Episode 141 – IPOMQ

Previously:

Friday, the last day of Muni entrance exams, Special exam. As it turns out, the Spell Replicating exam Kiel chose was not designed to test spell replicating ability, but rather, to test for a special talent that can only be revealed through the process of spell replicating. Kiel is tasked to spell replicate several artifacts, including Clay Mines. Unfortunately, an accident happens while testing his Clay Mines and an explosion occurs. Examiners are thankfully fine but they start arguing with each other. They give Kiel a final artifact, whose enchantment he doesn’t need to replicate but to just draw it out. However, Kiel finds that the enchantment is too small and he can’t sense it clearly with his mana sense. In this stressful situation, Kiel manages to see a flash of light inside his head for a brief moment, showing him how the enchantment looks like. After he successfully draws out the spell design of the enchantment, examiners get excited and ask Kiel to be their disciple. Kiel is confused and they explain how professors in Muni are required to mentor students and start telling him the story of Alann Farhice and how he discovered a special ability.

Anyone else would have dropped the matter at this point, but Alann Farhice didn’t do so. Something didn’t feel right to him.

Looking at those new and old enchantments, he had asked the workers: “Why has your ‘handwriting’ changed?”

Their answers were surprisingly similar – they felt it would be better “this way”. They followed their own intuition when it came to weaving the enchantment.

Do talented mages have a strong intuition when it comes to casting magic? – Alann pondered. But if that was the case, then why was it that mages with even greater talent than those workers needed years of experience to improve their spells?

This intuition, sense of right and wrong, what is better and worse – it wasn’t something granted by talent, but rather, experience!

Episode 141 – IPOMQ

Experienced mages could estimate the quality of the spell by its mana density and weaved pattern, but they had to base this on its similarity to the officially accepted spell pattern. Only if they had used the spell countless times would they be able to develop a sense of quality for their spells beyond the confines of the widely accepted spell pattern.

Quality was not something mages could inherently sense, it was something they estimated based on their previous experiences in using the spell!

These workers shouldn’t even be able to gauge the quality of the spell let alone develop this “intuition” for they had never used the enchantments they created! They didn’t even know what these enchantments did!

And then Alann came to a startling realization – could it be that these workers have a special ability that allows them to sense the quality of the spells they had created, without needing to use them or accumulate experience? Some kind of inner meter of spell quality?

Alann’s conjecture turned out to be correct. Those workers could pick up an enchantment they had never seen before, weave it a couple of times and intuitively feel which one of their attempts was the highest in quality, no matter how minuscule the difference.

Kiel internally sighed seeing the excited examiners as they were talking about this discovery.

If you asked him, this power didn’t seem all that useful. It could help one evaluate oneself, and make fewer mistakes, but in the end, without hard work and talent, one’s ability as a mage wouldn’t improve much. It was like a sense of aesthetics, just being able to tell that a picture was pretty wouldn’t give you the ability to paint a pretty picture.

For goodness sake, he’d been constantly improving too and didn’t need a special power to do it. If he had such a useless power, he’d trade it for more mana in a heartbeat. Even higher magic talent would be far more useful.

Alas, the professors didn’t share his view. In their opinion, getting hold of a talented mage with such a power could help move magic research forwards by decades, perhaps even centuries.

As current magic was already extremely optimized, improving it further was near impossible. Not being able to tell whether the change was an improvement or not without extensive testing certainly played a large role in hindering further magic development. So, a person who could instantly tell whether the change was an improvement or not would be invaluable.

“Over all these years, how many people with such an ability did you manage to find?” Kiel couldn’t help but ask.

“A lot of examinees with good spell weaving skills are tempted by the prospect of extra points so many apply for this exam every year.” Grandma responded vaguely.

Kiel almost choked on his own saliva. Wasn’t he one of those examinees?!

“Oh. Then you must have found quite a few…” Kiel’s eyebrow continued to uncontrollably twitch.

“A couple, a couple.” The grandma coughed awkwardly.

So, basically, no one? Kiel stared at them, clear pity oozing out of his blue eyes.

Recognizing the pity in Kiel’s gaze, the middle-aged man couldn’t help but speak up in defense. “The problem is that we have no sure way of detecting such a power!”

Kiel rubbed his chin. He almost suggested for them to just make the examinees sign a truth contract and ask them if they can accurately sense the spell quality of cast spells. But then he remembered that people with this ability didn’t even realize they had it, otherwise Alann Farhice wouldn’t be the first to discover it.

