“Mr. Roth, have you studied alchemy before you came to Generasi?” Professor Jules asked.
They were alone in Cell-207, and she was looking at him pointedly. Not a hostile look, but simply an appraising one.
“Um, no, Professor,” he admitted. “The only magic I knew before coming here was forceball.”
Her eyebrows rose. “You got into Generasi knowing one spell? And you’ve had no other magical training?”
“A little bit of magical theory from some books, but that’s it.”
“No training in alchemy, then…” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you taking first year mana manipulation?”
Alex cocked his head a little. “Yeah, actually, how did you know? It didn’t look like that course was very popular.”
“It is more common for students who are going to venture deep into potioncraft or alchemy. You’re a veryeager student in this class, so I thought that might be a course you’d be interested in taking. Have you received your box, yet?”
“Uh, yeah I have.” He dug the box out of his bag, showing it to her. “I take it you know all about this?”
“I do.” She smiled at it. “Professor Val’Rok and I-” she referred to the professor of mana manipulation. “Helped design each other’s courses, since there is so much synthesis in the skill sets involved, and ‘The Box’ has been the bane of many a first year since I was a student here. …would you kindly show me how far you’ve proceeded with it.”
Alex could barely keep a triumphant grin from his face. “I definitely can.”
He poured his mana into the box, watching Professor Jules closely as her eyes grew. She outright gasped as the fifth glyph lit up and whistled in surprise as finally every symbol on the box glowed with the power of mana.
“My goodness!” she said. “I’m not sure if you have any idea how impressive that is: many students of mana manipulation have trouble lighting up the entire box even partway through their second-year, and most who succeed with it early have a strong history in mana manipulation.”
She frowned. “You must have practiced a lot with forceball.”
“Oh yeah, for years.”
“Interesting. Tell me, how much of the potions textbook have you read?”
He paused, nearly telling her he’d gone through all of it already. Thinking back to what she’d said earlier in class, he decided not to say he had finished the entire text yet. To anyone who heard that he’d already studied the whole book before the first month of first semester was over, it would just look like he’d skimmed it. Or that he was lying.
He’d lowball it a bit.
“I’ve skimmed most of it,” he said. “But I know about a third of it in detail. I went through the earlier parts a lot before school even started.”
She frowned. “And did you try any of the recipes in it?”
“No, Professor. I just read about them and took careful notes. Didn’t try anything yet,” he insisted.
“Hmmmm,” she mused. “If I were to ask you what on the Table of Prime Essences would have a mana weight of 142, what would your answer be?”
“Essence of Grounding,” he said quickly.
She quizzed him on a few more things from the table and then on certain parts from the front of the book. He answered each as though he were reading the passages directly from the book. Professor Jules paused.
“Tell me, what are the three uses for adult dragon’s bile when it comes to crafting potions of body strengthening.”
He froze. “Uh…”
He called upon The Mark, focusing on learning that potion, but no memories came back to him. Had he missed that part somehow?
“I uh…” He scratched the back of his head. “I have no idea, professor.”
“Good,” she said. “That’s a subject you will not be learning about until POTI-3000. I was afraid you might have been receiving ‘extra information’ from a more advanced student.”
“Yeah, no, not me,” he said. “The only second year I know is Isolde von Anmut.”
“I see…” she continued to peer at him as though he were a particularly fascinating potion ingredient. “Mr. Roth, I would like to—with your permission—cast a spell on you.”
Alex winced. “What uh…what kind of spell?”
For some reason, a wild image came to mind: her using some sort of magic to shrink him down to the size of a bug so that she could put him in a jar to examine later. He shook off the feeling. No way would a professor do that to a student, would they?
“It is a greater dispel. It will rend apart any spells currently upon you…do you currently have any spells on you?” she said slowly
He froze. How would such a spell react with The Mark? From what he could tell, it didn’t use mana…but it was definitely supernatural. Was it a Divinity? Probably? Either way, would such a spell erase The Mark from him? It seemed too easy.
But if it did…
That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it?
Not so long ago, he would have been fine with anything that removed The Mark. Now? It had benefited him in surprising ways. He wouldn’t be so advanced with mana manipulation if it weren’t for its help, and even its hindrances were driving him to grow in new directions he would have never thought of before.
What did that mean? Did he want The Mark now? Had he just learned to cope with it? Before he could sort any of that out, Professor Jules completed her spell. He felt a strange wave wash over him—like the ‘pins and needles’ feeling of having a leg ‘fall asleep’—but this came from the air around him. Mana drained from his surroundings like oil being forced away by a mixture of soap.
Then it was back. Curiously, he focused on breathing with The Mark.
Images came to him immediately, showing that it was still on him.
His thoughts paused. Was…was that relief he felt? Along with slight disappointment? What did that even mean?
“I see you have no spells upon you,” Professor Jules noted. “Forgive me, but an old trick some students used to attempt is to craft an illusion that only they could see, which displayed their textbooks and notes before them. It isn’t a common method of cheating anymore, but we still catch some. But…no, it seems that you simply have quite a talent Mr. Roth.”
She tapped the desk a few times in thought. “Do you still have interest in personal projects?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “Lots of interest.”
“Hm,” she frowned. “I look forward to seeing your results from the next few labs and the first quizzes. If you perform as well as you did today, then we might have a little discussion, after all.”
