Matt Knight and the others found themselves in a large ornate room covered in thick red carpet with five desks, one for each of them. Three of the walls were covered in carved wood panels with hints of gold-leaf trimming. The last wall, the one they’d face when they sat down, stood out because of its blank greenness.
:Take a seat. The teacher will be here momentarily,: Virtanen said.
“Should I leave with you?” Megan asked.
:Stay with your friend,: he replied, including Matt on the response. :You will be ahead of them by a few weeks but it is necessary for his mental wellbeing.:
Megan nodded and sat down. Matt took his lead from her and slid into the cushy chair.
Asia and Samuel sat together leaving one spot open on the other side of Matt.
He noticed Orin eye the chair. “You all don’t trust these creatures, right?”
“They’re not so bad,” Megan said. “And they’re teaching us magic. Real magic!”
Orin shook his head. “I don’t want to learn magic. I want to go back.”
“I agree,” Matt said, though he did kind of want to learn magic too. “But what choice do we have? At least this way, if we learn, we might be able to use it to escape somehow.”
“Dude. What happens if learning it forces us to stay here? What if it means we can’t leave?”
“Of course we can leave. If not then why have a rule saying that, whoever beats Nenvari can rescue us?”
He visibly relaxed. “Okay. You have a point, but I still don’t trust this place.”
“What I want to know, Mr. white hair guy,” Samuel said, “is why your first impulse was to stab that thing.”
“Yeah,” Asia said. “That was too violent. Are you in a gang or something?”
“Or something,” Orin said.
We waited for a second but he didn't elaborate.
“Yo,” Samuel said to Asia. “I think this guy is yakuza.”
He scowled at Samuel and dropped into his chair. “Dude. I’m like half Korean. Yakuza are Japanese.”
“You’re not going to stab any of us are you?” Matt asked, a little worried now that everyone pointed out the danger of having someone around who didn’t hesitate to murder sentient beings.
“Look, as far as I’m concerned, we’re all in this together. So, let’s work on breaking out.”
Everyone nodded, even Megan, but he still felt an undercurrent of fear for the violent teen.
A beautiful elven woman stepped into the room from out of nowhere. She had long wavy hair and happy brown eyes.
Matt felt himself relax in her presence, but he noticed that Orin had dug his finger into his palm and sat up straighter. What a seriously weird guy.
“Hello, and welcome to the school within the Garden of a Thousand Kindnesses. Here, aside from a requirement that you go to your few magic classes each day, you can do what you want as long as the garden allows it.” Her voice sounded the way staring at a magnificent waterfall felt. She tapped the blank wall and her name appeared written on it. “I’m Professor Zornitsa and I’ll be teaching you beginning magic. The first step is to gather, compress and purify your magic into a Core. So I’m going to go around and place my hand on each of your backs. Is there anyone who would like to go first?”
Matt’s eyes went wide.
Samuel, who looked smitten rose his hand. “Yo, professor, you can put your hands on me first.”
She sent him a blinding smile and walked behind him. Her thin hand pressed against his back and she closed her eyes. Samuel’s eyes grew huge and sweat appeared on his brow.
It didn’t take longer than 5 minutes but when it was finished he looked drained.
“You did very well, Mr. Martinez. I can tell that you have at least 9 whole points of magic. That’s a little lower than average but nothing terrible.”
“Magic,” she said and moved to Asia who flinched. “Comes from the soul, and replenishes from the soul.”
The girl clenched her fists and closed her eyes in pain. Even the professor’s soothing voice didn’t make her ease.
After 5 more minutes, the girl relaxed.
“It appears as if you have 11 points of magic! That’s slightly above average. Very good!”
Asia did not look very good, she looked like someone had just shoved a raw yellow potato down her throat.
Matt felt a hand touch his back. He tensed and dread nearly overwhelmed him, until he heard the calming voice. “Magic is everywhere. Including within your body, even though you come from a world without magic. What do you think this tells you about yourselves?”
Megan raised her hand and then said, “It says that we might not even be originally from our realm.”
“That is one theory, Ms. Goldberg.”
A sucking sensation pulled at the center of his body. Small particles of something tore from their positions and crammed into a ball. A jolt of low-intensity pain ran through every part of his body. It compressed down into a hot flash. Sweat poured down his back and forehead. Then it stopped and he saw the magic Core within himself.
“Wow! You have at least 17 points of magic, Mr. Knight. That’s impressive. This is by far the most potential I’ve ever seen in any human.” She muttered something under her breath and stepped over to Orin.
The teen stood from his chair and backed away from the professor while waving his hands in front of him. “I don’t need to learn magic. I’m good. Can’t I do something else?”
“That’s not what the deal was, Mr. Son. You lost, and so you must learn magic here.”
Her form vanished from her position next to Matt and reappeared behind Orin with her hand on his back.
He let out a scream and dropped to one knee.
She frowned. “I see. You’re almost an adult. How old are you exactly, Mr. Son? 15? 16?”
He stood. “I’m 17. I turn 18 in a few months.”
“Not quite an adult for your culture and yet not still a child. No wonder it pains you so much.”
He swallowed and turned to face her.
“If I can’t learn magic, just send me home.”
“Oh, you can still learn. You’re barely within the window. But to make it easier on your body, how about you do it yourself?”
His eyes narrowed. She placed her hand on his shoulder.
“You see this?”
He nodded. “This is what a life infused magic particle looks like. Remember this.”
A book appeared in her hands and she shoved it into his chest. “You have 48 hours to create a Core, Lake, and Satellite following the instructions in this book. If you do not have it created by then I will do what I did to the others with you. And I’m afraid it will hurt you very much.”
He stared at the book, hands shaking, and nodded.
“Now. I believe this is enough for today. Please follow the heralds to your chambers.” She gestured to a door that suddenly appeared with golden statues of men in uniform on either side. The statues came to life and bowed.
The heralds walked out of the doors as if they were made of liquid metal, and the uncertain group followed.
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