Tag Archives: Professor Harklund

8 – 13

< Previous Chapter                                                                                                                                       Next Chapter >

“There is really no way to work your mind around the inherent limitations other than practice,” Professor Harklund said as he paced slowly around the room, watching his students creating staves of golden light and then hitting them against things—the walls and floor, mostly, though some were very carefully sparring, testing the magical weapons against one another. “Remember, the clock is ticking from the moment you summon an object, but its duration depends upon you, and not merely upon the depth of the power you can call up. Every contact with the physical world will weaken it further—the harder the blow, the greater the damage. There are simply too many amorphous variables to properly quantify the lifespan of a summoned object; over time, with practice, you will develop an intuitive sense of what you have made, and what it can withstand. And unfortunately, divine magic does not offer spells of the kind that would let you know this. Your sense will be built of experience, nothing more. Hence, practice. Yes, I will be repeating it even more,” he added with a grin, coming to a stop next to November, who was grimly battering her glowing staff against an identical one held up by Trissiny. “If you are to get any use of these constructs in the real world, timing is essential. You’ll only have them for so many seconds, and if you do not know the timing, your efforts may prove not only useless, but backfire. Practice, practice!”

November’s staff flickered out of existence at her next blow, causing her to stumble forward; Trissiny caught her with one hand, her own glowing staff still extant but notably dimmer than before.

“All due respect, Professor,” said Gabriel, pounding the butt of his against the floor, “but this seems like the kind of unstructured activity we could be doing on our own time. How about learning something new?”

“Are you seriously asking for homework?” exclaimed one of the new freshmen.

“Rest assured, Mr. Arquin, the schedule for this class is carefully planned out,” Harklund replied with a smile. “You will be practicing things on your own, don’t you worry. As a rule, though, I prefer that you do your initial experiments under supervision. Of course, I can’t stop you kids from working ahead on your own, nor would I. Do keep it in mind, though. Striking off on your own may result in the rapid expansion of your abilities, but it can also lead to the acquisition of bad habits I will have to drill out of you before you can proceed to the next step. Everyone should please feel free to ask my help outside of class, too! My office hours are posted.”

Toby stood by himself, facing one wall, methodically re-summoning his staff after every time it flickered out—which it did every time he struck it against the wall. The staff glowed dimly to begin with, and never seemed fully solid. It also took a few seconds longer to fully form than did the other students’ attempts, which were mostly instantaneous. He would focus energy into his hand until the golden rod slowly flickered into being, shift into a proper striking stance and slam it against the well, whereupon it would vanish from existence.

After glancing around the room at her fellow students, Trissiny wandered over to him. “Hey, that’s better!” she said encouragingly. “If it helps, think of it—”

“Trissiny,” Toby said abruptly, not looking at her, “I will get there. Would you please leave me alone?”

She actually jerked backward, blinking her eyes. “I… Um, sure. Sorry.” Looking nonplussed, she stepped away from Toby as he laboriously called up another staff, her gaze meeting Gabriel’s. He looked purely shocked, his expression slowly shifting to one of worry as he moved it to Toby’s back.

November scowled and opened her mouth, then shut it with an audible snap when Trissiny pointed a finger at her and shook her head firmly.

Several of the other students had stopped what they had been doing and were looking askance at the exchange between the paladins. Only when Gabriel turned to sweep a frown across the room did most of them resume their own practice. The exception was Shaeine, who was still watching Toby intently.

Toby manifested another staff, slammed it against the wall, and began patiently calling up the next one.

“All right,” Professor Harklund said in his customarily mild tone, smiling at them as he finished his rounds at the front of the room, “that’s our class time. This was good practice, everyone—remember, keep practicing on your own, and don’t be afraid to experiment a little, but also don’t try to run before you can crawl. I’ll see everyone on Friday. Mr. Caine, could you stay for a moment, please?”

Toby nodded, and just waited calmly while the others filed out of the room, his expression blank. Most of the freshmen and upperclassmen talked and laughed among themselves, but the sophomores and November, exiting as a group, remained pensively quiet, at least until the door finally closed behind them.

“So,” November said, frowning, “what’s eating him?”

The others looked at each other, but nobody had an answer.


“I cannot believe you let her do this,” Sheyann said disparagingly as she paced in a slow circle around the frozen form of Aspen.

“She was utterly confident she could handle it,” Tellwyrn replied, scowling.

“Have you not noticed how consistently Juniper overestimates her reach?”

“In point of fact, I have had distinctly the opposite impression,” Tellwyrn snapped. “In the year I’ve been teaching her, Juniper has consistently acknowledged her unfamiliarity with new subjects, proceeded slowly and always made sure she understood the basics before moving forward. She’s not shy about asking help from other students, and in fact that’s a big part of her knack for making friends. Well, that and her habit of offering sex as a greeting while being absurdly gorgeous. Even despite the need to coach her through basics that almost every other sentient being knows by the age of four, she is one of my least tiresome students.”

