"Tristan!" I snap, startling the fourth-year student. "This is the sixth time this week I have had to correct you on this! Get out and do not return!"
"No!" I snap. "When I say to pour a certain amount of magic into your spells, pour a certain amount of magic into it! Do not overload it with power just so that it's 'strong'! This isn't a competition, this is training! Part of these sessions are to teach you control over magic, and you are ignoring that! I gave you extra chances, and you blew them! I gave you more than I should have! Now get out!"
"I can, and I have," I state. "Get out, now! Do not return! You are hereby kicked out of my group and banned from it! Those who do not listen to my training instructions are not welcome here, and that is said at the start of every session after we have new member applications! You were told that Monday, and then broke that rule every single day! Consider yourself lucky to have been let stay this long, now get out!"
I flick my wrist, using force magic to simultaneously open the doors and throw him out, then I close the doors with more force magic and look at the others in my group, who are all staring at me in shock. So far, everyone who has left did so because of other reasons. They couldn't handle the training, attending after lessons six days a week put too much pressure or stress on them, and various other things.
"Can anyone here tell me," I say. "What happens when you put more power into a spell than you can handle?"
Niko raises his hand, while everyone else looks around either unsure or uncomfortably.
"If you exceed the magical power limit of what you can control by too much," he says. "The spell you are casting will explode in nearly all cases."
"Exactly," I say. "It explodes. The reason I am not demonstrating this to you is because it is dangerous. Even the weakest of you could get hurt by your own spell exploding. These are not controlled explosions, but uncontrolled ones. Were I to lose control over a spell due to pouring in far too much power beyond what I can control while standing in this spot, I would very likely level the entire Royal Magic University and the Royal Knight University."
Everyone looks uncomfortable now.
"Fortunately for all of you," I tell them. "I have been practicing magic control nearly daily since I was five. My immense amount of magical power does not come without limits, and my control nearly reaches those limits. It is not actually possible for me to use more magical power than I can control to the point where it would explode. Instead, the spell would either go haywire or dissipate, as you have all seen members and former members learn."
They usually go haywire, and I have to neutralize them before they damage something.
"Now," I say. "All of you, return to manipulating fire magic. Remember, generate a small flame, then circle it slowly in a circle two feet in diameter, making one full rotation every thirty seconds, or as close to as you can manage, but not over. You are doing this until either the end of today's session, or you run out of mana."
The students obey, returning to the practice. Those who run out of mana perform the physical exercises I require them to do until the end of session, then everyone starts to leave.
"Kayla! Kyra!" I call out, and the two gifted girls look at me, approaching when I beckon. "I understand you two might be friends, but please leave the gossip out of my sessions, whether or not you can cast the spells and talk a little at the same time. It distracts the other students, and we aren't teaching with extra distractions yet."
"Sorry," they apologize.
"It wasn't as bad since you were in the back of the room," I tell them. "But I would still appreciate it if it didn't happen in the future."
"We understand," Kyra says. "Sorry, sir."
"Thank you," I say. "You're dismissed."
They leave, then Alex, Niko, Jacob, Lina, and Tasha approach me. Alex looks unhappy, and I think he's regretting his decision to come to the lake with me. I know he still thinks I'm just being a jerk in private, and that he doesn't have a choice, but I guess the only way to prove that is for him to go. I could tell him not to come, but… I need to prove to him that I really am just his friend.
"Well," I say. "As I told you guys before, I'm heading out of Varil City for the equinox, and will be gone the rest of today and most or all of tomorrow. I'll be back tomorrow at six, Niko, so that we can get your outfit's last-minute touches done, and whether or not I'm going to the ball is still uncertain."
"Do you really get sick on the equinoxes?" Tasha asks.
"It's not sick," I say. "So much as the heavy shifts in natural magics on them and the solstices affects me pretty heavily due to how sensitive to them I am. It's a curse I've borne since birth."
"We'll just say sick," Jacob says. "What about you, Alex? We were planning on giving Jason a proper Harvest Festival celebration, but he isn't necessary to celebrate. Want to come along?"
"No, thanks," Alex looks uncomfortable, probably from the invite and not that we'll be hanging out alone. "I have plans already."
