“Hey, I recognised your accent in class!” Carey said cheerily. “Good to meet someone from home here, especially in these dark times—when Uldar’s voice seems so far away. Have you been to a worship service at his church in the city yet?” Her eyes bore into him as she continued. “I’ve gotten a group together and we go weekly.”
Alex resisted the urge to scream.
His mind worked quickly, trying to think.
“Oh uh, I um, am fairly private in my worship,” he said quickly. “My relationship with Uldar is a…a bit personal.”
The truth of it was that he wasn’t even lying.
“Oh, that’s too bad.” She said with a shrug. “Well, if you ever change your mind, the invitation stands. Our little group rents a sky-gondola to go to church once a week, even though we wish we could attend every day. You’d be more than welcome to come along with us, if you like. I just wish they would let the priests come onto campus, though. They receive news from home much faster than we do, and even by sky-gondola, it’s still really far to get there. Have you taken a sky-gondola yet? It’s delightful! An experience you’ll never forget.”
As she continued talking, he thought back to meeting the gondolier, Lucia, and the explosion in The Cells as they were approaching the school. He definitely wouldn’t forget those two events any time soon.
“Yeah, I didn’t think flying boats even existed before I came here,” he said with false cheer. “And speaking of amazing things, I’d love to keep talking but, I’ve got to get to my next class. I wouldn’t want to show up late on my very first full day of classes”
“What class do you have next? Maybe we’re in the same one.” Carey said.
Alex considered lying, but decided against it just in case they were in the same class.
“I have FORC-1550.”
“Oh? Where’s that?”
“Room 103 in the second western tower.”
“Oh! My class is on your way, it's in the first western tower,” she said expectantly.
Alex’s smile was forced. “Oh…”
Well, there was nothing for it now.
“We could walk together?” he said, uncertainty tingeing his voice.
“Oh that would be marvelous!” She smiled, as if overjoyed. “My friends all have classes across campus, so it’ll be nice to have someone to walk with. Come along then, we can talk about home along the way. There are so few of us here!”
The two students from Thameland began their trek to class, with Carey filling the air with her words. Between her bright, cheery tone, and rapid-fire way of speaking, she reminded Alex of an overly animated baby bird.
And about three times as curious.
“So which part of Thameland are you from, Alex? I’m from Wrexiff, in the west. Near Crymlyn swamp. Did you know The Sage was selected from the witches of the swamp? It’s a shame I actually never got to meet her…but yes, where are you from?”
“Alric! Oh my goodness, that’s near the Cave of the Traveller! Were you one of the lucky ones who left through the cave right after our priests consecrated it?”
“We got out earlier than that,” he said with a friendly tone while being nonspecific. It wasn’t a lie, and the less specifics he gave, the less holes that could be poked in anything he told her.
“Ah that’s too bad!” Carey said. The symbol of Uldar—consisting of the familiar rendition of the god’s raised hand—bounced around her neck with every movement. “The Cave of the Traveller was dangerous, and there was a dungeon core there! Did you know that?” She continued not waiting for him to answer. “But The Traveller’s power vanquished it. That made it safe for everyone to use. My family was one of the first through—one of my ancestors was an assistant to the magistrate of Alric generations ago, but we still have some connections—so we were able to secure one of the first places through a portal. I am so glad we did, because it was incredible! When the war’s over…you should see it.”
She finally took a breath, then sighed. “I hope it’s over soon.”
His ears perked up. “You mean it might not be?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned. “The priests say that The Ravener has become very aggressive compared to historical records: building dungeons faster and spreading them wider. Its monsters have been moving to attack any and everything, not just the people left in Thameland, but even wildlife! They say that when it’s like that, the cycle tends to be much harder than usual. …and also one of The Heroes is still missing.”
“Oh? Which one?”
“The Fool…and don’t give me that ‘so what’ look. Uldar says The Fool has a role to play, so at least we should find them. They’ve been known to disappear before, but that could mean that they could be dead, or worse! The Fool has a role to play, after all, as we all do.”
