The Care and Feeding of Magical Creatures

Azalea Ellis posting on behalf of Jaye Finch, per our agreement.


Late afternoon during the first few days of the break between Sebastien’s 1st and 2nd term

[Honeymoon Suite Inspired, Absolutely, Definitely Not Canon or Canon Adjacent in the Past or Future]

Thaddeus walked back from his meeting with the University administration, musing about his recent interference in his apprentice’s personal life. The Dean of the University refused to allow students to stay in the dorms over the break because the dormitories were scheduled to be cleansed magically, and the wards were to be strengthened and re-cast in preparation for the following semester. The University had grown increasingly paranoid about the possibility of a student triggering a mass break event, especially after his apprentice’s dramatic incident with one of his colleagues at the end of the winter term. Warding specialists had been summoned from several major arcanums to assist with the monumental task, and the University administration had spent the last few weeks working closely with the Red Guard to update their containment features. He had, of course, been consulted, but he had no interest in sacrificing the precious few weeks of the break when he could delve deeper into his research. The Dean had been eager to express his complete confidence in student safety measures for the next semester, and he reassured Thaddeus that his apprentice was welcome to stay in the dormitories or future breaks. Of course, the Dean was a fool. No amount of planning could prevent the inevitable.

But that was why they hired Thaddeus, after all. 

He had complete confidence in his skills to deal with most potential threats that could erupt at the school, but he cursed himself for the string of decisions that led him to this afternoon’s failed meeting. Allowing his emotions to get the better of him was one of his few lingering bad habits. 

He suspected his desire for company–for a companion–had spurred him on to make an exception for Sebastien Siverling’s intellect and exceptional talent, taking the young man on as his apprentice. He had imagined spending a few hours a week on private lessons with Siverling, being able to split his attention between the additional exercises and grading coursework, with no other disruptions to his life. 

Initially, Thaddeus had rejected the idea of acquiring a feline companion because the care and feeding of a pet would require a commitment of his time, possibly more than he desired. Cats were demanding, curious creatures that might disrupt his work flow. . .  Or, worse, spill coffee on priceless texts and leave ink prints on his belongings. He doubted that any affection he had for a cat would last if his research were to be destroyed. 

Contrary to his expectations, in a few short months he found himself spending more time on Siverling than he possibly could have spent caring for a pet. He found himself losing sleep, chasing the boy about the city to rescue him from his own reckless idiocy, and even resorting to petty bribery to keep the boy out of the hands of the coppers.

Offering to let his apprentice stay at his cottage until he could convince the school to allow him stay in the dormitories for the summer was yet another mistake. 

Now, after two days of Siverling sleeping on his couch, he had been forced to reassess his prior assumptions about his apprentice’s competence at life. The young man wasn’t semi-competent, he was utterly inept. Instead of sleeping, he stayed awake casting spells in the middle of the night. Instead of eating, he downed a cup of coffee and disappeared to the library until they kicked him out. Thaddeus supposed that the lure of the library was at least partly responsible for Siverling’s gaunt appearance, but a lecture on the many ways a thaumaturge could break their Will by neglecting to fuel their body’s basic needs was still not enough to get him to show up for dinner. 

He supposed he should be grateful that Siverling was, at least, fastidious about his personal hygiene. 

He walked up the winding path to his home and placed his hand on the door, opening it with a scowl as he released his hair from its tie and stepped inside. 

Siverling was sprawled on the floor in the living area, with the carpet rolled back and draped on his overstuffed chair to provide access to the floor. The boy was outlining a complex spell array, and although Thaddeus could not see the Circles in any detail, he wasn’t similarly spared from seeing the rest of the room. 

The boy’s luggage was tucked in a corner, but his satchel was hanging open off of the desk chair. It appeared as though the entire contents of the bag had been upended on Thaddeus’s previously neat floor. Components, books, pens, and chalk littered the smooth stone. Mathematical equations and smeared notes and gibberish covered the floor, with lines linking frantically from idea to idea, connecting notes on the baseboards to the floor where the boy kneeled. 

Thaddeus closed the door behind him slowly and firmly, pausing to allow the sound to penetrate his apprentice’s thick skull. The boy tensed, turned around, and opened his mouth as if to speak – and then quickly closed it. 