Sheyann had come to a stop and turned a look of surprise on the Professor. “Really? That is rather startling to hear. Either myself or Shiraki have been constantly having to pull her back and repair the small disasters she has caused. Not least of which being her choice of a notoriously erratic, intractable and untamable species as her first animal companion.”

“Hm,” Tellwyrn mused, folding her arms and frowning up at Aspen. “On the other hand, you’re mostly teaching her nature-based stuff, correct?”

“Almost entirely.”

“That she probably thinks of herself as already knowing more than anyone else.” She shook her head, spectacles glinting in the blue glow of the runes sealing the chamber. “Ugh, one or the other of us really should have put that together. Well, lesson learned. I will not be letting her attempt anything involving fae magic until I see proof she’s competent enough.”

“Indeed,” Sheyann agreed, nodding. “And this raises some possibilities I can use to further her education on her next visit to the grove. But that is tomorrow’s battle. For now, we have this one to deal with.”

For a long moment, they were silent, staring at the partially transformed dryad.

“Is there any way to tell how far into the transformation she is?” Tellwyrn asked finally.

Sheyann shook her head. “There is no point of reference, no way to tell what she was turning into. The effect is all but random. A dryad’s power is nigh-limitless; the question is, what was her imagination in the process of making?”

Tellwyrn heaved a sigh.

“This spell,” Sheyann murmured. “How does it work? She is frozen in time, this I can see. Is she out of phase with the world?”

“Actually, if you do that the subject just vanishes. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that if you dissociate something from physical reality they’re just instantly left behind as the planet orbits. Summoning spells account for that naturally, so I wasn’t thinking in terms of…well. No, she isn’t even frozen in time, merely slowed. Slowed so greatly she might as well be frozen for all practical purposes. Assuming I could ward the room well enough, she’d still be there when the sun goes nova. We’re not short on time.”

The Elder narrowed her eyes. “Then…she would be tremendously vulnerable to impact.”

Tellwyrn nodded. “The room’s built-in protections shielded her to begin with. I’ve since refined them to be sure. She should be safe while in here, provided we don’t introduce any more unknowable variables.”

“All right, then,” Sheyann said, nodding. “That at least tells me the shape of what we must do. It will involve a very intricate blending of arcane and fae energies, which is potentially explosive if we make the slightest mistake.”

The Professor grinned. “Then we’d better not. Fortunately, we’re the best in the world at what we do.”

“I’m not sure I would claim that,” Sheyann murmured.

“I would,” Tellwyrn said bluntly. “I’ll freely admit I rely more on force than technique in many of my workings, but when it comes to time magic I am the leading expert. Not that I blame the other mages; I have an understanding with the extremely persnickety god of time. It’s hard to do the research when you get smote for even thinking about it. And you can be as modest as you like, but I know you’re the eldest living shaman on the continent, if not the world.”

“No,” Sheyann said with a faint quirk of her lips. “I do have at least one senior.”

“Ah, yes. Right.” Tellwyrn grimaced. “When I’m thinking of people I expect to be helpful, she doesn’t spring to mind.” Sheyann actually grinned at her.

“One to handle the temporal magic, then, bridging the gap between Aspen’s frame of time and ours,” she shaman mused to herself, gazing at the dryad but seeing far beyond her. “One to conduct the actual healing. This…will be prohibitively difficult, Arachne. Neither of our systems of magic is innately helpful at touching another’s mind, which is what we must do. I can do it, but that is already a tiring process before the actual work even begins. She must be reached, before she is unfrozen, guided along a path of healing. We are talking about therapy. It is a journey of potentially years, considering the strains upon her mind.”

“Hm,” Tellwyrn said, frowning in a similar expression. “I can possibly speed things along while shifting the… Hm. I will need to be very careful with that, though. Even more than the rest. We’re on thin ice to begin with, emotionally speaking; dissociating someone from their ordinary passage through time can have dicey psychological effects.

“Yes,” Sheyann agreed, nodding. “Anyone participating in this endeavor will be taking on risks.”

“Well, I got her into this; I can’t just leave the girl there, and I’m not just saying that because I still need to know the situation with Naiya regarding Juniper.”

“You do not need to defend yourself to me, Arachne,” Sheyann said mildly, still staring up at the dryad. “I know very well you are far from heartless.”

“My point was, I’m not going to pass judgment if you decline to risk your own sanity over this.”

“That, I think, exaggerates the danger somewhat,” the Elder said dryly. “You are yourself aged enough to absorb a little extra time spent in a pocket dimension without being unduly befuddled by the experience. I was ancient even by elvish reckoning when you first appeared.”

“Mm hm,” Tellwyrn said with a reminiscent smile. “Thinking about it now, I have to agree with Chucky. It really is counterintuitive that I’ve survived this long, isn’t it?”

Sheyann gave her an exasperated glance before resuming her study of Aspen. “Even so, Arachne… This is more than I can take on alone.”

Tellwyrn drew in a deep breath and let it out explosively. “Okay. All right, then. Who else do you need? I don’t mind involving a few other Elders, provided you can temper their attitudes somewhat.”

