“Where is he?” Lyla demanded, eyes blazing with fire as her gaze shifted from one man to the other. “I know Zelfer’s in this garden somewhere.”
“He’s up there,” the older of the students spoke, jerking his chin behind them.
She didn’t reply as she brushed past the two and climbed the path toward the garden. Each stair she climbed was long, built with the gentle incline of the walkway. A fragrant scent told her that azalea bushes lined the path, but the obnoxiously bright fluorescent lights illuminating the night washed out the red and pinks of the flower. As the boys had said, when the clearing opened out in front of her, she saw a man slumped over on a bench with a book held open by one hand. The other had his head resting upon it.
But the person there was most certainly not the one she’d been searching for - his hair and face were completely different than the one who wouldn’t stop his advances. Half of his brown hair was tied up in a tight bun at the back of his head while the other half hung loose, stopping at his shoulder blades. Instead of scarlet and black, his clothes were a light pastel blue and white. When his eyes turned to her, the sharp golden hazel rooted her on the spot. The question of who he was died on her intake of breath as he spoke.
“Hello my little princess.”
Nevermind, it’s definitely him. Her face twisted in aggravation and the mischievous smile spread across his in response. “I just came to say, I don’t care how strong you are or how rich or whatever. Just leave me alone.”
“But Lyla, it’s you who came to see me this time.”
Lyla bristled at his response. “To get you off my back! I’ll never like someone like you so get lost!”
“How cruel.” Even as Zelfer said the words, the smile dancing across his face didn’t lessen which only made her more and more furious. “Do you like my other face better? I can change it back.”
Well before she could even get the word out, his features were already morphing. The jawline sharpened, the hair changed from brown to black and grew another couple of inches while his overall body increased in height. As an afterthought, he swept his hand downward and the blue clothes switched to black with scarlet threads.
“Can you not do that? It’s so disorienting.”
“Hm? I think it’s fun though. Do you want me to teach you how?”
“No!” Lyla spun on her heels and marched off several feet.
“Wait and I’ll show you one other fun thing before you leave.”
She ground her teeth, but curiosity drove her to turn her head back around. “Hurry up and get on with it then so you won’t bother me again.”
The grin appeared once more, showing off his overly sharp canines. Zelfer lazily drew his pointer finger vertically through the air. From that spot, a dark mist began to coalesce, swirling like a miniature hurricane. As it turned to black, he reached a hand inside and pulled an object out. It wasn’t until the creature settled on the ground that she could make out what it was: a small dog. The dog had the classic appearance of a black and white husky, but half the size, although it didn’t appear to be a puppy.
“He’s quite well-behaved,” Zelfer said, continuing to draw his finger through the air. Each motion meant something to the little dog as he sat, spun, jumped and barked. He flicked his finger out and the dog’s eyes locked onto her. “You did tell me you liked dogs.”
“I-I hope you know this doesn’t change anything!” Lyla shot back. Even so, she knelt down as the little dog sniffed her curiously.
Lyla played with it until a chilly wind began to blow. It had been uncharacteristically warm for mid-spring, but that didn’t stop the cold air from coming with the night and cutting through her thin jacket. She shivered and rubbed her hands over her arms a few times.
Zelfer had been so quiet, Lyla had almost managed to forget he was there, until he spoke in the haughty tone she was, regretfully, growing much too familiar with. “Cold?”
“No.” She remained defiant, but the slight quavering of her voice as she held back chattering teeth gave her away.
He laughed. “Why must you be so stubborn? It only takes a small request.”
“Be quiet. I can do it myself.” She moved the finger of her left hand to the ground, tracing the runes for heat generation. The word was long, but the strokes uncomplicated. Where her finger touched stone, a thin red glow remained, and when the word was complete, she set her palm upon it, fusing the concept with more magical energy to create the construct. The cobbled stones of the garden warmed beneath her. It was enough to chase away the chill from her legs, but it would take time for her upper body to feel the effects.
