A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hey guys! Welcome to a new week! I'm going to keep things quick because I keep getting errors when I'm loading royal road.

Two more chapters until the end of book 1! Don't worry, book 2 continues immediately.

Let's go!

“You know what?” Thundar grunted. “This is getting easier.”

He flipped through his notebooks—filled with notes and reminders in his own handwriting and that of his entire cabal—and grinned.

“A lot of this stuff gets a lot quicker to get into the ol’ skull when I’ve got you super geniuses helping me out.” He chuckled.

Isolde sighed, giving him a look from across Khalik’s table. A veritable ocean of paper, notebooks and pens filled her side of the table. “Thundar, of course it’s easy for you to understand once you apply yourself. You act the role of the brute, but you successfully gained admittance to the greatest institution of wizardry in the world. You have a magnificent mind.”

“O-oh thanks,” Thundar coughed, clearly surprised. “I uh…yeah, thanks Isolde.”

“A magnificent mind that spends the majority of its energy thinking about lechery, imbibing and smashing things.” She shook her head.

“Hey!” he said, half-rising from his chair. “You’re right. I may not like it...but you're right. Actually forget the ‘don’t like it’ part. I’m having fun before I get old and gotta lock myself in a tower to think about how stars are made or some shit. I ain’t gonna apologize for that.”

“When one plays hard, one works better,” Khalik agreed while concentrating on a spell. Hovering between his palms was a stone that changed its composition in waves. One moment its form would ripple to the right and become dull grey. Then, it would ripple to the left and turn a bright white. Then it would turn red.

He was concentrating on controlling the speed and direction of the transformation.

“Ugh, well I haven’t gotten time to play in a while,” Thundar continued. “Not since those critters ruined your cousin’s party. But-” He gave Alex a sly look. “I guess you’ve been playing a lot lately, haven’t you?”

“Hm?” Alex was deep in thought, concentrating on the force construct he was shifting with mana manipulation. One of the final aspects of force magic that Ram had taught his class was one of the ultimate realizations of direction and redirection.

Generalized Force Construct was a weak spell, so Alex was surprised that Ram would have chosen it to be the very first second-tier spell he taught them at the end of their first year. He would have expected something more complex. It was slower than forceball. Weaker than Wizard’s Hand. Less practical than force shield.

But, it made up for those weaknesses with versatility.

Its spell array was constructed in such a way that a wizard could shift the shape of the force construct conjured by the spell, even after they’d finished casting it. This was done by using their knowledge of how force magic was directed, combined with their skill in mana manipulation—though the former was more important than the latter—to shift its shape.

Generalized force construct was small, and had the strength of a water bubble, but Alex had found an endless fascination with concentrating and shifting it from form to form. Shifting the direction of the way the force magic flowed, turned it into a sphere. Another shift changed it to something that looked like a five-pointed star. Then a tiny pyramid. Then a cylinder.

It was fascinating.

“Were you talking to me, Thundar?” he asked.

“Yeah, I was saying you’re having fun lately. You and Miss Theresa-the-monster-slayer,” he grinned, his eyes brimming with malice. “Eh? Eh? A lot of ‘fun’. No doubt.”

Alex gave him a serene look, as though he were some wise sage. “It is true, we are having ‘fun’, for what is life but an endless series of discoveries and adventur-”

“Your Baelin impression sucks.”

“And you’re gonna have to try harder if you’re going to embarrass me.” He jerked a finger toward his shoulder. “I literally have a glowing jester’s face stamped on my shoulder, and I’m dating a woman who is basically a war goddess. I’m not a blushing twelve year old, this is an absolute win, and I wanna shout to everyone from every rooftop how awesome my life is.”

“Pfeh,” Thundar grunted. “Worth a shot. You brainy types tend to get flustered about that kind of thing.”

“You mean, like you?”

“I-” The minotaur froze, and Alex wondered if he was remembering how he had acted when a certain foxy lady had visited him in the infirmary. “One day, I’m gonna toss you off a cliff.”


