Month 11, Day 3, Tuesday 6:00 a.m.
The pain-muffling spell didn’t stop Sebastien from having sore muscles, and it wasn’t feasible to keep it running all day long, not when she needed to concentrate on her classes and practice other casting exercises. Her body was stiff when she woke on Tuesday, and every movement made her want to whimper aloud. She stilled, cast the pain-muffling spell, and kept it going through a hot shower and rubbing a whole jar of bruise balm into her muscles. The bruise balm would only help a little for this type of pseudo-injury. It wasn’t created for sore and overworked muscles, but it was better than nothing.
Besides, the deep well of exuberance she felt every time she looked around and realized where she was, the knowledge she now had access to, just waiting for her to find the time to devour it all, was not about to be dried up from a little physical fatigue. ‘This will strengthen the force and soundness of my Will,’ she assured herself. ‘I can and will torture myself for that.’
She spent the rest of the first week getting acclimated to life at the University. Every moment was filled, and the days passed quickly.
The supervised practice rooms were busy with other students in the evenings, but she found a place and spent a few hours there when she wasn’t in the library. She didn’t particularly like it. There were too many other people—talking and casting magic and generally being a distraction. ‘If only I could erase them all and learn in private, the University would be perfect.’
She ran through every variation of the spark-shooting spell that Professor Burberry had given, using both the heat of the Sacrifice Circle as well as the transmogrification components. Then, mindful of the need to push her limits, she tried to do it all with some additional variations. She used a simpler spell array as a little practice toward being a free-caster, which was the hardest, and led to exhaustion that day.
When she came back the next, she got creative with the color and brightness of the sparks, how far and quickly they shot, and the shape of the spray. When she started pushing the thaums higher to stretch her capacity, the flaring jet of sparks splashing against inside of the invisible warded bubble she was in drew attention.
She glared at the students who’d grown distracted from their own practice to look at her, and tried to tone down the light of the sparks while increasing the heat so she didn’t draw so much attention. ‘Well-deserved attention, to be sure, but Sebastien is going to disappear someday anyway, so it doesn’t matter if I build his reputation as the next future Archmage of Lenore.’ Sometimes that was hard to remember.
By the end of the first week, she had firm control of the iron ball exercise, using as many different methods to create its movement as she could think of. Professor Lacer had given her five extra exercises, not including the one everyone else was also doing. She hoped to get through the other four as quickly as possible, and poured hours of her spare time into the second exercise, which was closest to the one they were doing in class. It was a sympathetic movement spell, using a similar pair of iron balls.
However, this exercise wasn’t like a standard sympathetic movement spell. Normally, you linked two objects, and then when you lifted one, it would take a little over twice as much energy as normal, but the second object would rise with the first. His version of the spell required the linked ball to move when its partner did, but in a skewed direction or vector. With the axis of movement reversed, tilted, or even curved.
She researched several different spell arrays and glyphs she might use to create these effects, similar to what Lacer had instructed for the first exercise. It helped, but the mental component was still entirely different from any other sympathetic spell she’d ever cast, and it took some time and practice to really clarify her Will.
In effect, she was linking only the kinetic energy, while the details of how that kinetic energy was expressed were entirely arbitrary. The eventual point of the multiple sub-exercises was probably to let her move one linked ball freely, while still moving the other back and forth on a simple line. By changing the third glyph of the spell array, she could move one ball at a specific vector that was different from its counterpart, but she wasn’t to the point of free reign over the movement, yet.
Still, it was more interesting than spinning a ball in a circle over and over again. She began to experiment with that exercise, too, trying to push herself to stop and start rapidly, change directions, and pull the ball into the center and out to the edge of the glass.
Casting for hours every day was exhausting, especially when added on to the rigors of the classes and the theoretical studying they required. But she wouldn’t want to waste even a moment of the five months she’d paid so exorbitantly for. ‘I have to make it worth it.’
Sebastien spent the next couple of weeks in a blur of classes and studying. As the other students made friends and formed solid groups, she found herself isolated, except for Ana and the occasional irritation from Westbay. This was not unintentional. A few others made overtures of friendliness, which she turned down as politely as she could. She hoped, as Sebastien, to make as small an impression on the world as possible—despite her natural inclination to stand out—but even if that hadn’t been the case, she had almost no time for socialization.
She made her way through the first couple of books assigned for each class, which was enough to give her some confidence in answering the professors’ questions. She was still barely dragging herself through Fekten’s Defensive Magic class, but at least the whole-body screaming pain from overworking her muscles had somewhat subsided.
Her other classes were more enjoyable.
Professor Gnorrish, who taught Natural Science, encouraged them to study the topics they were reviewing in class more deeply. He held a test at the end of the week and gave out fractions of contribution points to those who could answer bonus questions at the end. They were covering the basics at rapid speed, but it was nothing more than a review for most students. They’d been able to pass the entrance exam, after all. But some of them had been closer to failing than others, and not everyone took natural science and the things transmutation could do seriously.
Professor Ilma continued to be fascinating, but also sometimes confusing. She didn’t particularly care that they remember dates, lineages, and ranks unless those details were critical to understanding why something important had happened. Memorization was second to comprehension.
She presented opposing arguments for the catalysts behind certain events, and sometimes even more than one version of the events themselves. She only sometimes accompanied those with an explanation of which was more likely to be true. She assigned books where historians argued with each other and made the students try to provide winning arguments for each side. Sometimes, when asked, she would give her opinions on the truth, which was often nuanced and unpleasant, but sometimes she would just say, “I don’t know.”
