Magic Monday – The Sorcerer’s Valet

Servant-Spell

While many magicians preserve traditions of living within a community and working with their hands, others – especially the wealthy and antisocial – isolate themselves and try to meet their daily needs with magic as often as possible. The Servant-Spell is a common tool for these: it imbues an inert object with a spirit appropriate to a desired task, which animates the object for the following twenty-four hours. In general, the task is simple and appropriate to the object animated: a broom that sweeps on its own; a chest or table that carries things around; a stylus or quill-pen that takes dictation. As a rule, the servant can be commanded to start or stop its task, to follow its master or go to a visible location, or just wait. A group of servants may also be created at once, and can act in concert; servants created separately are unfortunately not especially aware of each other nor prone to cooperation.


The base difficulty of the servant-spell is d8; if the object is ill-suited to its task (e.g. a broom asked to carry), the difficulty rises by at least one step. If the object is already enchanted and bonded to the caster, or is set to work entirely within the caster’s place of power (in which cases the object being lost or leaving the area will render it inert), the difficulty decreases by a step. The base cost is four strain or fatigue, plus two more for each additional object imbued. The caster may also sacrifice a point of Constitution per object to make a servant-spell permanent. A rare version of the spell imbues an intelligence equivalent to a young child and forces a single object into an appropriate shape for a task when possible, such as by adding arms and legs to it. This version increases the difficulty by two steps and doubles all energy costs.

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Gird your loins, or your chin

勝って兜の緒を締めよ
(Katte kabuto no o wo shimeyo;
“When you win, tighten your helmet-strap”)

Definition:

A warning to not let down one’s guard even when things seem to be going well or when one seems to have won a fight. Always push all the way through to the finish line. “It’s not over ‘til it’s over” – and don’t be too sure that something’s actually over. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Breakdown:

We begin with the verb 勝つ (katsu), “to win,” in conjunctive form. This allows it to connect to the following clause. This begins with a noun phrase comprising 兜 (kabuto), “helmet” and 緒 (o), “cord,” connected by the associative particle の (no). The particle を (wo) marks this noun phrase as the object of the verb 締める (shimeru) in imperative form, making the entire phrase into a command.

Notes:

This saying apparently comes to us from third-century BCE Confucian philosopher Xun Kuang.

Example sentence:

「あの悪法が不成功に終わってしまったからもちろん嬉しいけど、勝って兜の緒を締めよう。油断したら今度の結果はどうなるかわからないから」

(“Ano akuhou ga fuseikou ni owatte shimatta kara mochiron ureshii kedo, katte mo kabuto no o wo shimeyou. Yudan shitara kondo no kekka wa dou naru ka wakaranai kara.”)

[“Naturally I’m happy that that evil law failed, but even in victory let’s fix our helmets. There’s no knowing how it will go next time if we let our guard down.”]

(Note: It has come to my attention that last week’s kotowaza did not go up on the site. To make up for the omission, please expect two kotowaza posts this week, arranged to avoid overlap. In the meantime, enjoy a topical example of usage!)

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Maybe later; not yet and not now

古今無双
ko.kon.mu.sou

Literally: old – now – nothing – pair

Alternately: Something is unmatched from the past to the present. A quality (often, but not always, greatness) is unequaled at any time in history, right up to the present moment.

Notes: 古今 does not simply mean “past and present,” as one might guess from the characters’ meanings; it refers to the entire span of time. There are a number of four-character compounds beginning with 古今, including several synonyms to this one. (For example 古今無比 (~.hi), in which the character 比, which replaces 双, means “compare.”)

KoKonYuuKa

This yojijukugo appears in a war song from the very early Meiji Era, at the time of the Satsuma Rebellion. Something like it is being sung by this anime girl, because that’s new.