“Hm, the usage of fuayeon isn’t very original; it’s very much a student’s take on the concept. Easy yes, but not very effective in comparison to energy consumption.”
“You’re still a student too! Even if you do skip half of the lectures.”
A smile curled up the left corner of his lips as his finger once again floated lazily upon the air. A small fiery glow followed it. It only took a couple of strokes of the rune for Lyla felt the effects. Now, not only was the ground warmer than before, the air had returned to a noontime temperature. “That’s… a compact rune?” She couldn’t help but stare in astonishment. Compact runes weren't taught until entering an advanced magical concept class, and not only that, it was immensely powerful.
“Yes and no,” Zelfer answered as he brought his hand down and crossed his arms. “Compact runes are a means of shortening the writing in order to cast faster. A truly skilled mage needn’t use runes at all; they can enact a construct by merely defining it mentally and infusing their energy into the concept. Although, it seems like that art has been somewhat lost to time. Either way, this is something more than that, a compound rune.”
“Compound,” Lyla repeated dubiously. “I can see that it’s intricate, but I’ve never heard of a compound rune.”
“Of course you haven’t. Because I created it.”
“Y-you…” Lyla trailed off, staring at his eyes that seemed to be dancing with mirth and expectation.
He continued without giving her the chance to formulate her thoughts into a complete sentence. “A compound rune aims to define multiple constructs simultaneously to create a phenomena de novo. This one for example, defines the constructs: thermal intensity, matter, space, and duration. Thermal intensity and spatial coordinates I set to 25 degrees Celcius and the area of this garden, respectively. The coordinates for medium and duration aren’t defined.”
“But if you don’t define a coordinate -” Lyla’s brain rushed through it. Not defining a coordinate meant every concept included in a construct would be affected. Using magic took incredible energy and the larger the scale, the more power it required. There was no way such a thing was practical.
“Indeed, if I don’t define a coordinate, then it will affect everything as a default. All matter forms - although I did exclude our bodies themselves - as well as an unset duration. When I leave the perimeter I’ve set, the magic will disperse.”
“I don’t care how powerful you think you are. There’s no way you have enough energy for that!”
He shook his head. “You’re still not thinking far enough out of the box. I need energy to generate the catalyst, but I can use the energy generated by the surrounding area to fuel the constructs after they’re initialized. Duration, for example, is maintained via the friction generated by the air molecules. I borrowed the light energy from a couple of lamps to strengthen it. Spatial definition uses the energy from the air molecules on the other side of the barrier. Unfortunately, the guys on that side must be quite cold indeed at this point.”
“That’s… that’s insane.” Lyla had no other words to say. The magic that he’d demonstrated so casually was revolutionary - completely beyond her comprehension. She’d never have even thought to borrow energy from other outside constructs nor had she even heard of such an idea. “Who… are you?”
He grinned, satisfied to have finally gained her full and undivided attention. “Didn’t I already tell you that when we met?”
Lyla hesitated, swallowing hard before the name met her lips. “Zanzir… Are you really the infamous Black Mage.”
“The one and only.”
Several minutes had passed, but Lyla found herself still slowly shaking her head. “There’s no way that’s possible. Zanzir died years ago.”
“Just because no one has heard from me doesn’t mean I’m dead. That’s like saying, ‘if a tree fell and no one was around to hear it, it didn’t fall at all.’”
Lyla threw her fists down, startling the small dog that had curled up on her lap and had stayed asleep through their conversations. A half yell, half growl escaped through her clenched teeth. “You’re lying! You may be powerful, and know a lot of stuff, but you can’t wear his name just because you’re good at magic.
“And even if you are really him… that doesn’t change anything. You’re still arrogant and haughty. It seems like all you do is have fun at the expense of others, constantly looking down on their abilities! I mean, all you’ve done tonight is show off. I’m going to say this one more time. Leave me alone.” She enunciated each syllable before turning around and marching back the way she’d come. This time, she didn’t look back when he called her.