Thundar shook his head, then glanced at Khalik. “Right, speaking of falling off cliffs. Where’ve you been on the weekends lately, man? You’ve been a ghost the last couple.”

A great smile grew behind Khalik’s beard. “I’ve been visiting the dryad forest recently, actually.”

The room fell silent.

Thundar slammed his book.

Alex threw away his force spell.

Even Isolde was looking up with interest. “And what, do tell, takes you to the dryads’ wood?”

“Well.” Khalik’s grin was absolutely kingly. “A certain dryad requested that the patrizia send a message to me requesting that I drop by should I be in the area. I somehow found myself in the area.”

Alex’s eyes widened. “Sinope? The dryad you danced with?”

“The very same.” Khalik's smile grew wider. “Life…grows interesting for many of us.”

Isolde snorted. “Truly. Alex comes to university and begins a relationship with his oldest friend. Khalik begins to see a mystical dryad from the forest. Who do I meet? Bloody Derek.” She shook her head. “Ah well, at least I have my cabal to see me through my remaining time here: the best anyone could ask for.”

The room went quiet again.

“Wait…” Alex paused. “What about waiting until the end of the year and deciding if it was a good fit?”

Isolde blinked. “Ah yes…we had agreed to something like that, hadn’t we? I had forgotten. Well, I’ll say what I think now: I would have had to have repeatedly hit my head to want to do anything other than continue our association. Opportunities have opened thanks to this partnership, we have aided each other scholastically and saved each other in battle. I think we have proven beyond doubt that we would do well to continue our association.”

“Yeeeesss!” Thundar leapt up. “And with me as your fearless leader-”

“We will be immediately ruined,” Isolde said.

“Yes,” Khalik agreed.

Alex nodded vigorously.

“And this is how you treat someone recovering from mana vampire wounds,” Thundar said mournfully.

“You recovered weeks ago,” Isolde pointed out.

“Details, details,” Thundar chuckled, then grew more serious. “Alright, enough joking around. I’m…real happy that we’re sticking with each other. We’re gonna be great together, I just know it. You’re my cabal. And my friends. And…my last two battles by your sides haven’t exactly been my best moments. One day, though, I’ll prove that I belong with all of you.”

“You already have,” Khalik said, clapping Thundar on his arm. “Many, many times, my friend.”

“Well, I’ll do it again. Thundar, Son of Gulbiff doesn’t get sideswiped twice and then lies down, thinking ‘yeah, this is alright.’ Next time, I’m gonna stand out hard, mark my words.”

Alex smiled warmly. “You already do, man. And the rest of us too. In like a few months, you’re just about as close to me as friends from back home that I’ve known for years. I’m thankful as hell that I met all of you.”

A wave went through the room: a quiet warmth. Isolde blushed and Khalik cleared his throat. “I as well have found fine companions in all of you…” He paused, looked at Alex, then sat up straighter. “…which is why I should tell you something, Isolde and Thundar.”

Alex sat back as Khalik confessed his royal lineage to his cabal members. At last, the final secret—that Alex knew of, at least—was laid bare between them.

Isolde took the news with shock, and quickly asked what proper terms of address were required in Khalik’s homeland of Tekezash, despite the prince waving off all attempts at formality.

Thundar jokingly asked to borrow five hundred gold coins, but his humour vanished when Khalik simply smiled and said: “Is that all? I had thought you were bolder.”

With the reaffirmation of their cabal and the last secret revealed, Alex felt something…close. Almost like a key, sliding into a lock.

Their bond was complete.

Life was good.

Alex took on finals with the same fervour he always did around test time.

…well, almost.

There was a nervousness that had followed him through most exam periods in the past, despite the fact that he would work hard to try to ace them. There had always seemed to be a lot at stake on every exam he’d ever taken.

When he was younger, he used to be nervous because of how much emphasis his parents had put on him getting good marks. When he began to realize that he wanted to attend the University of Generasi, he worked hard to make sure that all of his teachers would be good references for him with the wandering recruiters from Generasi.

