“Congratulations, to each and every one of you.” Baelin clapped his large hands together. “You have all passed the final exam and thus passed The Art of the Wizard in Combat II. And so thus ends your first year in my course. But, this is not truly an ending. This.” He pointed to the sky. “This is a beginning. The Proper Wizard—girded against the dangers of the cosmos—has as little to fear from the dark between the stars or the hordes of the abyss, as they do from worms in their own garden.”
The students of The Art of the Wizard in Combat II—who would only be students of that class for a little longer—looked at each other with a mix of tiredness, excitement and pride.
The trio consisting of Shiani, Rhea, and Malcolm had elected to work together along with Malcolm’s companion, Eyvinder. From the pleased looks they were wearing, it appeared that they had fared very well against the worm.
Caramiyus, Angelar, Rayne and Nua-Oge’s group—complete with the giant shark beastman, Grimloch—looked like they’d also done well; there was relief in their demeanour at Baelin’s announcement, as well as elation from their victory.
“So, for the last time…for this course, at least,” Baelin said. “Let us debrief: what went right? What went wrong? And—most importantly—what do you think has changed between when you first started this course, and now?”
The groups of students and their entourages huddled together, whispering to each other.
After a moment, Rayne raised his hand, to Alex’s surprise.
The gangly young man sat far taller in his seat than he used to. “A lot went right, Baelin,” he said. “I cast flight magic on everyone; I have enough mana now to make sure we could all keep flying, but we had to adjust our altitude because of the monster’s range. At first we had some trouble, but Nua-Oge knew this one spell: ‘Death Charge’.”
“Depth Charge,” she corrected him. “It’s made for water, but it can phase into most surfaces and send a shockwave through whatever it goes into, but its range decreases when it’s used on a harder surface.”
“Well, it worked,” Caramiyus said. “She dropped a few into the earth and that made the worm surface. Then Angelar and I were there waiting with beams to blast it in the mouth as it came up. And then Grimloch…” he shuddered.
“I cracked its shell like a crab.” The sharkman grinned, with worm-blood still coating his lips. “Then got into the gooey insides.”
Baelin gave a booming laugh at this. “Ah, taking your meal as you're fighting. You have style, my young friend. And then?”
“Part of our plan was to make it bleed while we kept blasting it,” Nua-Oge said. “The wound Grimloch gave it was ragged and deep: so all we had to do was to keep it from burrowing again, tire it out, and make it bleed out. We didn’t stop until it was done.”
“Honestly, Baelin.” Rayne shook his head. “It couldn’t have been more different than how it was in the beginning. When me and Miner-” He paused, wincing as he spoke of the dead student. “-we lost a lot of people during that first class. Especially my group.”
“Indeed, Rayne, you have shown some of the farthest growth of any student in this class.” Baelin gave him a grandfatherly smile. “And I am most proud to have taught you thus far. Nua-Oge, Caramiyus, Angelar, from my observations you are far more coordinated than you once were. And all of you paced yourselves when it came to your mana, allowing your versatility and experience to win you the day. Well done.”
Next, Rhea raised her hand. “We decided the best way to beat it would be to make it uncomfortable. Shiani and I specialize in fire spells, but we knew we would struggle against its resistance to fire. So, we decided to combine our spells of sharpened obsidian to pierce the creature’s outer covering. The two of us conjured a big spike and then Eyvinder and Malcolm brought the worm out of the ground.”
“Since the creature is so used to fire and lives in The Barrens,” Malcolm jumped in. “We thought it probably wouldn’t like the cold: and our research showed us that they burrow below the earth to keep warm when night falls. So I cast Permafrost: it spread cold energy through the ground, which made where it was hiding really cold, and that drove it out of the ground. Eyvinder used his own earth magic to counter the worm’s, so it had to come out undefended.”
“Then we speared it like a fish,” Shiani said. “From there, once it was above ground, Malcolm kept using ice spells, Eyvinder countered its earth magic, while Rhea and I conjured more spears. Those eventually finished it off. Our entire plan worked out the way we wanted it to.”
