Alex’s breath came in gasps as he ran along the path.
With each dull thud of his feet hitting the ground, images flooded him from The Mark: previous times he’d run or exerted himself. Beside him floated his forceball. He’d hung a basket over it using a cross tie of ropes, filling the basket with just enough items to not exceed the spell’s limit of weight that it could support.
At twelve days into his training, The Mark had corrected his push-up form greatly, and now it was fixing how he ran. Spending most of his time in either McHarris’ bakery or hitting the books hadn’t exactly left him a lot of time to become a cross-country runner; most of the images had been from play during childhood. But lately, between running from monsters, toward monsters or toward help, The Mark had gained plenty of material to choose from when it came to that skill.
Which meant that even the running he’d started doing recently had also been fuelling it with new memories.
One thing he hadn’t anticipated learning in his experimentation with The Mark was just how many things were considered skills. Simple everyday actions, like running, walking, reading—the list seemed endless—could be skills to The Mark. For years, he’d just assumed that how fast someone ran was a simple matter of how fit they were. The Mark had shown him there was more to it than that.
By drawing from previous examples of him running well, it pointed out when and how to place his feet to lessen impact on his legs and tire himself less quickly. It guided his muscles in how to propel him forward without wasting motion. It guided his posture—showing memories of him running upright and leaning slightly forward—and set him in that position. Even his arms were brought into the movement by The Mark, which showed him images of when he’d pumped them at his sides, guiding him toward more and more controlled movements.
There was far more to it than “move your legs as fast as you can.”
Even his breathing had been corrected by The Mark, which showed him memories that gradually guided his breath into a steady rhythm as he ran.
Unfortunately, it couldn’t do anything about how fit his body was.
Alex finally slowed down and came to a halt on the path, with his hands on his knees and his breath nearly wheezing from his chest. His feet hurt, his thighs burned and he was light-headed from the strain. It was better than it had been when he started—especially once his technique really began to improve—but in the end, he’d still been a bookworm for most of the eighteen years of his life.
It’d take more than several days of running and push ups to change that.
At least he’d made it to his goal again today.
Panting, he looked up to The Cells.
The ominous building had been completely repaired since the potion-detonation incident, with only a slight new blackening of the stone to indicate the catastrophe had happened. He’d picked this spot as the end of his running trail mostly to watch the speed at which it was being restored.
After the repairs were done, the spot was familiar and convenient, but also reminded him of one of his goals.
From what he’d learned, the equipment for analyzing substances for potion-craft lay within The Cells, along with other rooms reserved for Generasi’s most dangerous arts.
He’d heard that the summoning circles for demonology were only placed here, along with experimental cells for potion-craft and magic item forging, as well as rooms for summoning other dangerous spirits. It would likely be here that he would start to get answers about the dungeon core’s remains.
At least, if he advanced in potion-craft enough.
A day ago, he’d thought of using the mana-connection between himself and his forceball as a way to train his general mana manipulation using The Mark. Unfortunately, that hadn’t yielded much in the way of results, not because The Mark had interfered, but because it really couldn’t teach him much.
Years of using the same spell repeatedly had made it almost as familiar to him as his own heartbeat. He really couldn’t get much better at commanding this particular spell. Mana manipulation training would have to wait until he learned some other technique to practice.
Luckily, that should be coming soon: students who’d arrived early would be getting their hands on their textbook lists soon.
Sitting down on a bench by the path near The Cells, he pulled Dexter’s General Alchemy of Potions from the basket beneath his forceball. He also took a small bun from the basket and took a bite out of it while cracking open the book. He started at the introduction once more, letting his eyes run through the familiar page and using The Mark as he did.
He’d essentially memorized the beginning by now, and rapidly flew through the next hundred pages. These were familiar to him as well, having gone over most several times. Even with the repetition, he quickly reached the chapter on how mana interacted with the four classical elements and different categories of magic, which he hadn’t read before:
As spells can be categorized into schools, mana can have different inclinations. Though in most people mana is so generalized that it does not overly favour any element or school of magic, this is not true for the alchemical substances used in potion making. Firedrake’s gallbladder, for instance, contains a strong affinity for magical applications involving flame. Sun-spore is of strong light attribute and Giant’s Tongue Treebark bears strong earth affinity. Note, though, that different cultures have different naming schemes for mana-rich substances and not all might be obvious to you.
Take Burn-Moss. While the unstudied potion brewer might think to use such a substance to craft a draught of fire-breath, Burn-Moss actually has an affinity for cold. In the region where it is found, there are thirty words for different sorts of snow and frost. Burn-moss—so named due to a translation from the original tongue—references a type of ice so cold that it burns the hand in a form of frostbite. Let this be a lesson to you: any substance needs to be analyzed if it is not comprehensively described in an ingredient encyclopedia or potion manual available to you (note again that the ingredient encyclopedia at the end of this book is not comprehensive). Even though a substance’s name or appearance might make its function seem obvious, such assumptions can prove deadly.