When he’d gotten to Generasi, and started first year, there was the need to do as well as he could to gain the respect and trust of both Professor Val’Rok and Professor Jules. Without their help he would’ve never gotten the job at Shale’s, or access to the lab where he’d performed the analysis on the dungeon core’s remains.

In the last few months, he’d built a golem, helped make an exciting discovery that could change wizardry, and had nearly been killed twice. Suddenly, exams—rather than being a future-defining test of his skills—seemed almost like a relaxing return to a low-stakes routine.

In the end, that was the way he’d walked into them: with enthusiasm and preparation, but also almost with a feeling of relief.

Luckily, there were no surprise horrors in any of his exams.

Magic Lore II’s exam was made up of a series of essay questions that were almost pure memorization. There were some questions that required the application of magical history and general magical theory, but Alex had enough background to get through those questions easily enough.

He didn’t even need to use The Mark for questions that involved pure memorization.

Val’Rok’s was a little trickier.

He and Isolde had a bit of an ongoing rivalry going into the Mana Manipulation final, though it was a strange, contradictory one. Rather than cutting each other off and hoarding their knowledge, they’d pushed each other throughout the entire time they were studying to bring out the highest potential in one another.

Isolde likened it to a knight ‘tossing a proper weapon to their enemy’. To Alex, he was pretty sure that if he were a knight and some enemy was trying to kill him, then he’d make sure they were as unarmed as possible. And tied up. And maybe asleep.

But in the case of their exams, bringing out the absolute best in each other when facing down the test questions, was like defeating the enemy together.

Val’Rok’s written and practical tests were definitely diabolical, but to a pair as hard-working and talented as he and Isolde, they weren’t diabolical enough to beat them.

Jules actually had Alex write two exams.

The first was the regular class exam for The Alchemy of Potions II, which he could have aced with his eyes closed. From the expression on the faces of other students leaving the room though, it didn’t seem like it was easy for most. The second exam was made up specifically for him to test the knowledge he’d gained during the labs supervised by Amir.

If he’d been inclined toward paranoia, he might’ve believed Jules had been trying to get revenge on him for not bringing her the dungeon core substance first. The exam had been brutal, fair, but brutal, so he couldn’t say one way or another if she’d made it that tough on purpose. He told himself that he was imagining a revenge plot.

He must have been.

Even Ram’s exam wasn’t a disaster. Interestingly enough, the higher concepts about the redirection of force and the application of it—as opposed to simply trying to learn as many spells as possible—far more suited Alex and The Mark than the ‘easier’ first semester. He still lost marks in the speed department, but more than made up for that by demonstrating how he applied what he’d learned during the Cleansing Movements to force magic.

He’d actually felt a lot better walking out of that exam than he had any of the others he’d ever done for force magic.

That only left Baelin’s exam, which was the only one that was making him more than a little nervous.

The written exam would be something he was more than ready for, but—knowing Baelin—the practical final would be far more…

…well far more likely to see Baelin throw them at the biggest, nastiest monster that he thought they could handle and tell them to have at it.

Yet, as Alex entered the classroom for the final practical lesson of the year, he was caught off guard by what the chancellor announced:

“We will not be holding our practical final exam until slightly after the semester is over,” he said from the front of his class. “I have located what I wish for you to combat, but the practical final will only be held two weeks after the end of all other exams.” He looked over the class with pride. “This fight will test all of your mettle. Your resources. Your planning. And your organization. It will be a dangerous opponent, and one that you would do well to prepare for after you no longer have to focus on other exams. But, if you overcome it, then you will be ready for an entirely different class of opponent. You will be broken up into groups of four students and their entourages and each group will face-”

He waved his hand, conjuring an illusion.

A writhing creature appeared in the air.

“-a Dune Worm.”

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

God, it's fun to see how far these lil' fools have gone. :)

Alrighty, I'll see you tomorrow!

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