Perhaps there was some small amount of sense buried deep inside his brain. 

Thaddeus leaned back against the door and raised an eyebrow. Siverling swallowed audibly, and tentatively said, “It’s not… Well…” He cleared his throat and his poor attempt at an explanation evaporated in the air between them. “I got carried away. I apologize. I’ll clean this up immediately.”

Thaddeus said nothing, allowing the silence to sink into the room as he watched his apprentice start to erase the chalk markings on the floor with his ink-stained fingers and a handkerchief. He watched, letting the minutes pass as his glare waned into faint amusement. Before he allowed himself to shed his annoyance completely, he checked the desk and end tables for any damage to his precariously stacked sheafs of papers. He was certain that there must be a mug of coffee somewhere amidst the chaos. 

He found the nearly empty mug on the floor–thankfully safe from any priceless historical texts or his manuscript–and rescued it and an overturned ink pot from creating any further messes. He could clean the entire room up in a fraction of the time, of course, but his apprentice was the one responsible for this disaster, and he would require a small amount of time to muse on his mistakes. Thaddeus, realizing that most of his lingering irritation could be attributed to simple hunger, went to the kitchen and toasted bread to prepare several sandwiches. By the time he finished preparing their dinner, Siverling stood tall and composed at the entrance to the kitchen. 

Thaddeus handed him a plate and waved him to the table, waiting until they were both seated to speak. “The Dean and the University Administration will not allow you to stay in the dormitory over the break.” He took a bite of his sandwich and watched his apprentice carefully. There was no reaction other than the flash of emotion deep within Siverling’s eyes that he quickly replaced with his usual mask. Thaddeus assumed the emotion was horror, and continued to eat, perversely enjoying the charged silence that stretched between them. 

“I can find somewhere else to stay. I tried to explain to you before that this is an enormous miscommunication. Dryden—Lord Dryden–is not nearly so bad as Titus made him out to be. I do have other friends in the city. . .”

That was most certainly not an option. Thaddeus had no reason to doubt Titus, but even if his friend’s story about the unhealthy obsession Lord Dryden harbored for his apprentice was partially true, he would not allow Dryden to have further interference in his apprentice’s life. The young man had already proved that he was foolish enough to put himself under someone else’s control, and that could interfere with Thaddeus’s plans for his future. He finished his first sandwich and continued to the next, still carefully watching the young man sitting across from him. 

“I told you that you would stay here until you could resume living in the dormitories. I see no reasons to change our arrangement. However, from this point forward, I expect your behavior to change.”

Siverling stared at him for a few moments with his dark, assessing gaze, and nodded, then turned his full attention to the sandwiches on his plate. 

Thaddeus watched him finish the plate of food with a faint sense of satisfaction, and decided that, perhaps, he should be grateful that Siverling didn’t shed.

Chaos in the Riptide

Per our agreement, I, Azalea Ellis, am posting this content on behalf of Jaye Finch.


Month 3, Day 25, 5:30 p.m.

(Set between 148 and 149)

Thaddeus strode from his office towards the library administration center with a purpose, parting the stragglers in the hallways with his scowl. As he walked through the open doors, he preemptively glared at the administration assistants to deter any further amorous advances from the staff.  In the past, he might have taken a malevolent pleasure in allowing them to embarrass themselves, but over time he found himself less amused by the prurient interest that Gilbrathans seemed to have with him. Perhaps, due in part to his expression or the end of term distractions, the behavior of the woman on duty was professional as she handed him a small message. He read it and immediately left, traveling towards the University exit and hailing a carriage once he was at the base of the cliffs.

As Thaddeus headed back to his favorite book store, a small, multi-story shop on the edge of the Mires, he mused over the latest incident he rescued his apprentice from.  He had expected more surprises as he continued to assess the progression of Siverling’s abilities in their private lessons, but to learn that he could cast with a conduit touching any part of his body was as startling as it was intriguing. There were thaumaturges throughout history who, reportedly, could cast through conduit contact on any part of their skin. While this was not a topic that he was an expert in, one of the texts he recently acquired about the People contained a small anecdote about the ability, asserting that it was a genetic predisposition instead of a learned skill. 