Alex wondered what could be worse than being dead, but only said, “And you want your role to be researching The Ravener?”
“Well, of course! It’s my duty to give back to Uldar in whatever way I can.”
He paused. “Wouldn’t the priests…not like that?”
“Well, all of their records on what the Ravener has done has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it? And you heard what Professor Jules said, they have allowed the University to research remains before, after all.”
He frowned, wondering exactly how far that research had been allowed to proceed. He decided to push a little more. “Do you know anything about any of that research?”
She shook her head. “If the church has records, then they do not share it with the people, likely to keep us safe, just as Generasi’s policies are supposed to do. But we are not the general populace: we can blaze our own paths, I say.”
She glanced at him. “Are you sure you don’t want to join us in our weekly outing to the church: Uldar’s hand does reach far, but it must be lonely not having a worship to attend.”
“It’s alright, I feel he’s always with me in his own way.”
“I see, I see. It’s too bad, though. In these times, the church could use all the donations it can come by, and students here tend to be well off. A… ‘Campus for Uldar’ could do a lot of work here.”
“A what now?” he looked at her.
“An organization: like one of the many clubs or the student union on campus, but one devoted to spreading Uldar’s glory and finding donations and faith for him. Since the priesthood has no advocates on campus, it falls to us to take their place. We could create donation drives for the church, worship together and do great works in his name. I was even thinking…”
She leaned closer to him like she was whispering a grand conspiracy. “If we had enough members, we might be able to petition the school’s leadership to allow the priests onto campus. This policy of banning our priests is most harmful to us.”
Alex literally could not think of a worse thing that could happen to him, aside from maybe The Ravener lifting up a bunch of monsters and throwing them all the way to Generasi. Or a mana vampire sucking the life out of him. Or blowing himself up while practicing spells. Or something happening to-
Okay, maybe priests on campus wasn’t the highest thing on the list of ‘Worst Things that Could Happen to Alex Roth’, but it would certainly be on the list.
“It’s early days, but we’ve already had a few meetings,” Carey said. “Just getting things set up, you know, and organized for later. You sure you aren’t interested?”
Alex barely resisted the urge to scream: ‘No! Thank! You! And please, never, ever, ever ask me that again!’
“I wish you luck,” he said firmly but politely, letting her know his refusal was final.
She sighed. “Fine, fine. I won’t pester you about it-”
He could almost hear the ‘for now’ in her voice.
“-but don’t be a stranger in potions class. Ah, this is me.”
They paused in a hallway that opened up onto the first western tower.
Carey turned and gave him a polite nod. “If you hear anything about home from you and yours, do share. If I hear anything, I’ll be sure to as well. Don’t be a stranger, Alex! Ta-ta!”
She waved lightly and quickly scurried up the stairs.
Alex sighed behind her.
Derek Warren, known cheater who seemed to be trying to make connections.
Carey London, an Uldar-devotee who wanted the school to let the priests onto campus.
There would be dangers in potions class, as Professor Jules had warned, but—for Alex—it looked like exploding potions might be the least of his worries.
He turned, making his way to FORC-1550. He took his textbook and notebook from his bag. The notebook was already filled with notations and observations from his pre-course studying.
As his mind turned from Derek and Carey, it went to something much more pleasant and exciting:
Luckily, the rest of Alex’s classes were a reprieve from cheaters and Uldar-enthusiasts.
Room 103 was a lecture hall filled with students. Judging from how many there were seated at desks hovering about a foot off the floor, FORC-1550 seemed to be more popular than potions. He didn’t even blink at the sight of the hovering desks.
The first class was about introducing the students to the study of force magic in general: they were given information about their first lab which was going to involve the hovering desks, and they had also gone over the required spells for the semester. Alex felt pretty confident, since he’d mostly mastered one spell —forceball—and was working on the next: ‘forcedisk’. Wizard’s Hand would be next, but he would have time to finish mastering forcedisk before having to pick up the more complicated spell. What he was really looking forward to was the spell after Wizard’s Hand.
