Tucked in his room in the early morning, Alex guided his way through the spell array one final time, checking the last notation in his notebook.
Force Armour: 98%
The spell was pretty challenging, so he was applying a lot of what he’d learned in force magic to help him get past The Mark’s usual interference, and since Generalized Force Construct’s spell array was so similar to a lot of the other advanced force spells, he was using it as a blueprint to follow for this one.
His consciousness slid slowly through the contours of the spell array, while the interference roared through his mind. Thoughts of his failures hammered his mind, trying to force themselves in, seeking to overwhelm his concentration and push out what he was trying to do.
For each failure, he acknowledged it and let it go, then continued through the spell array step by step. Finally, he reached the last part of the spell which was his biggest challenge: it was a small complex section that was responsible for force armour’s increased strength when compared to Lesser Force Armour’s.
He decreased the casting speed incrementally down to the absolute minimum he could make it: any slower and the magic circuit would simply fall apart. Almost as if on cue, The Mark seemed to begin increasing its campaign of obstruction as if it knew he’d hit a tricky part in the spell. Alex re-focused his thoughts and fought past the obstacles it was throwing at him. After close to a year of living with it interfering, he’d come to the conclusion that he was probably imagining that its interference got worse when he was having a hard time trying to do something that it didn’t want him doing in the first place. He’d concluded that the obstacles it threw at him just became more noticeable, since he wasn’t only working on a spell, but had to spend more time doing it, which in The Mark’s book, was a definite no-no.
‘Almost there…’ he thought.
The spell array kept forming as he chanted the incantation.
At last, he’d worked through the difficult section and could move on to the next part. His excitement was building the closer he came to completing the spell, but he clamped it down to keep himself focused. If he got too excited now, he could become distracted enough to ruin his efforts.
The final part of the spell array was nice and simple and quickly slotted into place, and soon, two interlinked magic circuits formed in his mana pool, and hummed to life.
Alex’s grin spread from ear to ear, as a flash of crimson illuminated his upper body and the force armour formed around him. It was soundless, but he could imagine the clink of metal on metal as each force plate materialized, sheathing his arms, torso and head in their protective magic.
When the armour was completely formed, it suddenly vanished, turning as invisible as its lesser cousin.
“Awesome,” he said with satisfaction. “Just awesome.'
He made note of the date and time he’d completed the spell, remembering how it had glowed as it began to shield him.
Then he paused as a thought came to him.
That bright glow…
The bright glow from his forceball was a big help when he, Theresa and Brutus had gone vespara hunting. The glow was so bright that it had blinded their opponents, and a blinded opponent was a much easier one to fight. ...the force armour also glowed with a really bright light before it turned invisible.
If he modified the spell to keep the armour visible and glowing…then tweaked the brightness so that looking at it would be like staring into the sun, wouldn’t that make him even harder to hit? He frowned in thought. It wasn’t a bad idea, but there were a few flaws with it.
First, the main reason force armour turned invisible was so it wouldn’t block its caster’s line of sight. It would be hard to fight…or do anything else with a shield of glowing force completely covering the head and eyes.
He tapped his pen against the sheet of paper, thinking about illusions. What if he only made it invisible from the inside? So from the outside, it’d be a brightly glowing force magic shield, but from the inside, it would be completely transparent.
Almost like two-way…force armour.
He wrote that down as a possibility he could try.
The other issue to consider was that making the force armour visible and super bright, would also be blinding to anyone he’d be fighting beside. And that might be a much bigger problem. Having The Mark of The Fool meant that he was at his best when he was fighting in a group, so using any spell that hindered companions or allies would be pretty stupid, even if the spell also hindered an enemy.
It could work well if he were caught alone and didn’t need to be stealthy.
“Hmmm, it might also work well in combination with summoning,” he muttered out loud as he jotted down his thoughts. “If I summon my monsters in front of me, they won’t be blinded by the light since they’ll be facing away from me and the brightness. Then there’s Claygon.”
The golem could see, but he didn’t have eyes. Sure, he had ‘eyes’, but he was a golem: his senses were purely magical, generated from his core. Even if someone cut his head off—which Alex would rather not think about—he’d still be able to function just fine and would still have his magical sight.