These people were just like everyone else, following their own subtle intuition when it comes to learning magic. How could they possibly know that their ‘feeling’ was actually a special power? They probably didn’t even realize that they were subconsciously changing their own spellwork based on sensed spell quality.

In the end, Kiel settled for asking: “How about giving the examiners two similar spell designs and asking them which one is of higher quality? Wouldn’t they be able to tell?”

Grandma sighed sadly. “For some reason, their “intuition” only works if they had cast both spells themselves. However, how many people have the spell weaving capability to perfectly copy a spell design? There would always be differences from the original, and this difference might change the result of the test. The test wouldn’t be reliable.

Since we are limited by time and the examinees are limited by the size of their mana pool, the prerequisite alone for us to be able to detect this power is hard to satisfy. The examinee in question has to possess a very precise mana control so that his first attempt at weaving is already very close to the original spell design. The examinee also needs to have a high magic talent, so that a clear improvement in spellwork would show in only couple of dozen replications.”

No wonder they didn’t find anyone. Kiel was speechless. It was impressive that they even bothered to keep such an inefficient, useless exam for all these years.

But wait… Kiel’s heart skipped a beat. If they had low hopes of finding anyone, to begin with, why would they be so agitated earlier when they had found out he was a fraud? Even talking about expelling him? If he hadn’t shown his ‘exceptional’ mana sense accuracy they might have even kicked him out.

Kiel felt that he was missing a piece of a puzzle. Something wasn’t quite right.

But in the end, he decided to not question the examiners further, least he provoked their ire again. Also, he should probably get lost before they remembered their intentions of recruiting him. He wasn’t sure what field of study he wanted to pursue but the theory of magic wasn’t on top of his list.

“I see.” Kiel looked at the examiners gratefully. “Thank you for taking the time to explain this to me.”

“It is our duty.” Granny refused his thanks, waving her pipe at him dismissively.

Kiel smiled politely and was about to turn around to leave when he abruptly remembered he still didn’t know the name of this ability.

“Could you perhaps tell me the name of this ability?” Kiel inquired.

Perhaps it was some kind of Aethernea he hadn’t been aware of? Not that he was knowledgeable in this area, he had only heard rumors of three, perhaps four, Aetherneal gifts, and knew nothing more about it. Still, he had every intention to fix this lack of knowledge as soon as he got access to Muni library. And knowing the names of those Aetherneal gifts was a good place to start.

“We call this ability ‘inherent perception of magic quality’, or IPOMQ for short.” Granny put her pipe back into her mouth for another whiff.

That name… Kiel stared blankly, his polite smile frozen on his face.

…doesn’t sound impressive at all!

… and the abbreviation…  

Kiel’s eyebrows twitched. …why does it sound so silly…??

“Alann Farhice named it… IPOMQ?” He couldn’t help but blurt out.

In an instant, everyone’s face turned a bit strange. Granny even choked on the smoke of her pipe and started coughing.

After several seconds of awkward silence, one of them spoke up hesitatingly: “No… He called it ‘natural inherent divine sense of magical order and alterations in reality without required knowledge’…”

Someone in the background coughed a strange cough that sounded like he said “needs more work”.

The man continued “… but the association of magic later changed it into IPOMQ…”

No wonder they changed it… Kiel stared blankly. What a mouthful! And the abbreviation

His eyebrows furrowed as he combined the first letters of the words: NI…DS…MO… AR…WR…K

And then he froze, remembering the previous strange cough.

NIDS… MOAR… WRK…?

This time it was Kiel’s turn to start coughing, for he almost choked on his own spit. Good thing he refused that bottle of water. Had he been drinking it now, he’d be spewing it straight into the faces of the examiners.

Kiel’s face, too, inadvertently turned strange, mirroring the expressions of the examiners.

When both Kiel and the grandma finally recovered from their coughing fit, Kiel quickly broke the uncomfortable silence with the intention to flee before things turned even more uncomfortable. “I am very sorry about the mine. I hope you will be magnanimous and not take it against me. There is no need to trouble yourself by redoing my tests.”

He intended to say his goodbyes next, however, when he looked up and noticed the confused expressions of the examiners his words died in his throat.

“Redoing the tests? Why would we do that?” Someone blurted out.

Not sure how to respond, Kiel could only smile awkwardly. “Didn’t the papers with the results get damaged?”

