My training under Beckman continued.
“I have taught you the basics of force.” He said one day, once more in the gym. “Continue to practice delayed casts on your own.” I nodded. It had been a long week of making coins leap into the air, and I had recently made the discovery that less than a week was how long it took for doing so to become dull. At least now I could practice it without Tom Beckman’s stern gaze. “What I will be teaching you next is blade.” He brought out a new wallet and opened it up. Inside was a stack of green pieces of paper. I was finally being allowed to play with the big bucks. He took out a note. My best guess was that they were one dollar bills. “Blade is one of the more visually impressive casts,” Beckman was explaining with a tone of voice that suggested he had never seen anything that moved him enough to call it “visually impressive”. Then a blade of light burst forth from the bill he was holding, causing me to cry out. “Output of this cast is dependent on the value put in, as you probably guessed. The more money used in the cast, the larger and stronger the blade.” The blade dissipated and the one dollar bill turned to dust in Beckman’s hand. He shook his hand a bit and took out another bill, which he gave to me. “Now let’s start with the basics. Cast blade for me.”
Casting blade for the first time was a little easier than casting force, probably because I’d already gotten the sense for how to perform Divitaetion in general, and within a short time I’d produced a blade of flashing energy from the bill. It looked like it was longer than the one Beckman had produced, but that couldn’t have been right.
“You’ve gotten quicker.” Beckman said. I nodded, busy making sure that I didn’t let the blade touch anything. After a few seconds the blade dissipated and the bill between my fingers crumbled into dust and I was able to relax. Well, relax as much as I could under the watchful eye of Tom Beckman.
“The key to effectively using blade lies in how much value you put into the cast.” Beckman began explaining as I brushed the dust off my hand. “When two blades clash, if there is a great disparity between their values, then the blade of lower value will be shattered and the cast will end early.” That made sense, I guess, though I did have a question.
“So if you had say… a one hundred dollar bill you’d be safe?” I think I’d gotten the largest bill right.
“Not necessarily.” Beckman shot me down. “Yes no one would be able to shatter your blade with a note, at least not an American note anyway, but wielding a blade that large can be as risky to you as it is to your opponent. And of course no amount of value in your blade will matter if your opponent outclasses you in sword fighting ability.”
“Am I going to be expected to fight people?” I cut in as Beckman was picking up steam. Beckman seemed to consider his answer for a moment.
“Much Divitaetion is typically applicable to combat… and if we are right and you are Mammon in human form then you will bring a great upheaval.” Ah right. “People are always resistant to change, especially one as grand as what you will bring.”
Yes they were expecting me to be their promised deity, somehow I’d almost forgotten about that. Not only that but they were expecting things to get violent, and for me to exact that violence if need be…
Once again I found myself questioning if coming to the Church of Mammon had been the right thing to do.
Then I thought of my mum and Alistair back home.
“So what can I do against an opponent that outclasses me?” I asked with renewed vigour.
“Lose, I imagine.” I pulled a face. Beckman’s face remained impassive. He was remarkably unemotional for a movie star. He relented. “If you want to defeat an opponent more skilled than you, or indeed richer than you, you must be smart. You will have to outwit them and out-think them, and only then might you claw away a victory.” Beckman put the wallet away and took two small plastic cards from his pocket. Bank cards. Those worked too? The scope of Divitaetion suddenly opened up in my mind. “It looks like you’ve already realised the potential of these.”
“Divitaetion can be cast with a bank card…” I sounded it out. “Does the card disappear?” Surely that was even more inconvenient than losing small change?
“No, the money simply disappears from the associated account.” How did that even work? Questions for later.
“So you can control how much money goes into the cast?” Beckman nodded.
