“It’s an army, Alex!” Selina proudly showed her newest clay sculptures to him. “An army of cool wizards and fighters and good monsters to get rid of evil monsters!”
“Well, well, and what an army it is,” he said appreciatively. “Wow, you keep getting better and better at this whole sculpting thing.”
“Yep!” Selina vibrated with excitement. “My teacher said I can be really good one day. Maybe I’ll make my own golem when I grow up, like Claygon. Except she’ll be better and cooler looking.”
“Claygon’s as cool as it gets!”
“He’s cool, but mine will be cooler!”
“That’s-Ugh, you know what, forget it,” he paused looking over her little sculptures and then back at her. “Hey, is this one of Brutus…and does he have one of those clawed monsters in his mouth?”
“Uh Huh!” she nodded, looking at the real cerberus.
Theresa’s hunting companion—and family pet—lounged on the balcony. Black furred, three-headed and the size of a pony, the cerberus would look frightening to most people. However—with two of his heads having a doze after lunch, and one drowsily looking down from the balcony, waiting for Theresa to return—he just looked like a big, old softy.
As if sensing Alex’s thought, Brutus yawned, revealing row upon row of razor-sharp teeth inside jaws that could crush bones like dried twigs.
Okay, maybe not quite a big, old softy.
‘I’m glad he and I get along better now,’ Alex thought.
Thinking about how his relationship with the three headed hound had changed made him look back at his growing sister. She was continuing her growth spurt and was now quite a bit taller and had less baby fat than just a few months ago. It was a reminder of a major event that was coming to their little household: her twelfth birthday.
“Hey, what do you want for your birthday, little goblin?” he asked.
“…for you to stop calling me little goblin.”
“You should ask for something more realistic, like a unicorn or a dragon or all the gold in the world or something.”
She glared at him, though he could see she didn’t really mean it. He did wonder exactly how long he’d be able to get away with calling her ‘little goblin’, though. Selina was getting older, just on the cusp of adolescence and—being both a teenager and having lived with a bunch of them—he knew very well how…things changed when children entered their adolescent years.
He winced: he remembered some of the awful arguments he’d had with Mr. and Mrs. Lu when he was in his early teens. Thinking about Selina going through a similar phase was making him feel more than a little dread: especially if she was learning to wield magic.
Alex shook the thought away.
‘Live in the now, like Baelin said. Worry about ‘Angry Teenage Wizard Selina’ later,’ he thought.
“But seriously, what do you want?” Alex asked. “It’s your first birthday in Generasi, and twelve is a big age! You gotta want something, right?”
She frowned. “I don’t know. …I kinda wanted my building blocks when I came here…but I don’t think I want those anymore.”
‘Oh by The Traveller, she’s growing up!’ a panicked Alex thought, screaming internally though he kept a straight face. ‘This is it!’
He shook himself.
“Do you want something else then? A new dress? Some new books? I’m not getting you a pet.”
“Aw.” She frowned. “Maybe a dagger.”
“A dagger?” he asked sharply. “Why a dagger?”
“Because…” she said slowly. “Monsters keep attacking us and…I want to help if bad monsters come after us again.”
“No no, nononono,” he said quickly. “You’re way, way, way too young to be thinking about daggers.”
“No I’m not,” she said. “My friend Zach says she was learning how to use a dagger when she was really young.”
He remembered Zach was the name of one of her friends from school. “Well, I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Selina. Knives are dangerous and…well you’re too little to fight monsters.”
“Theresa could teach me how to use it. So could Isolde, and Khalik.”
He thought back to when he was younger. His mother and father had him helping in the kitchen—using knives—when he was even younger than she was. Theresa’s family had given her her first hunting knife when she was around twelve or thirteen too.
But something just…made Alex a little uncomfortable.
Then he thought back to Baelin’s final speech after their practical exam. Defenceless loved ones had no business on the battlefield, but sometimes they ended up there. He also remembered an earlier lesson from the chancellor about children. A harsh lesson.
Children could die in this dangerous world, and things would try to kill them whether or not they could defend themselves. And wasn’t his sister about to start learning magic, much of which was much more dangerous than a knife?
He shook his head.
Maybe a weapon wasn’t the worst idea ever.
“If you want a knife—a small one, and not a dagger—I can get you a good knife,” he said slowly.
“Really?” She blinked in surprise. “Alex, you’re awesome!”
“Now before you start—rightfully—singing my praises, there’s going to be a bunch of rules,” he said. “First of all, it’s a regular knife. You can use it to whittle, carve things, cut food…but it’s not for hurting people. Also, until I know you can be safe with it, you’re not using it at all unless Theresa or I are around.”
“Got it. Tha-”
“I’m not done. We’re going to ask Theresa if she can teach you how to use it. If she says she can, then you can have it. If not, then there’s no way. Lastly, and you have to promise me this, okay?”
Her cheer had faded as she saw how serious he was. “Okay,” she said in a tiny voice.
“If a bad monster comes along, you stay with me or Theresa or Khalik or one of our friends. Or Brutus or Claygon. If you can’t, or if it’s too dangerous around us, you run away, okay?”
“No, I don’t want to run!” she said suddenly.