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Magic Monday – God-eaters – The Stars

The Stars
(The Dancers of the Astral Plain; the Lights)

Description: It turns out that the world really is ringed in a shell, nest, or shield of rotating crystalline spheres. The innermost face of these – which we call the “sky” – is a vast landscape of shimmering gray, also known (despite the presence of woods, hills, ravines, and several features analogous to nothing terrestrial) as the Astral Plain. Here wander the stars: shining beings in humanoid, beastlike, or entirely alien shapes. By day they usually grow dimmer and go about recognizable business such as sports (and other hobbies), resting, socializing, even fighting, although they also tend to move along a fixed track through the landscape of the sky. By night they dance and shine, bright enough to be seen from our world below.

Each star has a fixed shape and a largely fixed color, although its light varies in intensity over the course of the day and in accordance with its moods.

Worshipers: Yes, notably the Asteri Magi. While any one star’s influence on the mortal world below is relatively slight, priests have found ways to call on groups of stars in return for certain boons. Still, the earth and sky are separated by a vast and seldom-traveled gulf, so anything that happens to a given star would only be noticed after the fact, when certain invocation rituals began to fail consistently.

Servitors: No. Each star is relatively solitary in its strange geometrical habits, although some have warm relations with each other or with other, non-star inhabitants of their land.

Confrontation: At night, the stars dance uncontrollably and seem oblivious to their surroundings, but are immune to all non-magical harm. In the day, they tend to take offense to hostile actions, and fight to defend themselves as a non-astral being of the same shape would. Stars tend to be scattered across the landscape of the sky and seldom come to each other’s aid, except for the more social groups, such as the members of some constellations.

Aspect: Energy; cosmos; other aspects vary from star to star. Those present at defeat may boost any one attribute, save, or survival meter by +1, or gain one skill point.

Powers – Tier 1: The character gains a faint glow. This is too dim to be useful in the dark (although it does complicate attempts at stealth), but the glow spreads to encompass any magic items or magical beings the character is directly touching.

Powers – Tier 2: The character may adjust the strength and hue of their light with a thought. Although it can never be extinguished entirely, it may be dimmed until it is only noticeable in pitch darkness, or brightened to the intensity of full daylight. The character’s sensitivity to magic increases as well, giving a +4 bonus to all Sense (Sixth) checks.

Powers – Tier 3: A character who has lost more than half their Humanity may voluntarily enter the star-dance while under (or on) the open sky at night. As with all stars, this leaves them in a near-helpless trance until morning, but invulnerable to non-magical harm.

Powers – Other: Each star has their proper track in the sky, and finds following this track restful and pleasant. Characters who have absorbed star-power technically have a track of their own, are always intuitively aware of where they should be in the sky, and are relieved of strain, harm, and fatigue at the rate of one point per hour regardless of activity while following their assigned orbits. If such a character dies, a portion of their essence rises to the Astral Plain and takes its place as a new star.

Example Checks: As long as a character who has absorbed any of the Lights’ essence is in the Astral Plain, every night they must check or join the star-dance until morning. The initial difficulty of the Humanity check to resist dancing is d4, but this permanently increases by one step for each star slain after the first, and for each dance danced while in the Plain. If the difficulty ever increases beyond d100, then the character irrevocably becomes an ordinary star and is retired as a PC. Star-dances performed on the terrestrial sphere don’t count in this calculation.

Notes: Some stars are notably more puissant than their fellows, with a unique ability or effect. (Examples: can control the motion of fire telekinetically; immune to magic; everyone in the star’s presence must speak the truth; anyone directly touching the star loses the ability to sense it in any way thereafter except when in direct contact.) These exceptional Lights grant an extra +1 bonus to any one value of the DM’s choice for characters present at defeat.

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Scattered in the winds

I’m surprised it took me this long to get around to this one….

支離滅裂
shi.ri.metsu.retsu

Literally: branch – separate – destroy / perish – tear apart

Alternately: The things someone says, or writes, or says and does, make no sense. No logic, no order, no consistency, no coherence, no connections, no content. Scattershot; arbitrary; unreliable; self-contradictory. Things fall apart under even the slightest inspection.

Notes: This yojijukugo is formed by attaching two two-character compounds of related meaning in order to emphasize their content through repetition. Made all the more appropriate as commentary on the current administration because shiri (as the kanji 尻) means “butt.”

