This is an extract from Kariyne Marlo’s Arkhon: An Anecdotal History, which holds the record for being the most-borrowed book in the Crimson Library.
One of the most notorious inventions of the renowned alchemists of Arkhon was the spell-checker. Numerous examples of these have survived – there are five in the Crimson Library’s Artifact Room – with varying capability.
The oldest are crude items, imbued with records of a (very) limited number of spells, such as the ever-popular Lead-Into-Gold and Silver-Into-Steel alchemies, capable of interrupting the spell-caster immediately if the psitone sequence does not match. These were used primarily to train young alchemists, especially those whose intelligence, despite their wealth, was sorely lacking and who were thus forced to learn spells by rote – a task too tedious to be attended by a master alchemist.
But as the arts of alchemy and other wizardries practised in Arkhon developed, as the Royal University devised a standard syntax and imposed a primitive grammar, so spells grew increasingly formulaic. Simple spell elements could be extended to form new classes of spells, and these could be further extended. (The beauty of this system is that complex spells can be rendered into written symbols with ease. Didri’s great anthology, of over four thousand spells, is a single tome. The drawback – and this is the reason why the Crimson Order has always resisted adopting the Arkhon method – is that the resultant spells often require a considerable length of time to weave.)
The structured grammar of Arkhon wizardry meant spell-checkers could be used to great effect. Specific spells were no longer enchanted as a reference. Rather, a basic vocabulary of psitone phrases and semantic rules formed a basis against which spell-casters could check their (frequently lengthy) utterances. Unfortunately, once a mistake was made, usually the spell had to be abandoned and started from scratch – a source of great frustration!
Spell-checkers reached their final stage of development shortly before the sacking of Arkhon. By this point, such was their marvellous complexity that not only could they check the validity of a spell, they could ‘correct’ any errors prior to casting! Understandably, the alchemists of Arkhon – with a few exceptions – considered them to be the single most useful invention of that great city. (Not that many were made. We estimate that a top-notch spell-checker took at least fourteen years to enchant completely; and, once enchanted, would sell for enough to make the responsible alchemist one of Arkhon’s wealthiest citizens.)
Prospective alchemists too clumsy normally to cast spells correctly, but wealthy enough to afford spell-checkers, were suddenly able to join in the game, and adept alchemists could now cast spells of great complexity with frightening speed (using a technique called ‘psiphrase completion’ by which a short, deliberately erroneous psitone sequence is ‘corrected’ to the proper, lengthy sequence).
However, a few of the elder alchemists complained that spell-checkers encouraged sloppy thinking, and advocated purer, more pedantic spell-craft. Some claimed even that spell-checkers were potentially dangerous – a claim disregarded by less ascetic wizards, but not refuted. (The reasoning behind the claim is that when spell-checkers ‘correct’ a mistake, they may in fact miscorrect it, and unless the spell-caster is fully aware of the ‘correction’ the miscorrection will stand and be virtually undetectable. The final spell will be a valid spell but will behave in an unintended and possibly hazardous fashion.)
In his history of the Kranthinol war, Hedri recounts a tale told to him by a senior wizard from the Royal University who speculates that Tamarilse, Arkhon’s chief wizard during the war, miscast a weather-spell by ‘using ni-di-i-re instead of ni-de-e-ri.’ No further explanation is given in Hedri’s History, but if we assume that Tamarilse was using a spell-checker and the technique of psiphrase completion, we may conjecture that the former miscorrects to ‘low central pressure’ whereas the latter corrects to ‘high eastern pressure’ – and, indeed, it has been recorded elsewhere that Tamarilse was struck by lightning in the midst of battle!
If this is true, then a more patent example of the dangers of spell-checkers is hard to imagine.