And a Pinch of Salt

Hannah dropped the flattened metal rod to the floor and delivered a frustrated kick to the wooden side of the locked chest. She rubbed her forehead with her fingertips and sighed at the irony of it all; she had purchased this particular chest precisely because of its impressive security features. Now she was getting to test them out herself.

She sat at her small desk and stared at the storage container gloomily. Hannah had secured her precious flawless parchment, some of her most prized possessions, within its well-crafted depths after installing it into her small abode a month ago. She distinctly recalled placing the slip of paper with her chosen combination to the lock within this very desk. But hours of searching had proved fruitless.

Sure, there were many ways of opening the chest if she wished to destroy it, but any option that would do irreparable damage to the chest would most certainly damage the precious parchment inside, rendering it useless for her purposes. Hannah had briefly considered hiring a locksmith, but the cost was beyond her means. She also contemplated brute force searching the lock, but with a six-cam lock and 10 digits per cam, it could take her days to find the correct combination, if not weeks. She reached for her spellbook and habitually stroked the smooth leather cover.

Perhaps magic was the answer. Hannah flipped open the cover and studied her small collection of magic symbols. Scrying for the slip of paper was out of the question; she didn’t have a single Ethereal symbol recorded. Creation and Material were equally useless to her, as she didn’t have a clue what she could create that would fix her problem and the Material magic she knew was far too destructive for as delicate a task as opening a chest. That left Atrophy, her personal favorite.

Hannah had over a dozen Atrophy symbols that she had carefully collected over the years, more than any other mage she had met in her travels. She had arranged them into a small but respectable collections of spells and she browsed through them hoping to find one that might fit her situation. She bit at her lower lip as she flipped through the pages, unable to find a solution.

Hannah reached the last spell in the book and studied it for a moment. She wasn’t certain what the effects of this particular spell were, as she had just inserted this particular parchment only a month ago and hadn’t yet found the time to solve it. But the impression she had from studying the incomplete page gave her hope that it might solve her dilemma. It would be a great deal of work, but none of her other spells were suitable so she would have to try.

She laid her spell book open before her and studied the page, looking for any sort of clue on how to begin. Though she had not written anything on the actual page, the arcane energy of the book itself had lightly traced a complex pattern of energy lines on the page. She knew that she would have to try to combine eight symbols on the page in a specific order to solve the spell, but the nearly blank page refused to reveal a starting point. Pulling forth her reagents from the cubby of her desk, she opened each bag to assure herself of the quantity she had on hand. The process could consume vast quantities of materials with nothing to show for it if she wasn’t properly prepared.

Hannah shivered with a thrill of excitement as she contemplated the possibilities. She was passionate about her magic; nothing gave her a greater sense of empowerment than working with the arcane energies she had mastered. She would start down her list of Atrophy symbols and go from there.

She often heard other mages refer to their symbols using specific names, as if claiming the language was universal, but Hannah disagreed. Sure, this symbol was pronounced “faruha” and that one was spoken as “chatuk”, but what was the point on insisting they be called Faruha and Chatuk? It seemed to her that such a convention was a recipe for trouble, as carelessly speaking several symbols aloud could potentially result in a misfired spell.

Instead, she privately referred to each symbol by the reagent it demanded in exchange for its power. That way she stayed organized and never took the arcane potential for granted. Carefully, she placed her finger tip at one of the spell axes and traced the first of her symbols, Wolf-Tooth, there. Arcane energy followed her finger, leaving a visible glow in its wake. Quickly, she sprinkled the reagent, ground wolves’ teeth, onto the page.

Bright blue light flashed for a moment as the parchment absorbed to reagent, forming the symbol in the pattern on the parchment. Hannah sighed with relief; usually the first try wasn’t so successful. She proceeded clockwise around the page and traced Moss into the next space before sprinkling dried moss onto the page. The resulting glow this time was an angry, dark red. It flared up, turning the reagent to ash and zapping Hannah with a bolt of raw arcane power.

