“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever," he said. "Have you thought of becoming a teacher?”
Magic gathers between my hands and I reach out with my mind, willing it into a distinct shape. Concentrating, I watch as the energy forms a complicated pattern of runes. The runes are about to create a spell-matrix, an energy pattern which is able to reshape reality by influencing the laws of nature. I correct the variables and aim the spell at the clay golem in front of me.
At least I tried to do so.
Something slashes across the back of my hand, opening a bloody gash. I yell out in pain and lose control of the spell. The gathered energy runs wild and creates a gust of wind which pushes me back. Stumbling, I fall flat on my back, cradling my hand against my chest. I sniffle and try to hold back the tears, but the pain is too intense.
The issue isn’t even the wound. I was hit hard enough to strike the bone. It feels as if my whole hand is on fire.
“Oh, stop it and get up!” Nova scowls and looks down at me. She weighs the thin reed stick which she used to hit me in her hand.
“Why did you hit me like that!? I am going to tell my mother!” I complain, knowing that Nova won't be impressed by such a threat. Ever since she brought me into this large hall, she wasn't exactly nice in her attempts to 'teach' me.
“I told you twice not to form the spell-matrix before you gathered all the necessary energy. Magic is a dangerous business and I won't take responsibility if you blow yourself up.” She taps her foot onto the ground.
I glare at Lucifer, who is sitting next to Nova. Her familiar is looking at me through sleepy eyes.
“I don't understand. All my teachers are proud of me for being able to gather energy and form the spell-matrix at the same time,” I pout and cast a simple regeneration spell on the back of my hand, watching the wound close up. Two weeks of training and whatever I do, it seems impossible to please Nova.
None of my skills are up to her standards.
Nova points the reed at me. “That's why they are teachers. Stupid scum. They will be forever stuck at their level.”
I blink. “Huh?”
She shakes her head. “Take this to heart: Teachers are seldom people who are the best at what they are teaching. Just because they praise you for something, it doesn't mean that it's good practice. If you keep casting spells in such a manner it will be just a question of time until you get yourself killed.”
I open my mouth to protest, but Nova cuts me off. She has a knack for doing that. Altogether, I got to know her better since she began tutoring me… which didn’t change my bad opinion of her. If anything, I only got to realize that she is a little crazy.
“Right now you aren't strong enough to gather enough energy to kill yourself. When I interrupted you, it only resulted in a little air pressure, but a randomly disintegrating spell matrix can create any number of effects. Most of the time it results in a random discharge of energy, that's why none of the mundane magicians bother mentioning it. The chance is extremely small, but there are certain combinations of runes which can kill you with little effort.”
She walks up to the clay golem and steps behind it. Reaching around it, she raises her hand, gathering energy above it. She forms a spell-matrix while doing so, just like me. “Let's say that you have the bright idea to combine a targeting hex with a ‘gaeus’ rune to buff several allies at once. And then you get interrupted just at the worst possible moment.”
Nova kneels down but keeps her hand in position in front of the clay golem, just as if it is the one who is casting the spell. She pulls her hand away, allowing the half-finished spell-matrix to dissolve on its own.
The magic spins out of control and three thin, crescent-shaped bursts of power lash out of the spell. One goes wild, rushing towards the ceiling where it fizzles out. A second one splits the golem's head like a knife would do to a fruit. The third burst of power cuts a deep wound into its chest.
I gulp. If that had been a person, he or she would be dead.
“There. Never form the spell matrix while you are still gathering energy for it. It's a short-cut to cast spells faster, but it also widens the window of opportunity for an opponent to interrupt you. This is just one example. As you add complexity to your spell, all sorts of shit might happen. Blowing your hand off is a best-case scenario.”
As Nova explains, she balances awkwardly on her heels. Having problems with staying upright, she keels over and falls awkwardly onto her butt, holding her pregnant belly and winces. “I hate this life. It feels like I am a turtle.”
Shocked, I rush over to her side. I may not like her, but she is still a pregnant woman. And those are my brother’s children in her belly. “Are you alright?”
Nova glares at me. “Of course I am alright. Help me up!”
It takes a lot of strength, but I manage to pull her to her feet. Then I sense a chance to end the tutoring lesson a little early. “You probably shouldn't-”
“I am pregnant, not sick!” She reaches out and the punishing-reed floats back into her hand.
Wincing, I step away and eye the tool of evil with dismay. “You could just tell me if I make a mistake.”
“Pain is the best teacher in the world. Most sane people do everything they can to avoid it. And you have to learn fast if you want to avoid an ugly death.” She uses the reed to pat her palm with it. “So, how do you cast a spell properly?”
I pull down the corners of my mouth. “I gather all the energy I need, then I form the spell-matrix in one go as quickly as I can. But I still don't understand. If I get interrupted, a lump of pure mana can also kill me once I lose control over it. And what about spells which need to be channelled?”
Nova points her reed at the golem. “Did my hex have enough energy to do that much damage if it had been a simple undirected explosion?”
“No,” I admit. It had even less power than the wind lance which I attempted to cast earlier. “I don't understand why it did so much damage.”
She nods. “That's why you need the ability to understand a spell-matrix. When the matrix of my hex dissolved, the disrupted runes formed, for a tiny moment, air compression and mana condensing effects. The magic was shaped into thin blades of energy, and when the compression effect ended, they were flung outwards by the compressed air.
“A finished spell-matrix, even if it requires constant channelling of power, always has a built-in abort sequence which allows it to dissolve without unleashing random effects into its surroundings. If you don't understand the spell-matrix which you are using, you will never be able to tell if it's safe to use in the first place. What happens if someone dislikes you?”
I lick my lips, trying to understand what she wants to tell me.
She pokes me with her reed. “They could give you a faulty spell which isn't safe. Or they could leave out safety precautions! It could be a curse which is directed at the caster.”
“Okay,” I raise my hands. “I get your point. I have to be able to read and design a spell-matrix, or I'll always be a second-class magician. And the less time I need to form it, the better.”
“Good. So let's go through the basic rune system again. I want you to be able to recite all one hundred and eighty basic runes from memory. Form them with your magic and explain their effect at the same time. I'll also ask you about possible combinations between the runes.”
“Aren't there just ninety-six basic runes,” I ask, perplexed. Nova is so strange. From where comes all that knowledge? I am very sure that I was taught only ninety-six runes in school.
Nova's face distorts in obvious disgust. “Stupid backwater worlds...” She continues to mumble something unintelligible. “Just tell me about all the runes you know about and we will go from there.”
I nod and cup my hands to gather energy between them, careful to have all of the necessary energy available before I create the first basic rune. Then I continue to explain about its effects and possible combinations with other runes.
After several hours of being tutored by Nova, I have mixed feelings about Zane. I still hate him for getting me involved with this crazy bitch. Lying bastard. Additionally, the shared time with Nova didn't exactly raise my opinion of her, but I start understanding why Zane behaves the way he does.
Nova can be totally sweet in one moment, and a total ass the next.
On the other hand, being taught by her feels like I am learning the really important stuff. Things which will help me to become a better magician. I may even have to thank Zane for bringing me into this position. Hey, I am being tutored by someone who must be among the most amazing mages in this world. Maybe even ‘the’ most amazing mage. Who else has a flying island as a home? I can't help it and smile at the thought.
Suddenly, a thin line of fire runs across my cheek and I yelp, returning my attention to my surroundings.
Nova raises her reed again. “Don't slack off. My time is valuable.”
I hurry to explain the basic regeneration rune while applying it to my cheek. Maybe being taught by Nova herself isn't that desirable after all.