Concentrate and Try Again
Zorian stared at the endless fields blurring past him, the silence of the otherwise empty compartment only broken by the rhythmic thumping of the train’s machinery. He looked calm and relaxed, but it was only a practiced façade and nothing more.
His mask of stoicism might have seemed silly, as there was no one around to judge him, but over the years Zorian had found that acting calm on the outside helped him achieve calm more easily on the inside as well. He needed any help he could get in achieving inner peace now, because he was about to start panicking like a headless chicken.
Why was this happening again? The first time it had happened, he was dead sure the lich was responsible. The spell had hit him, and then he woke up in the past. Cause and effect. He hadn’t been hit by some mysterious spell this time, though – not unless someone had snuck into the train compartment while he was sleeping, which he found very unlikely. No, he had just dozed off and woke up in the past again, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Then again, it did highlight some things that had been bothering him until now. After all, why had the lich cast a time travel spell on him? It seemed rather counterproductive to the whole ‘secret invasion’ plot. Time travel seemed too purposeful and complex to be an accidental side effect, and he seriously doubted the lich had used a spell whose effects it did not understand. Even a neophyte like him knew what a horrible idea it was to use a spell you don’t understand in an uncontrolled environment, and the undead spellcaster wouldn’t have reached the level it did if it was willing to do something so foolish for the sake of a couple of brats it had already defeated anyway. No, there was a simpler explanation: the lich wasn’t responsible for his time traveling problems. It really had been trying to kill them. ‘Them’, plural, because Zach had also been the target. The same Zach that had been shockingly good in all his classes all of a sudden. The same Zach that was wandering around the city armed to the teeth with combat magic that should be beyond any academy student. The same Zach that had been making very curious offhand comments all month long…
Perhaps it was Zach, not the lich, who had cast the time travel spell?
Zach being a time traveler would explain his vast abilities and inexplicable academic improvement quite nicely. Since this particular method of time travel seems to just send a person’s mind into their younger body, he could be of an arbitrarily large age, and what Zorian remembered of Zach’s various comments led him to believe the boy had lived through this particular time period many times over. A mage with decades of experience and detailed foreknowledge would no doubt find 3rd year curriculum laughably easy.
Though even if Zach had been the one to cast the time travel spell, there was still left the question of why Zorian was thrown back too. It could have easily been an accident – he knew that grabbing a mage while they’re in the process of casting a teleport spell could pull you along for the ride, and they were basically tangled with one another – but that didn’t explain why Zorian was repeating this month for the second time. Zach had been absent all month long, and thus hadn’t had the opportunity to cast anything at Zorian.
He didn’t know what to think. Hopefully Zach would be present for questioning this time around.
“Now stopping in Korsa,” a disembodied voice echoed, the faulty speakers crackling with signal noise every once in a while. “I repeat, now stopping in Korsa. Thank you.”
What, already? A glance through the window revealed the familiar white tablet confirming his arrival at the trading hub. He was half-tempted to get off the train and spend the entire month fooling around and trying to forget this whole time travel business, but quickly dismissed it. Blowing off the beginning of the school year like that would be really irresponsible and self-destructive, even if going through another identical month of classes was anything but appealing. There was a possibility that he would be flung back into the past for the third time, of course, but that wasn’t something he should be relying on. There was no way the spell could keep sending him back indefinitely, after all – it was bound to run out of mana sooner or later. Probably sooner, since time travel must be pretty high level.
Zorian snapped out of his thoughts and finally noticed the boy peering into his compartment. He frowned. He specifically chose this compartment because it was completely empty during his… second attempt at life. After he had left the green turtleneck girl to her giggling fate, he had come here for some peace, so this time he decided to be proactive and went here right from the start. Apparently it wasn’t that simple. He supposed that his very presence attracted the boy – some people just plain liked company, and would avoid empty compartments.
“Yes?” Zorian said politely, hoping the boy just wanted to ask him something instead of trying to find a seat.
He was mistaken.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
“No, go right ahead,” said Zorian, giving the boy a forced smile. Damn.
The boy smiled brightly at him, and quickly dragged his luggage in. A lot of luggage.
“First year, right?” Zorian asked, unable to help himself. So much for his plan on remaining silent and creeping the boy out into leaving the compartment. Oh well.