“I am sure they would say the same to me about you. I could seek help from several Elders—it would take multiples pooling their skills to achieve what we will need to do. I understood, however, that this matter is somewhat sensitive. Elder shamans would be very inquisitive about an issue that may involve Naiya becoming agitated. It might be better not to spread this any farther than we must.”

“Oh, please.” Tellwyrn waved a hand dismissively. “By the time enough of them speak to each other to spread a rumor, all of this will be long done with. You’re probably the most wide-ranging of the bunch, and I’ll eat my spectacles if you’ve been out of your grove in the last thirty years.”

“What a suspiciously specific and accurate number,” Sheyann mused. “Anyway, Arachne, trust me when I say the other Elders would talk. Things change.”

“I am well aware that they do. I’ll be astonished if the Elders are.”

The shaman smiled broadly at that, but the expression just as quickly faded. “There is, though I hesitate to say it, a more pragmatic option. More discreet, and also a better source of help to begin with.” She turned to face Tellwyrn directly. “Do you happen to know how to get in touch with Kuriwa?”

Tellwyrn scowled deeply at her. “You would be far more likely than I to know how to do that. Mary and I have developed the perfect relationship that keeps us away from each other’s throats. At the core of the method is staying as far away from each other as the breadth of this continent will permit.”

“And then, in typical fashion, you settled yourself down as close to the center of the continent as you could,” Sheyann said dryly. “In any case, though I have much less of a personality clash with her, I find I also sleep better when Kuriwa is nowhere near my grove. Nonetheless, she is the best prospect to help with this. Her command of the necessary magics outstrips mine considerably, as does her knowledge of it. And she has had many long and fruitful dealings with dryads; there may not be any higher authority on the subject. We can settle for involving a few other Elders if you are willing to embrace the risks, the inconveniences, the wait and the fact that it is second-rate assistance. If we can find her, though, we’ll need her.” She sighed, and shrugged. “But then, that may be too distant a possibility to consider anyway.”

Tellwyrn closed her eyes, shook her head, and hissed something obscene to herself, shifting through four languages in two seconds. “Last year,” she said finally, “she actually contacted me obliquely. She’d found Caledy’s old amulet and returned it to me. Through an intermediary, though, and without any personal message attached.”

“Both wise precautions,” Sheyann said gravely.

Tellwyrn rolled her eyes. “Yes, well, her contact was Antonio Darling. He strongly implied he was in regular, consistent communication with her.”

The shaman tilted her head. “Who is this?”

“He’s a priest of Eserion, a politician in the Imperial capital, and currently the Eserite Bishop for the Universal Church.”

Sheyann raised her eyebrows. “Indeed. A Tiraan official? And an Eserite, to boot? That is very peculiar company for Kuriwa to keep.”

“He’s not Tiraan,” Tellwyrn said, “just lives there. Seemed like frontier stock to me. You know the type: Stalweiss complexion, old gnomish name. That might make a difference to her… Still, and even considering how odd it would be for Mary to be loitering in Tiraas, I believed him. The man had no motive to deceive me, and is certainly intelligent enough not to torque me without substantial reason.” Tellwyrn paused and sighed heavily. “Are you adamant that we need her?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way. However, this will go much faster, be much easier and involve fewer complications with her help than without.” She paused for a moment, then spoke more gently. “I don’t believe anyone actually likes Kuriwa, Arachne. Possibly not even herself. However, I have learned to understand her, somewhat, and I know the ulterior motive she will bring to this. Other Elders will involve the politics of their groves; she will only see the advantage to herself in befriending a dryad, particularly one as old as this. That won’t harm our efforts and will, in fact, encourage her to be helpful. I would not suggest involving her if I did not deem it more than worth the drawbacks. I think, though,” she added in a wry tone, “I had better be the one to approach her. No offense intended.”

Tellwyrn snorted. “When was the last time you were in Tiraas?”

“It has been…let’s see…at least four centuries,” Sheyann said thoughtfully. “I will be very interested in seeing how the city has changed.”

“Good gods,” Tellwyrn muttered. “Well. On the subject of discretion… If you’re planning to approach Bishop Darling, let me pass on a word of warning about his apprentices.”


“Oh, my,” Ravana said, stopping at the top of the staircase just inside the Well’s front door. “What is all this?”

“Oh, just a little project,” Marueen said modestly, tucking a wrench back into her Pack and hopping down from the rail. “Afritia said I could. I’ve got th’easy part all set up there, see? Those wires an’ pulleys, see how they’re all connected t’that little lever that gets flicked whenever the door opens?”

“I do,” Ravana agreed, craning her neck to peer upward. Indeed, the taut network of white cables vanished from the small apparatus down the stairwell to the floor far below.

“That sounds a little bell in our dorm room when somebody comes in or goes out,” Maureen said rather smugly. “And this,” she patted the much more hefty network of metal rods she was in the process of bolting to the bannister, “when it’s done, will be a means of sending packages down to the bottom from up here.”

“But…why, though?” Ravana asked. “Afritia handles our mail. Anyone bringing a package to the dorm will likely be going there herself.”