It was a spell that conjured a stronger version of the forcedisk. It was meant to serve as a floating shield that spanned about three feet wide, and could be controlled at will. It always floated to protect its caster. With how strong he’d gotten his forceball, he could imagine how powerful a defensive spell like that could be when he mastered it.
After Force Shield would come Force Missile, a combat spell that blasted an object with a bolt of force. He didn’t expect that one to be easy to learn, but Lesser Force Armour would be the spell that was taught next.
Mastering Force Shield, Lesser Force Armour and then the upgraded versions, which were Force Armour and Greater Force Armour, would increase his durability tremendously. Thinking on it, his likely order of learning would be to finish mastering forcedisk, then learn to cast Wizard’s Hand, and then immediately jump ahead to start focusing on Force Shield. After that, he could return to mastering Wizard’s Hand.
The ultimate scenario he imagined in combat would be using the footwork of the Spear-and-Oar Dance, while protected by multiple force spells, and using his forceball and Wizard’s Hand for distraction, while Forcedisk carried his items.
Or even carried him, if he got good enough with it.
His next class was Magical Theory, and it had absolutely fascinated him, though the reaction of the rest of the large class was mixed. Mandatory classes tended to be like that, he’d heard: even if the subject matter was incredible to him and some others, some just didn’t enjoy them and didn’t want to be there.
The first Magical Theory class had gone over the general theory of mana: if Divinity was the essence of the gods and nature, and lifeforce was the essence of...well, living things, then mana was theorized to be the essence of the universe. Wizards often said that mana was the first of the essences to be created and that—before gods shaped things to their will—the cosmos was likely nothing more than an endless sea of formless mana.
The professor had noted the bias of the theory: wizards were the ones who researched and proposed this after all, while priests often said that ‘the divine’ was first before all things. To Alex, that was some of the fun of it: no firm or complete answer meant more questions. He liked questions.
His next class was Mana Manipulation and it seemed like another class where the Professor was half-trying to scare the students away. Professor Val’Rok had talked about how it was a very difficult subject, and how the dropout rate for the course was over 30%.
“Look to your left and then to your right,” he had said. He was a tall beastfolk that resembled a massive, sharp-toothed lizard. “One of you will not be here by the end of the term.”
Then he’d paused. “No, that’s just a bunch of dragonshit. The truth is that all of you who want to be here will be here.”
Then he had given them the reasons why they should stay.
Mana manipulation was the foundation to many sustained spells. The more one was able to manipulate mana, the higher precise control one had over these spells. They would also have an easier time modifying how much mana the spell was fed, and be able to control certain magical items, craft potions, and create constructs, like golems.
He had let out a high pitched laugh as he watched the students become excited and starry-eyed at all the possibilities. But—when he’d gotten into the specifics of how mana manipulation worked—most of them had fallen into confused silence. He’d explained that the art was a mixture of precise mathematical control, spiritual awareness of one’s own mana, and exacting control of its flow.
It required a lot of practice and many were never able to master it. Risks of delving too deeply and causing mana reversals were also present. Alex, who had already practiced it for years through his forceball spell, only saw it as a field of infinite possibilities.
He had been really excited at their first homework assignment: read chapter one from the textbook and then use what was listed at the end to operate a magical practice device that the professor had handed out. It was a small metal box covered in magical glyphs: when powered through mana manipulation, the glyphs would begin to glow. The better one was at the art, the more glyphs would light up.
The first assignment only required that they light one of the glyphs in a month.
Alex had vowed to complete the assignment much faster than that.
Yet, even though there was so much he’d enjoyed about his first full day, after the first class—potions—one thought had stayed in his mind: Golems.
Throughout the day, he’d become more and more fascinated with them like how most young boys in Thameland became fascinated with the idea of knights. At the end of his last class, he’d asked around campus and had gotten some news that made him very eager.
In addition to being made at the University by some of the higher year students, there was a small workshop in the city that specialized in creating the constructs.
Alex knew where he’d be spending his weekend.
It was time for a visit to the city.