Hannah gasped in pain and clenched her eyes tightly to keep back her tears. The pain from an incorrectly placed symbol was quite painful, and would only grow worse as she advanced. With trepidation, she tried another symbol. This one called for a few sprinkles of water and the paper absorbed the offering with an almost eager tint to the blue light. Her next symbol, Dogwood-Bark, was also successful, but she failed twice in a row on the following one before discovering that Daisy-Petal belonged in the fourth axis.

Hannah looked up from her work to find that nightfall had long ago set in. Exhausted from her research, she ate a cold dinner of bread and cheese before curling up on her bed to recover. There was something strenuous to fitting the symbols to the spell; the successes seemed to drain her energy as much as heavy labor would, while the failures were almost twice that. She felt as if she had run from the Monolith to Cloud Break and back again. She slept deeply and dreamt of magical symbols dancing on her bed frame.

The next morning found Hannah back at her desk after a hasty breakfast of fruit and milk. Half a dozen failures and a little luck found her contemplating the eighth and final symbol for her spell. Her last failure had been quite powerful, the heat of the rejection had blistered the skin on her hand and charred the tips of her finger nails. She took a moment to bandage herself, wondering if the effort was worth it. She could always wait and buy more parchment, or even tackle the long effort of trying every possible combination. Maybe in the mean time the paper slip with the combination would turn up.

But flawless parchment was so difficult, not to mention expensive, to find. A single sheet was worth an entire month’s rent, was worth more than the chest it was stored in even. Besides, she was a mage by trade and taking risks to learn new spells was part of the lifestyle. Not only would Hannah get her parchment when she completed her spell, she would gain an entirely new spell for her repertoire. Her body would have all the time in the world to heal after the blasted chest was opened.

She focused down upon the nearly finished spell and considered what symbols might complete it. Of the sixteen atrophy symbols she knew, seven were already resting on the spell sheet, leaving only nine other possibilities. Inspiration struck and Hannah rummaged through her pouches to retrieve a tuft of rabbit fur. Tracing Rabbit-Fur onto the final position, she dropped the tuft onto the parchment. The spell book flashed a rebuking red, brighter than any previous rejection. Hannah pulled back from the desk, attempting to protect herself from the incoming arcane retribution. Excruciating pain hammered into her skull and she cried out as blackness consumed her.

Hannah awoke to find herself on the floor of her room. By the shifting of the sunlight across the floor, she calculated that it was well into the evening. She groaned as she climbed to her feet; every part of her body felt battered and she had an overwhelming sense that something horrible had happened to her because of the failure. She carefully lowered herself into her chair and glared down resentfully at the open spellbook.

Her next choice of symbols would be Fish-Scales. Her hand shook as she traced the swirling symbol on to the page and then dropped a few small iridescent scales onto its shining surface. The symbol quivered for a moment before bursting into the familiar blue light as it etched itself into the weave of the page. A gentle energy flowed through the book and into Hannah’s mind, bringing with it the knowledge of the spell and its price.

Hannah sat for a moment after the glow subsided, transfixed by the experience. The image left by the spell’s magic remained in her thoughts, and she had to chuckle. Of all things, it would be salt. Despite her exhaustion, she stood and searched her small pantry for her salt jar. Sprinkling a small amount into her hand, she scooped up her spell book and stood before the locked storage chest.

“Adun Hitro, Vandi Lockt Maskiv, Avan Trikt Chala!” She commanded, reading aloud the symbols from the spell. The spellbook glowed brightly as it pulled energy from the arcane realm and channeled it through her body to the small white grains in her hand. With an authoritative flick of her wrist, Hannah sent the salt crystals flying at the chest.

The salt collided with the chest. Where it contacted with wood, the crystals bounced off and fell harmlessly to the floor. But where they touched the iron bandings and trim they adhered. Transferring the energy into the metal, the salt dissolved into the material. As Hannah watched, the iron first turned varying shades of muddy red before slowly falling to the floor as dust. Within moments the wooden lid of the chest fell apart from the frame and the entire piece collapsed, sending its contents across the floor.

Hannah carefully lifted away the boards to reveal a leather case. She retrieved it and quickly inspected the contents. With a sigh of relief, she withdrew the pristine parchment that was stored inside. She laughed quietly to herself. Magic might not be the solution to every problem, but it certainly was effective for most.

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