“So.” Professor Val’Rok looked over the entire class of MANA-1900.
“Dun dun dun!” he said for effect. “It’s time to show off your progress with your glyph boxes. This assignment likely won’t be your favourite this semester, and rest assured, you won’t be unique in feeling that way. You see, glyph box practice enjoys a long tradition of being hated here at Generasi but, sadly-” he grinned, looking pleased with himself. “-it still has to be done. The good news is that today’s little go over isn’t for marks, we’re just doing a brief check-in to see how things are coming along.”
He clapped his scaly hands together and rubbed them excitedly. His tongue flicked out and licked one of his eyes. Several students—including Alex—recoiled slightly.
“So, let’s have a show of hands. Who here was unable to light up any glyphs on their boxes?” His tongue flicked out again.
There was a reticent silence.
“Oh don’t be shy, there’s no shame here, and we’re all going to be taking turns revealing our results anyway.”
The silence continued.
“Oh come on, you’re not being marked on this. Here, I’ll show you someone who wasn’t able to light a single glyph in their first two weeks with that damned box.” Val’Rok raised his scaly hand. “Took me three weeks to light half of one, so don’t be shy. Let’s go. Show of hands.”
Reluctantly, slightly more than half the class raised their hands. A few students were looking at their boxes with such hatred that Alex was sure if they had hammers, their boxes would be flat disks.
“There, that’s the way. No need to worry,” Val’Rok said. “Now, of the students who couldn’t activate the glyph, who among you was able to send your mana in and feel the first applicator in the box?”
Every student kept their hand raised, though some looked shifty as they did. Alex raised his eyebrows in surprise. He wondered if that look was an: ‘I didn’t actually try the homework but am pretending that I had trouble with it’ look. He remembered it well from the church school.
That surprised him. It was one thing to sit there and not do any work when school was local, free and—even a bookworm like him had to admit—the lessons varied with how practical they were. But Generasi cost a fortune, and the dangers of magic—Lucia, her massive scar, and leaving Generasi came to mind—meant that there was a lot more risk for not doing the assigned work. The danger was real.
Then again, looking around the class, he began to wonder how many students actually wanted to be here. Derek was a noble, and so was Isolde and quite a few others. Wizardry was prestigious and provided a path to reputation, riches and power, but that didn’t mean it was a path for everyone. He remembered students from the church school who’d gone into apprenticeships or professions because that’s what their families expected of them.
Some hated it, but diligently stuck through the training anyway.
Others also hated it and simply coasted through, doing the minimum. Still others got thrown out for doing unbelievably stupid things; a potter’s apprentice who’d nearly burned his hand off came to mind. He had tried to show off for a girl by trying to impress her with how long he could tolerate the heat inside a kiln. The skin on his hand ended up looking like old leather.
The girl wasn’t impressed.
All types went into all sorts of studies for various reasons. He supposed Generasi was no different.
Either way, if Professor Val’Rok noticed the shifty looks, the cheerful lizard wizard gave no sign. “See, that’s the ticket, right there. By finding the applicator, you’ve learned both how to move your mana without the aid of a magic circuit, and how to sense and touch things with it. You’ve taken the first steps, and now all you need to do is put in the practice.”
He licked his eye again in something that looked like a hideous parody of a wink. “Now for all those that did manage to light a glyph, show us what you’ve done. Who wants to go first?”
Alex did not raise his hand.
He wanted to watch the others first and see just how far they had gotten. If he went first, he could proudly show the class his accomplishment, but maybe others had done even better: maybe someone had lit up twoboxes. Also, if he did go first and was the only one to light up every glyph, that might discourage others who hadn’t done as well as him.
He wanted to stand out, not embarrass others for no reason.
Unless they deserved it, of course. He smiled as McHarris came to mind.
Besides, people who went last tended to stand out more: there was a reason why Robbing Cloak—the legendary archer—always went last at tournaments in all the popular stories about him.
Alex watched, impressed with some of the students: three of them had managed to light up three glyphs at the same time, though they told Professor Val’Rok that they had previous experience with mana manipulation by having assisted in shops that dealt in magic items in Generasi.
That was encouraging: if students who had less skill in mana manipulation than he did were helping out in magic item shops, then that gave him hope for getting the assistant’s job in the golem workshop.
Finally, the Professor’s eyes fell on him. “Looks like you’re the last one, Alex. Come on, no need to be shy.”
“Looks like I am,” Alex said, lifting the box. He concentrated, letting his mana flow through the maze as he’d practiced so many times. With The Mark’s assistance, it was so easy now that he could have done it while half-asleep.
A collective gasp went through the room as every glyph lit up at once.
