Alex was having a pretty damn good day.
He was laying on his back beneath the almost always sunny Generasi sky with a bed of soft grass cushioning him. Above him, an experiment with spellcraft was bearing fruit.
He watched as his crimson glowing force shield turned and pivoted by will and mana manipulation. One thought sent it spinning in circles like the xyrthak had after inhaling his potion. Another flipped it like a coin until it turned to face him.
He examined his modified spell array and magic circuit. Another thought would lock the shield into any position that he desired. It was a great success.
With a kip up to his feet, Alex stretched before falling into the flow of the Cleansing Movements. He brought the mana shield in, twisting and turning it around him, filling gaps in his defences and warding off imaginary opponents.
He concentrated—using his meditative techniques to get through The Mark’s interference—and conjured first one Wizard’s Hand, then another. He brought the Hands into his movements, letting each match the position of his own hands, then swooping them around to cover more gaps in his defences.
Alex imagined himself sweeping and deflecting opponents’ blows with a careful twist of a shield, push of a hand, or sweep of an arm. He added to his practice, combining some of the motions from the Cleansing Movements with stances and positions from the Spear-and-Oar Dance.
This fusion was something he’d recently started to experiment with for an upcoming event.
Shortly after he and his classmates had defeated the xyrthak, letters had arrived from Patrizia DePaolo, inviting his cousin, Isolde, Alex, Theresa, Selina, Thundar and Khalik to his spring ball. There was even a cute little side note in Theresa’s letter inviting Brutus as a welcome playmate for his hounds.
As soon as the invitation had arrived, Alex had decided he should expand his range of dances by getting Khalik, Isolde and Thundar to teach him some of the dances they knew. As he used The Mark to help him learn their moves, he noticed that—increasingly—he received images of movements from the Spear and Oar dance to augment the new steps and turns.
That clued him into something.
There was room for crossover.
He’d then tried modifying the Spear-and-Oar dance by bringing some of the Cleansing Movements into its positions, and found—to his satisfaction—that The Mark quickly helped him with creating the modifications.
It was the start to not only mastering multiple dances, but also creating something that was uniquely his own. It was almost as much fun as experimenting with cooking recipes, potions, and modifications to his spell arrays.
Alex turned quickly then coiled his muscles and flipped in the air, landing on one hand and balancing.
The Mark helped correct the positioning of his body to keep it supported upside down on a single palm, and then he began to walk around—still upside down—on both hands. Passersby looked on, chuckling at his circus-like antics, but their laughter then turned into claps of appreciation as he flipped and cartwheeled back onto his feet.
He gave them a crooked smile and a comically exaggerated bow, using his Wizard’s Hands to copy where his own hands would be positioned while bowing.
He then took a deep breath, flexing his muscles.
Alex’s strength had continued to grow, astonishing himself, at least. Following Khalik’s advice about balancing his meals had benefited him with plenty of energy, as well as muscle gains over most of his body. He felt energetic and powerful most of the time; he would even start to get edgy if he had to sit still for too long.
His body seemed to prefer moving and using the energy coursing through it, so he’d started advancing the way he trained in the gymnasium. Their aerial moves while they fought the xyrthak had given him a feel for maneuvering in the air, but since he couldn’t constantly brew Potions of Flight to use to practice in the air—not yet, at least—he could up his training on an obstacle course on the ground.
Acrobatics were the next step.
He’d begun to combine running, climbing and swinging from ropes with increasing agility, and leaping from rope, to wall anchor, and back. Khalik had chuckled, and asked him if he’d decided to join the circus, to which Alex had replied: “Hey, if I get kicked out of Generasi, I’ve got to have some kind of back up plan, don’t I?”
Still, he’d also kept himself disciplined when it came to school.
And that was bearing more fruit too.
Concentrating, he dismissed his Wizard’s Hands and began casting a spell that he’d had a lot of trouble with in Ram’s class: Protective Force Weapon.
He’d been adjusting and trying different things with it, but the fact that The Mark had two things to complain about since both spellcraft and pure weapons were involved, it hadn’t made things easy for him. He’d tried modifying a part of the spell array to create force objects that could deflect attacks but weren’t necessarily weapons, but whoever the wizard was that had first created the spell, must have been a major blade-addict.
Trying to modify it to produce other force constructs had been maddeningly difficult.
At first he’d tried daggers, but The Mark still aggressively resisted the spell compared to more utility based magic, or magic that didn’t involve weapons. It was better, but not great.
Next, he’d tried customizing it to create an object that was embarrassingly familiar: mops. The idea of having spinning mops defending him was a bit…sad and ridiculous, but also tickled Alex’s sense of humour to no end.
The thought of some warrior or monster having their attacks turned aside by a bunch of crimson glowing force mops was hilarious to him, and would be infuriating to an enemy.
But, unfortunately, the spell array always fell apart when he’d tried to use mops.
He’d even gone to Baelin to talk about the problem he was having, but the goatman had only nodded in a sagely manner and said: “You are overcomplicating it. Try a more simple approach.”
He had, trying to simplify the array to make it so that there would be less places for him to make mistakes. It had worked…somewhat. Protective Force Weapon was a complex spell: it crafted multiple force constructs, set them to spin around the conjurer, then infused them with the ability to react, change position, and deflect incoming attacks.
That was a lot for a first-tier spell to do, and so any simplification he’d made, ruined something: the constructs would fall apart, or remain stationary, or wouldn’t react to incoming attacks.
A few painful welts from Khalik’s tossed rocks had definitely taught him the limitations of the spell being modified in that way.