Some of her classmates disliked this method of teaching.
Sebastien thought it was wonderful. Ilma didn’t give out contribution points for answering bonus questions at the end of her tests, but occasionally she would give one to a student who asked an astute question, and even to students who argued with her. When the latter happened, she would assign that student special reading and tell them to discuss the matter with her when they’d finished learning more about the topic.
In fact, Ilma assigned more reading than most of the class could keep up with.
Sebastien’s grasp on history was spotty at best, what with her lack of formal schooling. She tried to get through all the books Ilma kept suggesting, but even she couldn’t manage it without skimming a little.
Ilma didn’t care one way or another, didn’t ask if they’d finished before assigning the next bit of reading, but she graded harshly for anyone who showed ignorance of a topic they’d covered.
Sympathetic Science with Professor Pecanty turned out to be less awesome magic, and more media exploration and interpretation. He would perform simple transmogrification spells so they could see different components used to create various material and abstract effects. At first, this excited her, but she grew confused, and even a little frustrated, when he didn’t teach them how to cast any of the example spells.
Instead, he focused on familiarizing the students with poems, stories, alliterations, and rhyming words. Always with example components, but with few transmogrification practice spells assigned. Instead, they discussed theme, connected word choices to feelings, and theorized about different things a seemingly straightforward piece of text could mean. There was no talk of foreign components, or the way other species used familiar ones. When she asked, Pecanty told her that was material for a higher level of study, which she might get to eventually, but not in his class.
At the end of the second week, on Saturday, she went to the library to find recipes for some concoctions the Verdant Stag required that she didn’t know how to brew. Katerin had also given her a list of potions Dryden had requested for his new emergency response teams, so Sebastien had plenty of work available, if she could manage it.
She researched and copied down recipes and their various modifications into her grimoire until she heard the bell tolling the hour and realized half the day was gone. She slumped back in her seat and rubbed tired eyes. The mental fatigue was catching up with her. Not just from the last couple of weeks at the University, but the month before that as well, with all the studying, worrying, and scrambling to complete the alarm ward project for Dryden. ‘I must pace myself. The brewing can wait till next week, I think. Perhaps half a day without work would not be amiss.’
She considered trying to take a nap, but that lead her to thinking about her dreamless sleep spell. Sleeping twice a day was the only way she was able to keep up with the demands on her mind and body, but she was used to just four or five hours of sleep per night, and it felt like her days had suddenly shortened at the same time her workload had increased.
Instead, she perused the shelves for sleeping spells that might be more effective than what she had. She found nothing encouraging. Over the last few years she’d already tried most of the things available on this first floor of the library, and had eventually to come up with her own amalgamation of concepts to create her current dreamless sleep spell.
She already knew it would help if she had thousands of thaums to put into the spell, or could somehow continue to cast the spell while sleeping. If she were more knowledgeable in artificery, perhaps she could find a way to further improve on the latest iteration, which did seem to be helping, but she wasn’t taking that class. She wasn’t even sure that her problems could be solved by putting the spell into an artifact, because of the basic restrictions of the craft.
She briefly considered trying to convert the spell into a potion. Alchemy was a ritual. With alchemy, you could store up power over the long brewing period, packing much more potency into the final effect than what you would be able to otherwise. Then, the magic packed into a concoction could be release slowly, over a longer period than the casting, or even all at once, for a powerful burst. You could portion off doses of a single brew to give to multiple users.
Artificery was active casting with a special type of spell array. With artificery, you cast a spell, and that same spell was released when the proper conditions were met. The materials needed to create an artifact were much more expensive, but could store the magical energy for a lot longer without depletion. You could release the magic a little slower, which was the principle that light crystals and her current version of the dreamless sleep spell were based on, but that was still a type of containment and restriction, which was the principle that allowed basic artifacts to hold a spell for later use. You couldn’t release the spell faster or stronger than when you’d cast it into the artifact. Perhaps much higher levels of the craft allowed more control and variation, but really her problem was a lack of power.
If she wanted to make the spell more powerful over a longer period, the artifact used to cast it on her while she slept would need to be charged for hours every day, and it would be even worse with a potion. The time required defeated the point.
If there was any way around this, the knowledge of the craft was far beyond her, at Master or even Grandmaster level. She was just too weak compared to the strength of her nightmares.
As Sebastien was standing with the intention to leave, she paused. ‘With the right resources and enough Will, magic can solve all problems. What if there was some way to increase my stamina, or to enhance the regenerative effects of sleep? That would solve the problem even better.’ She used one of the silver-etched crystal balls in the atrium to divine a list of books that matched keywords like “sleep,” “stamina,” and “enhanced regeneration.” The ball gave her an encouragingly long list of codes, strings of letters and numbers that would lead her to the right section, stack, and order of the books she was looking for. “Everyday” magic like this still brought a smile to her face, and she doubted that would ever completely go away.
It took her a couple of hours to get through the first half of the list, and though most of the books had been only peripherally related to the topic, she found a couple of semi-promising ones and checked them out for later perusal.
More tired than ever by that point, Sebastien packed her things and returned the alchemy books to the shelves, then strolled out into the faintly foggy afternoon. ‘I can do it all,’ she assured herself. ‘Maybe not right away, I do need rest, but if there’s not enough time or energy, maybe that just means I haven’t found the best way to approach the problem yet. There has to be a way for me to do it all.’