“What’re you trying to make?” Selina peered at Alex’s crooked, strange looking creation. “It looks like a bug that got run over by a wagon.”
“Hey!” Alex grabbed the mostly finished clay doll he’d been shaping and held it protectively away from his sister. “It’s my second time making one, take it easy on me! Besides yours…is…not…that…”
He couldn’t finish the sentence. The truth was that hers was much better than his.
She had shaped a three headed dog that looked like Brutus out of her portion of clay, and—while it was a bit rough—the proportions were actually pretty accurate. Only the thickness of its legs were a bit disproportionate to its body, but she’d probably done that so that they could support the weight of the massive body and three heads.
She’d even shaped the heads with tough-looking snouts, and carved little lines to represent floppy ears hanging down.
“Okay, yeah, uh, that’s really good,” he admitted. When had his sister gotten that talented? Then again, it had been awhile since he’d gone into her room and really examined her little construction and shaping projects.
“Thanks.” She grinned. “It’s easy when you have the right stuff. But yours isn’t very good. You should start again. You squeezed the arms and legs too much, so they’re all lopsided.”
“Oh, and you’re the expert now?”
“I’m better than you,” she said.
His eyes narrowed. She was right. Now the only question was if Alex Roth was so petty that he’d use a deity-provided power to rapidly exceed a ten year old girl in skill and then rub it in her face.
And the answer to that was yes.
“Gimme a few days…then you’ll see who’s the expert…” He muttered, using The Mark while he continued to shape the little figure into something that was at least slightly not-hideous.
“What’d you say?” she looked up from Clay Brutus.
Real Brutus was at the beastarium with Theresa and Shishi.
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” he said with a sinister note in his voice.
She looked at him appraisingly. “You’re weird.”
“No you’re weird.”
“Your clay doll is weird!”
“Hey, don’t insult Mr. Clay the Second like that!
She stared at him. “... ‘Mr. Clay the Second’?”
“Yeah? What of it?” he looked at her with mock defensiveness. “You name your little dolls all the time.”
“Yeah, with good names.”
“Oh really.” He gestured to a doll that she’d set on the windowsill yesterday: an earlier creation of Selina’s. It looked like an oversized turtle with massive spikes coming off of its shell. “Lord Emperor Spikeon? Really?”
She looked at him defiantly. “Good. Names.”
“I’ll have you know-”
Thmp. Thmp. Thmp.
A loud knock came from the door.
“One second!” Alex shouted, jumping up. He stumbled, and then caught himself. Lately, he was trying to copy Theresa’s thing where she just seemed to glide to her feet from any sitting position, but with varied success.
He ignored Selina’s giggling as he opened the door.
“Uh…everything alright?” Khalik said, his eyebrow raised. “I heard raised voices halfway down the hall.”
Over one shoulder he carried a pile of books while he held a large picnic basket over the other. A spicy scent drifted from the basket that made Alex’s mouth water.
“Oh everything’s fine,” Alex said. “Come in, come in, and you can see how cruel my sister is, and how bad she is at naming things.”
“Alex!” She glared at him “Mr. Clay the Second is a dumb name and you know it! Stop trying to pretend it isn’t!”
“Emperor Lord Spikeon-”
“Lord Emperor Spikeon!” Selina corrected him.
“It’s not a good name!” he insisted, trying to hide his growing amusement at the whole thing. “You can’t be judging anyone else’s names. You know what? Khalik!”
Khalik placed the basket and bag down on a chair at the dining room table and held up his hands. “I do not know what this is…but I do know I don’t want any part of-”
“Too bad!” Alex gestured to both Lord Emperor Spikeon and Mr. Clay the Second. “Which name is better?”
“Er…what name is yours called?”
“Mr. Clay the Second!”
Khalik’s uncertainty vanished in an instant. “Alex, why do you bother me with this?” he said in a deadpan voice, though his eyes were amused. “Your name is obviously much worse. Apologize to your sister at once for wasting her time.”
“I…fine, you win this one, little goblin.” He said grudgingly.
“Hmph.” She raised her chin with pride.
Khalik burst out laughing. “Alright, I brought lunch, let us leave the clay be and eat before it gets cold.”
Reaching into the bag, he produced well seasoned dishes of hot flatbread smothered in cheese, garlic, onions and spiced pieces of cubed meat. “One for each of us.”
“Oh that looks amazing, did you make it?” Alex asked, pulling out Selina’s chair for her as she sprang up and rushed to the table.
“Oho, I did not,” Khalik admitted, sitting down at the table. “Half-burning meat over an open fire is the best I can do: I wouldn’t inflict my cooking on you and Selina.”
“You don’t cook very much at home?” Selina asked, tying a napkin around her neck. “Does your father cook? Or your mother?”
Khalik suddenly burst out laughing so heartily that it filled the room to bursting; Alex was sure that some of the conversations in the courtyard below fell silent.
When the young man could finally stop laughing, tears were running from the corners of his eyes. He muttered something in his mother tongue, and Alex picked out the words ‘know’, ‘say’ and ‘not’.
“I apologize, Selina,” Khalik said. “I do not laugh at you, but the thought of mother and father cooking…” He had to fight back another laughing fit. “In any case, eat! The both of you, enjoy. This food is best when it is hot, not when it has been left to sit out while we go on like a bunch of old parrots.”
Selina and Alex looked at each other, before reaching for their flatbreads.
“So…who does your cooking at home?” Alex asked.
For the first time, Khalik looked uncomfortable. “We have someone to do it,” was all he said. “Hmmm, young Selina, how are you enjoying the junior school?”
“Mmph!” Selina mumbled around a large bite. “I-”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Alex warned her.