"So vague," Tasha raises an eyebrow as she glances at Jacob. "No comment about how he's probably secretly hanging out with Jason?"
"No," Jacob responds. "The Sages are already here in town, and Papa and I visited them when they arrived last night. They mentioned that Jason actually does get, well, sick on the equinoxes and solstices, and goes to this lake where it's easier for him to manage. According to them, it's only gotten worse as he's gotten older, despite him claiming he can handle it better. They said that on the summer solstice, they were pretty sure he was going to puke, even though he was at the lake."
My papas and mamas need to learn to stop gossiping about me. They were talking for more than two hours until apparently Alex snapped and yelled at them to let him sleep. I enchanted his room for soundproofing as my embarrassed housemate hid. He hadn't meant to snap, but the last time he'd had to deal with noisiness while trying to sleep was while he was still in his gang, so it was normal for him. Habit.
"Ew," she makes a face.
"They also said," Lina says. "That Jason has a tendency to just rest and relax on those days, because of that."
"If anything," Jacob smirks. "He'd rather not take Alex along, so that Alex wouldn't see him in that state."
"Oh, shut up," I roll my eyes as Alex looks uncomfortable. "Anyway, I need to head home. Alex, you going through the gate with me?"
"Yeah," he nods, then hesitates and reddens. "Are they going to be there?"
"My papas and mamas?" I ask, and he nods. "No, they're at the palace right now."
I open the gate, bid everyone farewell, then step through, and Alex follows. I close the gate and look at Alex.
"They aren't upset," I tell him. "They actually found it pretty funny. I did the same thing to them a few times if I wasn't sleeping in my room, though they enchanted a stronger soundproofing onto it for different reasons."
"It just-are you sure they're not mad?"
"Completely sure," I nod. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, Alex. You were trying to sleep, they were being noisy. It might be their house, but they actually feel like guests here because they come here so infrequently. You're as much a resident as I am. Feel free to yell at any guests who are too noisy."
"Okay," he still looks uncomfortable.
"Come on," I open another gate. "I packed your stuff into my spatial storage this morning, so if you've nothing else to grab before we leave, we can leave now."
Alex nods, then we head through the gate, and he sharply sucks in his breath behind me when he steps through. I grin as I close the gate, the view is breathtaking. We're standing on a small cliff that overlooks part of the lake, which is surrounded by forests on all sides, even on these cliffs. Not far from us is a waterfall formed by the river that feeds this lake. The crystal-clear lake sparkles as it reflects the sun, though I can tell that storm clouds are coming in from the west.
The moment I stepped through, I could feel the stabilized magical energies here.
"It's so beautiful," Alex says after a few moments of just admiring the view. "And it feels so… serene."
"That's because of the natural magics in the air," I tell him. "They're a lot more balanced than most places as a result of several dragon's veins passing through the area."
"Dragon's veins?" He gives me a curious look.
"Ley lines," I amend. "They're natural veins of mana packed with the world's natural energy that flow deep, deep beneath the ground. Anywhere a large one runs, the natural energies are more stable. There are two types of them, the main ones and lesser ones. Lesser ones are difficult to perceive, but anywhere with a lot of natural, ambient mana has at least one lesser one flowing nearby. The main ones are the ones far beneath the surface, miles and miles down."
"I know what ley lines are," he smiles. "I've just never heard them called dragon's veins before."
"Yeah," I chuckle. "I started calling them that when I'm younger since they remind me of the veins of a dragon – their blood is packed with magical energy, and their magic is grey, too. Speaking of that, you know that coming-of-age ritual?"
"Yes," he nods. "Even if we're on the streets, we still do our best to honor it. I have my mantle and pants, still."
"The white is not for life, and the black is not for death," I say. "They represent the heavens and the underworld. Our bodies? It represents Midlaris. The middle ground between the heavens and the underworld, a mix of black and white. Grey."
"Our bodies aren't grey," he gives me a strange look.
"No," I answer. "But the magic of many of the world's most powerful magical creatures are. Sometimes, I wonder why grey paint isn't used in the ritual to represent the middle ground."
We stop talking for a few minutes, just enjoying the view.