“Yeah,” the boy agreed. “How did you know?”
“Your luggage,” Zorian remarked. “You do realize the academy grounds are pretty far from the main station? Your arms are going to fall off by the time you get there.”
The boy blinked. Apparently he didn’t know. “Um, it’s really not that bad, right?”
Zorian shrugged. “You better hope it doesn’t rain.”
“Ha ha,” the boy laughed nervously. “I’m sure I’m not that unlucky.”
Zorian smirked. Ah, the benefits of foresight. Or was it hindsight? Language really wasn’t designed with the possibility of time-travel in mind.
“Ah! I didn’t introduce myself!” The boy suddenly blurted out. “I’m Byrn Ivarin.”
The boy’s eyes lit up immediately. “Like-“
“Like Daimen Kazinski, yes,” Zorian said, suddenly finding the window incredibly interesting.
The boy stared at him expectantly, but if he had expected further elaboration from Zorian on the subject, he was about to be sorely disappointed. The last thing Zorian wanted to do was talk about his eldest brother.
“So, um, are you related to Daimen Kazinski or is your last name just a coincidence?” asked the boy after a lengthy pause.
Zorian pretended he couldn’t hear him, and instead retrieved his notebook from the neighboring seat and studied it intently. It was almost completely empty, since all his previous notes about the invasion and the mystery of his ‘future memories’ were now gone, lost in a future he left behind him. It wasn’t much of a loss, since the vast majority of those notes had been worthless – hollow speculations and dead-end leads that hadn’t got him any closer to solving this mystery. Still, he had written down a few things he remembered from his previous notes, like the spell chant the lich had uttered before killing him. Yes, Zach was likely responsible for all of this, but he couldn’t be sure…
After judging the silence to have lasted for a fittingly awkward amount of time, Zorian looked up from his notebook to fixate a look of confusion at the waiting boy.
“Huh? Did you say something?” Zorian pretended, frowning slightly as if he honestly hadn’t heard a word of the question he was asked.
“Err, never mind,” the boy backpedaled. “It’s not important.”
Zorian gave the boy a genuine smile. At least he could take a hint.
He talked to the boy for a while, mostly just answering the boy’s questions about first year curriculum, before growing bored with it and starting to feign interest in his notebook again, hoping he will take the hint.
“What’s so interesting about that notebook, anyway?” He asked, either oblivious to Zorian’s disinterest in continued conversation or deliberately ignoring it. “Don’t tell me you’re studying already?”
“No, these are just notes on some personal research,” said Zorian. “It’s not going too well so I’m a little frustrated with it. My mind keeps drifting to it.” Especially when the alternative was talking to an overly inquisitive first year.
“The academy library-“
“First thing I tried,” Zorian sighed. “I’m not stupid, you know?”
The boy rolled his eyes at him. “Did you search for the books yourself or did you ask the librarian to help you? Mother works as a librarian, and they have these special divination spells that let them find things in minutes that would take you decades if you search by title and skimming alone.”
Zorian opened his mouth before closing it. Ask the librarian for help, huh? Okay, maybe he is stupid.
“Well… it’s not really a topic I want to bother the librarian with,” Zorian tried. Which was true, but he knew he’d end up trying it anyway. “Maybe I could find the spells themselves in the spell repository? But no, if they are anything like other divination spells it’s using them correctly and interpreting the results that’s the problem, not casting them…”
“You could always get a job in the library,” the boy offered. “If the academy library is anything like the one my mother works in, they’re always desperate for help. They teach their employees how to use those spells as a matter of course.”
“Really?” Zorian asked, rather intrigued by the idea.
“It’s worth a try,” he said, shrugging.
For the rest of the ride, Zorian stopped trying to evade conversation. Byrn had definitely earned some respect from him.
* * *
“Of course! We’re always looking for help!”
Well… that was easy.
“We can’t pay you much, understand – that miserable gnome of a headmaster cut our budget again! – but we’re very flexible about work time and we’ve got a pretty friendly atmosphere here…”
Zorian waited patiently for the librarian to run out of steam. She was an unassuming middle aged woman at first glance, but the moment she had begun speaking he realized her looks were rather deceiving – she was cheerful and had a sort of indescribable energy about her. Just standing around her made Zorian feel the same sort of pressure he felt when stuck in a crowd of people, and he had to rein in his instinct to step back as if from a raging fire.
