reason why they used such a material in this exam – they wanted to make it easier for Kiel, intuitive even. Or perhaps they wanted to limit the density of his spell so that he wouldn’t waste time on making it reach a higher level.

“This time, you should concentrate on speed over accuracy. Enchant as many mines as you can as fast as you can. As long as the shape is good enough for the spell to form, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t high quality.” The grandma elaborated. “And, of course, try not to lose a limb.”

Kiel’s eyebrow twitched, unsure if that was the grandma’s attempt at humor. They weren’t really giving him real Clay Mines… were they? Surely, they wouldn’t use something so dangerous for the special exam…? Yes, he had signed an agreement stating that any injury or death was not to be blamed on the university… but that was just an insurance in case of accidents such as examinees tripping and falling down the stairs. The exams were never actually dangerous!

Kiel squeezed out a mirthless smile and waited for the assistant professor to deliver the briefcase to his desk. He was overthinking things, of course, they wouldn’t give him explosive clay. They must be using normal clay, just like his old teacher did in class.

He stared at the opened briefcase that was just placed in front of him.

Yeah. Just like his old teacher did in class… Kiel’s smile froze on his face. He remembered that class. He was practicing his weaving and wanted to create the highest quality of enchantment possible. When he presented the clay to his teacher, he praised him for being a genius.

But he also told him that his enchantment wouldn’t be able to reach such density if they were making real Clay Mines. For explosive clay was one of the materials with low mana tolerance that put up a high resistance once the mana density reached its threshold.

After a moment of petrification, Kiel rigidly glanced towards the professors who seemed to be sitting on the edge of their seats, their aura flaring in preparation of casting life-saving magic if needed.

F***!! These things are real Clay Mines!!

Needless to say, it took Kiel some time to regain his perfectly calm state of mind. (Was this payback for making them waste their time?? Vicious! Petty!!)

In the end, his reason won over his emotions. If handled with care these mines weren’t really that dangerous.

After all, while not enchanted, these clay pebbles could be thrown around and stepped on as much as one wanted without worry. They would only explode if they were set on fire, however, they wouldn’t combust on their own under normal room temperature.

And even after they were enchanted and turned into Clay Mines, they would still not explode so easily. He remembered reading a book on pressure triggers where Clay Mines were mentioned as an example of an artifact triggered by pressure. It included detailed calculations of the force exerted by a foot of a walking person in relation to their weight and walking speed and how it is relevant to pressure triggered enchantments.

Simply put, due to their negligible weight, Clay Mines could even be thrown at high speeds without worry of an explosion. Thus, as long as he didn’t end up dropping one and stepping on it, he’d be safe.

And so, Kiel didn’t touch the clay pebbles at all and chose to enchant them while they remained securely sitting inside the briefcase.

Due to his high spell casting speed, it took less than a minute to mass produce a briefcase filled with Clay Mines. And the enchantment was even of reasonably high quality. When one reached his high proficiency in mana weaving, it was actually impossible to do a sloppy enchantment unless he actively tried to do one.

But even though this task wasn’t hard for Kiel, being much easier, and taking up much less time than the previous, complicated enchantment, for obvious reasons, the amount of sweat dripping down Kiel’s forehead was in no way inferior to the drops sweated during the previous task.

The professors, also for obvious reasons, didn’t start testing his previously enchanted metal stars until the briefcase, filled with enough explosive to blow up the entire room, was once again, securely seated on top of their desk.

Kiel could swear that they let out a collective breath of relief when the briefcase was closed. One of them nonchalantly coughed to mask his exhale, another one casually wiped the sweat from his forehead. The old grandma kept her composure the best, merely sitting back in her chair and relaxing her aura.

After that, she gave a signal to the youngest among them, who woke up from his daze and pulled out another apparatus from the cart. It was a metal sphere with a flat bottom and a star-shaped hole in the middle. It also had a round meter above the hole designed to show the result of the measurement.

What followed was a process almost identical to the process that the professors used to test his cogs. They would place the star in the hole and note down the displayed result on the meter.

This time the professors didn’t explain the purpose of the enchantment on the star, however, they did explain the purpose of the apparatus, which was to measure mana efficiency of the enchantment, which in turn would give them a number describing the level of Kiel’s spell.

Higher the level of the spell, the higher its stability and its mana efficiency. This meant that less mana was required to sustain the spell and lesser amount of mana was needed to produce a bigger effect than lower leveled spells. It also meant that the spell was harder to break, less affected by spell interference and had a faster spell regeneration.

Out of all the effects, mana efficiency and effects of spell interference were easiest to measure so they were usually the ones measured to determine a level of the spell.

What Kiel gathered from all the information that they revealed so far was that the professors were interested in his spell weaving and the quality of the spells he could produce. However, although the density of mana used in spell weaving was also considered a part of spell weaving skill, they didn’t seem to be too interested in that.

So since the density of the mana used to weave the spell affected the spell level they needed to remove spell density from the equation. Therefore, they gave him artifacts whose materials imposed a limit to the density of mana he could weave.

This also allowed them to create an example artifact with the highest quality that they thought was producible as a comparison to his own artifacts.

 

P.S. I wonder, when you guys read the title of the chapter, how many did you think about clay mines as caves where people dig clay? 😀

About Spell Quality and Spell level

Every spell is assigned a spell level by the Association of Magic which is a rating that describes how that spell compares to other spells. Higher level spells are more mana efficient and more stable than lower level spells, however, they are also more complicated and more difficult to cast. By seeing a level of the spell one can tell how difficult it would be to learn such a spell, and by seeing the level of the spells a mage can cast it would shed light on his ability as a mage.

Spell quality is also something that describes the excellence of a spell, but instead of comparing it to other spells, it is compared to itself, meaning, all spells with the same spell pattern. Even if two mages cast the exact same spell, the result will be different. You can cast the spell with a minimum mana density that causes the spell to activate, or increase it several folds as far as you can make it. You can create a messy doodle or put a lot of effort into weaving the spell pattern. Naturally, all of this affects the quality of the resulting spell. So when one says that a spell is of high quality it means that it has been weaved well, reaching almost the highest level this spell can possibly reach.  (There is a big difference between low and high quality. A higher quality spell has a higher spell level.)

When spells were assigned spell levels, the level given to the spell was the lowest possible level that spell can achieve, meaning that the level of the spell is determined by the level of the lowest quality spell one can manage to cast with that spell pattern.

E.g. Spell X might be rated as a level 3 spell, but that means that if a novice mage casts it sloppily, barely managing to succeed, the level of the resulting spell will be 3. However, if a professional enchanter were to optimize it and cast it as best as he can, the same spell might be several levels higher, e.g. reach level 6.

 

Coming up in the next episode:

Seeing their hunched backs and heads almost pressing together, even an idiot would be able to tell that they were up to no good, let alone Elaru who had spent the majority of her life beating up scoundrels.

In the end, they could barely sit still and couldn’t help occasionally rubbing their hands greedily.

Faces thicker than the city walls!

Elaru’s vision turned dark.

As Kiel stared at the chaos, his mouth dropped open, his pupils dilated and his mind stalled.

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