A stunned silence followed.
“Well! Well, well, well, well!” Val’Rok chatterred. “My goodness, would you look at that!” The lizardfolk floated toward Alex on one of the schools’ flying stone disks. “Well…well, well done! Most don’t light up the whole box until at least halfway through the second year course.”
He said excitedly. “Do you work at a magic item forge?”
“No, but I’m hoping to,” Alex said quickly.
“Interesting…very interesting. Would you mind staying a few minutes after class?”
“Um, sure,” Alex smiled.
Murmurs were spreading through the class.
Good. People were beginning to talk.
“So, what kind of job are you looking for?” Val’Rok asked.
“I’m looking to get a job at Shale’s Workshop,” Alex said, concentrating on casting his forceball and then hanging his basket of textbooks beneath it. If Val’Rok noticed that it took him longer to cast it than most other students, then he didn’t say anything.
“Ah, a good choice, but a hard one, I know Toraka Shale and she’s a particular taskmaster. And golem work is no easy task among the magical disciplines,” Val’Rok looked at him with one of his reptilian eyes. “Hmmm, she also doesn’t have any openings at the moment that I’m aware of. But, she always posts her openings at Generasi since we have such a good pool of potential candidates to choose from.”
“Well, I want to be ready if one does come up,” Alex said quickly.
The Professor looked at one of the boxes sitting on his own desk. “But you certainly have an excellent talent for it—either that or a lot of practice—so I wouldn’t exactly say that you don’t have a chance. Have you built magic items before?”
“No,” Alex said. “But I’ve been doing well in POTI-1000 so far, and I’ve been a baker’s…assistant.”
Val’Rok paused. “A baker?”
“Well.” He shrugged. “I know how to follow a recipe.”
The lizardfolk burst into his high pitched laugh. “I guess there is a correlation there! Well, then.” He tapped the box on his desk then slid it toward Alex before digging into the desk and pulling out another two. “Here, I want you to try what you did using these three boxes.”
“Right.” Alex took them up, one after the other.
The first one he struggled with a little: the maze and applicators were completely different from his own practice box. Soon, however, he was able to light up every single glyph on each side.
By using The Mark to point out his previous successful movements, he grew faster and faster with solving each one. Then, feeling more confident, he picked up two at the same time. Falling into a meditative mindset, he took deep, paced breaths while he split his concentration into two boxes at once.
That proved a little over ambitious.
Controlling his spell while solving one box was one thing, but engaging in something as complex as activating all the glyphs on two boxes at once proved to be beyond him. Still, he was proud to be able to activate twoglyphs on each one at the same time.
“Well, by my scales!” Val’Rok cried. “Would you look at that!”
“Ugh, that’s a little embarrassing.” Alex smiled ruefully.
“Please, that’s something very advanced you just tried and you did better than most. Tell you what, write your report on how the training exercise with the box went, and then I’ll give you the next assignment right away: the first of the mana regeneration techniques. Review it and write the report on the theory of it, so that you’re ready for when I teach it in class. If you do as well with that technique, then I’d suggest Challenging the Exam for Credit.”
“What’s that mean?” Alex asked.
“It’s a practice that makes it so Generasi doesn’t waste young wizards’ time and potential,” Val’Rok said. “People come from all sorts of backgrounds and—for some—the first year courses can teach them nothing new. With a professor’s permission, a student may challenge the course through a special exam, be given the credit, and then move onto the next course if it’s early enough in the semester. If it’s too late, there’s a supervised self-study program that will allow the student more self-directed learning with the subject. Think of it as a minor thesis.”
“Oh that’s awesome!” Alex said.
“Yeah it is pretty awesome, isn’t it?” Val’Rok snickered, tapping a clawed finger to the bottom of his jaw. “And…you said you were in POTI-1000 too.”
“Yep, Professor Jules was the first person I showed that I could actually light up the whole box, aside from my friends, that is. ”
“And she didn’t tell me?” Val’Rok looked mildly offended. “Ah well, and how is it so far?”
“We’re going to have our first quiz soon,” Alex said. “And I’m really learning some interesting stuff in the labs.”
“Hmmm good, I’ll tell you what, if you successfully challenge this course for credit, I will personally write a letter of reference for you to Shale’s: without some kind of letter of recommendation, you’ll struggle.”
“Yep.” Val’Rok bobbed his head in a nod. “You seem to have a true talent for mana manipulation. An exceptional talent: and that should be supported. Do well, and I’ll certainly do well by you.”
“Thanks,” Alex grinned. “Thanks a lot.”
“Well, don’t thank me yet, all I potentially have to do is write a letter. You, on the other hand, have to be the one to prove yourself to me.”