Further, affinity can change depending on if a substance is from a living specimen or harvested from a corpse. Take Kraken Eyes-
Alex absorbed the conversational tones of Dexter far quicker than before and slowed only a little when the book began to range into the technical formulae of different affinities and how they interacted. His reading speed and comprehension were rising, all while he was absorbing the contents of the book.
Dexter’s book was 1168 pages long and he’d already gone through ten percent of it in detail. At this rate, he’d be finished before classes even started. His progress would have been even faster if he hadn’t bothered with repetitions, but there was no sense in speeding through if he didn’t get the details right.
His plan was to walk into POTI-1000 with most of the book’s knowledge well in hand. It would decrease his study time later, and hopefully start his task of impressing Professor Jules enough to let him use the apparati for his own private project. He could say he was doing something fairly safe, then smuggle the core’s remains into The Cells and hopefully be able to analyze them.
He frowned, wondering if there were any records of previous analysis of the substance done at Generasi. If he were a wizard that bore The Mark of the Sage, he’d be showing up to the school with a bucketful of core dust as soon as he could. That was something else to look for in the library, when he was able to access lower levels; something else to aim for when he reached the next tier of spellcraft.
His forceball’s glow seemed cheery beside him, almost like a happy dog—one that liked him a lot more than Brutus did. He’d almost started to think of it more as a companion than a simple magic spell.
He did not have issues, he assured himself.
His previous four days in experimentation on the forceball had begun to yield results. By going through the catalogued failures, he had begun to make adjustments to the spell array that improved the forceball’s mana efficiency.
He glanced at his notebook:
Amount of times casting forceball: Eight
He glanced back to an earlier entry from three days ago:
Amount of times casting forceball: Six
Even with his relatively small mana pool, the amount of times he could cast the spell was rising quite nicely. It had been a good thing he was so familiar with it before he’d gotten The Mark. His experimentation was also leading him to a better and better handle on the spell’s basic structure: he was starting to see how adjusting different parts of the array affected the magic circuit, much like learning the different parts of a machine and why they worked together.
After he finished reading through his daily chapter of Dexter’s book, he took the basket off, killed his mana to the forceball and waited for it to wink out.
Spell Formation: Nine heartbeats
Dissipation: Sixish to Six and a Half heartbeats
Result of Acting in opposition to Combination of Flicker Failure and Forceball Explosion Failure: Unknown.
Today he was going to try something a little dangerous.
Hopefully, being near The Cells—where explosions regularly happened it seemed—would mean he was close to people who dealt with disasters of spell and mana.
The time he had nearly caused the forceball to explode had been the result of pouring too much mana into the magic circuit. Meanwhile, doing the opposite of what caused the flicker failure had made the magic circuit strengthen and allowed more mana to flow safely within it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough mana running through the circuit to really make many changes.
Then he thought of combining the two. Increasing the strength of his magic circuit while pouring in too much mana: a combination of one failure with the learning he’d gained from another.
In theory—if he got it right—then the effect would be flooding the strengthened circuit with enough mana to actually make it work.
As to how that would affect the spell, it’d likely draw more of his mana so he’d be able to cast it less times in a day, but the extra mana would likely…strengthen it, he hoped.
Falling into the spell, he made both adjustments to the spell array—one that had resulted in failure and one generated from failure—and fell deeper into the spell. Repetition had made the process grow easier, even in the face of The Mark’s onslaught.
He made the necessary adjustments and completed the spell array, feeling the magic circuit form. The circuit shook and for a moment he was sure he’d need to cancel the spell.
Then, it completed, humming to life.
This time the forceball appeared with an audible noise.
“Oh shit!” he recoiled in surprise.
Instead of exploding, the new magic circuit had taken in the overflow of mana and swelled the forceball.
The crimson orb floating in front of him was one and a half times its usual size: it took a lot more mana too, he almost felt like the mana vampire had jumped him again when his mana had flowed into the circuit. But it didn’t drain him.
His eyes sparked.
This he could experiment with: he might be able use those two parts of the spell array to adjust the size and mana requirements for the spell as he needed. As his mana increased, he might be able to make the forceball pretty damn big.
He was one step closer to knowing the spell completely. This would make the learning of ‘forcedisk’ easier.
With a shout of triumph, he jumped up from the bench and pumped his fists in the air. Experimentation was starting to bear fruit. He’d use the remaining failures he had and try different combinations in the future.
After he got his textbook for FORC-1550: Spells of Force I, he might be able to make even more progress. Things were looking up.
He recorded his training results, then stretched, preparing to head to the registrar’s office.
Time to get in line and get his text lists and timetable, then practice with the time he had left before the start of classes. Just under forty days.
Plenty of time.
“Two weeks early?” Alex murmured, staring down at his timetable.
There, in bold black pen: “Initial session for this course begins two weeks before the start of the semester. Please prepare accordingly. When you arrive, you will know why we start early - Baelin.”
The note was written below COMB-1000: The Art of the Wizard in Combat.
The ‘just under forty’ days was suddenly mid-20.
Less than a month until what might be his most difficult course began. One taught by the chancellor himself. Alex took a deep breath.
If there was anyone he should be impressing at the university, it should be him.