Maureen shrugged, leaning through the bars of the bannister—and suspending her upper body terrifyingly over the drop—to tighten the next row of bolts. “The joy of the thing is in making it, not necessarily in havin’ or usin’ it. That’s the only reason I bother at all, since it’s doubloons to doughnuts Addiwyn’ll just take an axe t’the whole thing first chance she gets. It’s… It helps me think, y’know? Straighten out me thoughts, get the blood flowin’ an’ the body workin’.”

“I believe I understand,” Ravana said, nodding slowly. “I have my own thought-inducing exercises. Mine happen to be a bit more cerebral, but then, I was not raised to exert myself physically.” She smiled ruefully.

“Aye, well…I’m also revelin’ in the freedom, a bit,” Maureen grunted, still working on bolts. “Back home, tinkerin’ wasn’t considered a proper thing to do.”

“Forgive me, but my knowledge of your culture is entirely secondhand,” Ravana said, frowning. “It was my understanding that gnomes greatly valued adventuring. And is not one of your most famed current adventurers known for her mechanical skills?”

“Aye!” Maureen paused in her work to grin up at her. “Aye, you’re dead on, but those two facts are in spite of each other, not because of each other. Tinker Billie gets respected because of what she’s accomplished—y’don’t argue with results. But she had a hard road of it, settin’ out. She was always me hero, growin’ up. Let’s just say Mum did not approve.”

“Well.” Ravana moved toward the stairs. “I am glad you’ve found a chance to indulge your passion.”

“Aye, you too. I ‘ad me doubts, right up till the end, but you did get us the only A in the class with that scheme of yours.”

“And made us no friends,” Ravana said with a satisfied little smile, “but all things considered, I would rather we be respected than liked.”

Maureen stopped what she was doing, resting her arms on one of the bannister’s horizontal bars to peer up at the human girl. “So… How’s that factor into your plans to bribe and manipulate your way into friendship with the three of us?”

Ravana’s expression closed down. “I beg your pardon?” she asked softly.

“I’m not trying to start somethin’ up, here,” Maureen said quietly, gazing up at her. “It wasn’t even an accusation. I mean… You really weren’t trying not to be obvious, y’know? And I was more’n a mite offended for a brief bit, but… I get the strong impression you really do want to make friends, here, an’ just don’t know any other way to go about it. And that’s just too achingly sad to let me stay miffed.”

“You are…more perceptive than I fear I’ve given you credit for, Miss Willowick,” Ravana said, staring at her.

Maureen shrugged and turned back to her bolts. “Aye, well, we gnomes are comfortable bein’ underestimated. Better’n bein’ stepped on, which is the other most likely option! Anyhow, it’s been all o’ three days; I’m not too worried about things just yet. We’ll all get our sea legs in time. I hold out hope even Addiwyn’ll come around.” She paused, studying her half-built contraption. “Though I may change me mind after we find out what she does to this beauty of a target I’m settin’ up. This is turning out to be more effort an’ love than I was plannin’ to pour into it.”

“You sound absolutely confident that she will sabotage it.”

The gnome shrugged again, grinning. “Well. I am makin’ an assumption about who’s causin’ the trouble around here, but…c’mon. Is it an unlikely outcome?”

“Hm.” Ravana tapped her thin lips with a finger, and a smile slowly blossomed across her features. “Hm. Not to second-guess your creativity, Maureen, but… I wonder if I could persuade you to make a modification?”


“I assure you, I have been forewarned,” Sheyann said, stepping into the sunlight from the door of Helion Hall.

Tellwyrn sighed, following her. “Forewarned is one thing. The experience of riding a Rail caravan is not the kind of thing for which one can truly prepare. I would be happy to teleport you…”

“Arachne,” the Elder said flatly, “if it turns out that I hate the Rails more than that, we can revisit this conversation. Quite frankly, though, I would find that outcome extremely surprising.”

“Ah, yes,” Tellwyrn said in the same tone. “I know how you venerable Elders despise anything convenient or efficient.”

Sheyann just shook her head, smiling. “I’ll have to ride back anyway, unless you were planning to chauffeur me all over the continent.”

“It would be worth it just for the look on your face.”

They were silent for a long moment, standing on the top step. In the near distance, four students tussled playfully on the lawn outside the cafeteria. A few others walked past on the paths, and two young women were hunched over a book in the shade of the astronomy tower’s small front porch.

“You are actually doing this,” Sheyann said softly. “This…University. I honestly thought you would lose interest within a decade.”

“Yeah, that seems to have been the general assumption,” Tellwyrn snorted. “I don’t know why. It’s not as if I have ever lacked focus or discipline—it’s just that the thing I was focusing on forced me to completely change the whole pattern of my life every few years.”

Sheyann turned to regard her in quiet thought for a moment before speaking softly. “I am sorry, Arachne, that you never found what you were looking for.”

Still gazing out across the campus, Tellwyrn slowly shook her head. “I’m not. All these years later, I find my only regret is how long I spent on it. This is a much better use of my time.”

