“Oh, uh, thank you,” Alex said. “The box was pretty fun to work on, actually. Like a puzzle. What’s the offe-”
“‘Fun’, he says!” Professor Jules burst out laughing, which quickly disintegrated into a coughing fit. She paused on the stairs, nearly bending double as she coughed into her sleeve.
Alex stood in front of her in case she toppled down. “You okay, professor?”
“Ach, I’m fine, I’m fine, thank you, though.” She waved him off. “Years of looking for ingredients and breathing in odd fumes takes their toll.”
“Oh? The mask didn’t help?”
“The mask didn’t always exist for as long as I’ve been practicing.” She straightened up. “Much of our devices—the far-speaker for example—draw on Generasi’s abnormally high ambient mana to function, and even then, Generasi’s mana was not always this high.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Come, let’s talk and walk again.” She led him down the stairs. “The ambient mana in the city rises over time, thanks to the wild mana vents: they keep pumping mana into the world, which circulates and gets stronger over time. Fifty years ago, something like the far-speaker just wouldn’t have worked, or it would have been so expensive to make that it would have been entirely impractical. Now that the ambient mana in Generasi has risen enough to power it, it is spreading through the university. As more kinks get worked out, it will make its way into the city.”
Alex blinked. “That’s amazing. I know the sky-gondolas only work in Generasi, so it makes sense that other devices would too…hmmm, over time do you think the mana will spread to the rest of the world?”
“Very astute,” she said. “Though Generasi is on a large pocket of vents, more mana is entering the world over time.” She chuckled. “It’s funny. My grandchildren will grow up in a world far more convenient than the one I learned wizardry in, and it’s enough to make one a little jealous. I’ve had many talks with the chancellor and—according to him—there was a time when wizards had to draw their power from demons, elementals and otherworldly things: there just wasn’t enough free mana in the world at the time to power spells and devices, as well as to start occurring in mortals.”
Alex winced. “That must have been a grim world. No wonder the people need the gods so much, if you think about it. If you look at The Ravener in my homeland, how were regular folk supposed to fight it and its monsters without magic or The Heroes? The people couldn’t fight it themselves, so no wonder Uldar had to do it for them.”
“Ah, that is true. Many say that the gods became so relied upon by mortals because there simply was little alternative for protection and power at one time. Now? Who knows. Generasi has already cast them off, and perhaps more of the world will follow.” She sighed. “Very few of us will live long enough to see what untold generations will experience, so we can only imagine.”
“Well, I’m just happy to be here,” he said honestly. “You know, when I got into university, I was thinking only about spells, but there’s so much more to wizardry. It’s incredible.”
“Ah yes, and that brings us back to the mana manipulation. The box…is not ‘fun’ for most people, Alex.” They reached the bottom of the stairwell and stepped into the basement of The Cells. This, oddly enough, was one of the brighter places in The Cells. Offices lay on either side of the hallway and they were well-lit.
“The box is one of the most notorious tasks of mana manipulation. That’s why Val’Rok decided to put it at the beginning of the course: it helps determine who has the aptitude for it…and you, apparently do.”
“Is that what you were talking about?”
“That and him telling me about how you might Challenge the Exam for Credit…just to let you know, I have neverallowed that in POTI-1000. As you can see, from today’s events, it’s important or even crucial for students to go through the entire course. The risks are too great otherwise in a subject like this.”
“Yeah, I meant to ask you about that,” he scratched his head. Toward the end of the hall, was an illuminated door with a sign that read: ‘emergency office’. “Does what happened today really happen so often?”
“Oh yes,” she said emphatically. “No matter how much caution I take or how much I emphasize it, there are always students that come into the course not taking it seriously or respecting the potential for serious harm. Someone thinks it’d be interesting to drink a potion too early, or someone thinks they’re more brilliant than decades of research and decides to stealthily substitute an ingredient, or someone is too zealous with pouring their mana into a potion because they think: ‘more must mean better’. Some students think because they drink enormous amounts of spirits that they’ll tolerate untested potions the same way.” She shook her head and sighed. “Even more common are the students who take the class because they wish to impress someone or because alchemy work is very lucrative, meanwhile, they feel they can get through with the absolute minimum of effort. There’s always something.”