Which meant that he could freely use the blinding tactic around Claygon.
Alex yawned and stretched.
Those were things to consider later when he had time to really delve into the spell and tweak it. He was thinking about looking at one of his other spells for the summer—maybe Call Through Air—next, but he was also really itching to try his first summoning spell.
He opened the summoning textbook: The Beginner’s Manual of the Planes, and flipped past his many bookmarks to the first summoning spell they would be learning for the summer semester.
Summon Elemental Beetle wasn’t the most glamorous of spells: it was a simple spell that would conjure an elemental spirit who strongly resembled a beetle from one of the elemental planes, though the creature technically wasn’t even an insect.
It was too small for combat, unless one was interested in having it duel mice or particularly feeble rats, and too unintelligent for any advanced commands.
When combined with particular spells that could allow a wizard to see using another’s senses, an elemental beetle could be used for spying. For the most part, though, it was mostly used in summoning practice: it was perfect for that purpose since it was a small monster with a weak will that could be easily subjugated, and couldn’t hurt the summoner if it got loose.
Technically, his class wouldn’t be starting to learn the spell for several weeks: Professor Mangal had the class start off with learning theory, practicing in drawing a perfect circle, and doing an assignment that involved learning the pronunciation of several common spirit names.
But Alex was getting through those assignments really quickly thanks to The Mark…
“The hell with it,” he said.
He wrote down Summon Lesser Beetle - Progress 0% in his notebook.
“Hope you don’t get jealous, Claygon,” he said as he started to copy the spell array into his notebook. “Because I’m summoning up more friends.”
Once he finished making the note, his plan was to break down the array into its components and make note of parts that would likely be easy for him—especially parts that were similar to spells he already knew—and then note the parts that seemed like they’d be difficult for him to get through.
He’d then spend the early morning going through the spell array a few times. Then at noon…
His eyes turned to his timetable.
Noon - Games of Roal Information Session (With Free Lunch!)
One-Thirty - Work on First assignment for Magical Botany
Three-Thirty - Help Professor Jules in Her Lab
Five O’Clock - Snacks
Six-Thirty - Work on Selina’s Birthday Present
Sometime Late Evening - Mr. and Mrs. Lu Arrive - Supper with them.
Busy day today. Exciting day, but busy.
“The Games of Roal are not for every student at Generasi. They’re a test of might, glory, ingenuity and one’s talent in the art of sport. And just as every merchant is not invited to participate in a knightly joust, not every student is invited to participate in The Games.”
Alex, his cabal, Theresa, Selina, Brutus and Claygon were seated on the grass near the arena of The Watchers of Roal.
A statue of Roal herself, as well as statues of previous Watchers’ who’d performed impressive deeds of valour and might, stared down at the over fifty people gathered for the students’ information session.
A long buffet table had been set up at the side of the gathering with platters of cured meats, breads, and fresh fruit and vegetables atop that had long been attacked by those in attendance.
In front of the attendees, several watchers floated on their stone disks—each standing iron-rod straight with feet planted shoulder-width. A woman floated before them, with her rank declared by a number of different badges.
Her one eye looked down at the students, while an eye-patch obscured a massive scar around her other eye. The scar ran all the way up her forehead and touched her dark, bare scalp.
“That said, The Games are an event for everyone in the city to attend,” she continued. “There will be…” She paused, and the words seemed to struggle to escape her iron hard jaw. “…fun games and festivities for all to partake in. These are not hosted by The Watchers of Roal, but they have legitimacy as well. For those of you who wish to participate in The Games, you may do so if you fall under at least one of the following categories.”
Another Watcher unrolled a scroll, floated forward and read. “Any who have successfully completed first year Battle Magic, or the first year of The Art of the Wizard in Combat, this also includes members of their entourages-”
“That’s us,” Thundar grinned excitedly, as he slammed a hunk of smoked meat between two small loaves of rye and shoved it between his jaws.
“Indeed,” Khalik mused. “Glorious.”
“I-” Theresa cocked her ear to the air, then turned around. She smiled and waved. “Look who it is!”
Alex turned and saw a familiar dorsal fin cutting through the air above a hulking figure.