“I’m guessing you don’t get many work offers, then?” Zorian tried. “Why is that? Shouldn’t people be fighting tooth and nail to work in a place like this? It’s a pretty famous library.”
She snorted, and Zorian could swear he could feel the derision and a touch of bitterness in the seemingly innocuous sound. “Academy regulations require us to only hire employees that are first circle mages or higher. Most graduates have better paying and more glamorous options than this,” she waved her hand towards rows or bookshelves around them, “reducing us to hiring students. Who are…”
She suddenly stopped and blinked, as if remembering something. “But anyway, enough of that!” she said, clapping her hands and beaming at him. “From this day on, you’re one of the library assistants. Congratulations! If you have any questions, I’ll be glad to answer them.”
It was only through superhuman willpower that Zorian stopped himself from rolling his eyes at her. He never agreed to anything, merely inquired about the possibility of employment… and she undoubtedly knew that. But oh well, he did want the job, and not just because he was hoping to learn some nifty new spells and translate the lich’s chant – he suspected that library employees got to access parts of the library that would normally be restricted to him as a first circle mage, and that was just too much of a temptation to pass up.
“Question one,” said Zorian, “How often do I come to work?”
She blinked, surprised for a moment. No doubt she expected him to protest her presumptuousness. “Well… when can you come? Between the classes, and the need for study time and other commitments, most of our student employees work once or twice a week. How much time can you set aside for this?”
“The classes are pretty easy at this point,” Zorian said. “We’re mostly doing the review of our second year, which I know like the back of my hand. Setting aside one day for unexpected developments, I could be here 4 times a week. My weekends are mostly free too, if you need any help then.”
Zorian mentally berated himself for talking like that – the classes hadn’t even started yet, so how would he know what they consisted of? Luckily, the librarian didn’t call him out on it. Instead her eyes immediately lit up upon hearing this and she started shouting.
“Ibery!” she called out. “I’ve got a new partner for you!”
A bespectacled girl carrying an armload of books popped out of the small room adjacent to the information desk to see what was going on. Oh. It was the green turtleneck girl (she was wearing it even now) that he shared a compartment with…
…except he had chosen a seat on the other side of the train this time, so they never met on the train. Oh well, probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
“Anyway, I believe some introductions are in order,” the librarian said. “I am Kirithishli Korisova, one of the few actual librarians in this place. This pretty lady,” she gestured towards the turtleneck girl, who blushed at the praise and shifted uncomfortably, clutching the stack of books tighter in her arms, “is our resident busy little bee, Ibery Ambercomb. Ibery has been working here since last year, and I don’t know what I’d do without her. Ibery, this is Zorian Kazinski.”
The girl suddenly perked up at this. “Kazinski? As in…”
“As in, younger brother of Daimen Kazinski,” Zorian said, unable to suppress a small sigh.
“Actually, I’m pretty sure she meant your other brother,” Kirithishli said with a sly smile. “She’s in class with Fortov and has a bit of a crush…”
She and a dozen other girls. Fortov never had a shortage of women throwing themselves at him.
“Miss Korisova!” Ibery protested.
“Oh, lighten up,” Kirithishli said. “Anyway, Zorian here will be working with us pretty heavily for the foreseeable future. Go show him what to do.”
And just like that, he was employed at the library. Only time would tell if he was wasting his time.
* * *
Much like the last time, Zach hadn’t come to class. Zorian was half-expecting it, but it was no less annoying because of it. It cemented Zorian’s suspicion that Zach was heavily involved in this mess, but the boy’s absence made it impossible for Zorian to confront him about it. What was he supposed to do now?
For that matter, was he supposed to do anything at all? Last time he had been operating on the belief that if he didn’t do something about the invasion, no one would. No one else had the strange future memories he did, after all. If his speculations were correct, though, Zach had probably traveled through time specifically to stop the invasion – what other reason did he have to frequent this particular time period? Besides, he had been wandering the city during the attack, picking off attackers. So all in all, there just might be an experienced time-traveling mage on the job already, and he would only get in the way.
The problem with that idea was that he was ultimately just guessing, and had no idea if it was true or not. He could be dooming himself and the city through inaction, relying on a boy who, quite frankly, didn’t inspire too much confidence in him. Zach reminded him of his brothers a little too much. And besides, didn’t Zach lose against the lich? Yeah.
