The Foundation really isn't comfortable with using terms like "magic". We know that magic exists, but calling it that implies that it can't be explained by quantifiable, scientific means. For example, they try to explain it away as "manipulation of the planet's electromagnetic field to produce sudden bursts of heat" when someone starts a fire with a single word. The Foundation doesn't use "magic", either, because it's not consistent. And yet, I study it every day. Go figure.
- Montgomery Reynolds, Site 87 Theology department
"O Vesta, Lady of the Hearth. I call on thee. I call on thee. O Vulcan, Lord of Flame. I call on thee. I call on thee." A hooded figure raised a knife. "I call on thee! Bring me the knowledge of flame!" The steel blade plunged down suddenly, cutting through the skin of the rabbit easily. A rush of wind and then…
And more silence.
…and even more silence. The hooded figure groaned. "Fuck a truck." Dr. Katherine Sinclair stood up, lowering the hood and glowering at the one-way glass on the other end of the test chamber. "I told you it wouldn't work with a taxidermied specimen. It has to be live. Or at least, fresher than this."
"What do you expect us to do, Katherine? Requisition an ox so you can try haruspicy again?" Monty rubbed his balding scalp on the other side of the glass, his other hand keeping the intercom button depressed. "The Foundation doesn't put much stock in your research, I'm afraid. Thaumaturgical research-"
"For fucks sake, Monty, call it magic. It's so much easier." Kat walked out of the chamber, removing her ceremonial robe.
"-is of no value to the Foundation unless it can be executed with consistent results. You remember when you tried divining dreams and predicted Site 87 being overrun by gerbils?"
"I also correctly predicted the whole 'Keter Skeeter' incident, even if it was all in Hendricks's head." She frowned at Montgomery. "Magic is inherently inconsistent. Sometimes you get a few sparks from a fire invocation, sometimes you summon a chunk of solid plasma from a distant star… and sometimes you're forced to offer a taxidermied rabbit as sacrifice, and nothing happens." Kat fiddled with her fiery hair and chewed her lip. "What's the next trial?"
"We've got an Assyrian scroll that's supposed to cause a rainstorm within the immediate area in order to water crops. Want to try that?"
One Flooded Test Chamber Later…
"Well, at least we know it works," muttered Dr. Sinclair, wringing out her labcoat. "Next time, we do that outside. Maybe in one of the greenhouses or something."
Reynolds toweled off his head. "Shall we take a break? Maybe hit the cafeteria?"
"Sure. Just let me grab something." Dr. Sinclair went back into the theology department, and came back with a book entitled Basic Spells You Can Do At Home. The author was unknown, but it was probably something along the lines of Hector Oaks or Charlie Tan. "A few of these actually have some sound magical theory to them; maybe we can try them when we get back from lunch."
Monty shook his head. "As long as you're not reading the so-called powerful multidimensional beings text." He walked alongside Dr. Sinclair, whose nose was in the book the whole way to the cafeteria. How could one person be so obsessed with this kind of thing? He wanted to study traditions involving magic, not the mechanics like she did. He didn't want to end up as Professor Dumbledore, waving a stick of elm everywhere and looking into a god-damn crystal ball.
Whilst thinking about this, he grabbed a tray and frowned at the choice of music that was currently playing on the radio: Do You Believe In Magic by… some band he never wanted to know the name of. This song was aural cancer to him. To the contrary, Dr. Sinclair perked up at the sound of it.
"You actually like this, Katherine?"
"Yeah. I listened to it all the time when I was a kid." Kat scooped up some salad onto her tray and hummed along with the song. "Heck, some people say that music is a form of magic."
"All this is saying to me is Crucio," groaned Reynolds, to which Sinclair frowned. "I understand the theory, yes. Art is indistinguishable from magic, writing is a form of magic using symbols to invoke various emotions and responses, change consciousness." He gave the radio a soft glare, and static filled the airwaves momentarily. "And right now, this song is making me want to bash my brains against a wall."
Sinclair rolled her eyes, and went to the table, sitting down and reading her book.
They arrived back at their lab 15 minutes later, where Dr. Sinclair was still reading, and Reynolds was looking at the ritual they had attempted earlier. Why any cult would worship both Vesta and Vulcan was beyond him; Vesta was the Goddess of Sacred Flame, and Vulcan was just the God of Fire, including volcanic fire. Maybe it had something to do with a sacred volcano?
"Or maybe it was a cult of pyromaniacs founded by Nero, ha ha ha." He continued poring over the documentation of the ritual. "Katherine, did you use steel or obsidian when you cut the rabbit?"
"Steel." She looked up from her book inquisitively. "Why? Does it require obsidian?"
"It shouldn't hurt, all things considered. Vulcan was the god of volcanoes."
"He's also the god of the forge. Steel should work just as well."
Monty exhaled— not quite a sigh, but almost. "I suppose…" Montgomery scratched his scalp and looked around; the rest of the laboratory was empty, as nobody else in Theology would be bothered with studying magic as an actual practice, rather than just looking at old spell books and translating some of them before shoving them in the Archives.
So, why wasn't he doing that? Maybe he just wanted to see the actual thing instead of reading about it. Maybe he didn't want Dr. Sinclair to be the Witch of S & C Plastics, all alone in her lab and her office, trying to generate gusts of air via unexplained means. Maybe… he should stop thinking about these things and get back to trying to figure out the damn flame ritual.
"Well… it's a step up from taxidermy." Katherine held up the dead laboratory rat, before placing it on the floor of the test chamber and putting up the hood of her ritual garb. She looked across the room, where a target was situated for her to blast in case it worked. "Is the equipment running, Montgomery?"
"It's up. Just give the thermal camera a second… there we go. You may begin the procedure."
She lit two candles and picked off two pieces of flesh from the rat, burning one in each flame before warming her blade in the flames. She said a prayer to Vesta and Vulcan, thanking them for the gift of fire and hearth, and asking for the ability to use their element, but also protection from its power. Finally, at the end, a big, dramatic finish.
"O Vesta, Lady of the Hearth. I call on thee. I call on thee. O Vulcan, Lord of Flame. I call on thee. I call on thee." She raised her knife. "I call on thee!" With a snikt, the obsidian blade plunged into the dead rat's heart.
The thermal cameras picked up a steady temperature increase, and suddenly, bright orange spots appeared around Katherine's hands. She stood up, and jutted them out towards the target. It was instantly incinerated; the cameras picked up temperatures upwards of 700 Centigrade.
"Hell yes! It works!" Dr. Sinclair waved her hands around, attempting to put the magical fire out. It wouldn't extinguish. She tried again. Suddenly, she felt a sharp, searing pain from her hands; she let out a scream. Her hands were on fire, and she could feel it. She called out for help as the flames made their way up her arms, the scent of burning flesh filling the room-
Reynolds ran into the room with a bucket of water and threw it over Sinclair, who fell to the ground, screaming in agony. The flames had made their way up to her elbow before they were extinguished. The burns formed a distinct pattern on her right arm, which formed words. They read, in Latin:
"NON CONTENTI SUMUS"
Katherine Sinclair cried in pain, bawling like a child at the burns on her arms. Montgomery Reynolds pulled the medic alarm, before carefully pulling Katherine out of the test chamber and placing her on the ground. "Katherine, it's all right Katherine, the medics will be here soon…"
Katherine hissed in pain, a few coherent words escaping her lips. "Do… do you…"
"Do… you believe in… magic… in a young girl's… heart? How the… music can… free her… whenever it starts?" She was delirious, but at least she was talking. Montgomery cupped his hands over his face and breathed a sigh of relief into them, shivering from the experience. She was still singing when they carried her away to the infirmary.