“To the cent.” Beckman cast another blade with one of the cards. This one was smaller than either of the blades we’d cast with the one dollar bills. “For example, this blade has a value of a quarter.” The blade extended and widened slightly until it was about the size of the previous blade. “This is one dollar again.” Okay the exact same size. It didn’t look like multiplying the value of the blade by four increased the size of the blade by four… I wondered what the conversion of value to blade size was. Then I wondered how long it would be until thoughts like that became normal for me. Beckman’s blade increased further in size and I began to hear a faint crackle of energy from it. “And this is five dollars.” I instinctively backed away slightly. If Beckman noticed, he didn’t show it and continued talking. “You can increase the value of a blade cast from a card whenever you like, but not decrease. If you want a smaller blade you’ll have to end the cast and cast another one.” He dismissed the blade. The card remained, very obviously not turning to dust. “Understand?”
I nodded, then asked:
“The other techniques… heat and force… can they be cast with a bank card too?” Beckman nodded in affirmation.
“Yes,” he answered, “but acolytes tend to not use bank cards for activities such as launching yourself with force, which typically requires that you leave the card behind.” Beckman passed one of the bank cards to me. “These cards are connected to a trainee account, so you can’t cast anything worth more than five dollars at a time, and it will max out at one hundred dollars per day.”
“I have an allowance?” I’d never been given pocket money or an allowance of any sort.
“You have a budget.” Beckman corrected me, putting it in a way that was far more familiar to me. “Acolytes have a daily budget for Divitaetion, whatever level they are.” I guess if your organisation relied on money for its supernatural powers it was important to keep an eye on the bottom line. “Now cast a blade from that card for me. Make it worth 50 cents.” I nodded and focussed my mind on the black card in my hand. Casting with money was becoming more and more natural to me now that I was getting used to the concept, yet the card seemed to pose a renewed challenge to me. Perhaps it was because the value seemed more… conceptual than the little pieces of paper and metal I’d been getting used to. Still, casting with a bank card couldn’t be too different.
With a maximum total limit of one hundred dollars a day. I wasn’t sure how much that was in pounds, but I’m sure it would at least pay for a few weeks of food, or heating, or water, or electricity, or-
The blade erupted out of the card. I hadn’t put any thought into how much money I was spending. The noise was immense, far louder than the crackling I’d heard before. The card shook in my hand. I cried out and dropped it and the card, with the blade still thundering away, fell and hit the ground. The noise only increased and I could smell something burning. I fell back, terrified. Beckman had said the card wouldn’t let me spend more than five dollars in one go, so why was this blade so much larger than the one he had shown me? Beckman said something, but I couldn’t hear him over the noise. He pulled another card out of his pocket and a blade extended from it. He swung down on my blade that was still lying on the floor, smoke now rising from the floor. There was a noise like a thunderclap as the two blades met. I realised Beckman was trying to shatter my blade and end the cast.
But my blade held. After another hit yielded equally disappointing results, Beckman’s blade extended even further. He struck down again. Again my blade held. He shook his head and dismissed his blade. Was he giving up? No, he pointed the card at mine, leaning in as close as he could, and cast another blade. This one erupted even more violently than mine and struck my blade with the loudest sound yet. Then there was a cracking noise, like glass shattering, and Beckman was blown backwards.
Then all the noise stopped. My card lay amid a large burnt black scar on the floor. Also lying on the floor was me and, more surprisingly, Tom Beckman. Beckman soon rectified this by standing up. I contributed to the effort by also standing up. Beckman walked over and gingerly picked up my card. He held it at arms length, away from either of us, and cast a blade. It popped out and crackled slightly, around the same size and intensity as his previous five dollar blade. It seemed silly now that I’d ever been scared of a blade that size when I’d seen how violent they could get. Beckman frowned and dismissed the blade.
“I’m sorry…” I said quietly, “I don’t know what happened…” Beckman didn’t respond initially. He looked like he was in deep thought. Eventually he said:
“It’s not your fault. It’s a common thing when someone first casts with a bank card. They can’t control how much they cast with. It’s why we have the five dollar limit after all…” But then why was my cast so violent? Beckman returned all the cards to his pocket and took out another wallet. The one of coins. He passed it to me. “Practice delayed casts of force for the rest of the day. I have other matters to attend to.” I didn’t say anything as he left the gym, leaving me by the still slightly smoking patch on the floor I’d created.