“Excellent work,” Baelin said. “When your group first started this course, you were by far the most well-equipped: you were all in your second year and all geared toward battle magic. You struggled with versatility, however, and exhausted your mana too quickly by relying on large, powerful spells. And now look. You used a versatile series of magics—including Eyvinder’s innate earth magic outside of the art of wizardry—and were able to outlast an opponent with a greater reserve of mana than yourselves. Well done. If you choose to go into military wizardry, then I am sure any number of imperial recruiters will be fighting for you.”
At last Alex raised his hand, and Baelin nodded to him.
“So uh, when we first started, we either didn’t know each other very well, or didn’t know each other at all,” the young wizard said. “We worked well together because these guys are awesome, but we were only getting to know each other. Now, we function like a well-oiled wagon: as one. We have more power. More versatility and a lot of our strengths came from things we did outside of class. I don’t think we would’ve had as easy a time if Theresa wasn’t so good at life enforcement, or if Svenia and Hogarth hadn’t kept up their training. Claygon was a big power factor too, and all of us have gotten stronger and more knowledgeable. My potions helped a lot, Thundar’s spells are more powerful and versatile, Isolde’s basically become a storm goddess, and Khalik has really gotten fast with spell casting. And all of that came together to bring us to where we are now.”
Baelin nodded. “Indeed. Your coordination is notable: one can see how bonds have forged outside of merely being classmates and how that can aid significantly when applied to the battlefield. You also avoided a particular trap that can fall upon those who take to the battlefield with romantic partners. Sometimes, tactics fall away in favour of affection: the need to protect loved ones or cherished friends. Such things can be…”
The chancellor paused. “…useful on the battlefield: one needs only see a mother bear defend her cubs once to know how effective fighting to protect a bond can be. But, at times, it can blunt tactics in favour of coddling one’s loved ones.” He rose to his full height and looked over the class. “Love can bloom on the battlefield, yes, and it can be maintained during times of danger…but a battle is not a romantic sky-gondola ride: if a loved one cannot defend themselves, they should not be on the battlefield.”
“And what is to be done if they end up caught in a battle because of an ambush?” Khalik asked.
“Then your priority is to ensure that they are quickly positioned away from enemies...I stress the importance of speed in this, because the enemy is not going to conveniently wait for this to be done...and once that is established, to focus on eliminating threats. Having your focus drift entirely to a noncombatant will give your enemies the openings they need to strike you down. Then your loved one shall follow soon after...or be captured.”
“Well, Alex doesn’t need me to protect him. Not anymore,” Theresa said lightly, causing a few chuckles among the class.
“Yeah, that’s Claygon’s job now,” Alex added.
Now Baelin burst out laughing. “Indeed, in any case, I’m sure the last thing you wanted to hear was an old man prattle on about the tactical flaws and benefits of friendship and love…although, before I move away from the topic, do note that such bonds have been utilized in military capacities in the past. There was a city-state that use to create units entirely composed of pairs of lovers. Such a thing—when proper discipline was applied—contributed heavily to the morale of a unit and brought out courage. Do not discount the bonds of friendship or romance, tempered with skill.”
He looked over all of them. “If you are ambushed by enemies that are bound together merely by the promise of payment, then a few loud and very messy combat spells will likely shatter their nerve and send them seeking easier jobs. If you are beset by foes that are grouped together by bonds of friendship or romance, though, you had best ensure that they are all eliminated. For the survivors? They shall not rest until you or they are dead. …and on that cheery note: congratulations you have all finished The Art of the Wizard in Combat II. And to commemorate this occasion…”
Baelin snapped his fingers and several amulet halves appeared in the air before him. “I present to you the second half of your charm-pendants, each bearing my symbol. Although their meaning is not quite what it once was—for you are not my apprentices—know that they will denote that we have an association. I am proud of you all, and I implore you to take The Intermediate Art of the Wizard in Combat in your next year. In it, we will continue your training directly and expand the scope of opponents you shall face.”
The class fell quiet as the charm-pendants floated up from their around necks, and the other halves drifted over.
With a small flash of light, each pendant joined with the other half, and became a whole. Everyone, as if by instinct, reached for their pendant and clasped it tightly in their hand.