Not knowing how to unravel the mystery presented to him, or even where to start, Zorian had thrown himself into schoolwork and his job at the library. Of course, thanks to going through this for the third time, the only issue he had with schoolwork was Xvim’s grating insistence that his grasp on the pen-spinning (as Zorian affectionately called it) exercise was abominable and that he had to do it over and over and over again. His time at the library, on the other hand, was… interesting, though not really in the way he hoped it would be.
He hadn’t learned any spells yet, though he suspected this was because there were so many other, more pressing things he had to learn before Kirithishli and Ibery decided to invest that kind of effort in him. Simply put, he wasn’t very good at his job. The seemingly simple job of shuffling some books around was made immensely more complicated by the various library protocols and the all-important book classification scheme. Zorian had hoped to demonstrate basic proficiency with his duties before asking for favors, but it had been two weeks and he was beginning to understand that it would take him at least a couple of months to reach that level, and he didn’t have that. The summer festival was getting closer.
That’s why he proceeded to corner Kirithishli after she had dismissed him for the day to ask her about the coveted book divinations. Ibery lingered, pretending to be busy so she could eavesdrop. She sure was nosy for such a shy girl.
“Say, I’ve been meaning to ask a small favor of you,” Zorian began.
“Go ahead,” Kirithishli said. “You’ve helped us a lot, so I’ll be happy to help if I can. It’s not often we get such a competent worker.”
“Eh!?” balked Zorian. “Competent? I barely know what I’m doing – if it weren’t for your and Ibery’s help I would wander around like a headless chicken.”
“That’s why I paired you with Ibery – to learn. And boy are you learning fast! Faster than I did when I first started at this job, that’s for sure. To be honest I usually give only the simplest and most tedious jobs to student employees, but since you’re more dedicated than them I’ve given you the advanced course.”
“Ah,” Zorian said after a short silence. “I’m flattered.” And he really was. “Anyway, I was wondering about book-finding divinations. I’ve been searching for a pretty obscure topic and I’m not going anywhere with it.”
“Ah!” Kirithishli said, slapping her forehead. “How could I forget about that!? Of course I’ll teach you, we teach all our long-term workers those. They’re a bit tricky to use, though, so it will take a while to learn how to use them properly. Ibery will show you how. Though you can always tell me what exactly you’re looking for and I’ll do my best to help you out. I know this library like the back of my hand, you know?”
Zorian debated the merit of showing her the lich’s chant, since he suspected it was something that could get him into a lot of trouble just for asking about it, but saw no other way. No doubt learning how to use those divinations took months – months he didn’t have. He took out his notebook and ripped out the corresponding page, handing it to her.
Kirithishli arched her eyebrow at the text, and Ibery gave up on all pretenses of not paying attention and peered over her shoulder to see what was on the slip of paper.
“It’s an unknown language,” Zorian clarified. “I don’t even know which one, really.”
“Hm, tricky,” Kirithishli remarked. “Finding a written reference based on a phonetic pronunciation of a word you don’t even understand is a tall order, even with divinations. You should just find an expert in languages to help you if it’s so important.”
“You should try Zenomir,” piped in Ibery.
“Our history teacher?” asked Zorian incredulously.
“He also teaches linguistics,” Ibery said. “He’s a polyglot. Speaks 37 languages.”
“Yeah,” Ibery agreed. “He should at least know what language that is, even if he can’t read it. He’s pretty helpful if you approach him nicely, I doubt he’ll turn you away.”
* * *
“Ah, mister Kazinski, what can I do for you?”
Zenomir Olgai was old. Really old. He wore blue robes – actual robes, like the magi of old – and had a carefully sculpted white beard. Despite his advanced age, he moved with a spring in his step and his eyes had sharpness that most people half his age lacked. Zorian hadn’t taken the linguistics elective, but he knew from his history class that Zenomir cared about his subject almost as much as Nora Boole did about runes and mathematics – though he at least understood that most students didn’t share his passion for the subject.
“I was told you can help me about some translation,” Zorian said. “I have a pretty fragmentary recording of an unknown language in phonetic form, and I was hoping you could at least tell me what kind of language it is. It’s nothing like any language I’ve encountered so far.”
