As the group began to split, Zanzir’s eyes searched for one individual in particular. He found her at the outskirts, arms crossed and eyes narrowed as if daring anyone to approach. This, along with the reputation the boys described earlier in the day, seemed to keep Lyla’s classmates away from her. Save one.
“Yo,” Zanzir greeted as he took a position next to her.
“I don’t need a partner.”
“Of course you do. With my addition, the students are even. You think they’ll accept two of us working alone?”
She said no more, but pointedly turned away from him as she moved to get an orange foam ball from the bin.
Although missing the instructions, watching the other groups and their balls, it wasn’t difficult to deduce the exercise: throw the ball to each other using magic only. This… rather than practicing rune construction or power of magic, they’re focusing purely on reaction speed. But why? That’s more of a combat skill than anything else. “Ah.” Out of his peripheral vision, he caught sight of bright orange hurtling toward him.
His reflexes reacted first, buffeting the ball with a small surge of magic and then switching to a light anti-gravity cast to hover it in the air above his hand. Instantaneously, nearly all of the class turned to watch. Perhaps they had already been furtively eyeing him waiting for something astounding to happen after his display in the lecture hall earlier.
A corner of his lips quirked upward. “Were you trying to take my head off with the ball? If it were any solid object that could’ve been dangerous!”
Lyla scowled before replying. “If you aren’t going to pay attention and act properly in Altiorem, you may as well leave now.”
“Okay okay.” He buffeted the ball twice, making it bounce lightly in the middle of the air before he flicked a finger toward the ball. It hurtled upward in a beautiful arc before beginning it’s descent in front of Lyla. Her finger flew through the air, leaving glowing orange in its wake. It was complete just as the ball fell even with the top of her head. It stopped just before touching the tiled ground before rising. Lyla’s fingers started again giving the ball lift and sending it back over toward Zanzir at half the speed of the original throw.
“No, Enbir’s too complicated a cast and it built more for strength than speed,” Zanzir spoke as he received the ball again. “Especially if you’re following up with Qyi. Enbir is longer-lasting and stronger, so it will interfere with Qyi’s effects. Basics are still relevant no matter how advanced the magic you’ve learned. I would recommend Rha myself, but Ohi and Buiha are also options depending on your style.”
“Be quiet!” Lyla retaliated. “I don’t need lectures from someone who can’t even cast properly!” When the ball returned to her, she used none of the runes suggested. Instead of receiving the ball, she cast Hyua raw in a small area of effect. The moment the little ball entered the sphere, it’s momentum immediately changed, hurtling straight toward Zanzir like a cannonball.
“Whew, how daring, but can you redirect something more forceful with just Hyua?” This time when the ball neared him, Zanzir drew two lines both of which glowed blindingly yellow. The ball, instead of stopping, arched behind Zanzir’s back and shot forward with double the speed. Lyla’s frantic finger was flying through the air, but she had barely started the rune before the ball was upon her. She ducked sideways and it hurtled past her, slamming into the wall with a thunderous boom.
Every student’s attention had fallen to the two and then slowly it turned to the wall where the orange ball was safely embedded in the thick stone. “There is a reason why I use magic the way I do. That was only a line of a rune. If I’d drawn the whole thing, even I don’t know how many walls would’ve been demolished before that ball came to a stop.”
“Are you two finished?” The severe woman appeared near Zanzir’s right side. “That was a dangerous misuse of magic.”
Zanzir released a breath. “Did you think I was going to let it hurt anyone?” He jerked his left arm back, and as if the ball was attached to an elastic cord, it leapt back from the wall and flew through the air until it landed neatly in his hand. “It was never out of control. If she hadn't moved, I would’ve thrown up a quick barrier.”
“I saw it as well,” Reid spoke as he came over. “His right hand was prepped to cast in an instant.”
“If the cast had been too slow -”
“Madam, were you not paying attention at all?” Zanzir raised a brow. “Please enlighten me as to when I could not have acted quickly enough. I’d like to meet someone who could cast faster than myself.” Zanzir didn’t hesitate from making the arrogant claim, but behind it was a challenge.
“Professor Rhabin it’s true!” It was Meike who called from across the room. “We’ve seen Zelfer use magic a few times today and we’ve never seen him use any kind of rune at all! It’s as if he’s transcended magic all together and is a psychic or something.”
There was a hushed, respectful silence that fell over the room. Before Zanzir had left the capital, runeless casting was the last theory he’d imparted to the citizens. He had worked tirelessly on the art after settling the people on the other side of the Divide, and two years later, he had made the first runeless cast. Zanzir had hoped that the denizens of Ælanor had used his works to improve on their own, but it was becoming more and more apparent that that wasn’t the case.