He had not been entirely honest with his students or his colleagues today, of course. After decades of attempts, he could barely cast a simple levitation spell with his conduit pressed in the crook of his arm or between his wrists. The overpowering riptide of magical energy that his Will effortlessly channeled slowed into the barest trickle once the conduit lost contact with his hands, as if he was a leviathan of the rainforest cut down to the roots. 

But Thaddeus had no incentive to admit to other professors that he was not capable of performing fantastical feats of magic, especially those that his apprentice demonstrated with ease. Now that he had time to contemplate his earlier decision, Thaddeus decided that he made the correct choice on the way to the underground shelter–he would prefer not to draw more unwanted attention to his apprentice. Idly, he wondered if he knew of the thaumaturge who laid the foundations for Siverling’s exceptional control and force of Will, but he dismissed the thought. When the next term resumed, there would be plenty of time to sate his curiosity about his apprentice’s background. 

As he exited the carriage and paid for his ride, the warming air filled his nose with the city scents, salt air, and the faintest stench of the Mires. The bookstore was one of many buildings in Gilbratha that had seen better decades, with several additions piling on top of each other to create a cramped, multi-story shop that catered to the esoteric interests of academics. He suspected that the shop may originally have been a front for criminal activity, considering the location and niche offerings. Perhaps it still was.

He ducked slightly as he walked in, breathing deeply to fill his lungs with the unmistakable scent of the old bookstore, antique texts mingling with the new in the dusty shop. The light crystals were dim but plentiful, and every nook and narrow aisle was adequately lit, with stools scattered in corners to access the shelves that reached to the ceiling. The proprietor stepped partway down the stairs and asked, “Are you in a hurry today, Grandmaster Lacer? Your order is here, but I received a small shipment of miscellaneous texts from an estate sale that are supposed to be from the Blood Emperor’s reign. I haven’t had a chance to evaluate their authenticity, but they struck me as something you might be interested in.”

“I have a few minutes,” he said as he followed the shopkeeper to the second floor and perused the crate. He found nothing of particular relevance to his research, but that was to be expected. He browsed the stacks, picking up a newer book that had information on pre-Cataclysm magical artificery. Rumors suggested that the University expedition may have uncovered artifacts in addition to the books, and Kiernan had hinted that he might have the opportunity to examine the haul–perhaps some of those items could be from before the Cataclysm? His lips curved upwards in a faint smirk, and he paused to rein in his thoughts. Excitement was no excuse for making baseless assumptions, no matter how fascinated he might be about the whispers passed between the faculty. The discoveries were almost guaranteed to be valuable, but it was unlikely that even a small percentage of the rumors he heard were based in truth. 

The normal ebb and flow of the University gossip had been swept into a tsunami with the arrival of his mysterious apprentice, and while he attempted to ignore the inane chatter of the students, it was impossible to avoid completely. Even he had heard a few variations on the kraken rumor that started at the beginning of the term. 

Thaddeus strongly suspected it originated from Munchworth. 

His smirk widened maliciously when he recalled the petrified looks on the faces of the upper term history students last month when he assigned them demerit points for repeating the drivel. In any case, it did not matter. His new agreement with Kiernan would provide more than enough opportunities to indulge in petty vengeance that would be more satisfying to him than a simple cutting remark in a faculty meeting.

Thaddeus wondered how his apprentice ignored the ever-increasing outlandish rumors, and almost laughed to himself at the absurdity of his speculation. The real wonder was how Siverling managed to survive his first term, or even into his teens, with such a proclivity for recklessness. Practically, of course, he was an imbecile, but he was such a thaumaturgic prodigy that Thaddeus found himself willing to go to surprising lengths to protect the young man. He doubted that his guidance and criticism would be enough to keep Siverling from participating in perilous adventures in the following term, but Thaddeus was uninterested in wasting his time on someone who would kill himself before he achieved his Mastery. Perhaps he would have to find a different way to tailor his message to Siverling, as the boy didn’t seem to absorb his lectures about good judgment as voraciously as he consumed lessons in free casting.

As he walked down the stairs, he asked the proprietor, “I am searching for a gift to express my affection to someone I care for. A gift to communicate that I want them in my life.”