The shaman smiled. “Well. It is surprisingly pleasing to see you settling down to something, finally.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Tellwyrn waved her off. “Away with you, the Crow isn’t going to conveniently collar herself. Be nice to Darling, he’s a useful sort of person to know, despite the dramatic horrors he’s meddling with. And, as always, give my love to Chucky.”

Sheyann paused in the act of descending the stairs to look curiously back at the Professor. “Why do you insist on taunting him so?”

Tellwyrn grinned wolfishly. “Why do you?”

The Elder was still laughing as she made her way across the lawn.

< Previous Chapter                                                                                                                  Next Chapter >

Advertisements

8 – 5

< Previous Chapter                                                                                                                           Next Chapter >

“I can’t believe she scratched me,” Gabe said, for far from the first time. He was rubbing at his throat with one hand, despite the fact that he had healed the tiny pinpricks as soon as they had been inflicted in a rather excessive display of divine light. “How is everyone always scratching or stabbing or breaking me? Why do I even bother being an invulnerable half-demon if everybody gets a free shot?!”

“I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you continually seek out and provoke the only people wherever you are who can actually do these things to you,” Toby said mildly.

“You make it sound like I have a death wish,” Gabriel grumbled. “I’m unlucky and dense, not suicidal.”

“I honestly can’t decide which would put you in more danger,” said Trissiny.

“And for the record! I did nothing to antagonize Ruda, she’s just a bi—a jerk,” he finished, glancing guiltily at Trissiny.

“I give you credit for the effort,” she said dryly.

Gabriel cleared his throat. “Sorry. Habits. But seriously, how Ekoi managed to scratch me is a pertinent question.”

“She’s a kitsune,” Fross explained, fluttering over to hover between them. “A potentially very powerful kind of fairy from Sifan. It’s actually really rare to see one outside their home country; they don’t like to travel. But then I guess it’s no surprise that Professor Tellwyrn has friends everywhere.”

“Maybe that means Professor Yornhaldt will come back soon,” Trissiny murmured.

“Be that as it may,” November chimed in, bodily inserting herself into the conversation, “whatever Gabriel did doesn’t justify a professor assaulting a student!”

“I actually think Professor Tellwyrn will agree with you on that,” said Shaeine from the sidelines. “Regardless of the very slight nature of the injury, she has strict rules about such things. If this has not been brought to her attention, I suggest we do so. If Professor Ekoi is as potent a force as Fross implies, it is doubtless best if she is prevented from making a habit of corporal punishment.”

“That’ll be an interesting conversation,” Toby said fatalistically. “Tellwyrn doesn’t have a high opinion of tattletales, even when they’re in the right.”

“Tellwyrn’s opinions are irrational and arbitrary,” Trissiny snorted. “The rules are the rules; she made them. November and Shaeine are right: Ekoi cannot get away with this.”

The handful of other students present simply stood at the periphery of the room, watching November and the sophomores in silence, several with frowns or raised eyebrows in response to tales of the new magical sciences teacher sinking her claws into Gabriel.

They were meeting in Martial Spell Lab 3, an octagonal room attached to the gymnasium, with a padded floor and enormous plate glass windows for three of its wall sections, which looked out over the prairie to the east. That glass, however, was no less fragile than the stone which comprised the rest of the room, and all of it would stand up to mag artillery fire. This was one of the chambers in which spell combat was taught and practiced; the defensive charms covering every inch of the room were the best that could be had. Allegedly they’d only needed to be replaced three times since the University’s founding, which was impressive considering the nature of the student body.

Further discussion was interrupted by the arrival of Professor Harklund through the door opening onto the main gymnasium. He was a man in his middle years, with the receding hairline and expanding waistline to prove it, but his jowly face carried a smile, as it habitually did. Despite his Stalweiss surname, he had the dark complexion of a Westerner. He dressed in traditional wizard robes of plain blue, a custom so outdated as to be an affectation, but despite that Harklund was one of the least-mocked professors at the University. A bronze pin displaying the moon and stars sigil of Salyrene was affixed as always to the breast of his robe.

“Hello, eager learners!” he said cheerfully, sweeping his gaze across the assembled students, pausing at each of them as he did a quick mental count. Class sizes at the University were small enough that most teachers didn’t bother reading names off a list; they knew who to expect and could tell at a glance if someone was absent. Professor Harklund, this time, had the opposite problem. “Ah, Ms. Fross, you are not enrolled in this class. I’m afraid you don’t meet the prerequisites, my dear.”

“Yes, I know!” Fross said brightly. “I happen to have a free period now this semester and I like to study my own projects, so I wondered if you wouldn’t mind if I audit this class? I’m very interested in different methods of using magic.”

“It’s not that I mind,” the Professor replied. “I never object to students wishing to learn. This is a strictly practical class, however; we will be wielding divine energies in significant concentration every day. That is potentially injurious to fairies.”