ShiRiGaoYaku

The falcon will not hear the falconer

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Obamacare feedback PSA

So it turns out that the White House is soliciting negative “Obamacare stories,” perhaps in the belief that unverified rumors scavenged online count as some sort of meaningful data. You too can go here and tell them about your experience with Obamacare, or at least with the US health care system, which presumably they will pretend to take into consideration as they barrel recklessly forward with a universally-hated bill that would dramatically raise health-insurance prices for most Americans and according to the CBO, eject 24 million people out of insurance altogether… in order to help the super-rich become even more so.

Disclaimer: I strongly recommend that if you tell them a story that you use a throwaway email account, because obviously a subsidiary purpose of the site is to build a mailing list. Making a point to those in power shouldn’t necessarily have to mean you’re agreeing to be spammed by malicious idiots.

Anyway, here’s my Obamacare “horror story.” I hope I laid the sarcasm on thick enough that someone in there was clever enough to detect it.

My wife and I are graduate students, struggling to get by on a graduate student stipend while also raising a toddler. We managed to get him into a daycare, but of course he kept on bringing home diseases. Fortunately, thanks to Medicaid, we were able to get him covered for free instead of needing to break the bank or do without medical care.

But even as we lived this debauched lifestyle of regular checkups and our own pediatrician, I couldn’t help worry about how un-American it all was. It was practically European in feel, and I lived constantly in terror at the idea that one day I’d wake up and find that being so damn socialistic had turned all my clothing red.

One time a cut on my son’s toe got infected and I was able to take him in for prompt inspection and a cheap antibiotic instead of waiting until it was necrotic and then clogging up the ER with a stinking dead chunk of foot that needed to be amputated, which is the true American way for anybody making less than median wage. And ever since then my nights have been shattered by unstoppable dream-visions of how my selfish desire to be treated as a human being, with medical needs, deprived some poor insurance-company executive of his second yacht, or deprived some bigoted know-nothing proto-facist of his desire to be better than a black man who is his superior in literally every way.

Finally, we have people who are willing and able to replace that nightmare of preventative medicine, financial solvency and human dignity with a true-blue American dream of necrotic decay, inescapable debt, and irrational hatred.

Meanwhile, the Democrats apparently have a single-payer system proposed that would provide coverage for all Americans while costing $1.8 trillion less. The fact that something is on the table that would help the vast majority of Americans (and the ones it wouldn’t help, are rich enough to take the hit) should be food for thought for anyone trying to find an actually-better alternative to the ACA.

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The original campsite rule

立つ鳥跡を濁さず
(Tatsu tori ato wo nigosazu; “The bird taking flight doesn’t muddy its tracks”)

Definition:

When you leave a place, don’t leave it a mess – leave it at least as pristine as the condition you found it in. Clean up after yourself when you go home. Leave things better than how you found them.

Breakdown:

This saying is a full sentence. The subject (albeit unmarked by any particle) is (tori), “bird,” modified by the verb 立つ (tatsu) – often “to stand,” but in this case “to take flight,” in prenominal form. The sentence’s direct object – as marked by the particle (wo) – is , “trace,” “mark,” “footprint,” etc. And the verb that (isn’t) done to this object is 濁す (nigosu), “to roil,” “to muddy.” This verb appears in imperfective form with the negative suffix (zu) in sentence-final form.

Notes:

The specific image is of a wading waterfowl such as a crane, taking off to fly without kicking up mud from the bottom and dirtying the water in its wake.

Some versions replace 立つ with the more prosaic 飛ぶ (tobu), “to fly,” or 濁さず with 汚さず (yogosazu), “(don’t) make dirty.” One version specifies that the bird is a heron, (sagi).

This saying is also attributed to the Kefukigusa.

Example sentence:

立つ鳥跡を濁さずで、花見が終わったらちゃんとゴミを拾うの忘れないようにね」

(Tatsu tori ato wo nigosazu de, hanami ga owattara chanto gomi wo hirou no wasurenai you ni ne.”)

[“Like the bird that takes flight without muddying the water, let’s not forget to pick up the trash properly once the flower-viewing has ended.”]

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