The older man attempted–and failed–to keep the surprise off his face, and walked to the counter. He rummaged in the cabinets beneath and pulled out a copy of a book titled Dream Work, putting it in Thaddeus’s hands. “Ah! A gift for a lover, perhaps? This is a personal fav-“

“Something more practical,” Thaddeus interrupts, setting the book of poetry onto the counter. He glanced about the displays and spotted a self help book with a trite title, leafing through it rapidly while tuning out the shopkeeper’s banal remarks. 

He closed the book and set it with his other selections. How utterly appropriate. “This will do.”

The shopkeeper stared incredulously at the book, “I’m not sure if that will send the message you intend… Most ladies prefer something a bit more, ah, heartfelt.”

Luckily, Thaddeus was not interested in purchasing books of poetry for a potential lover, and he doubted that his apprentice would be unclear about his intentions after reading this particular book. It was not as if he was giving the young man jewelry, after all. He paid for his books, carefully storing them in a satchel he had created with a library’s worth of shelving tucked neatly into the folded space. One never knew when they might need to have the right book on hand. He nodded a brusque farewell and entered the darkness of the street, hailing another carriage to take him back to the foot of the cliffs.

As he rode up the incline to the University, he carefully removed the brown paper covered parcel of his special order from the folded space in his bag. He unwrapped it and held the three books in his hands with an almost visceral excitement. Blood, Bone, and Gold: Casting with Creative Conduits, Out of Bounds: a Timeless History of the Native Tribes, and Nomadic Tribes of the Continent, the latter of which was a series. An abundance of curiosity about the world was, after all, the first virtue of a thaumaturge.

In the back of his mind, a question remained. What if she did not live up to his expectations? What if his carefully constructed idea of the mysterious woman was flawed, and he had created a simulacrum of her that was nothing more than what he wanted to be true?

Standard disclaimer: I, Jaye Finch, do not own anything in the Practical Guide to Sorcery Universe or any related source material or characters  and will not make any money off of this creation. I retain my rights to have it shared or taken down now and in the future. 

PGTS is owned by Azalea Ellis and she retains her copyright to her books, characters, universe, and all related source material. She has my permission to publish this and any other writings I send her to her website or social media under the penname. Neither of us will profit off of this writing, and the story is intended for entertainment purposes only.

The Honeymoon suite 7 – Twisted Conclusions


Month 3, Day 20, Saturday 12:45am

The adrenaline of Titus’s confrontation with Lord Dryden had passed, and it had been long enough since Titus’s last meal that he no longer felt hungry, only tired and weak. He inserted his finger between his tie and his neck, pulling side to side to loosen the elaborate knot a little. But no matter how tired he was, his thoughts continued rolling along with the wheels of the carriage below him.

Titus had caught Oliver at the perfect moment, in almost the perfect circumstances. He had learned a lot from the normally smooth man’s reactions. Oliver had asked him what he could really learn by speaking only to those who knew Mr. Siverling. But Titus knew you could tell quite a lot about someone from the relationships they had with others.

He pulled out the drawer next to his feet, took out a glass, and opened the small ice box artifact within, from which he pulled a bottle of his favorite juice. Taking a sip, he sighed gratefully and relaxed back into the carriage seat, savoring the sweetness mixed with just a hint of tartness, all riding on the magical velvet serenity of the golden apple. As little bubbles of compressed air popped on his tongue, he considered what he had learned.

Sebastien Siverling had a worrying number of admirers. It was even more concerning how far Lord Dryden was willing to go for him. This Siverling had Oliver wrapped around his finger like a piece of thread, gaining benefits, loyalty, and protection while in return providing nothing more than the seeds for Oliver to cultivate a one-sided longing. How much practice had Siverling had at this?

Titus could imagine that even if Damien was not romantically interested in other men, he could still be emotionally vulnerable to a skilled manipulator. Childhood scars lingered for life, and Titus hadn’t been able to protect his little brother like he wished. He had failed their mother’s memory, in that. But he would not let his inability keep him from trying his best.

No matter how serious Oliver could get when those he cared about were threatened, in the end he was naive. Though he spent an unreasonable amount of resources trying to help the poor, never quite grasping that no matter how much he invested of his time, care, and energy, he couldn’t change the base nature of this world. He would never meaningfully, or permanently, improve the lives of more than a few thousand people, at best. Most would slide right back into the poverty, addiction, and filth that had plagued them before Oliver came along with his misguided righteousness.