“It is still misconduct and still grounds for expulsion. This is not the only time today this boy has had the gall to disrupt a class.”
“It’s okay,” Zanzir cut Reid off and raised one hand. “If you still question my control, why don’t you test me for yourself, Professor Rhabin?”
“What arrogance,” the words were muttered under her breath. “Fine. I will show you exactly where you stand.”
The two positioned themselves across from each other while the entire class made a rough ring around them. There were excited whispers and bets being placed on the winner, and Zanzir couldn’t help the half smile that pulled up the left corner of his lips. So, what will you show me?
Rhabin served first, sending the ball hurtling toward him at a terrifying velocity. Like what he’d done with Lyla, Zanzir arced the ball behind his back before letting it shoot back in the same direction with added speed. Rhabin casted Enbir as a compact rune, bringing the ball to a screeching halt before she lofted it.
Zanzir didn’t realize until the ball was upon him that she’d added extra density to the sphere, effectively turning the little foam ball into something more akin to metal. “Whew, now who’s making dangerous magic?” This time instead of sending the ball behind him, Zanzir threw it up toward the ceiling of the tall room and brought it hurtling down like a comet with several additional layers of gravity. Rhabin just barely had enough time to negate the extra velocity and toss the ball back upward before it crashed through the floor. When it hurtled back at Zanzir, the path was a zigzag, controlled by a couple of twitches of the professor’s wrist.
“Hm, trying to catch me unaware with the trajectory angle?” he mused. He drew a quick, small circle with his finger, not dissimilar to the one he’d drawn around the candle. Then, clapped his hands over it and spread them slowly. The translucent blue barrier surrounding his body was visible to anyone with a small amount of Insight, thus, the whole class saw it and took a collective intake of break.
The ball crashed into the barrier on his right side. This time, instead of casting on the ball itself, Zanzir waved his left hand quickly and precisely through the air. Two intersecting green lines remained where his fingers passed and from them shot two blades of wind. As the ball traveled back the opposing direction, Zanzir added to the gale, forming a small tornado in the space between the two. The ball spun around the wind vortex twice before it shot toward Rhabin.
This time, the runes that she drew were not compact. There were three, large scarlet letters that grew after she’d completed them and hovered several feet in front of her. “Enrir?” Zanzir whispered the rune’s name with a tone of disbelief. “The hell.” The ball collided with the rune, and the explosion started as he’d whispered the words.
The beginnings of the fire blazed, lighting up the room in orange. A couple of students drew in a breath to scream. Is she actually testing me using such a crude method like this? Zanzir’s body was already in motion toward her as the thought occurred to him, and he moved with a lightning speed to her side. In the time that this took to happen, the explosion was still just starting to spread outward with a soundwave that would vibrate the entire university complex. With his left hand, Zanzir drew a line of a thick rune, and it glowed a haunting black. The line spun on its axis, crumpling into a dot before it began to expand outward in a gray mist. Once it reached its full size with a diameter of eighteen inches, it began to suck in the billowing fire of the explosion until nothing was left but a soft residue of smoke and the light echoing of sound.
Rhabin, who had been pulled roughly backward by him after Zanzir had started cast, stood still in the silence. Zanzir’s hair tie had loosened when he’d shot forward, and the long black hair that cascaded down his face gave him a severe look of someone who was far older than a teenager or young adult. His deep voice only served to enhance that impression. “That was a very dangerous thing to do. Testing me or not. If we want a prime example of misconduct, there is no better example than Enrir. It was designed to be used as a military weapon to bring the day of the Scarlet Sunset to an immediate halt. Even if its intensity is weakened considerably, it’s still a force to be reckoned with.”
“What did you cast to counteract it?” The woman looked frailer now, her skin pale and slightly more withdrawn due to the shock.
“Dimensional magic. It’s… a specialty of mine, I suppose you could say.” Zanzir sighed and dropped down into a cross-legged sit on the floor, sweeping his hair out of his eyes with a hand. He drew another short black line of a rune and once again it molded together before expanding outward in a haze. A moment later, the small orange ball popped back out of the fog looking none the worse for wear after their battle.
“Bro, that was intense!” From the student’s side, Meike was the first one to break them from their trance. “I’ve never seen two skilled mages go at it before. What all did you cast? I couldn’t even see it.”
“Mages shouldn’t be ‘going at it.’ That’s how the Scarlet Sunset happened. Get along with each other as best you can, and if you’re going to brawl, do it with your fists and feet.”
“You gotta teach us how you did all of that, but let’s do it on the way or we’re going to be late for the next class!” Meike offered a hand, which Zanzir took, letting the boy pull him back to his feet. With one last look at the room and the still-stunned Professor Rhabin, Zanzir followed the small mob of students back into the hallway.