There were the glyphs for the original orb of light. Ordinary folks with no training would have the sequence inscribed somewhere and they could just focus on channelling their auric arcana through it, and the glyph sequence would then draw in enough auric or ambient arcana to conjure the orb. However, it was simple enough that most arcanists could form the orb without even having the glyphs written down - you just needed a good memory and a reasonable level of clarity in your visualisation. If you knew enough about the glyphs, you could even substitute some of them to create your own variation. As far as I could tell, this was a standard sequence with no modifications.
But the sequence Celwyn had put in front of us had more than just the orb of light. There were glyphs that connected the orb to other sequences - links that somehow worked as conjunctions to even bigger and more complex sequences that were not included in this excerpt. I couldn't even tell what some of the glyphs did since I had never encountered them anywhere, but the bits I could read were being used in ways I didn't even know were possible.
'That's two minutes,' Celwyn said, clapping her hands together. 'Anyone?'
'The orb's light... hides everything. I think some of the glyphs are keyed to detecting the arcana of the original light orb, and there's something about hiding stuff if it picks up the orb's light. So wait, no, that means, to be more accurate, everything else hides itself in the light of the orb,' I said, a little faint with wonder. I didn't even know you could turn things invisible, let alone selectively invisible.
A few were nodding along, having reached the same conclusions. Someone gave a low whistle.
'How long did it take?' Emilia's voice carried no awe and she didn't look impressed at all.
'The theory took years of development. The time it actually took to physically inscribe the sequences was about two days.' Celwyn smiled at Emilia. 'You've pointed out the drawback of working with physical glyphs. My colleagues and I built these rooms long ago to better conduct our Advanced Glyphs classes. The rooms have many functions that we will study over the course of this year, and you will learn to decode parts of it and understand the underlying principles. Your seniors sometimes use these rooms to safely carry out experiments, and when you've managed to master the use of some of these glyphs, you will be able to do the same.'
She gestured again and the glyph sequence vanished, to be replaced by the basic set of glyphs.
'These are basic glyphs that are pretty well-established by now, and even people beyond the Empire use these. You've probably memorised their form and function, but for Advanced Glyphs we're going to introduce even more sets.'
With another gesture from Celwyn, the basic glyphs shrank and floated upwards. Hundreds of new glyphs appeared, arranged into sets of their own.
'Lots of memory work ahead of you. I expect everyone to be functionally fluent within three months, and you should have perfect recall after half a year. If you can't memorise all of them you won't progress very far, not just in my class but in the rest of the Academy. So this is the on-going homework that runs alongside whatever else I dish out in class.'
'But this is Advanced Glyphs, so we're not just going to memorise. You need to understand the theory behind glyphs in the first place, which is where we'll start today.'
I was already furiously scribbling in my notebook. There was no convenient desk attached to our chairs, so I had to balance my notebook on my knee. Those who were likewise taking things down were all in similarly awkward positions.
A surge of ambient arcana surprised all of us and suddenly there were little flat planes of wood floating in front of each of us.
'Here's a surface for note-taking. The room has glyphs that will shape ambient arcana into any classroom implement we'll need and stabilise the form long enough for our use. You can manipulate the constructs using the usual universal control glyphs, and once you learn more, you can exert finer control. I'll give you all a list of what we can do in this room at the end of the day.'
We spent a minute or so playing around with the floating planes of wood. I realised that it could even bear weight while in mid-air if I locked its position.
'So, what are glyphs?' Celwyn looked around, smiling indulgently as some of us fidgeted with the desks.
'They're the alphabet, the language of arcana,' a red-haired girl named Triss volunteered.
'Right, so who came up with it?'
'No one?' Reyes looked confused by the question. 'It's just the language of arcana itself. That's what we're taught.'
'That's what laypeople are taught,' Celwyn amended. 'Now, as arcanists, you need to go beyond the surface answer. We call it the language of arcana when we teach at the lower levels, but a language is a construct, isn't it? Why does dog mean that four-legged animal? Other languages have different words for it, but they all refer to the same thing. Our culture decides that we will use this series of sounds to refer to that animal and that these marks on the paper represent that series of sounds. And other languages use different sounds, different marks on a paper.'
I had never actually thought about it that way. So if glyphs are a language, then...
'So are there other... glyph languages?' I asked.
'No,' Celwyn turned to me and nodded approvingly. 'But that's a question in the right direction. There are no other glyph languages other than the one we use, but we call it a language anyway. We're not lying when we teach that at the layperson level. It's still correct. So why do we call it a language?'
'It's made up,' Emilia said softly.
Her answer was met with confused looks, but Celwyn nodded and gestured for Emilia to continue. The girl looked back blankly for a moment, but took in a deep breath. 'The glyphs mean what we want them to mean. We make up the meaning.'
There was even more confusion at this pronouncement, but I could see where this was leading, or at least I thought I did.
'But there are rules?' Reyes demanded. 'We can't just draw something and say this is a new glyph, can we?'
'Languages have rules, yes, because it needs to make sense somehow. But we decide what that sense is,' Celwyn answered. 'So actually... you can just draw something and say it is a new glyph. And if it's a glyph that nobody has drawn before, you get to decide what meaning it has.'
Silence. Absolute, pin-drop silence.
Reyes shook his head. 'I don't get it. So I can imagine a glyph that means ultimate power and then inscribe it on myself and I become some kind of god?'
A few people laughed but quickly quietened when they realised that some of us had serious looks on our faces. Celwyn herself was not laughing.
'Since I appear to have given you the keys to ultimate power, Reyes, I hope you will be appropriately thankful and that you won't erase me when you remake the world according to your wishes,' she said without a trace of humour.
More silence. I quickly revised my estimation of Celwyn and decided that she was just as terrifying as Reeves and that this class was probably scarier than his.
'As far as we know, Reyes' suggestion, even though he meant it to sound ridiculous, is not outside the realm of possibility. Rest assured, many people are looking into exactly how to do that. But we'd be venturing far into theoretical glyph-work which is more the realm of those who intend to take up the Sage vocation. I'll be teaching you the principles behind glyphs that could lead you there one day, but our classes will be of a more practical bent that you will find immediately useful in other courses like your Basic of Artificing, or your Offensive and Defensive Thaumaturgy.'
I took a deep breath and sighed. This was just the second lesson, and I could already feel my understanding of the world unravelling around me.