Just as Oliver invested into his philanthropic projects for a future that would never come, he was lavishing both coin and care on Sebastien Siverling, hoping to sate a longing that would only grow. Perhaps Oliver even realized how hopeless it was, but couldn’t stop himself. Oliver wasn’t normally the type to need to purchase a prostitute, after all.

Unlike Oliver’s other beneficiaries, Siverling would use everything he was given to its best effect. Coin, clothes, influence. Opportunity. Siverling may have come from poverty and struggle, but he was the type to make sure he never slid back. His ambition was obvious.

As Titus’s carriage stopped in front of Westbay Manor, he looked up at its dark windows and sighed. The rain was coming harder now, and the umbrella he usually kept in his carriage had been left behind at Harrow Hill the week before. If he had half the skill of their mother, he would be able to free-cast a shield against the rain. But, alas, Titus was forced to run up to the house with his jacket held up to half cover him, waving off the carriage driver’s attempt to help.

Inside, he took off the wet outer layer of clothing, padded in his socked feet to the kitchen, and turned on the ceiling lamp to peek into the ice box. Being careful so as to not make enough noise to wake the servants, several of whom had quarters near the kitchen, he pulled out the small metal pan of simple soup he required always be stored within, using the stove to heat it. While he couldn’t cook, he had learned to do at least this much competently.

He used a cloth towel to pick up the small pan by its handles, moving to the dining room table to eat. When he had gone too long without food, anything more would leave his stomach cramping horribly.

As he ate, chewing each bite methodically and allowing time for the food to settle before taking another bite, Titus continued to consider Damien’s situation.

Siverling’s vague connection to King Krell had concerned Titus more than he let on. Oh, he wasn’t worried that the young man had any sort of legitimate claim to nobility. What raised his guard was the thought of what might come from someone being told their whole life that the throne was stolen from their ancestors. That they were unjustly forced to live in poverty, in hiding, despite being worthy of better. He was worried about the kind of mental state that would have someone, upon becoming an adult, choose to take up the name of those ancestors once more.

Titus respected ambition, but when it grew to be the single most driving force of one’s life, it could pull one thin and taut like a razor wire.

Most importantly, Titus worried that Damien would get tangled up in that wire, and then sliced apart by its uncaring, sharp edges.

No, Titus thought, staring at the dregs in the bottom of his soup pan. Oliver was naive, and someone with the right insight and leverage could take advantage of his loyalty, how deeply he cared. The man had tried to hide some things, such as his attraction to someone so inappropriate, but Titus believed he had been generally honest, with his emotions if not with his words. But there were things Oliver didn’t know.

And Sebastien Siverling had made a mistake. Perhaps the young man didn’t realize how close Titus and Damien were. Because Titus distinctly remembered Damien complaining about how arrogantly Sebastien had bragged that he, too, had a history of free-casters in his family.

And how could that be the case, if he was truly an orphan with no knowledge of his heritage?

Oliver had been right about one thing, at least. Titus had accomplished all he could, circling around from the edges. It was time to speak to those involved directly.

Chapter 148 – A Tree of Sand and Light


Month 3, Day 25, Thursday 2:00pm

After leaving the infirmary with a bill of clean health, Sebastien and Damien returned to the Flats to give their “after-action reports,” which took a distressingly long time. She was sure most of the other students weren’t treated like witnesses in an investigation, forced to repeat things and dig for detail and motivations over and over again. The proctors taking her report kept making notes and stopping to murmur together, throwing her odd looks.

In the end, she insisted upon leaving in time to make her scheduled slot in the Practical Casting exhibition. Once again dressed in her own clothing, with the security of her holster and the black sapphire Conduit pressed against the skin of her back, she hurried across the grounds. As she strode with purpose, those in the crowds milling about made way for her. Sebastien ignored the various stages, food carts, and game stations to arrive at the stage that had been set aside for the Practical Casting students.

The performances were running behind schedule, so Sebastien took a seat in the small area at the front of the stands set aside for students like her, setting the box that contained her supplies by her feet. Several of the nearby students introduced themselves, while others whispered together, not even trying to hide the fact that they were talking about her.