“Oh, but—”

“And,” he interrupted gently but firmly, “any methods you might use to mitigate that risk could disrupt the actual workings of the class. If you clear it with Professor Tellwyrn and Miss Sunrunner, and get their assurance that your being here is both safe and not disruptive, I certainly don’t mind if you watch. For this session, though, I’ll have to ask you to clear the premises.”

“Okay,” Fross said rather glumly. “I’ll see you later, guys.” She fluttered to the door, which opened to admit her, then drifted gently shut once she was gone.

“Well, then!” Professor Harklund went on more briskly. “Welcome to Introductory Lightworking! This is, as I’m sure you know, a new addition to the University’s offerings. I’m sure you know this because several of you were instrumental in getting it added to the curriculum! The only firm prerequisite for enrollment in this class is an established ability to wield divine magic. An awful lot of lightwielders do nothing but call on the energy and just…spray it out, unfocused. That includes a number of fairly high-ranking priests who really have no excuse not to know better.”

“Not all cults emphasize magic use,” Trissiny said pointedly. “Salyrene is the only goddess of healing and magic; other faiths have other priorities.”

“You are correct, Ms. Avelea,” Harklund said amiably. “To put it in more Avenist terms, then, would you send any soldier onto the battlefield as poorly-trained in the use of a sword as the average Avenist cleric is in the use of the light?” He gave her a moment to consider that, just long enough for her to develop a good scowl, before continuing. “As a counter-example, Themynra’s faith is about reasoning and judgment, which has nothing to do with magic…except when it has everything to do with magic. It certainly does not show good judgment to use tools without developing skill in their use. And indeed, I understand our Ms. Awarrion has a proven facility at magical shields, is it not so?”

“I believe I have attained a certain basic competency, if I may be forgiven for boasting,” Shaeine said diffidently.

“Shaeine is modesty personified,” Gabe said with a grin. “She’s crazy good with shields.”

Professor Harklund grinned. “We’ll take the time to explore the skills each of you already have, of course. I will be demonstrating new subjects as they arise, but as I told our pixie friend just now, this is a practical class. There should be time in each class period for everyone to receive individual instruction, and you will of course be expected to practice on your own. Now then, for the most part I plan to limit my talking to explanations of specific actions I expect you to take, but I will begin our semester with this one piece of theory.”

He paused, glancing around at them with a knowing half-smile, before continuing. “The light is caught up inevitably in religious concepts, coming to us as it does through the auspices of the gods. Interestingly, even among the dwarves, who can touch the light without any god’s help, an animistic faith devoted to it is common. All this leads us to a whole slew of misconceptions about just what divine magic is, and what it does. The truth is this: the guiding principle of the divine is order.”

“I thought divine light encouraged life,” said a boy unfamiliar to the sophomores, probably one of the new freshmen.

Harklund pointed at him. “That’s one of the more common misperceptions, Mr. Mosk. It arises from confusion between the two schools of magic used for healing. It is the fae which encourages life, and the distinction between it and the divine helps illuminate—pardon the pun—their respective strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the healing arts. For example, fae healing is excellent for major tissue damage, and even can reset broken bones if the proper spells are used. However, it has a tendency to accidentally encourage conditions that are caused by an overgrowth of life where one is not wanted. Infections, viruses, cancer. Divine healing, on the other hand, attempts to restore the body to its own base state, which also serves to purge it of alien incursions. However, a simple surge of divine energy hasn’t a physical component, and thus does not repair physical disruptions in the body of a certain size or severity. For instance, if you heal someone with a bone broken and left in the wrong position, you can cripple them for life. Heal someone with a blade embedded in their organs, and you likely condemn them to an excruciating death.”

November gulped audibly. Professor Harklund nodded, his expression solemn.

“In both schools of healing there are, of course, ways around these handicaps, which is what distinguishes a true healer from someone flinging around holy light or fairy dust. Healing is not the focus of this class, though we will of course cover it in some detail later in the semester. For now, however, we’ll begin with a relatively simple form of lightworking: the manifestation of solid objects.”

He held out a hand, a golden glow springing up around him, and suddenly a long, narrow cylinder appeared in his palm, apparently made of pure light. Harklund casually twirled the radiant golden quarterstaff as he continued speaking. “Some deities, notably Avei, grant shielding as an inherent gift to their clerics. If you do not come from a deific tradition which has this ability, however, you can make a shield simply by making something solid. You can, in fact, make just about anything—with certain limitations on size and complexity. There are differences and outliers, but the rule of thumb is you can’t create any object more massive than your own body. Only rigid things can be made, nothing flexible or malleable. A light-crafted object also cannot be changed once it exists; if you want something else, you must dismiss your creation and start over. There are further limitations and provisos, but they tend to situational and can be particular to the source of your magic, so we will address those in detail at a later date.”

