Critical Experiment

BIg Sky Montana

Big Sky Montana © Matthew Kennedy via Google Maps

“I’ll only come partway.”

Gamali pulled his bony wrist from Hani’s wrinkled fingers. “I must go alone. In case it fails.”

“But at your age–”

“I can still get up a hill.”

“And return?”

“If this succeeds–”

Hani grinned.  “You’ll be famous.”

“–We can protect our city.” Gamali pushed several notebooks toward his friend. “Keep these safe.  In case…”

Hani grimaced.

*  *  *

Gamali scanned the valley. Nobody nearby. Nobody endangered. Except himself.

He’d studied this for years. Fine-tuned the equations. Prepared it flawlessly.

One last look.

He began.

 *  *  *

Hani paused at the explosion’s perimeter: grass on his side, the hill beyond denuded, dry dirt.

He crossed. The air sizzled, goose-bumping his arms. Hani found Gamali’s ring, nothing else. He cast detection, seeking… It fizzled. Tried other spells.  Nothing.

It had worked. The circle was shielded.

Hani shuffled home, wheezing with the effort. Now, if he could just decipher Gamali’s terrible handwriting…


Word count: 152.  Written for this week’s What Pegman Saw challenge.  Big thanks to Karen and Josh for hosting.  Click on the link to see other stories inspired by this gorgeous scenery, or to write your own.

I’m two words over this week, but that’s after cutting almost 50.  I just couldn’t get it any tighter without risking (more) confusion.  Plus I already cut my favorite special effect: an eerie magenta mist clinging, sticky, to the hill, and only slowly peeling away to reveal nothing but dry, pale dirt, everything organic within the perimeter destroyed.

World-building note: This is how new spells are developed and tested, and why there aren’t more super-powerful spells.  Unless you get them perfectly right, they can backfire, and the more powerful the spell, the greater the destruction if it goes wrong. This is also why the Trained are so obsessive (and possessive) about their spellbooks and arcane notations, and why the Old Crafters keep doing every single gesture of their ancient rituals exactly so, even if half of them are probably useless, because they don’t know which ones are vital.

I’ve been out of touch lately, and missing my blogging community.  (Hi everyone!)  Work is really crazy, as we try to get too many deadlines done with not enough staff.  But I couldn’t resist this gorgeous view that Pegman took us to this week!


38 thoughts on “Critical Experiment

    • Thanks, Crispina! The unforeseen consequences aren’t always as bad as death, but powerful spells tend to have powerful effects, so if that effect is slightly off… As in this case, where you don’t want to be at the center of an explosion that destroys everything organic within a certain radius. This must have happened early in (or midway through) the Pyanni era, because they definitely have large-scale shielding spells that can cover entire castles and city walls by the time of the last Great Wars. So Gamali was on the right track, just a wee bit off in his calculations.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I hadn’t thought about rearranging body parts, that sounds pretty gruesome — so of course, what an interesting idea! Usually when spells go wrong they simply fail, or backfire, or suck the “nahja” out of the caster leaving him or her exhausted or possibly in a coma, or even dead. Or twenty years older, with sudden wrinkles and gray hair and bad knees. Nobody wants that!


    • Gamali was willing to risk his life to get this spell to work, but in my mind, he was definitely hoping that he’d gotten it right and he’d survive! Still, being a martyr for the cause is better than not trying at all, he might say. Thanks for reading, Dale!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Uh-oh, utter fail, then, if I have to explain it. 😦 Nope/sort of. Gamali is testing a new spell that he studied and planned for years. If it works, he’ll be able to use it to protect the city. But he goes up to the hill to test it alone, so that nobody else is endangered, in case it fails (with the implication that something could go horribly wrong). And something does go horribly wrong — the explosion that kills him and denudes the whole hill. Good thing he didn’t test it in the city! But when Hani goes to investigate, he finds that he can’t do magic in the area that was affected, so the spell worked to “protect” the hill, even if it had this horrible consequence. So now Hani is planning to go back to Gamali’s notes to read them, presumably to figure out what went wrong and see if he can get it to work right the next time.

