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The Tall and the Small

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“Again,” Paul requested politely.

Their teammate and current test subject, a three-foot-tall humanoid named Princess Hedgehog, huffed a little but obliged them. As neither of the pair had been deemed necessary for the current mission by their team leader - the cyborg John Stone - Paul had taken the opportunity to request the Princess allow them to run some tests on her magic. Ever enamored of being the center of someone’s attention, the Princess had agreed.

Paul found their magic fascinating. They were not unfamiliar with other kinds of magic; while the gladiatorial arena was hardly a good place to conduct thorough scientific experiments, they had managed over the years to develop some rudimentary testing protocols that had given them fascinating insights into the other competitors’ various flavors of magic. Then, after being sent to the colony of Hope, they had managed to refine their process further and quantified all kinds of new and interesting magics. They were all fascinating, and while some of them were trickier to study then others, they’d managed to find at least one instrument or process for each.

The study of magic was not one they’d had any interest in before their unfortunate removal from their home plane, but it was one they found endlessly interesting now. Most of the ones they’d studied so far had been beautiful in their own ways, the higher-order energies a challenge to observe and yet infinitely satisfying in the insights they derived from them. It was, therefore, almost vexing that Princess Hedgehog’s magic continued to defy their attempts to study it.

“You know, back on my planet I was one of the best magic users we had. Most of us could cast a spell or two, of course, but only a few of my siblings could cast more spells than I could. They were closer to the throne, of course, so it was more important that they know more spells, but really when it came to average magical power most of us could at least fly - pretty important when you’re only three feet tall you know.”

The smaller being had been monologuing the entire time Paul had been running their tests, but this particular thread of conversation piqued a certain amount of interest. “Are you saying proximity to the throne increased magical potential on your world?” They asked as they reset the instruments in front of them for another run. The results of the last three tests had been largely negligible - while the Princess’ internal nervous systems did spike in activity a little when they cast, it wasn’t any more than was caused by non-magical hand motions - but they wanted a statistically significant sample size before they pursued another avenue of research.

The much smaller Princess blinked up at the much larger Paul as they settled to the ground from where they’d been hovering. “Well, not exactly. It’s more like, the closer you were to the throne the more time you had to study and the more opportunities you had to bring stronger magic into your line.” They paused. “Except, of course, if you actually got the throne or were appointed to do something for the throne because then you were crazy busy and never had time for anything except business.”

Paul nodded. “That makes sense,” they said agreeably as they reset their instruments. Other species, they’d found, liked the redundancy of both a verbal and physical response to whatever had been said. Their own people had tended more towards an economy of communication, but some of their studies in Hope had led them to amend their mannerisms; it was not, after all, that much more effort and it garnered more cooperation from their contemporaries.

Their current lab partner flashed a brilliant smile at them. “Of course it does. Makes me glad I wasn’t too terribly close to the throne. Of course, if I had ended up assuming the throne, I would have been the best ruler our kingdom had ever seen. The most magnanimous, the most beloved, the most attractive - well, you see what I mean.”

Paul nodded again. “You do have a number of striking aesthetic qualities,” they replied truthfully.

While they’d figured out early on that most organics they’d met could not perceive the full range that their eyes could manage or sense the subtle electromagnetic fields that made up their species’ main avenue of communication both verbal and emotive, that didn’t stop them from emitting on that spectrum. The organics they’d met and studied had had limited electromagnetic fields in their own rights. Most of it was contained under the skin, and could be obscured or diffused by varying amount of fur or other coverings, and traced predictable paths with small enough variances in both frequency and intensity.

Not so Princess Hedgehog; to their eyes, the smaller being lit up like a firework. Brilliant shifts of both frequency and intensity made an ever-shifting halo around and through her form, and every single change in mood was reflected in that brilliant display. It was, without doubt or reservation, the most aesthetically pleasing thing Paul had had the privilege of seeing for a very long time, and made their current round of experiments all the more enjoyable. They had yet to determine which patterns went with which emotions or other actions, but the thought of finding out was entirely satisfying.

Princess Hedgehog beamed at them as they tapped the queuing sequence into the instruments, but they forestalled any response by looking up and nodding politely. “Whenever you’re ready,” they said, and the Princess nodded back agreeably.

A quick gesture had the Princess floating off the ground once more, and Paul checked their instruments. All of them showed continuing anomalous spikes in gravitational fields in the lab, and Paul paused in surprise for the briefest moments before making some adjustments. “Hmmm,” they said as they did so, and Princess floated to look over their shoulder.

“What? What is it? Did you find something?” The Princess’ rapid-fire questions were likely more a symbol of her boredom than true interest, but Paul had never been one to dismiss even the idlest of curiousity.

“The gravitational forces in the lab appear to be exhibiting behaviours inconsistent with their previously recorded baselines that I accounted for before we started our current course of experiments. Since we were slated to remain stationary until the rest of the team returned from their mission, I did not enhance the stabilization protocols on my instruments to account for external changes in gravitational constraints.” Princess’ attention visibly waned as Paul spoke, their hands moving methodically across the interface they’d set up as they engaged motion protocols and the instruments ceased registering anything particularly unusual.

The little goblin sighed and flitted back over to the testing area. “You’re lucky you’re cute, I don’t spend this much magic for just anyone,” they told Paul in a tone the much taller humanoid had learned to identify as at least partially joking.

Paul elected to take the comment at face value. “My thanks for your patience. Your magic is an intriguing as it is inscrutable, and from what you’ve told me so far your culture sounds absolutely fascinating.”

None of their tests so far had given them any relevant details on how the magic worked. They’d been working for several hours, and they were no closer to quantifying what her magic was than when they’d started. Oh, they’d managed to eliminate a large number of things her magic wasn’t of course; their entire set of baseline magic tests had proven it wasn’t anything they’d encountered previously, or even anything remotely similar to anything they’d encountered previously. It wasn’t some erroneously named manipulation of natural forces, and it wasn’t the intervention of extradimensional beings. The mystery of it was engaging their entire attention in a way few things had since their liberation from the arenas, and the methodical work of the testing they’d done so far was almost soothing in its own way.

The fact that the Princess’ was highly gregarious and very willing to talk at length about their absolutely fascinating culture was an un-looked-for - but highly welcome - bonus.

The large ears on both sides of the Princess’ head perked up, their electromagnetic fields flaring to an even greater brightness than usual. “Oh, well, did I ever tell you about the time that no less than fifteen princes got ejected from the line of succession?”

Paul shook their head as they reset their scanners again, and proceeded to listen to the long and involved tale that ensued as they ran test after test, and the hours slipped away pleasantly until the team returned.