Sebastien sighed, turned her attention toward the stage, and did her best to ignore them like the irritating flies they were. Small mirrors like those used in the Defense exam arena had been set up on stands, replicating the image reflected in them onto much larger mirrors that would allow even those at the back of the stage to see clearly, though they carried no sound.

A third term student who had cast a fairly simple spell with only a single glyph stepped down, replaced by a fourth term who quickly moved to set up their own performance, then used a single spell array to create a fountain show from a shallow basin of water. It seemed the Practical Casting exhibitions at this point were nothing particularly impressive. She suspected the upper term students had been scheduled for the day after, saving the best for last.

As another lackluster presentation followed, Sebastien’s thoughts wandered to more impressive magics. Professor Lacer had done more ambitious spells with a casual wave of his hand. She could only imagine what he was capable of with transmogrification’s higher order connections. Had he ever traveled to one of the Elemental Planes, perhaps? She would love to experience such wonder.

Sebastien thought back to that strange twinkling meteor that the old man from the Architects of Khronos had cast above Knave Knoll. It, too, must have been some kind of transmogrification. She still hadn’t figured out how it might work, or even why a spell would be designed like that. Perhaps a fourth-order association, the kind Professor Lacer had said was beyond the scope of their class?

The breeze blew her hair into her face, carrying the scent of sweet treats, fresh mud, and the budding greenness of spring, all riding over the ever-present salt of Charybdis Gulf. Sebastien tucked her pale hair behind her ears. Even her hair was an example of the kind of magic her fellow students could not hope to imitate. It had grown longer after all the time spent in this body. Perhaps it was time to cut it.

Shortly after the Knave Knoll attack, Sebastien had overheard a group of upper-term students gossiping. Apparently, one man had gone down to peek around the crime scene, making himself temporarily popular to all the classmates who were hungry for gossip. When she had inserted herself into the conversation, the man had bean eager to tell her what he could.

“Well, I couldn’t get close because the Red Guard are still swarming around the site. They have it cordoned off and the coppers were stationed around the edge to keep people from slipping past. But I saw the crater! It was dozens of meters across. I can’t even imagine the type of spell that could have caused such a thing.” The man had continued on for a long while after that, sharing inane details and his own speculation while Sebastien tried to pretend like she was still interested. “Whoever those terrorists were, they must have been as dangerous as an Aberrant, don’t you think? But if you’re interested just because the Red Guard was there, I have to disappoint you, because I’m pretty sure no actual Aberrants made an appearance.”


“Oh, well, I heard you were interested in Aberrants, right?”

“Where did you hear that?” Sebastien had asked, frowning.

The man had raised his eyebrows, then gave her a commiserating smile. “Oh, you know, around. It’s pretty common knowledge that you fought one. I really admire your courage, but you shouldn’t be so reckless. I’m sure Professor Lacer would be willing to recommend you to the Red Guard once you’ve gotten your certification and completed your apprenticeship. There are rumors he used to work for them.” He’d laughed, then. “Well, you’d know that better than I, wouldn’t you?”

Sebastien frowned, ignoring the latest student’s presentation as she stared off into the distance. ‘Even if it was fourth order association, why would it create such a wasteful spell? Are there some rules or principles I’m unaware of? What is the point of creating a physical manifestation and destroying an entire building, when it would seemingly have been simpler to just use some mass paralysis spell or send in some sedative?’ Perhaps the wards were set up to block all the more common applications, and the Architects had needed to get creative to bypass them, she reasoned. Or maybe that old man thaumaturge she’d accidentally killed was just showing off.

“—erling. Mr. Siverling!”

Sebastien jerked to alertness, turning to the student aide calling her name in an annoyed tone.

The woman rapped her knuckles on her clipboard. “Are you prepared? Please take your place on the stage.”

Sebastien stood up and hurried to climb the stairs with her box of supplies. As a student at third-term or below, she’d only been given ten minutes to display her skills, so she needed to set up quickly. As she crouched to draw out her spell array, a quick glance up revealed that the audience stands were packed much fuller than they had been when she arrived. Many of the seats were taken not by outside guests, but by her fellow students, indicated by the wooden tokens they all wore.