Alex felt a chill go through him.
It felt like the charm-pendant symbolized a next step in his life. He looked up at Baelin and found the chancellor’s eyes already on him.
They exchanged a silent nod.
“I will be speaking with your king at the end of the month, Alex,” Baelin said to him. Class had ended, but the chancellor had asked Alex to stay behind for a few minutes to discuss ‘a matter’.
“Already?” Alex blinked.
“‘Already’, he says,” the chancellor scoffed. “Truthfully, it is later than I would have liked. An expedition of this sort will take months of planning, then setting up, surveying, staffing and supplying before it can be executed. I would have liked to have met with him weeks ago. But, that was not possible.”
“Really? Months?” Alex asked.
“Oh yes. And we cannot do the majority of the preparations until we have confirmation that this is—in fact—going to occur. You should get yourself involved in those preparations: you will learn much along the way.” He paused. “Likely the very earliest we can even begin the expedition will be in the mid-autumn.”
“Oh, I will get involved,” Alex said enthusiastically. “So what should I do in the meantime?”
Baelin blinked at him in surprise. “You’re a student at Generasi, are you not? Be a student and do student things for a bit. Hopefully, without too many mana vampire attacks.”
“Oh yeeeeah,” Alex said as though he’d forgotten he was a student. “I guess I’ll just…start selecting my summer courses, then, and my fall ones?”
“That would be the way.”
Alex sighed. “That’s…I was kinda hoping we’d get to go and do this earlier. Between finding that note in The Traveller’s language and the expedition, I’m dying to get going on this stuff.”
“Hm, indeed. It can be tempting to sprint when one sees knowledge and discovery just ahead. But remember what I said: this is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Things are not ready at this moment—unless you wish to climb on a ship and race to Thameland on your own—so focus on what you can do for yourself and your family at this moment.”
Baelin sighed, looking over The Barrens. “Whether they be good or bad, understand this, Alex: these years of your life only come once.”
“What do you mean?” Alex asked.
“Your university years.”
“Oh, really?” He thought about the older students he’d seen on campus. “I thought you could attend Generasi at any age, do graduate studies, or even come back and take courses?”
“All true, all true. But these years where you have come to this place of learning while young, full of curiosity, unjaded, and unsullied by the rigours of time? That is an experience that comes but once. And I do mean that, Alex. You are only ever young once. Just. Once. Even if you find your own way to reverse the physical aging process or obtain eternal youth, you will be a grown man, an elder or an ancient wearing the body of your youth. You might have the strength and energy of youth—and that is not to be discounted—but you will be in a far different place in your life. And you cannot ever become young and inexperienced again. That is not to say that being young is the greatest thing in the world. You might enjoy it. You might hate it and wish that maturity and years would come faster. But in either case, you will only ever experience this time in your life once.”
He looked at Alex seriously. “So take it from someone so far beyond their ‘youth’ that it might as well have never happened. Live it out. Experience it. What will come later, will come later, regardless of your patience or lack thereof.”
He’d heard such speeches before from elders in his village and from his teachers. Some had even told him that his years in the church school would be: “the best years of your life”.
At the time, he could think of nothing worse or more false.
Much of his adolescence could really be summed up as grieving the loss of his parents, making sure his sister was okay, working with the abusive baker, McHarris, and studying all the time. When times had gotten hard, one thing that had kept him going was the idea that a brighter future could lay ahead in Generasi. If those harder years had been the best years of his life, then…well, life would be pretty grim.
But the words from Baelin hit him a bit differently.
The ancient wizard hadn’t referred to the years of his youth as some magical positive time, he had merely said that they were unique.
And that was true.
He might as well experience what he could before it came time to return to the dangers of Thameland again, or experience whatever horrors that might be awaiting when he looked into the language of The Traveller in the Irtyshenan Empire.
Selina needed guidance and to have things set up so she could begin her first lessons in wizardry in the next school year.
Besides, he could enjoy some of his life while still preparing for those future challenges if he picked some proper courses for the summer and fall.
And he had a good idea what courses would help him.