Grimloch was jogging toward the group, wearing a bit of a flustered expression. There was no sign of his older sister, Nua-Oge, though. He wasn’t the only one arriving to the information session late; stragglers had been trickling in throughout the early part of the meeting.
When he noticed them, he gave everyone a curt nod, but kept jogging to the buffet table, grabbed an entire platter of smoked fowl, then plopped down beside his friends.
“Overslept,” he grunted. “Glad to see you all here.”
“Good to see you too,” Thundar clapped him on the arm. He paused. “Hey, you got bigger.”
“Yeah, you did,” Alex agreed.
The shark man’s massive musculature had grown and become even more defined over the past few months. His silvery skin had a brighter sheen to it too…and Alex was pretty sure that his jagged, knife-like teeth looked larger when he grinned at Thundar.
Alex looked to the side and saw more late arrivals walking in.
“Thanks,” he growled. “Life enforcement agrees with me.”
Alex heard someone softly scoff behind them. “Muscle Heads.”
“-anyone who has certificates from the city might participate, and finally, anyone with a direct invitation from The Watchers of Roal can enter as well.”
He lowered his eyes to another part of the scroll. “Each participant may enter as many events as they wish, and that time permits. Each event offers its own prizes, and placing highly is worth points which go toward the grand prizes for the tournament itself. Events will be posted on a board after this information session, and eligible students may sign up for any event they desire. If you are undecided presently, that is alright: open registration will remain available for a week, so you will have time to make your decisions.”
Alex caught movement out of the corner of his eye, then turned to see a small, familiar figure approaching the information session.
His eyes brightened and he waved at a little green goblin. “Kybas! Kybas!” he called quietly.
The goblin—who Alex hadn’t seen since first year potions ended—gave him a wide grin that showed lots of sharp teeth. Beside him crawled his young crocodile familiar, Harmless. Throughout the year, the little familiar had been growing well under his care. When Alex had first seen the croc, he’d been small enough for Kybas to carry. Now, he must have been at least four feet long.
“Hello, hello!” Kybas said, plopping down beside the group. “Are you here for the fun too, Alex?”
“I am,” Alex said, then introduced his friends to the little fellow. “Are you planning on entering the games?”
“Don’t know yet, I thought I’d see if I qualify,” Kybas shrugged. “But I will come and watch at least! They sound fun, especially the monster fights. Harmless can beat some already, I think. At least small monsters.”
Selina was staring at Kybas with a sharp look, then slowly looked up at Alex.
His ‘little goblin’ name for her suddenly came to mind.
Then he froze.
Wait a minute…was that kinda racist?
He began praying that Selina wouldn’t say anything about it. His blood froze when she opened her mouth.
“What are all the events?” She whispered to her panicking brother, to his great relief. “Is there going to be a joust with lances and knights and pretty horses?”
“I think there’s a regular joust,” Alex said. “There’s also a sky-joust which is the same thing, but with warriors or warrior-wizards on flying monsters. I don’t know all the events, but there’s also spell-jousting—where wizards try to crush each other’s spells—then there’s a Duelling Tournament, Spell Duelling Tournament, Duel by Proxy, and a grand melee.”
“There’s also an archery competition,” Theresa whispered.
“Ooo,” Selina wiggled with excitement. “Are you going to be in that Theresa?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Isolde sniffed. “Well I shall not be participating.”
The others looked at her in surprise.
Over her shoulder Alex saw even more stragglers arriving.
“Truly?” Khalik asked. “I would have thought that the spirit of competition would stir that noble blood in your veins.”
“This competition has little use for me, I fear,” she whispered. “I do not need prize money, and it would take valuable time that could be devoted to my academic pursuits over the summer.”
Her words had a prim detachment to them, and an amused smile crept across her lips. "I shall attend and watch, though. The idea of my participation is rather droll, I must admit. I do not thi-”
She paused, staring over Alex’s shoulder. Her blue eyes suddenly hardened.
Alex looked behind with a sharp intake of breath.
Another group of stragglers had entered the area: they were from The Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood. Among them was the familiar, fiery-haired Derek Warren.
Isolde’s eyes narrowed like an angry serpent’s. “Forget what I just said. Let us all enrol together. There is a bug I need to crush.”