She smiled. “It warms my heart to see a student take such an interest in alchemy and potions. I look forward to watching you this semester, Mr. Roth.”
“Uh, thank you professor,” he said.
And just like that, he was one step closer to examining the dungeon core’s remains and constructing a golem.
“I swear on all my ancestors,” Thundar groaned, with his hands covering the sides of his face. “If a lightning bolt jumped out of the sky and struck my Battle Magic Professor, I think I’d laugh about it for three days straight.”
He leaned over the table while Khalik and Alex returned with a pitcher of lemon water and some cups.
“Is he that bad?” Khalik asked, sliding back down into his seat and moving his textbook so it’d be out of range of any drink spillage.
“Worse,” the minotaur grunted as Alex dropped down at the table, quickly pouring him a large cup. “Some of the war-leaders in my clan were hard-bitten bastards, but he makes them look like kindly children. He barks like a dog and every time you have to ask him a question—which you have to ‘cause he talks faster than a chattering bird—he acts like you’re the one with the problem.”
“Oof, that’s rough,” Alex winced, thankful he hadn’t taken battle magic.
Of course, he couldn’t…but he wondered if he might have, if his situation had been different.
It had been a few days since his first potions lab, and he’d been thinking on his reaction to potentially losing The Mark. When he’d first received it, it had been nothing more than a curse that was attempting to ruin his life. At the time—with it hindering his spellcraft and causing him to have to go die in a battle he wasn’t equipped to fight—there was no other way to think about it.
He was safely at Generasi and among friends. He had made certain choices in both his education and his life that he doubted he would have made without The Mark’s influence.
A lot of those choices were doing him quite a bit of good.
His arms—formerly gangly and thin—had started to grow muscular, thanks to his daily exercises. As the push-up routine had gotten easier, he had gone to Khalik for suggestions on other training methods he could use. It was then that the powerful young man had shown Alex a hidden treasure at the school: a weight-training gymnasium often used by the Watchers of Roal.
Although Alex had only used it once, the way the new exercises had hit his body had left him with an elated—though exhausted—feeling similar to what he felt after a good, long run these days. The Mark had helped him with the form of the exercises.
Then there was the meditation.
He had quickly come to understand why Theresa was so taken with the practice. The more he did it, the more he wanted to do it: it calmed him, helped him relax, helped him concentrate, organized his thoughts and it continued to slowly help him develop defences against The Mark’s hindrances.
Then there were his course selections. Would he have gone so deeply into mana manipulation or potions if he could learn any spell? Would he have decided to specialize in force spells or go broader?
He knew without a doubt that he wouldn’t have ever bothered with The Art of the Wizard in Combat.
He also doubted he’d be looking to try and build a golem so single-mindedly either. Likely, he’d just be trying to excel in his studies, looking out for his sister and trying to avoid Carey London’s little group.
His life would have been completely different and—over the last few days—he’d become unsure if it would have been necessarily better.
“Hrm? What troubles you, my friend?” Khalik asked. “You look like you are contemplating the nature of the universe.”
“Maybe I am,” Alex said. “Maybe I’m about to unlock the secrets of creation, inspired by what a jerk Thundar’s professor is.”
The minotaur snorted. “You wouldn’t be joking about it if you had to be in there with me.”
“Is he as hard as Baelin?” Alex asked.
Thundar let out a deep, rolling laugh. “If only he was like Baelin.” He closed a massive hand into a fist. “Deep, deep down, Baelin is harder, I think, but Professor Hartman wears it like it’s a badge. He’s louder. Meaner. Good at what he does, but less helpful.”
“Ugh, my condolences.” Alex put his hands together like he was praying over Thundar’s funeral. “What about you, Khalik, I haven’t heard you talk about your professors at all.”
Khalik shrugged lightly. “There is not much to say, I celebrate those that are good and endure those that are not.”
“Oh no, you’re not getting away with that.” Thundar leaned forward. “Tell us what you’ve got to deal with.”
“It is no problem.” Khalik waved them off. “Complaining about them to my friends will not change them, only make them be ‘with us’ when we are trying to study and relax.”
He took a sip of water. “It’s better to come together over shared experiences, I say. Though that is just me and my choice.” He glanced up to Thundar. “Your professor sounds like bird droppings, and I will listen to you vent about him all day, if you wish.”
“Heh, thanks,” Thundar said. “Alright, enough pitying myself and winging. So, back into The Barrens next week, eh?”
“Indeed.” Khalik glanced at the textbook on tactics for COMB-1000. “Deeper, this time, too. I look forward to it. There is a spell we are learning in EART-1400 that I want to try there, if I can.”
“What’s that one again?” the minotaur asked.
“Earth and Mineral Magic. It has some neat applications. A wizard advanced enough in it can empower crop yield for a season, at least for a certain amount of farms. There are other uses too.”
“Sounds fun,” Alex said. “Wait…” His eyes narrowed. “So it conjures earth, right?”
“That it does.”
“Say…would you be able to get some clay for me. High quality stuff?”
Khalik raised an eyebrow. “I do not know such a spell, but I am sure a classmate or even the professor could provide some. Why?”
He thought of both the golem project coming up, the job opening soon, and a little sister who had nothing to build or sculpt with.
Alex tapped the side of his nose slyly. “Let’s just say that I’ll be killing more than one bird with one ball of clay.”
Khalik groaned openly and shook his head.