Zenomir perked up at the notion of an unknown language and gingerly took the paper slip with the lich’s chant from Zorian’s hand. His eyes widened barely a second afterward.
“Where did you get this?” he asked quietly.
Zorian debated internally what to do and then settled for a measure of truth.
“I was attacked by someone a while ago. They used a spell with that chant as the incantation. I just wanted to know what it does.”
Zenomir took a deep breath and leaned back. “You’re lucky it didn’t hit. It’s some kind of soul magic spell.”
“Necromancy,” clarified Zenomir.
Zorian blinked. Necromancy? Well, it sort of made sense for the lich to use that sort of spells, but what did necromancy have to do with time travel? Nothing. This was pretty much a definite confirmation of Zach as a primary cause of his predicament.
“So, wait, what is that language anyway?” asked Zorian.
“Hm? Oh! Yes, the language… it’s old Majara language, spoken by many of the cultures that shared the continent of Miasina with Ikosians before their rise to prominence. Many of the ruins in Koth are written in it and, sadly, it is the language in which many of the blackest rituals and necromantic spells are formulated. You won’t find any books about it available in public circulations, I’m afraid. But let’s return to the matter of this assailant. This is the darkest of magic they used, and they can be up to no good if they’re throwing spells like that on academy students.”
Deciding he couldn’t just backpedal now, Zorian nonetheless decided against mentioning time travel in any way and settled for making something up. He told Zenomir about him overhearing a plan to invade the city during the summer festival. At first he dismissed it as some kind of prank because of its ludicrous nature, but when the two cloaked figures noticed him eavesdropping and started throwing spells he didn’t recognize at him, he grew concerned. Zenomir took him a lot more seriously than Zorian thought he would, and told him to go home and leave everything up to him from now on.
Huh. That went surprisingly well – at least Zenomir hadn’t dragged him off to the police station to give a statement right away, though he suspected something like that might be in his near future. He paced nervously around in his room, unable to sleep and steadily losing the fight to keep his growing apprehension in check. Smart or not, the deed was done, and now the only thing he could do was wait and see what the consequences of his decision would be. For him and for everyone.
A knock on the door interrupted him. Strong, confident knocking that nonetheless only lasted for a second or two – completely unlike the knocking of anyone he knew.
“Coming!” Zorian called out, suspecting it was someone coming to talk to him about the story he told Zenomir. “What can I- urk!”
Zorian stared dumbly at the blade sticking out of his chest, his mouth opening in an unvoiced scream. He had just enough time to look at his assailant – a short figure dressed in loose black clothes and a faceless white mask – before the blade was painfully wrenched out of his body and then immediately inserted again into his chest cavity. Again and again and again…
When darkness consumed his vision he was actually glad he was dying. Being repeatedly stabbed in the chest hurts.
* * *
Zorian’s eyes abruptly shot open as sharp pain erupted from his stomach. His whole body convulsed, buckling against the object that fell on him, and suddenly he was wide awake, not a trace of drowsiness in his mind.
Kirielle was cut off as Zorian shot upright, eyes wide in fright, gasping for breath. He was killed! They killed him! He told someone about the attack and he was killed that very evening! How the hell had they even found out that fast!? Was Zenomir in on the attack or were they just that well informed!?
“Nightmare?” Kirielle asked.
Zorian breathed deeply, ignoring the phantom pain in his chest as he did so. “Yeah. Definitely a nightmare.”
* * *
Zorian knew he should focus on what Ilsa was saying, but for the life of him his mind wouldn’t stop dwelling on what had happened. In retrospect, he shouldn’t be so surprised at that particular turn of events – an invasion of that scale cannot be kept secret without some hefty inside help, so of course they’d find out about anyone raising an alarm about them! And besides, if stopping the invasion had as simple a solution as notifying the law enforcement, surely Zach would have already done it and Zorian wouldn’t be repeating this month for the third time.
Although, he was starting to develop a healthy dose of respect for these… restarts. This was the second time he died and he only went through this month thrice. He seemed prone to dying. Didn’t Zach say something about him always getting blown up in that initial barrage unless he did something about it?
He snapped back into the real world when he realized Ilsa had stopped talking and was looking at him intently. He gave her a questioning look.