She sighed again, then glanced over to him. “I’ll be blunt: when you came to me before the semester started, asking to start your own projects, I thought you’d be one of the first people the emergency team would be taking out on a forcedisk…but you’ve shown surprising restraint, and you knew your way around the emergency kit well.”
“Hey, I’m not going to not learn about what might save my life, and heck, the lives of my classmates while we’re learning something so dangerous. It was one of the first things I studied,” he said emphatically.
“I see…you really enjoy alchemy work, don’t you? Val’Rok told me of your ambition to apply to Shale’s Workshop, when there’s an opening. That’s a difficult thing, especially for a first year. Toraka Shale is a very particular taskmaster.”
Alex winced. Val’Rok had said something almost identical. It made sense, though. Unless he really underestimated how much most jobs paid in the city, he’d be surprised if many others didn’t also apply for the position. Of course, it seemed that mana manipulation and alchemy were less common skills for most wizards to develop, but there were plenty of students here at Generasi who would likely qualify if they chose to apply. Probably more qualified than him.
“Well,” he said. “I still want to try, professor. Just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying, if the goal is right.”
She gave him a long look. “I see. Well, I might be able to help you. About that offer: I have been taking on a personal project with some of my graduate students. We could use some extra hands. At least, temporarily.”
Alex’s heart jumped. “Really?”
“Mind you, you’ll basically be an assistant’s assistant. You’ll be helping my assistants, observing their work, making sure we have the tools we need at the correct times and learning what you can. It won’t be glorious, but it can help give you experience. If you do well, then I might consider writing you a letter of reference.”
“Yes!” He grinned. “I’ll make sure you don’t regret it.”
She chuckled. “I warn you, it’ll add extra burden onto your current course load.”
“It’s alright, I’d be a fool not to step up for that kind of opportunity.”
Somehow, he was able to keep a straight face at what he’d said.
Then an odd thought occurred to him. A slight rise of bitterness in his belly, mixed with his gratitude. Since he’d gotten to Generasi, he’d made friends, and two professors were offering to help him get the job he was seeking. Baelin had singled out his performance twice as well.
He frowned. Back in Alric, he’d had the love of the Lu family and he’d had friends…but never the sheer amount of support he was receiving now. McHarris had been a bully and he’d just had to deal with it. He’d looked around for other work, but no one paid as well as McHarris for his limited skills, while importantly, not needing him enough so that he could still attend school.
When he’d needed help—a lot more than he needed it now, if he was honest—help had only come from close by. The Lu family, mostly. Now, professionals seemed to be lining up to help grow his already growing skill.
“Hm? Something wrong with the offer?” Professor Jules suddenly asked.
“Oh? What no, no!” He shook himself out of his thoughts. “That’s not it all, by Uldar, I’d have to be crazy to not like the offer. It’s just…maybe this is not the right thing to say, professor, but it’s a little overwhelming. I had to work really hard teaching myself magic back in my hometown.” He chuckled darkly. “I nearly got myself killed a few times. Yet, when I come here, I do well in some of my classes and I’ve just been getting so much help.”
“Ah.” She nodded knowingly. “When you were struggling, no one came along to sweep you away to a better life, yet when you have gotten here on your own and now that you’re excelling-” she chuckled. “-we professors just seem to be lining up to give you help and opportunities, is that it?”
Alex startled. “Are you reading my mind or something, professor?”
She laughed again, and her voice sounded many years younger. “No, that’s quite illegal in Generasi, thankfully. Well, except for special circumstances. Not the point, though. It’s just that you’re touching on something I used to think about myself at your age. It was hard work, working with potions, and I was good at it, but I needed to put in dozens of extra hours of study and practice. I think I aged out of my twenties before I’d even turned nineteen. I had tutoring for extra help and took advantage of my professor’s office hours, but I had to initiate all of it on my own.”
She looked wistful, and he wondered what scene from long ago she might have been thinking of. “Then one day it all just clicked for me. I was excellent at it. I shone above my peers, if I do say so myself. Suddenly, my professors were paying attention to me. Extra help. Extra care. Extra opportunities. I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it weren’t for what they did for me then.”