"Talking of that ritual," he sighs. "Jeddy turns thirteen in a few weeks. He'll be a man, and I have lessons. We ain't a gang anymore, but it's still the right of the streetlord over someone to lead the celebrations. Barry and Sara said they would cover it, but I'd like to do the celebrations all day, not just-"
"You can," I tell him. "At the universities, status might not matter for most things, but certain celebrations do. The coming-of-age ceremony of a relative does."
"Jeddy isn't my family by blood," he says.
"Maybe not," I say. "But the rules do allow for such cases. You'll just need to file a request for exemption a minimum of a week before the day of his coming-of-age ceremony. Explain that you grew up on the street with him in Varilar and are, while seen as a big brother, also the closest to a parent he has in his life, even after that old one was cast away for a better one, and that it's your right under law to perform the celebrations. They'll make the exemption, as it's the legal and traditional right of family, even adopted ones, to perform the celebrations all day."
"I'm not sure it would count," he says.
"Give it a try," I tell him as I open another gate. "Let's head down to where I planned on making camp."
We step through the gate and come out by a small section of land dips into the lake, creating a private area around fifteen feet across and twenty wide, before it rejoins the lake. The strip of land is around ten feet wide at the base of where it stretches into the lake, narrowing down to only a few feet at the tip, and covered in trees.
"There's going to be rain soon," I tell Alex as the clouds continue to roll in. "So let's set up camp now. Then I'll catch us something to eat and set it to cooking."
"You didn't bring anything?" He asks.
"I'm in the habit of catching my own food," I admit. "When I was planning on coming out here, I sort of went into that mindset and, well, forgot to pack food for us. We'll manage, though, and if all else fails and I somehow do not succeed in capturing the boar I'm tracking, we can always fish."
Alex snorts, then I open up my spatial storage and pull out the leather hides I use to make tents, strapping them to sticks that I stripped and smoothed years ago. The whole process of making the tent takes around twenty minutes, but once it's set up, we have a three-person tent that will shield us from the elements.
"Aren't tents usually made of canvas?" Alex asks as I'm spreading the canvas tarp down inside.
"Maybe?" I answer. "This is made of the leather of a couple of tide bison, making it quite resilient to rain, and air doesn't pass through it as easily, making it good for camping in chilly weather, too."
I set out our sleeping mats and pillows, then exit the tent and stretch.
"You're exhausted," I tell him. "As you are every Sorday. Get some rest, I'll build the fire and hunt."
When I wake up, Jason isn't in the tent, though there is a leviathan stuffie that wasn't there when we went to bed last night. Okay…
I change out of my nightclothes, then step into my boots as I exit the tent. The ground is already drying in the morning sun, and Jason is cooking up some fish, a bowl of berries sitting beside him. He's bare-chested, wearing just his pants. No belt, no boots, no weapons, and his fit, tanned body makes me uncomfortable.
Of course he didn't get fully dressed yet. He hasn't had breakfast and is on 'break'.
"Morning," he greets me.
"Morning," I greet him, noticing that he looks a bit pale. "Are you okay?"
"I did tell you why I'm out here," he says.
"Right," I respond, sitting on the log resting opposite the fire from him and just watch as he watches the fish.
Not just pale, his gaze is slightly-unfocused, and I can tell he has to keep forcing himself to refocus. When the fish finish, we eat, then he stands and stretches, and I notice a tightening of his mouth, a sudden tenseness in his neck. Did he have a wave of nausea?
"I'm swimming in the lake," he tells me as he strips off his pants. "You can join me or… do whatever you want. If you have to poop or pee, make sure you're at least two hundred feet from any water source, like the lake or the falls or river. For poop, dig a hole at least six inches deep, then bury it when you finish."
He walks over to the lake and jumps in, resurfacing a few moments later and shaking his head. For the next hour, I watch as he just swims around in the lake. I knew he had a lot of stamina, but that's just incredible. He isn't moving much, but he does have to be either swimming or treading, since he doesn't float at all.
Another hour passes, and I decide to join him in the lake and strip down before diving in. The water's freezing! After taking a minute to adjust to the sudden shock, I swim over to where Jason's currently holding onto a log. He has a little more color to him, now.