The staff vanished, and in the next moment he was holding a traditional leaf-bladed short sword. “I often marvel that this practice is not favored among the Sisterhood. A priestess who can do it would never be disarmed. Ah, but do please correct me if I start to wander into theology,” he said with a wink. “As I was saying earlier, it naturally comes up when we discuss the divine, but isn’t directly germane to this class. Now then, holding a physical object made of divine light requires some concentration, but much less than it takes to create it in the first place. Today we will be attempting to make a simple object—the staff, as I just demonstrated.” He did so again, first dismissing the sword. “Its very simple form is an easy first project, and it also happens to be a particularly useful thing to know. There are a thousand and one uses to which a good staff can be put. Next time we meet, we’ll start to work on holding divinely created objects in existence without focusing your whole concentration on it. The trick can be dicey to acquire initially, but I think you’ll find, once you get there, it’s quite easy. All right, then! Who would like to start?”

Gabriel and November stepped forward simultaneously, then had a short, polite scuffle as each tried to yield the floor to the other. Professor Harklund had to end it by nominating Gabriel to try, admonishing each of them to pay close attention but please not attempt to follow the instructions until he could work with them individually.

The directions given were all about focusing, concentrating and feeling, the kind of talk that was familiar to anyone experienced with using magic but quite difficult for particularly concrete thinkers to initially grasp. Gabriel went about it with a most peculiar expression, a frown of intense concentration that kept flickering into a look of pure, childlike delight.

Trissiny eased over next to Toby, who was watching with a smile. “He looks so…”

“Yeah,” Toby agreed, nodding, his smile broadening. “He does.”

Gabriel’s lesson was interrupted by a yelp from November, who had manifested a golden quarterstaff in her hand, positioned so that she clocked herself in the head with it and tumbled over backwards.

Professor Harklund was by her side in seconds, placing a hand on her forehead and illuminating her with a gentle golden light.

“By far the greater part of your time spent in this class will be in individual practice,” he said to the others as he gently helped a wincing November to sit up. “However, Ms. Stark has just demonstrated the reason I ask that you not attempt new lessons unsupervised. As we get into more complex studies, the potential hazards become more severe. All right, Mr. Arquin, where were we?”

Gabriel got it a few moments later, after Harklund suggested he give up the two-handed staff grip he was holding, as the second point of contact increased the complexity of the initial summon. He absently rested his left hand on the hilt of his sword, and almost immediately found himself holding a staff made of light. No sooner had he whooped in triumph than it flickered out, leaving him grimacing.

“Very good!” Professor Harklund said approvingly, clapping him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Gabriel, holding it is another matter entirely, as I said. We’ll get to that in due course. Some of you may find that a magical aid to concentration can help with the initial summons, if you’re having trouble making that breakthrough. If any of you are still struggling by the end of this class and don’t possess any such devices yourself, I can provide one. This really is very much like learning to walk; getting the trick of it in the first place is the only hard part. All right, Ms. Stark, I believe you demonstrated a prodigious grasp of the basic technique without even meaning to. Ms. Avelea, would you care to go next?”

They went around the room in that fashion, each of the nine students attempting the feat individually. Trissiny did it all but instantly and without apparent effort, as did Shaeine; Professor Harklund left them to practice on their own, occasionally directing them to assist classmates who were getting irregular results from their repeated attempts. Once a student had managed to create a staff from midair, the Professor instructed them to keep at it and get a feel for the act. This caused steadily increasing tension among the remainders before they were called up to be walked through the process, but he had a very calming manner and was adept at handling classes of nervous pupils. By the time the session ended, more than half of them, working alone, had figured out the trick of holding a manifested staff in existence. Of those, only Trissiny, Shaeine and a junior girl named Clara had managed to keep one without actively concentrating on it. Everyone else lost theirs as soon as they attempted to speak or do anything with their staves—which probably averted several impromptu duels.

Everyone except Toby ended up having fun.

He simply could not get it to work. He never grew frustrated or nervous, simply staring at his open hand with a fixed, blank expression, creating futile spurts of light. Golden beams shot forth from either end of his fist at one point, but they were just light, with no solidity. At another, he conjured up a glittering outline, as if a layer of dust had settled over a staff, but not the staff itself. Eventually the Professor partnered him with Gabriel and Trissiny to practice and moved on to the next student, pausing only to give Toby a few encouraging words.

Still, despite all their best efforts, the class time came to an end without Toby having achieved more than a few interesting light effects. Harklund spoke with him quietly at one side of the room while the other students filed out, though Toby’s classmates waited to accompany him.

“It’s like he said,” Gabe said, slinging an arm over Toby’s shoulders. “It’s just…a trick. Once you get it, it’s the easiest thing. Hard to wrap your mind around in the first place, though.”

Toby just nodded, as calm and as distant as before.


 

“The man is absolutely barmy,” Maureen said in an awed tone.

Most of the freshman class had split after escaping the crowded, humid greenhouse, which had somehow seemed to become twice as crowded while Professor Rafe’s excessive personality was present. Now, the girls were on the way back to…

“Wait, where are we going?” Maureen asked, looking around. “This isn’t the path to the Well.”

“I frankly do not know,” Ravana declared, “nor am I terribly interested. We’re unlikely to fall down a hole or encounter a minotaur provided we stay outdoors and on campus, and to be quite honest, I feel an urgent need for some fresh air.”