He’d finally hit upon an idea and a possible solution, though. Alex had remembered Isolde’s modified Arc of Lightning spell. She’d used some of the modifications he’d made to his forceball to gain more control over the Arc of Lightning’s two points of connection—the orbs that the electricity fired between—to channel more mana into them.
They were simple modifications that didn’t really change the shape of the spell’s two anchor points.
He had started to realize that was what Baelin had meant: he’d been trying to change the shape into something else. What if he merely simplified the shapes?
While the spell fell apart when he’d tried to completely change the sword shape, he found that simply taking out parts that controlled the exact shape of the protective constructs would still allow similar constructs to be created…they just…well, they just looked odd.
But, odd was okay, because for his purposes, they couldn’t be considered weapons anymore.
“Go-go, Protective Force Crooked Long Rectangle!” he said cheerily as several glowing crimson rectangles—just barely of the same dimensions as swords—formed around him. They honestly looked like they’d been drawn by someone who’d never seen a real sword before, but they got the job done.
They deflected attacks but didn’t register as weapons to The Mark. Since they were defensive, as soon as they stopped being ‘weapons’, he’d had a far easier time casting the spell.
Now he was working on mastering it at the same time as he’d started the journey to learn his first second-tier spell.
Alex pulled out a spell guide from a bag that contained both his books and his lunch—separated by beeswax covered paper—and traced his hand over the design on the front: two ice-covered doors connected by the symbol of the para-elemental plane of cold.
Call Through Ice.
It was a field that was a bit of a gamble when it came to learning a new tier of spells: it was both a cold spell and a teleportation spell, neither of which he had any experience with, and the closest he did have was with the spell that conjured a stone. However, Alex had begun to notice a growing sensitivity to teleportation magic and a feeling of being strongly drawn to the very useful art, so he’d excitedly chosen Call Through Ice as his first second-tier spell.
The gamble turned out to be…one of his better ideas.
To be sure there were parts of the spell that were difficult: second-tier magic was an entire order of magnitude more complex than the first-tier spells that Alex was used to. But, there was one part of the spell that he was finding surprisingly easy, it felt almost second nature to him, even with The Mark interfering since it involved spell casting.
The section of the spell array that was responsible for forging a connection between the para-elemental plane of cold, and the material world was so easy to learn and cast, that it was almost like that part of the spell was trying to let him learn it. Even with the interference, the connection between the material world and the para-elemental plane of cold formed as though the latter was reaching out to form a connection with him.
And that section was one of the hardest parts of the spell.
If the rest of the spell proved as easy to master as it looked like it might, then he would need to look more seriously into teleportation spells and maybe spells of summoning.
Early in the semester he’d decided to stay away from the latter, because summoning could be dangerous if one didn’t know what they were doing. His experience being with Jules and her grad students when they’d summoned the shoggoth had helped him to reach that conclusion. There was also the demon at Carrie London’s rally, and lots of old stories Baelin had told him of summoners who had conjured an elemental or spirit they couldn't control and had met their end by either being drowned by the water elemental, or smashed to pulp by the earth elemental they’d conjured.
But, if he was having such an easy time with this low level teleportation effect, then it might be a sign of him having the ability to summon monsters. First and second-tier ones, like sprites, wouldn’t be all that powerful—especially compared to his golem when it was powered up—but they could be something that wouldn’t be considered direct combat, and would expand both his utility, and means of defending himself. He shook his head. Maybe he shouldn’t be getting ahead of himself with summoning, though. There was the possibility of it being something that could help him, but it was also something he should only give serious consideration to if he was in a class, or under the supervision of someone experienced, like professor Jules, or Baelin.
Having such an easy time with part of the teleportation spell was really making him want to know what was in The Traveller’s book even more. The more he felt like he had some sort of a connection with teleportation magic, the more his suspicions grew. When he’d destroyed the Dungeon Core, his mana and The Traveller’s magic had touched.
Had something happened then?
He was itching to know, but Baelin—in the time he could spare going through books in the library—had still not uncovered anything having to do with The Traveller’s language. The chancellor had even suggested that perhaps it was merely some sort of code created by The Traveller herself: a made-up language that only she could decode with no translation available.
Alex grumbled, wishing things on that front had been easier.
Then again, lately he was noticing that the harder the task, the sweeter the reward.
During the weekend, as an example that made his mouth water in anticipation, many of the group from the xyrthak hunt were going to get together and go out to a restaurant in the city—one close to campus and Alex’s workplace—to celebrate their magnificent victory.
Alex had suggested that he wanted to cook up a celebration feast for everyone, but his wealthier classmates: Isolde, Khalik and Nua-Oge, had said that if he had to cook, it wouldn’t be a real celebration for him, so they’d offered to take the entire group to a fine restaurant as a treat. Alex had asked Isolde and Khalik if paying for so many people wouldn’t be a problem, but they’d simply shrugged and basically said what good was their wealth if they couldn’t take pleasure in using it?
“Note to self: try to be born rich,” Alex muttered.
He shook away the distraction and returned to practicing Call Through Ice. The weekend would be time enough to think of all the food he was going to eat on his friends’ coin.
In the meantime, he would also continue working on the problem of powering up his golem…and having a conversation he’d been sort of avoiding.
It was time to have a candid, but gentle talk with Selina about her future. He didn’t want things to be difficult for her, but the time for making a decision about whether she wanted to start learning wizardry next semester was getting closer, and she still wasn’t saying anything about it.
He’d kept delaying it because the one time he’d tried Call Through Ice in front of her, she’d burst into tears.
There was something going on with her—and like how his friends and Baelin were supportive of him—he wanted to support her.