She shot a quick look to the judge’s table, where Professor Lacer sat. Now that her mind was not so occupied with the possibility of being blasted to smithereens by another of her professors, seeing him reminded her of Oliver’s recent secret note. Again, it had been disguised as a promotional letter from a local tailor’s shop, but the message inside implied that Thaddeus Lacer had requested to meet the Raven Queen. Oliver had sent a second note after that, asking to meet at her earliest convenience, but even if she hadn’t been avoiding him, she’d had no free time during finals week.

As she crouched on the stage, staring up at Professor Lacer, she had a moment of vertigo. She didn’t know what to do with that information. Not after the recent upheaval in her situation. Or at least her comprehension of the reality of her situation.

Professor Lacer gave her a small, almost imperceptible nod, jarring her attention back to the current moment. She focused her Will into the setup, every movement purposeful, chalk lines large enough to sprawl over almost the entire stage. Both a triangle and a pentagram went inside, for control over both energy and matter. Three glyphs, “light,” “shaping,” and “heat” went at equidistant points around the center. She finished by setting two clay pots in their smaller component Circles on either side, and one pot full of gravel at the front, nearest the stage and the judges. For this spell, she didn’t even need a beast core. In fact, taking the power from elsewhere was part of the show.

Finally, she stood to the side of one of the largest spell arrays she had ever used, took a deep breath, and wrapped her fingers around her Conduit. She was ready.

Her Will contracted down, caught the light out of the area bounded by the Circle, and channeled it into the lines of the spell array. Sebastien’s heart beat firmly, a little too fast but without fear, and she couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face as she pulled the darkness back to create a backdrop. She pulled heat from the area, reaching deeper and deeper into the pitch black shadows until the water particles in the air turned to ice.

As the breeze dragged at the area with its ephemeral fingers, a white fog wafted from the shadows. Sebastien had practiced this several times, and knew that the effect was quite dramatic. Ominous, even.

She held that steady for a few seconds, and then moved on to the second step. While maintaining the Sacrifice of light and heat, she pulled at the sticky, metallic sand in the leftmost component pot. The clumped chunks and tendrils moved through the air slowly, almost invisible against the darkness until she used some of the light she was siphoning off from the back half of the Circle to add a glow. As the glowing particles and tendrils arrived at the front, she compressed them into the shape of a single glowing seed.

Then, she did the same for the other pot, pulling a dark amber, honey-like substance to the seed, where she integrated the two in marble-like patterns. It was a resin that she had mixed various incense oils into until she got just the right smell.

That was the final step. She closed her eyes and imagined the finished product, then opened them, a blazing determination in her chest, fueling her Will as she began to showcase her abilities in earnest. She pulled on the light and the heat and used its energy to fuel her control of the sand, the resin, and the ethereal glow, all at once.

She had been practicing this in phases, first teaching herself to mold the sticky sand like a sculptor, then doing so while adding tiny sparkles and wisps of light, and then the addition of the backdrop of darkness to set it all off.

None of the pieces of this spell were so difficult by themselves, but doing them all at once was a strain on her multitasking abilities, and she felt likely to fumble the whole thing due to sheer complexity. One spell, multiple complex effects, but each of them based on simple principles. Most of which she had learned in Professor Lacer’s class, or from the auxiliary exercises he had assigned: complex movement of an object, the particulate to stone spell, using light as both Sacrifice and output. If she hadn’t been practicing with all of the individual elements for so long, this likely would have been impossible, even with a complex spell array with dozens of glyphs and a fully written Word.

The glowing seed broke open, a delicate, hopeful leaf sprouting out from it even as roots dug downward into the gravel. She fed the living sculpture more metallic sand and amber resin, weaving them together as the seed sprouted into a sapling, sprouting branches and leaves as it shoved its way out and up from the dark ground. The tree grew bolder and more robust as it aged under her Will, as if speeding through days, weeks, and months, strands of resin and sand layered atop each other and reaching outward toward the sky.

As the tree grew larger, the strain on her Will increased, pushing at it from every direction as if the tree was trying to burrow out of her grasp like roots through an old cobblestone wall.

She had tried using a tree nut to add some transmogrification to the spell and thus make the shaping easier and more instinctive, but found that it only made everything harder and left her struggling to weave all the pieces seamlessly together. Instead, she had to hold the evolving shape entirely in her mind, the evocative parts meant to stimulate emotion carefully planned and controlled.

