“An Althiest?” Evos murmured as he also turned to look.

Though magic was used constantly in daily life, from the lights in the classrooms to the high-speed conveis zooming across city streets, there were three particular jobs that specialized in the use of magic. There were Artificers like Tavia, and then there were the Althiests and Martial-Althiests. In general, Althiests cast magic from one-use pages inscribed with a spell-set and bound together in a grimoire. Though she couldn’t see it from here, Tavia knew the page the woman had her hand resting on would have been covered in the intricate circles, lines, and symbols of the spell-set that would guide the Althier to achieve the desired effect.

From the focus in her expression, it was clear the woman was intending to cast a spell. That would be the reason for the crowd then. Though there was an abundance of Althiest students on campus, most of the students present were Artificers, and though they could cast spells in their own right, there was nothing quite like watching a genuine Althiest at work.

To cast her spell, the Althiest channeled Althier, but unlike the heavily condensed Althier found in the underground practice area or on the Ageless Sword’s edge, the Althier in the atmosphere was thin and didn’t give off the cyan glow of its pure form. Instead, a purple glow surrounded the hand touching the page, as the woman used her aura to control the flow of Althier through the spell-set on the page. The page flashed blue, bright enough to see even from this distance, and then the paper itself dissolved into a gentle radiance of cyan sparks.

Wind rose up, buffeting Tavia’s hair, centered around the knoll, whipping itself into a twisting sphere above the heads of the spectators. There was some ooing and awing from the more easily impressed students, but even Tavia knew this wasn’t really much to marvel at.

It wasn’t… impressive at all.

“Let’s go,” she said as she turned away. “Alvis is—“

A stifled scream broke through the air, and Tavia jerked her attention back to the crowd just in time to see the wobbly sphere of wind shatter, sending near invisible daggers of highly compressed air pockets out over the crowd’s head towards the rest of the courtyard.

“Tavia, get down!”

The familiar voice didn’t belong to Evos, but Tavia dropped to the ground regardless. Fire blocked off the space before her, and the almost unseeable danger was dispelled by the heat. She winced, holding up her hand as the heat brushed against her skin. A moment later, the fire — sustained only by the magic that cast it — died out and Tavia stood back up, looking around for the source of the fire and the voice.

A short distance away, and approaching with an uneasy grimace on his face, Tavia’s long time friend Izak was checking over his shoulder to see if there was going to be any more trouble from the failed spell. The cluster of wind was gone, and the gathered crowd already dispersing. The Althiest was still standing in the middle of the field, as if she was at a loss for what had happened. From what Tavia understood, there were many reasons a spell could fail, though not normally in such dramatic fashion. The woman was just lucky no one had gotten hurt; if she was going to show off, then she should at least make sure she had her magic under control.

Izak was just a few weeks younger than Tavia, and his family had been long time friends of her own, so they had known each other most of their lives. Though they were both attending the same university, Izak was an Althiest student and didn’t have much cause to venture into this part of the campus.

He grimaced at the woman before turning back to Tavia. With short, light brown hair and pale skin with blue eyes he was a fairly typical Marquestian.

“That was close, what was she thinking? Practicing spells like that should only be done in private,” Izak muttered as he neared Tavia.

It was obvious to everyone involved she’d been showing off, but didn’t that just make Izak all the more impressive? Tavia wasn’t sure how long he’d been watching, but he’d managed to make his judgment and cast a spell from his own grimoire, which was already securely back in his bag, in only a matter of moments.

“Tha—“ Tavia began, but Izak’s next sentence trampled over her words.

“You should be more careful, what if I hadn’t been here to help you?” he asked. “It didn’t look like—“ he sent a glare at Evos who was standing beside Tavia with a disheartened expression. “Never mind,” he muttered.

“It isn’t like this kind of thing happens often,” Tavia replied. “I almost never see Althiests over here.”

She gave her friend a pointed look, but Izak didn’t seem to take the hint.

“You can’t just assume that,” Izak said. “You have to be more careful than other people. I know the school is accommodating you, but other people might not be so—“

“Izak,” Tavia snapped. “It’s fine. I’m fine. Thank you for helping me, but I’m not going to run home just because you say it isn’t safe.”

His overbearing, mothering attitude was the same as it always was, but she couldn’t hold it against him. In the end, he was genuinely worried, and she could at least forgive him for that. She didn’t really need to be constantly reminded her own inadequacies, and how much she didn’t belong in Avel’lier though. She understood that better than anyone.

There were three crucial factors for casting magic: Althier, a conduit, and an aura. Althier was the energy itself that powered the magic, creating miracles and allowing society to thrive. It existed everywhere, and all living beings needed to breathe in a small amount at all times or their body would begin to fail. A conduit was the spell itself, often in the form of a spell-set, and whatever it was engraved on. In the case of the practice area lights, the channels carved into the walls were the spells, and the walls themselves were the material needed for conducting Althier. For the Althiest, the spells and pages in her grimoire were the conduit.

That left the final piece, the aura. Unlike the other two necessary items, an aura was something innate to all humans, a part of their very being. It was necessary to control Althier in the body, and by extension, the amount of Althier flooded into a conduit. Even people untrained in the use of magic used their aura to regulate the amount of Althier flowing through their body. It was supposed to be something automatic, like breathing or blinking.

Supposed to be, because Tavia herself didn’t really know. She didn’t have an aura. She couldn’t use magic, and aside from one worried young man standing beside her, couldn’t even make use of the simplest of conduits.

The condition was rare. So rare most people didn’t even know it existed, and those who did, often didn’t believe it did. Whereas every other person had an aura with a brilliant color, she had nothing.

A null-aura.

A note from GracelessLiar

I'm going to be switching over to the Wed-Fri-Sun update schedule this week, but I didn't want to skip today's without warning. Good news for all of you is that means you get an extra chapter this week!

I should note that after writing this chapter, I had deep regrets regarding my naming sense. Althier and alther are a tad to close (and by tad I mean they're way too close) but well, too late now! Eventually, I'm going to be putting up a glossary of terms and characters on my website, but for now you'll just have to suffer through my obsession with the letter A.

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