“No, promise, no knife.” His voice was flat and left no room for argument. “You only use the knife to defend yourself if you absolutely have to. Okay? You’re small—and you’re very brave—so if you run up to a monster with it, then you and some of us could get hurt trying to protect you.”
That drew her up short. “…never mind, I don’t want a knife.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” she said quickly, glancing out the window, in the direction where Claygon was posted in the courtyard. “It’s okay. It’d be bad if we got hurt.”
“Hmmm,” he mused. “Okay…but when you learn magic, you’ll be able to defend yourse-”
He paused, his mind finally seeming to turn on. “Okay…I’m going to get you something on your birthday too, but how about this for a belated birthday present? When you get a little farther in school with your magic training, I’ll sit down with you and teach you all kinds of cool spells that you can use to protect yourself.”
She looked up suddenly, much more excited now. “Really? That’d be sooo cool!”
“Yeah, it would be!” he said, thinking about it. They’d be spending time together while he was helping her learn more about wizardry, he could use The Mark to enhance teaching her, and he might even gain more insights into his own studies at the same time. Teaching a subject to someone often brought a new understanding of it to the teacher.
It was a definite win-win.
“But you also have to tell me-” He paused for a moment.
“What is it?” she asked suspiciously.
“Nothing.” He could barely resist grinning. “I thought of your present.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“No, come on, tell me!”
“You’d have to pry the information from my cold, dead lips,” he said.
She argued with him for a time, before finally giving up and simply glaring at him suspiciously.
He stuck his tongue out at her. “Don’t be immature, Selina,” he said, actively ignoring the irony of an eighteen year old calling someone immature while sticking their tongue out at them.
Alex chuckled as she shook her head and returned to her clay sculptures, while he turned to his books. He had to stifle another chuckle as a massive wave of deja vu spread over him.
Before him were five spell-guides: in addition to the courses he’d be taking over the shortened summer semester, he’d also borrowed five spell-guides from the library that he wanted to teach himself from. In many ways, it felt like a return to when he’d first arrived in Generasi. He even had a new notebook ready to go to record his progress with the new spells.
The only major differences—aside from the fact that the spells were more powerful and he was more skilled—were the reasons that he’d chosen the spells.
Before classes officially began for first year, he’d been mostly focused on getting a head start on learning new magics—The Mark had been even more of a hindrance back then—to practice, and to learn what his limits might be.
So he’d started with a spell that was very similar to the only one he’d known back then—forceball—and gradually built up to spells that were new to him. Now, since he had a fairly good idea of what he could overcome through The Mark’s interference, he’d mostly made his choices based on what would be useful to him that he wouldn’t be learning in his summer courses, what would prepare him for future courses, and what would be just plain fun.
He glanced at the first spell guide: force armour.
Lesser force armour protected the head, chest, trunk and groin, and had lighter protection on the arms.
Force armour, however, was far more comprehensive: the grid of force created was stronger and better able to withstand more punishment, and it covered the legs as well as the upper body. The protection on the arms was as strong as across the rest of the body as well.
It was an excellent way to generate additional protection.
Next was a first-tier spell: body strengthening.
This was actually one of the spells that Thundar knew when he’d first started at Generasi, and Alex planned on getting help from his friend as well as learning what he could on his own from the spell guide. There was one thing that he’d learned from all of his fights: the physical body couldn’t be neglected.
Early on, when he would think about being a wizard, he used to picture them as lean and powerful—and mostly old—folk who just turned everyone into whatever they wanted to turn them into. But experiencing actual combat had made him see how much his physical training mattered. His stamina had kept him going in fights that would have exhausted him when he was skinny and out of condition, his strength had allowed him to handle opponents when his spells wouldn’t, and his agility had let him maneuver on the battlefield.
His Sensory Enhancement Potion and Haste Potion had been vital in every fight that he’d used them in, but he didn’t have an infinite supply of potions.
Going down the path of physical transmutation…was something he never would have risked when he’d first gotten to Generasi. The Mark’s interference had made casting even the simplest spells incredibly difficult: so trying spells that risked a mana reversal by actively messing with his body, was definitely not anything he would have tried in first year.
Now, though, he’d gotten a far better handle on his limits and how to go through The Mark. He was comfortable with trying this simple spell now, and then if that went well, he’d sign up for a course in the subject for fall semester.
The next was another second-tier spell: Call Through Air.
It was structurally quite similar to Call Through Ice, so it should be easy to learn. It was also a good idea to get more experience with teleportation spells that used different planes because that could help him in his summoning class.
By gaining experience with spells that called from other elements, he’d be able to build a foundation for himself: summoning often called for creatures from different planes and Alex wanted versatility.
The second to last spell-guide was Lesser Phantom Display, a tiny illusion that was often used to entertain children. What Thundar had said about his Illusions class had made Alex want to explore that particular kind of magic. Tricking enemies with false images, making himself or his friends invisible, and using it in other ways would be useful for misdirection.
And for the final spell…
Alex turned to the last spell-guide with some apprehension. It was a first-tier spell.
Written across the front was the title: Life to Mana.
The guide would be his introduction to the discipline of Blood Magic, which unfortunately wasn’t being offered as a summer course. Since the description sounded like it could be really useful because it would open up his options, it meant that he’d have to begin learning it on his own. In a way, he was torn: blood magic was a kind of magic that both intrigued him…and made him very nervous.