The living sculpture reached the height of her hip. She had wanted to add sounds and maybe illusory birds in the tree’s branches at this point, but that was still beyond her. Instead, for the final step, she molded the last of the resin into the shape of tiny fruit, then channeled heat into the tree, from root to crown. The resin layered throughout the tree came just short of catching fire, but began to smoke and glow a smoldering orange that would burn for a couple hours, until it was all burnt away. The heat had the added effect of solidifying and hardening all of the sticky metallic sand firmly in place.

Breathing hard, she let the spell stay as it was for a moment. Then, slowly, the ethereal glow disappeared. The darkness that she had held toward the back of the Circle swept forward to make a complete dome once more, gobbling up the tree.

Two precise seconds of darkness passed, and then she dropped that as well, revealing the final result.

A miniature tree sat on the stage in its gravel-filled pot, only a few feet high but as gnarled and detailed-looking as she could make it. The resin ran through its bark in decorative, marble-like stripes and hung from the tips of its branches like teardrops. It fumed like dying lava, smoke from the carefully blended incense that she had mixed into it beforehand riding on the breeze in tendrils that looked surprisingly graceful.

Sebastien eyed the result with mixed feelings. It looked pretty enough, she supposed, but it was nothing special. She wasn’t powerful enough yet to produce any truly impressive spectacles. She looked out at the audience, and then to the judges, trying to gauge their reaction. They were all still and silent, staring down at her. She had been worried that she was unable to make the tree any larger, but hoped the image replicating mirrors would have mitigated that problem. Now, she was less sure.

She bowed to the audience. ‘Maybe I should have chosen something different besides a tree? Perhaps the audience would have appreciated something more dramatic, like a sculpture of a sky kraken. Using the animal from their crest would have even shown loyalism to the University. Why didn’t I think of that beforehand?’ Trying to keep her disappointment from her face, Sebastien picked up the tree sculpture and turned to walk off the stage, leaving the two empty pots behind.

“Sebastien Siverling, first term student and apprentice of Professor Thaddeus Lacer!” the student aide repeated somewhat belatedly.

Someone in the audience screamed with excitement, then started clapping wildly. Sebastien looked up in surprise.

Damien stood there grinning with all his might, surrounded by his group of Crown Family friends, all packed into the stands amongst their classmates. Others soon followed his example. The applause grew louder than she had expected, with several shrill voices screaming her name, some even stamping their feet when it seemed that their hands and mouths together couldn’t create enough noise.

One girl actually threw a rose at her, and Sebastien had to duck to avoid being caught in the face by its thorny stem.

Wide-eyed, Sebastien hurried toward the judge’s table, where several of them were whispering together, no doubt discussing her fate. She sat the tree down in its center, cleared her throat against the smoking incense, and said simply, “A gift. Thank you for the opportunity.”

The bark and leaves glinted as the texture caught the light, and the resin within seemed to seethe with rage. She hoped that seeing it up close, the detail she had put so much effort into might impress them a little, along with the smell. Pecanty loved it when his students talked about smell. There might be those among the judges just as obsessed with it as him.

As she turned to walk away, the audience was still clapping and yelling. Fighting down a blush, she bowed to them awkwardly again, then moved through the stands to join Damien and the others. She sat down and tried to drown out the noise, letting her mind relax after the arduous undertaking of her performance.

The judges conferred for a couple minutes while the student aide helped ready the stage for the next exhibition. To her surprise, the one in the center stood up, holding megaphone cone to his mouth. “To Sebastien Siverling, seventy contribution points for exceptional power, depth of range, and stability,” he announced.

Officially, contribution points weren’t finalized until the exhibitions had ended, after which they would be posted on the announcement board in the library and at the University entrance, as well as mentioned in most of the local newspapers. After all, there were a limited number of points to go around, and the most impressive exhibitions were saved until Friday. The judges only made immediate announcements of contribution points for those who made an extraordinary showing.

Damien screamed in Sebastien’s ear, seemingly more excited about this than she was. “By all the greater hells! Sebastien, why didn’t I know you were going to do something that amazing? You told me you were just going to display your grasp on the stuff we mastered in class!”

While those around her were jostling and cheering, she looked over to Professor Lacer, who gave her a smile and a single, slow nod.

“I’m an official apprentice, now,” she murmured, laughing as she slumped back into her seat.