"Are you just going to swim all day?" I ask.
"Maybe," he shrugs. "I usually do. The lake's filled with natural water magics, which helps balance me out when I'm in it. It'll take me around an hour to adjust after getting out, and for that first hour… well, it won't be pleasant."
"Puking?" I ask.
"Nah," he answers. "Just… unpleasant for me. I'll be trembling and shaking for a bit."
"I think," I snort. "That comes with being wet in autumn air."
"Not from that," he snorts. "This would happen even at the dawn of summer, when it's far too warm for that."
He looks depressed for a moment.
"Thanks for coming, Alex," he says. "It would've been lonely without a friend around. I really have never gone a solstice or equinox alone. To be honest, I've never really been alone before. Even growing up, when I'd go to my private training grounds, it wouldn't be for more than a day or a night if one of my mamas or papas wasn't there. The thought of that frightened me, and even more so on one of these days more than anything."
I can't tell if he's being honest or not, and look down as I try to figure out if he's just playing me. He's wearing that bracelet of his. I've tried avoiding looking at it past seeing it as just the one made of rough fibers, but now I recognize it. Now that I'm actually looking at it, I realize it's a hemp bracelet. I've never seen that on someone before. Not here, anyway. Here, there are other plants that were found to be useful for weaving into fibers that people focused on. Its style is different, too. Definitely not of here.
"What's the bracelet mean?" I ask.
"Hm?" He asks, then looks at it and lifts his arm up. "Oh, this? I made it a year or so ago out of boredom. I'm always fiddling with my hands."
He looks thoughtful for a moment, before releasing the log and disappearing under the surface. I guess that's as much as I'm getting out of him. How did he learn to make-
"Wah!" I exclaim as I'm suddenly pulled under by my legs.
Jason releases me quickly, and I resurface, sucking in breaths as I turn to face him. He's grinning, and I splash water at him. Before I can protest, his hands are shooting to my shoulders, so I take a deep breath just in time for him to dunk me again.
I guess he's feeling well enough to horse around, so I swim around as much as I can, spreading out my scan to sense him and come up behind him, dunking him from behind. He had to have let me do that, since I know he's always doing some sort of scanning spell that doesn't interfere with others.
As we horse around, Jason sometimes disappears under water for awhile, and he has perfect accuracy, even better than my scan spell allows. It takes me almost twenty minutes to realize the brat's using air magic to breathe underwater and is able to keep his eyes open underwater. That's not fair!
I try to keep my eyes open underwater, but it isn't easy, which probably has to do with this being lake water, even if it's clear. As I recover from that, Jason pushes down on my back, holding me under almost until I run out of breath. As soon as I surface, I splash water at him, enhancing it with my magic so that it's almost a tidal wave focused just as him.
He lets it hit him and laughs as he swims over to the log, looking exhausted. I guess that's his limit. It's mine, too, to be honest, so I swim over to the log and hold onto it, facing him. We just rest here, breathing, and I can't help but stare at him. So far, everything's been going like what he would probably do with his friends.
Thinking about Prince Jason and Prince Niko goofing around in the lake makes me snort. Maybe he wouldn't be doing this with his friends, they're princes. They'd probably go on a hunt or fish or something, not goof around in a-
My thoughts are cut off as his lips suddenly meet mine, and I'm left stunned. Shocked. The sudden and unexpected kiss ends after only a moment, and Jason pulls back, his face bright red.
"I'm sorry," he quickly apologizes, the apology even in his eyes. "I just-it just-I'm sorry, Alex. It was just… everything, and your smile, and… I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me, and-"
"You like me?" Is all I can think to say.
"Yeah," he looks down. "Sorry, Alex, I know you don't like me or anything, and I'm still trying to sort through my feelings, especially since we've barely known each other little more than a month. I don't-my body moved on its own."
My thoughts whirl as I process what he's told me. He likes me. If that was a genuine, spur-of-the-moment, acting-on-impulse-and-instinct kiss, then he likes me. He actually likes me, and if that's true, then I've been…
Such a jerk.
"Jason," I say, and he looks at me. "Lean closer."