“Are you quite alright?” she asked, and Zorian noticed her glancing at his hands. Why would she-
His hands were shaking. He was probably quite pale too, if the skin on his hands was of any indication. He rubbed his hands together a few times and then balled them up into fists to reassert control over them.
“Not quite,” Zorian admitted. “But I will be. You don’t have to worry about it.”
She stared at him for a second longer and then nodded.
“Very well,” she said. “Do you want me to teleport you to the Academy? I can’t imagine riding the train in the state you’re in is going to be very pleasant for you.”
Zorian blinked, at loss what to say. He disdained train travel at the best of times, so an offer like this was a godsend at the moment, but… why?
“I don’t want to inconvenience you…” he tried.
“Don’t worry, I was going there anyway,” she said. “It’s the least I could do for getting to you so late and taking the choice of your mentor away from you.”
Well, that much was true. Xvim really was a horrible, useless mentor.
Zorian excused himself to tell mother he was leaving – which took way too long in his opinion, since mother wouldn’t stop bombarding him with questions about teleportation, suddenly concerned about his safety – before picking up his luggage and following Ilsa outside. He was actually a little excited, since he’d never teleported before. He’d have been even more excited, but the memory of being stabbed to death was still uncomfortably fresh, dampening his enthusiasm somewhat.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, the rumors about the dangers of teleporting are mostly exaggerated,” Ilsa said. “You can’t get stuck inside solid objects – the spell doesn’t work that way – and if something goes wrong I’ll immediately know it and collapse the spell before dimensional ripples tear us apart.”
Zorian scowled. He already knew that, but saw no point in pointing that out – she obviously heard his little exchange with mother.
Ilsa started chanting and Zorian stood straighter, not wanting to miss-
The world rippled, then changed. Suddenly they were both standing in a well lit circular room, a large magical circle carved into the marble floor they stood on. There was no disorientation, no flash of colors, no nothing – almost disappointing. He studied the room they were in a little more closely, trying to understand where they were.
“This is the teleport redirection point,” Ilsa said. “The academy wards shunt every incoming teleport into this place for security reasons. Of course, that’s assuming you’re properly keyed in and have sufficient authorization to teleport in at all.” She fixed him with a penetrating gaze. “Teleporting into a warded space is just one of the many dangers of the spell. Don’t experiment with it on your own.”
“Err… I’m pretty sure teleport is far above my access level,” pointed out Zorian.
She shrugged. “Some students are capable of reconstructing a spell after seeing it performed only once. Once you know the chant and gestures, 80% of the work has already been done for you.”
Zorian blinked. Now why didn’t he think of that?
“Would you mind casting that spell one more time?” he asked innocently. “Strictly for academic purposes, you see…”
She chuckled. “No. If it makes you feel any better, I doubt you have enough mana reserves to cast the spell even once.”
As a point of fact, it didn’t make him feel any better. He didn’t care how dangerous it was, he’d learn the teleport spell as soon as he was able. He just shaved off an entire day of train travel from his journey in an instant – the ability to do that kind of thing at will would be worth quite a lot of trouble to acquire. He let out a sigh and left Ilsa to her own devices to get settled in.
“I could get used to this kind of travel,” Zorian mumbled to himself as he unlocked the door to his room and dropped his luggage to the floor in relief. “Too bad I could never fake distress convincingly enough, or else I’d convince Ilsa to take me along at the beginning of every restart.”
He froze mid-step. He shouldn’t be thinking like that. That was dangerous thinking. He had no proof that that the restarts would keep happening indefinitely. In fact, everything he knew about magic told him it couldn’t be true – whatever spell had been put on him was going to run out of mana at some point and then there’d be no restart, no second chances… no return from the dead. He had to treat every restart as if it were his last, because it might very well be.
Though he had to admit that, despite it ending with him getting stabbed to death, the previous restart wasn’t a complete disaster – at least he had all but confirmed it was Zach, and not the lich, that was responsible for this. Instead of researching unknown languages and time travel, it would probably be wiser to find out where Zach keeps disappearing to every time.
But not right now. He deserved a little rest after being brought back from the dead.