She paused. “…it’s the nature of life where people support those that already have talent or the potential for success. The beggar suffering from leprosy on the street is shunned, while the mighty, conquering hero is lifted up on the shoulders of the cheering populace. A struggling student has to work themselves to the bone just to avoid failing, while the student who stands out gets suggested for research opportunities or new grants. That is why we have programs for students who struggle at Generasi, to make sure all get the help they need. In the end, people like to see others shine, and people only have so much time and resources. There are only so many opportunities, and I only have so many hours in a day to dedicate to student well-being.”
She glanced up to the ceiling. “What if the student I spent hour upon hour helping, one day decides to drink quicksilver for a stupid dare and ends up being expelled or killed? What if the student I invite into my lab ends up being irresponsible and gets themselves kicked out for cheating on an exam a month later? There’s a reason people gravitate toward those that have talent and reliability, Mr. Roth. I’d just be thankful that others can see your innate abilities and the time you’ve put in.”
“Yeah, thanks, professor.”
That made him feel a little better.
Alex thought about Lucia. He wondered how much help she’d gotten in her last days at Generasi, and even after. In the end, he supposed he should just be thankful he was getting extra help now: working to stand out was paying off.
Maybe, when he was a second year, he could take up tutoring and give some help to new first year students who were struggling. As long as they weren’t like Derek or Minervus, of course.
“-it is important to remember that force is not indestructible. While it does not have obvious counters like the elemental forces, force spells can be countered and blocked by other force magic. It can be torn apart, and since it is so pure, it is more easily dispelled than many other forms of magic. Force is mighty and versatile, but I encourage you to learn other forms of magic as well.”
Professor Ram closed the textbook with a decidedly hard ‘snap’. The hand that held the book was not made of flesh. Something had taken his right arm at some point, and it had been replaced by a limb of magical force that connected to his shoulder.
Magical force spells tended to glow different colours depending on their caster, the Professor’s was a deep, dead black—darker even than his well-sculpted beard.
He looked through the class, but everyone—even Alex—didn’t have one to ask. Professor Ram never discouraged questions, but there was something intimidating about the man’s every movement.
“Excellent,” he said, raising his hand. “Today we’re going to do something a little different. You’ll have about one free hour for practice. But, before you start…”
His eyes seemed to spark. “I want you to hang onto your desks.”
The students glanced at each other and then quickly gripped the sides of their desks.
The professor clenched the hand of his force-constructed arm into a fist.
Alex gasped as his weight suddenly pressed into his seat. His stomach flipped, as his desk and chair unexpectedly soared into the air through the auditorium. Throughout the room the sounds of gasping, yelping and giggling filled the air.
The desks moved apart from each other, giving each student at least ten feet of open space around them.
Professor Ram smiled, snapping the fingers of both hands.
The desks and tables immediately froze, perfectly stable in mid-air.
“Pretty fantastic isn’t it?” he asked. “Force is not only about the creation of magical constructs: it is also the bending of the very physical forces of nature, such as gravity, or the repulsion and attraction between objects. You’ll find that you’re not able to pry yourselves from your seats, even if you use a pry bar. No danger of falling. Not while I have control.”
He watched them carefully. “And I always do. By the end of the year and the end of Part II of this course, you’ll be able to…or perhaps I should say, be expected to do the same yourselves. You’ll learn to unravel the spell on your desks and chairs, be able to cancel and recast it. For now, make good use of your hour. Remember, your forceball report is due next week, but if you feel that you are ahead, you may practice whichever spell you have received my approval to practice.” He started to turn toward his desk, then stopped. “Oh and by the way, don’t hesitate to speak up if anyone needs to use the facilities and I’ll bring you right down. We don’t want you up there squirming around like earthworms.” He laughed at that.
Alex and the rest of the class looked at each other and began wiggling their bodies to see if they could get out of their seats. They quickly found that they couldn’t and settled down to work.
His desk and attached chair had floated near a window, offering him an awesome view of the campus from high above. He smiled, watching the students below and idly wondering if any of his friends were down there. Khalik should have been getting out of class shortly, if he remembered his schedule right.
He took a deep breath to focus up, and then turned his attention to force magic. Once class was over, then he could think about meeting up for some food.
Alex stretched his fingers, then took a deep, meditative breath to bring his mind into focus. First, it would be time for warm ups.