“Mmm.” She chewed quickly and swallowed. “I like it a lot! It’s like school at home, but there’s a lot more to learn. The library has sooo many books!”
“Oho, and what’s your favourite class?” Khalik asked, smiling through his beard.
“I have two!” She grinned. “Math and art!”
“Ooooh, we have a little architect growing among us.” Khalik said. “And what of magic? Do they teach you so soon?”
Selina paused, glancing sidelong at Alex. “Um, no.”
She had an odd look on her face.
“Selina?” he peered at her. “Is there something wrong?”
“N-no,” she was obviously lying as she turned away from him.
He frowned. “Selina? What’s going on?”
She wiggled in her chair. “It’s nothing.”
“Oh no, it’s definitely not nothing. You have the same look as you did when you brought that toad home in your pocket.”
“No, it’s not like that!”
Alex frowned. Was she starting to keep secrets from him? Was she already old enough to be doing that?
“Come on, Selina, tell me…I just want to make sure that you’re okay.”
She paused, squirming a little more, and then seemed to deflate. “It was supposed to be a surprise.”
“What surprise?” Alex cocked his head a little. Khalik leaned in closer in interest.
“Well…they’re not teaching us magic…” she said finally. “Yet! …but uh…they’re going to test us soon. To see how much mana we have and see if we can learn magic.”
Alex’s heart nearly stopped.
“I uh…huh,” he murmured.
She looked down. “It was supposed to be a surprise…I wanted to tell you if I passed the test and surprise you.”
An awkward silence fell on the room.
“Er,” Khalik gave a small cough. “Sorry for helping to expose you, Selina, but if it’s any consolation, they notify a child’s closest guardian for permission before they do the test, so your brother would’ve known anyway.”
“Awwww,” she groaned. “That’s too bad!”
Alex, meanwhile, was speechless.
All things considered, he should have thought about the possibility. After all, it was a junior school that was attached to the greatest university of wizardry in the world. It made sense that they would test the junior students to see if they had the knack for magic.
The question was what would they do after?
“Khalik, how do you know about the test?” Alex asked. “And what do they do if a child has the mana for wizardry?”
“My eldest brother came to Generasi, and learned of the practice,” he said, his eyes growing distant. “And as for what they do, my understanding is those that can learn the art of wizardry are given some beginning lessons on magical theory: simple things that can prepare them for casting spells if that is the path they desire, and if their guardians give permission for them to take the lessons. By the end, it is the hope they will be ready to learn some simple spells when they are older.”
“Oh…” Alex muttered, looking at Selina. “Do…you want to learn to be a wizard? If you could?”
Something passed through her eyes. “You make it look like a lot of fun…” she said, though there was something odd about her tone. “I want to try it. Is that okay?”
Alex had no idea how to answer her.
Selina learning to be a wizard? What was the likelihood of that? Probably high, if he really thought about it.
Would she have the smarts for it? That was an obvious ‘yes’. Selina was very quick-witted, and she liked to learn: especially about things that caught her interests.
And what about the discipline? That was no question either: she already spent hours focused on building little models out of blocks or clay. Focus was not going to be an issue.
As for if she had enough mana to do it? That really was the key question. A person’s base mana was an odd thing to predict. Sometimes someone with the mana for wizardry would come out of a family that had farmed for ten generations. Sometimes there were entire dynasties that had produced wizards for centuries.
Other times people would seem to have no mana when they were young, and then an accident, strange phenomenon or years of concerted effort at mana manipulation could generate a mana pool large enough to begin studying the wizardly arts.
In the end, in many cases, a person’s mana seemed pretty much left to random chance.
So that left one final question…how would he feel if Selina had the potential?
On the one hand, the idea excited him. If she had the talent for wizardry, she would be set for life. Magic was a powerful advantage that could pave the way toward riches, fortune, adventure, safety and comfort.
On the other hand…magic was a deadly force. How many times had they been told it was dangerous? In his short time at the university he’d already seen some of its dangers. The importance of caution and finding ways to keep safe were constantly being reinforced.
Letting Selina go down the path of magic training would be to let her go down a path of infinite danger…but then again, would it be worse to stop her from even trying? He’d gone down his path with nothing but an old book, after all. So wouldn’t it be kind of hypocritical of him not to let her try magic here at Generasi where she’d be much safer than he had been doing it on his own in Alric?
There was also the possibility that she might try it on her own in secret.
The whole idea made him nervous, but letting her learn safely, if that’s what she wanted, would probably be a lot better and safer. She would be taught by people who knew what they were doing.
“Alright, we can talk about it more if you pass,” he said.
“Yay!” she cheered. “I’m going to get a big pointy hat with a huuuge brim!”
“Hah,” Khalik chuckled. “We can call you ‘Big Hat Selina’.”
“That’s a terrible name,” Alex said. “Your name judging privileges are revoked.”
“Hey, I might be bad, but you are definitely worse,” Khalik laughed. He glanced at the door. “Maybe Theresa would be better at it. Will she be back soon?”
“She should be,” Alex said.
“Good, I was hoping we could all talk about the next COMB-1000 class together. It will be her first time in The Barrens.”
Alex snorted. “And we’ll be better off for it, trust me.”
“Oh, I know, but I think it would be better to have some discussion beforehand. It’s too bad Thundar and Isolde are busy, but it still will be good to share our capabilities with Theresa so we can move better as a team.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Selina said. “Theresa can beat up Alex, so if he can do it, she can do it.”
“That’s not the way it works,” Alex said dryly.
“Well, her help will be necessary, since we are going to the wild mana vents this time,” Khalik said.
“What are those?” Selina asked.
Khalik’s eyes looked distant. “One of the most dangerous parts of all the Barrens of Kravernus…and the very lifeblood of Generasi.”