“Luckily, no. They are in perfect condition.” Grandma looked truly relieved. “Boy, you have no reason to apologize. On the contrary, we should be the ones to apologize for the previous fiasco. We have been using this mine checking apparatus for too long, so the intensity of spell interference had fallen below permissible levels.”

“It wasn’t caused by me?” He stared at the professors baffled, his long black eyelashes blinking repeatedly. “But I could swear one of you mentioned expelling me from the exam?”

Only after his words were done did he realize that spoke his thoughts out loud. He didn’t have the chance to regret it for the confusion on the faces of the examiners only deepened.

Grandma chuckled. “Oh, I never said you didn’t cause it…” but before she could finish what she had intended to say, one of the examiners facepalmed himself in realization, interrupting her words.

“Oh! Expel! You must have heard Morloc mentioning that.”

Realization swept over everyone’s faces, and the middle-aged man hurried to explain. “I wanted to recruit you as my disciple…”

The other man interrupted him with a humph. “But I told him that he already had 3 disciples, so he couldn’t give you the attention you deserve. I said I have only one disciple who is not talented. You see, I wanted to take you on as my personal disciple.”

The middle-aged man, who was apparently named Morloc, glared at the other man viciously. “And then I said that I wasn’t willing to let your talent be wasted following a wrong master. I am even willing to expel all my disciples if you’d become my succeeding disciple.”

Kiel almost fell down, planting his face on the ground.

He had been panicking that they would expel him this entire time while they were actually arguing about who would get to take him as their disciple?!? What is this?! What the bloody meep is this?!?!

Why did he try so hard to detect that last enchantment if not to avoid expulsion?! He felt like the stress had taken away 5 years of his life!

He had thought they were mad because he was wasting their time when in reality they were just barring their teeth to each other to prevent anyone from stealing fresh meat from their mouths!

Grandma cod snort, coupled with her glare, quietened the bickering instantly. She turned back to Kiel and continued her previous sentence. “Actually, boy, you were indeed the cause of the explosion.” Although her words were blaming him, her eyes held mirth instead of resentment.

“If your enchantment wasn’t of a higher quality than the original, how could it have possibly managed to activate? The quality of your last Clay Mine went beyond the theoretical limit.”

Kiel stared at the grandma blankly.

For full 10 seconds.

Before he managed to produce a response:

“Huh?!?”

Author Note

“Alann Farhice named it… IPOMQ?”

Alann: “I did not!! I’d never give it such a… a… a mundane, unimpressive name that lacks style and imagination!”

Alann, oh Alann, I promised you a book and a book you shall have… eventually… ?

Alann Farhice is one of those people that you’ll either absolutely love or absolutely hate. To his enemies, he is a shameless, petty, cunning and vindictive nightmare. To his comrades, he is a charismatic, charming and lovable troll (metaphorically speaking) that is always there for you when you need him.

There is just one point about Alann that both his enemies and allies would agree on – Alann Farhice is a genius with many unique ideas.

To me as a writer, Alann Farhice is too darn fun to write about because he is one smart and creative, yet unlucky guy with a lot of funny shortcomings. Strangely enough, no matter how much he makes me laugh, I feel like he is one darn cool guy that I can’t help but respect. (If any of you guys have read ISSTH, Alann Farhice has a certain touching point with Meng Hao.)

Alann Farhice can’t do (much) magic and can’t fight to save his life (though he has mighty fine escaping skills), however, he has a formidable talent of making his enemies fall into the pits they dug themselves. Poetic justice.

Oh, and he is also forced to babysit a band of misfits that help him do what his non-mage-self can’t. (A band of misfits that would bring anyone to tears. Laughing tears. Or not. Depends on whether you are reading about it or experiencing it first hand. ;))

Coming up in the next episode:

Kiel opened his mouth several times like a fish out of water. After his frozen mind managed to recovered from the damage enough to form words, he managed to speak out: “What about the azure bead?”

Kiel’s entire body froze, and he felt like spewing blood and fainting right then and there. What did he overdraft his powers for?? Why did he stake his life on this exam?!

He dug a pit and jumped in himself! In the middle of this deep, deep pit that he had dug himself, Kiel suddenly got an epiphany. He’d better stop worrying about things out of his control and jumping to conclusions, otherwise, next time he might end up losing a leg by shooting himself in the foot.

Did this have something to do with Elaru and her Aethernea of Sight? Was he able to borrow it through the Aetherneal bond?

Elaru sat in her seat with a wooden expression, watching the trio of old men almost getting physical with each other.

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