Alex looked at the glyph boxes. “Oh, I’m working on it. I’m working on it.”
“This one’s done,” Alex said lightly as his potion gave off a strong glow, and then settled into a deep, murky grey colour.
The controlled flame beneath the flask snuffed out as he capped it, took out the mana conductor, shut down the mana vacuum, and used his tongs to place the hot flask onto a waiting ceramic plate.
“What, already?” Carey blinked, staring at the potion from the work station beside him. “We just started.”
“Well, it’s kind of simple once you have the procedure memorized,” he said, moving the glass titration apparatus to the front of his station and starting to disassemble it. He used The Mark; it pointed out the proper movements for taking apart the delicate device and placing it down properly. He placed it with the rest of the apparati he had finished using—they would need to be washed after the lab. “And I’m pretty good at mana manipulation, so that helps speed things up.”
‘Pretty good’ was a bit of an understatement at this point.
Alex had borrowed two mana manipulation boxes from Professor Val’Rok to practice with at the same time after his meditations. Operating two at once was much harder than one, but in a short space of time he’d already managed to raise the number of glyphs he could light on both from two to three. At this point, controlling forceball and even forcedisk through mana manipulation was as easy as breathing.
He’d already started to work hard on learning wizard’s hand—documenting his failures as usual—and couldn’t wait to see how well he could control it once he’d figured out how to cast it.
The letter of reference was a potential prize waiting for him and had lit a fire under his feet. He’d definitely be trying to Challenge the Exam for Credit for mana manipulation if things worked out.
Now all that was needed was to make sure he actually had the skills to perform the job. Also, if he managed to get the job, then that might help convince Professor Jules to let him do more in POTI-1000. He glanced to the far side of the room where various analytical apparatuses were stored.
Once the potion had cooled enough, he lifted it with the tongs and carried it over for analysis. First, he dropped a bit of it into a mana spectrometer, which broke up a substance’s composition by its mana essences. He remembered the textbook’s instructions as to what dyeing agents he should add to the sample, and dropped those on it.
Then he ran the spectrometer for exactly twenty-one seconds, which was the recommended length of time for first tier potions. What came out was a sheet of absorbent paper with bands of colour running along its length. Alex identified what each colour meant in terms of its magical constitution and wrote them down in his lab-book. The pattern present matched what the pattern should have been for this potion, as listed in Dexter’s textbook.
He then took out another testing device. It was a potion-sensitive bed of blue moss that had been planted on a surface the size of a large coin. Carefully, he filled a dropper with another sample and dropped it onto the moss, watching for any sign of colour changes.
His eyes narrowed behind his mask.
Smiling, he raised his hand and called Professor Jules over, his voice was muffled. “All done!”
Heads swivelled toward him from all over the cell as other students paused in disbelief. Derek eyed Alex evenly through his mask. A student cursed as the distraction interfered with the mana running down his conductor.
He scrambled and quickly activated the mana vacuum which poured the mana away from the reaction, and up into the mana waste container. A couple of students snickered, and then one leaned toward the other and mimed the motion of drinking. The other laughed and gave his lab partner a light push.
“Careful there,” Professor Jules warned them as she eyed Alex’s potion. “Hmmmm. Alright, what can you tell me about it?”
“Its mana has combined to produce the correct potion, according to the spectrometer.” He pointed to the moss. “Kamookak’s Moss didn’t change colour or wilt, so that means all the toxin from the quicksilver’s gone.”
“Hmmm,” she squinted at the notes in his lab book. “I see. And what did the manohmeter say about its magical conductivity?”
He paused for a moment, and then chuckled behind his mask. “Are you trying to trick me, prof? Since the mana spectrometer showed that it has the correct composition, and since we only used ingredients listed in the procedure, it’s not necessary to run it through the manohmeter. We’d only run it, if the spectrometer’s readout showed that its composition had deviated from standard. Plus, uh, we weren’t supposed to do that for today’s procedure, and we’re always supposed to follow procedure.”
She snorted. “Well, don’t we think we’re clever…but, you’re right. Well done, it appears that this is a fine example of a Potion of Running Enhancement. You may keep it.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Got anything else for me to do?”
“Hmmm,” Professor Jules said. “No. Just focus on cleaning up and then finishing your notes. Keeping fresh notes makes writing the lab reports easi-”
“Oh my gods!” someone cried across the room.
Someone sounded like they were choking.
One of the students—the one that had mimed drinking the potion—fell back against his work station, clawing at his throat. His mask was partially raised.
“Dammit!” Professor Jules swore. “Alex! Quick! Safety kit!"
She rushed toward the fallen student.
Alex ran for the kit.