“Imperial society is, on the whole, far more expressive than Narisian,” Szith said slowly. “Am I correct, then, in concluding that Professor Rafe was exuberant well beyond local standards of behavior?”

“Exuberant,” Maureen said, “irrational… I think the term would be eccentric if he were rich or a noble. Me, I’m goin’ with shoes-on-ears batscratch crazy.”

“Traditionally, academics are allowed to be eccentric, as well,” Ravana commented.

“He didn’t even notice me,” Iris burst out.

All five of them came to a stop, staring at her. At the rear of the group, several paces behind, Addiwyn snorted disdainfully.

“Professor Rafe?” Maureen asked cautiously.

“Lord Gabriel,” Iris said, seeming on the verge of tears. “He didn’t even…augh, not that I blame him, I babbled like an idiot. I’m such an idiot.”

“He noticed you,” said Szith. “In fact, he spoke to you.”

“You’re right,” Addiwyn snapped. “You are an idiot.”

“Excuse you?” Iris shrieked, whirling on her.

“If you spent a little more time worrying about your studies and less obsessing about boys,” the elf sneered, “perhaps you would be a happier, calmer type of idiot. Are you even aware that you were just in a class?”

“I’ve me doubts whether that qualified as a class,” Maureen mused, while Szith subtly interposed herself between Addiwyn and Iris, who had gone from the brink of crying to the brink of attack, judging by her posture and suddenly balled fists.

“It is hardly unconventional or inappropriate for college students to dwell on their love lives, or lack thereof,” Ravana said mildly.

“Besides which,” Szith added, “apart from Professor Tellwyrn’s frankly lunatic homework assignment and Professor Rafe’s instructions to drink something distilled from grains, which I personally am going to regard as a joke, we hardly have any school work about which to be concerned.”

“Really, Addiwyn,” Ravana added, “I don’t presume to know the reason for this directionless hostility of yours, but I cannot imagine how you expect it to end well for you.”

Addiwyn stalked forward until she was within arm’s reach of Ravana and stood, glaring down at her. They made an odd tableau: both girls slender, blonde and attired in a similarly old-fashioned style. The elf towered over the human, though, and wore an expression of almost childish fury—while Ravana, who looked the more physically childlike of the two, was calm and seemed faintly amused.

“Are you threatening me, little girl?” Addiwyn asked coldly.

“I am exercising common sense,” Ravana replied. “That you took it as a threat is a case in point. It is never a good idea to indiscriminately alienate everyone you meet.”

Addiwyn curled her lip, sniffed disdainfully, and shoved rudely past her, flouncing off down the sidewalk.

“Just what the hell is that girl’s problem?” Iris growled at her back.

“She can still hear you,” Szith observed.

“Good!”

“As Addiwyn has fortuitously walled herself off from our shared room, I believe we can dismiss her airs and nonsense from concern,” said Ravana. “She will either come around or come to grief; on her head be it. Meanwhile! You mentioned Professor Tellwyrn’s homework, Szith. I think it’s time we got a head start on it.”

Maureen and Iris drew back from her hesitantly; Szith just raised an eyebrow.

“Y-you’re eager to get started drawing up plans to ambush and…what was the word? Oh, right, neutralize each o’ yer roommates?” Maureen asked hesitantly.

“Oh, goodness, no,” said Ravana, waving a hand as though brushing away cobwebs. “We will not be doing that, ladies.”

“So…you want to do the homework, but you don’t want to do the homework?” Iris blinked twice. “I’m confused.”

“It’s not homework,” Ravana said with a smile, “it is a test. Tellwyrn’s pushing us, seeing how we react to pressure. To manipulation.”

“Apparently I react by getting confused,” said Iris.

“Aye, add me t’that!”

Szith remained silent, watching Ravana closely.

The blonde turned and resumed walking along the path, forcing the others to fall into step or be left behind, and carried on speaking. “Rather than let her turn us against one another, girls, we are going to do an equivalent group project, which will require some research. Let us make for the library while we have some free time.”

“Research on each other?” Maureen asked. “In the library?”

“No, no, Maureen. We’ll all get to know one another organically, over time, as such things are meant to happen. No, the subject of research will be the true enemy here. Arachne Tellwyrn is rather famous for being inexorable and unstoppable, but there are cracks in that awesome resume of hers. She has been beaten. She’s been outwitted, she has made mistakes, she has several times allowed herself to be manipulated by becoming overly emotional. We are going to perform a brief review of everything known about her adventuring career, find all the weaknesses, all the areas in which she can be and has been beaten…” She grinned, eyes fixed on the distance far ahead. “…and rub them in her face.”

A weighty silence hung over the group for several long seconds.

“Ravana,” Maureen said at last. “I like ye an’ all, please don’t think I don’t. But that… I really believe that is the worst idea I have ever heard.”

“It certainly sounds that way, doesn’t it?” Ravana said, half-turning as she walked to give the gnome a pleased smile over her shoulder. “And that is why it will work.”

< Previous Chapter                                                                                                                          Next Chapter >