Encyclopaedia Arcana #50: Advanced Divination (Part Three)

The last entry studied the use of path-walking in divination:  this entry will look at its short-ranged counterpart, precognition.

Broad Focus

Like most divination spells, precognition is more of a mental technique than a magical one.  It functions in the opposite way from path-walking:  instead of looking at one future in the long-term, precognition looks at a lot of futures in the very short term.  The goal with precognition is to gain a limited and superficial impression of all your short-term futures, gaining a vague idea of what’s most likely to happen in the next few seconds.

The obvious problem with this is that all the short-term futures are different.  Trying to look at each one individually is a hopeless task:  in the time it took to study even a tiny fraction of them, events would have moved on and all the futures would have shifted again.  Instead, what precognition does is look for common elements in the futures.  You don’t look at a future in detail:  you sort futures in bulk according to whether they have a certain easily recognisable element or not.

Assembling a Pattern

The best parallel for precognition is the way the eye sees colour.  If you see a pattern of a hundred red tiles and a hundred blue tiles, you can lean in and study one tile in detail . . . but you can also look at the pattern as a whole, seeing the shape it makes.  The eye easily picks out things of a certain shade:  if you have a collection of a hundred blue things on a red background that spell out a giant letter then you don’t have to look at them one at a time to figure out what the letter is, you just read it.

Precognition works the same way.  The diviner trains his inner eye to ‘see’ the element he’s looking for in the same way that a normal person searches for red or blue or green.  The thousands of possible futures make a mosaic, and by stepping back and looking at the overall shape rather than the individual tiles the diviner can see the pattern.  Some futures are good, some are bad:  by backtracking the diviner can figure out what he needs to do to end up somewhere in the middle of the good ones.

Knowing what to look for takes practice, however – developing precognition to any useful degree requires the diviner to spend a significant amount of time training their mind’s eye to pick out one particular thing.  For diviners with an adventurous streak, the first thing they train themselves to detect with precognition is usually danger.

Spider Sense

Defensive precognition is a signature ability of diviners, and for good reason:  it’s very effective at what it does.  A diviner trained in defensive precognition is constantly looking into the short-term futures, searching for threats.  Any kind of serious attack registers on the precognition as a spread of futures showing threat and injury, and the diviner instinctively alters their actions to move themselves into the futures where they’re not hurt.  As long as the diviner is paying attention and as long as there are available futures in which they aren’t hurt, then they can keep themselves safe.  A diviner can run back and forth across a highway blindfolded, cars zipping by at eighty miles an hour and missing them by inches, without the slightest danger – to bystanders it just looks like outrageously good luck, but from the diviner’s point of view luck’s got nothing to do with it.  They know which way safety lies, and they go towards it.

For all its power, defensive precognition has limits.  The degree to which a diviner can see danger is limited by their skill at sorting futures and the speed at which they can process information – they might see a threat too late to respond in time, or they might just not be paying attention and miss it.  There’s also the issue that the usefulness of precognition depends on the diviner being able to take some kind of action that reduces the danger.  When every possible action leads to the same danger, precognition isn’t terribly effective:  if you’re next to a bomb with three seconds on the timer, then all precognition will tell you is “you’re about to be blown into tiny pieces.”  But for all its limitations, defensive precognition is powerful, and a trained diviner is very hard to hurt.

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