He does, and I lean forward and kiss him. This time, our kiss lasts longer, and even though he's kissing by the book, it's still nice. When we cut it off, I stare into his eyes, eyes that are now filled with happiness and hope.
"I'm sorry for being a jerk," I tell him. "How long… have you known you liked me?"
"I realized it on the training mission," he admits. "I've been trying to sort out my feelings ever since. It's new to me, and it took me awhile to realize what I was feeling. And then I was so jealous of your friend-"
"The one you kissed?"
HE SAW THAT?
I feel my face heat up at the knowledge that he knows I have or had a relationship with Barry. Maybe my feelings for him are a lot stronger than I was even admitting to myself.
"Barry," I tell him. "He and I… had a street romance, back in Varilar. We have one now, too."
"Oh," he casts his gaze downward.
"Street romances come and go all the time," I tell him. "They don't mean anything, and they aren't born out of romance. They're more like two folks having fun than anything."
I make a decision.
"If you want to give it a try," I tell him. "Walking out with me, then I'll give it a try. But if you hurt me, Jason, I don't care if you're an upper violet, or that you're essentially a prince. There's a reason I was called the Leviathan."
I know more magics than you would expect from a street rat-turned-warrior. Magics that have been lost to the ages. I'm putting a lot of trust in him and how honest he seems to be right now, as much as I want. I know I might end up getting hurt, but everything he's done so far… could be seen as part of him liking him and caring for me. If he really does like me, then I really have been a jerk and suspicious for stupid reasons.
"I wouldn't," he smiles, then frowns a little. "What is 'walking out'?"
"Um," I try to think of the fancy term for it. "Courting."
"Ah!" His face lights up. "I would like to court you, then. Alex xan Richard xal Varilar, would you grant me the honor of allowing me to court you?"
"Yes," I answer.
Jason's smile widens, and he leans in for another kiss. It only lasts a few moments, but he looks happy. Then, he snorts.
"Three lives," he mutters. "Three lives before I finally get a date."
"Jason?" I ask, and he suddenly looks embarrassed, as if he hadn't meant to say that out loud. "Three lives?"
"Um…" he thinks for a moment, then nods. "Remember my reincarnated theory?"
"You formed that," I say. "Because you're reincarnated, aren't you?"
"Yes," he nods. "I'm the first case I know of where someone was reincarnated not once but twice. In addition, my first life wasn't from another world, but here. I was reincarnated into another world without my memories of this one, then again here, with them, three thousand years after my initial death."
There are too many similarities here. Far too many similarities. I wanted to become someone worthy of my true past… and thought I was the only one from that era. But he said three thousand years.
And the fact that he reincarnated twice, even though there have been no records of such a thing…
"I have several questions," I say.
"This changes things, doesn't it?"
"Not for the worse, I promise," I assure him. "But… you're the patent holder, aren't you? The one no one knows the identity of."
"I am," he nods. "I pull on knowledge of my old world, then Papa Jared and I work on them together. I wasn't a genius or anything, and a lot of times, I'm missing information because I didn't actually know how it worked. Papa Jared does a lot of the work. The devices that imprint ID's? I came up with the concept and did the first enchantment on the card, but Papa Jared perfected it and did most of the work on the device itself. Plumbing, the idea was mostly me, but the work was pretty much all him. Same with the mana batteries. So I mostly own the ideas, while he does the work."
"And the trains," I say. "Those are going to be a part of his holdings, your holdings."
"Yeah," he nods.
In the name of the gods, he is probably one of the richest people in all of Varil, and only in a decade, too. The patents he holds have completely changed our lives.
"Your old world," I say. "It wasn't one of magic, was it?"
"No," he shakes his head. "A magicless world, they used science for everything, not magic and enchantments. Its name was Earth."
"Your first life," I say. "What… were you called?"
"Nolan," he answers. "Though I was a bit more famous than just that. I was-"
"High Magus Nolan?" I ask, and his eyes widen. "You aren't the only reincarnated, Jason. I'm Magus Quinn. And I was reincarnated on Earth, too. My name there was Kris-"
"Mueller?" He interrupts in shock, and I feel my own eyes widen. "I'm Lucas Kaemer. We've known each other in each of our lives. And I've crushed on you in each of them, too."