      Glad you liked the characters, though!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Penny, glad you enjoyed it! I like these names too, but I really should be more careful. In theory, I’m building up the “canon” of names and terms in my world, and I haven’t given nearly enough thought to language yet. Still, these are pretty consistent with other Pyanni names I’ve come up with so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I can sympathize with the word count issue. This last weekend, I had to write a Christmas ghost story for a party that had a 10 minute maximum length. Naturally, the first draft came in at 12, and I couldn’t see ANY way to cut it short of taking out some of the good bits.

    Agonizing, isn’t it?

    Did get it down to 9:50. And then found out at the party that no one was enforcing the time limit!
    (background noise of gnashing of teeth and plaintive wailing)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh dear! I second your teeth gnashing and plaintive wailing! Cutting is hard enough as it is, and then to find that it wasn’t even necessary? How frustrating.

      That happens to me at academic and professional conferences all the time. I often wonder if I’m the only person who bothered to practice and time my talk to see if it could realistically be completed in the allotted number of minutes. Of course, the person who goes last is the one who suffers because everyone before them went long. So I try whenever possible to get myself up first on the docket!

      Liked by 1 person

      • OMG, yes. You’d think given how often they give talks that more academics would realize that they need to edit their papers for reading out loud. I don’t know how often I’ve sat through presentations where the speaker droned through reading the first part of their paper with no sense of timing, and then struggled to abridge it on the fly to get to the end without running way over.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yep: been there, struggled through that. At least in the Powerpoint age, I see a lot less of that. Instead, those same bad presenters throw up a big table with numbers you can’t read even from the third row. Or a list of 20 bullet points, only some of which they actually mention, out of order. Sigh… Ah, well. Before I get too judgemental, I think of those presenters who are much better than I am, and wonder if they watch my presentations thinking about how dull and old-fashioned my slides are. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! You need to be courageous to be one of these wizarding pioneers – but the benefits, all that fame, all that glory. Great tone and story as always, loved the grizzled old friends and the matter of fact way Hanni deals with his friend’s death – just an occupational hazard!
    I’ve not been around much either – been working longer hours on the run up to Christmas and polishing some work for a submission. Now the long haul at work till Christmas day …
    Hope you have a great festive season, Joy, that work doesn’t drive you too crazy and you get some down time. See you here after Christmas x


    • I think of the magic experimenters like scientists, driven by the advancement of knowledge and achieving something nobody else has. And yes, some of them want the glory and power, too!

      Funny, I remembered that Mother’s Day is busy for you but hadn’t thought that Christmas would be too. Good luck getting everything done! Work is absolutely insane and will continue to be so for months at this rate. I have no idea how I’m going to finish even the minimum before I leave for my parents’ in 48 hours. So I’d better get offline, hm?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christmas, Valentine’s and Mother’s Day are the Big Three for florists and come in a three month block two! Hope you managed to get some work done before you went away – and that you’ve been able to relax a lot too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t get nearly enough done before I left, and of course, got zero work done while I was with my family. I couldn’t even log into WordPress to keep up on my blogging, so now I have even more to catch up on, now that I’m back. Well, here’s to a whirlwind four days before campus officially opens again. I still have time to submit that report “in December” if I rush!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Campus opens quickly for you! I’m sure they don’t restart until a week later here, though schools return earlier. Wow! You have to get your busy head on! Hope you have the chance to enjoy your New Year’s celebrations, Joy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • The faculty and staff starts on Jan 2 this year, but the students don’t start classes for another week. It’s a function of the quarter system: instead of having one 15-week semester before the winter holidays and one after, we have one 10-week quarter before the winter holidays and two afterwards. So we start later in the fall than semester universities, but have to scramble for the winter and spring.

        Liked by 1 person

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