* * *
He really should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. The moment he tried to track down Zach, he was reminded of why he didn’t do that in his very first restart. Zach was not only an heir of Noble House Noveda – he was the only still living member of that House, the rest of his family having been killed in the Splinter Wars. Zach stood to inherit a sizeable financial empire and a legacy of several generations of mages once he came of age, so everything about him was scrutinized closely by a great number of interested parties. Consequently, his disappearance was a Big Deal, and a lot of people wanted to know where he went. Zorian was just one of these people, and if those people (and the people they hired) hadn’t managed to track him down, he had very little chance to do so. Needless to say, he didn’t get anywhere. Like he suspected, the two girls Zach hung out with during Zorian’s original month were nothing special without the Noveda heir there to help them out and hang out with them (and asking people about them led to some pretty annoying rumors being spread around; honestly, can’t a guy ask about a girl without everyone assuming he’s got a romantic interest in her?), his house was sealed with some pretty heavy ward-work, his legal guardian could not be reached, and if he had any close friends they weren’t among his classmates. Zorian wasn’t a detective, and had no idea what else to look for. And considering that many professional detectives had already failed (and continued to fail) to track the boy down, he suspected it wouldn’t help even if he did know a thing or two about tracking people down.
A month went by with little to show for it. Summer festival came, and Zorian once again boarded a train out of Cyoria, awake and alert as the night deepened and minutes ticked away. He brought a pocket watch with him this time, and kept glancing at it every once in a while, silently praying that he wouldn’t have to start over once again but wanting to know exactly when he got thrown back in case he did. Sure enough, his prayers wouldn’t be answered. Somewhere around 2 past midnight he blacked out and woke up with Kiri on top of him, wishing him a good morning.
He probably should have admitted it to himself right then and there. He was a fairly smart person, after all, and not prone to deluding himself. Instead it took 4 more restarts before he accepted the truth of his predicament: he was stuck in some kind of a time loop, and it wasn’t going to end any time soon.
He didn’t know how it was possible. Maybe the spell was powered by Zach’s seemingly inexhaustible mana reserves instead of being limited to a fixed amount at the moment of casting. Maybe it was one of those rare self-sustaining spells. Hell, maybe it reached into the Heart of the World and drew power from the Dragon Below itself! It didn’t really matter how it did it, only that it did.
But that’s retrospect – at the time he just refused to accept it, and instead tried to live like he normally would. It was rather boring, yes, but what if this particular restart was the one where it ended? The restart where the consequences of his choices would not magically disappear at 2 past midnight on the night of the festival (He checked and yes, it was consistent across all 4 restarts).
He was through with that though - he couldn’t go on like this. Excluding the invasion bit, the month had been a bore even the first time around, and he had lived through it 8 times already. He knew the first month curriculum well enough by now to get near-perfect scores in all subjects, even warding. It had little effect on how people treated him, as he found out. He was known to be capable, and his grades had always been very good, so people weren’t really surprised if he aced all the exams or effortlessly performed a perfect magic missile on their very first combat magic class. It was within the realm of people’s expectations, unlike Zach’s sudden improvement. The only people whose behavior changed in response to his improvement were Akoja and Xvim. Akoja had gotten twice as annoying now that she apparently found a kindred soul, always insisting that they check each other’s work and asking him for help whenever she didn’t understand something. Zorian had thought she’d be green with jealousy that he was beating her scores, but it seemed she was a lot less bothered to be outdone by him, as opposed to by the likes of Zach and Neolu. Xvim took his superb scores as an indication that he should be held to an even higher standard. As such, not only did he not declare his pen-spinning good enough to move on to something else, he had demoted him back to the regular levitation exercise. In all honesty, Zorian wasn’t terribly bothered by that – even if he did master the pen-spinning exercise to Xvim’s satisfaction, no doubt he’d get nothing more than another minor variation of the basic three to practice.
So all in all, going through another boring month like that was out of the question. He took different electives this time – Astronomy, Architecture, and Geography of the Global Mana Flow – and he fully intended to bring down his academic scores back to normal so Xvim and Akoja would remain their normal, more tolerable selves. He also intended to skip quite a few time-consuming homework projects to focus on his own personal studies, and he was going to spend a sizeable portion of his savings on alchemical supplies. Should this restart be the final one, he was going to be seriously inconvenienced, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and he suspected the disruptions following in the wake of the invasion would render many of the normal concerns moot.
Then he walked into the essential invocations classroom on the first day of school and realized his plans would have to be adjusted.
Zach was finally back in class.