Masters & Renegades: Magic University

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events,
and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual persons living, dead, or otherwise, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

EAN—13: 978-1-936730

Contents
1 Meeting at the Crossroads
2
Opening Ceremonies
3
True Knowledge
4
Time Out
5
Magical Offense
6
More Offense
7
Personal Attacks
8
Safe Passage
9
Extended Reach
10
Swift Passage
11
Magical Defense
12
Hidden Treasure
13
Power Embument
14
Varied Knowledge
15
Power Display
16
Strong Ties
17
Leap of Faith
18
The Judgement Hour
19
Tomorrow
iii

1
13
30
52
68
82
96
111
133
154
171
192
211
228
243
264
284
300
316

1
Meeting at the Crossroads
Reid Blake blinked, stared at the signpost, and then
blinked again.
“Why the hell am I hesitating?” he asked.
He was speaking to himself, but he was not exactly
alone. He was reminded of this fact as there was a loud disturbance from the hedges to his left. A small flock of birds scattered
from the shelter of its leaves, flushed out by the only company
that Reid had had on his journey from Turmetti. It was a long
enough trip on horseback, but Reid had made the trek on foot,
mostly because of his financial situation. He had assets that
would have allowed for the purchase of a horse, but he had not
had the time to liquidate them before making this journey. He
ought to be grateful to finally reach his destination, the entrance
trials for the three elite apprentice seats at Magic University, and
eager to clear the final stretch. But he was not.
The cause of the avian exodus emerged from the bushes
as well, his leathery wings having tangled in the branches there.
The imp – Reid’s imp – Stiggle, grabbed at the last couple of
stragglers from the flock with his clawed hands and feet, but
they had had too much of a head start, and he came away emptyhanded. Disgruntled at his failure, Stiggle hopped down onto
the dirt road, dragging his pointed tail on the grounded and
shrieking angrily.
1

Magic University
Reid exhaled heavily and pushed the cloying strands of
his long dark hair back behind the slight points of his half-elfin
ears. Stroking his moustache, he eyed the sign, again, particularly the slat scrawled with the words “Magic University”. This
was supposed to be his goal. This was what his magical mentor,
Gerant, had been training him for – had demanded from him. If
Gerant were still alive, he would finally be satisfied with this
accomplishment. He had always suggested that Reid, along with
being one of his greatest hopes, was also one of his greatest disappointments, as far as his students were concerned. It had not
been Reid, however, who had been responsible for the spell failure that had claimed Gerant’s life. The Renegade wizard had
managed to screw that one up all on his own.
Reid was distracted enough by his concerns and his
memories that he did not notice the slight movement by the base
of the signpost. A short figure with severely scarred skin was
huddled there, hunched over a traveller’s meal of hard tack, ale
and dried meat. The dwarf, Shetland, had not come half as far as
Reid, but he did not have a mount either, and had journeyed
through rougher terrain, having come from the mountains to the
south of Anthis. Reid may not have noticed him, but Stiggle
certainly did.
Taking advantage of the fact that his master was not paying, the imp scuttled up the road, slowing as he neared the dwarf,
and creeping forward surreptitiously for the last few feet. Once
within reach, he made a haphazard lunge for Shetland’s last
mouthful and as a result of his clumsy efforts, he ended up entangled in the dwarf’s beard.
Shetland, red-faced and roaring, leapt to his feet and was
dancing about, swinging wildly at Stiggle, who flapped and dangled at his chin and was shrieking at the top of his lungs. The
ruckus was enough to easily snap Reid out of his reverie, aware
now that his imp had been up to no good.
Knife in hand, Reid raced over. He despised the imp, but
Stiggle was a magical resource, a tool for the trials that the halfelf was about to take, and he did not want to lose him with the
Trial Grounds almost within sight. Shetland had been reaching
2

Meeting at the Crossroads
for his axe to attempt at batting the demonic creature away from
his precious whiskers, but upon seeing Reid’s approach, bearing
a blade, his demeanour quickly changed. His beady eyes widened and his grimace hardened into a vicious scowl as he braced
in a full battle-stance.
“I’ll sever your head from your neck if you come any
closer,” the scarred dwarf spat, strangely calm despite the frantic
fluttering at his chin. “If you’re to blame for this beastie troubling me, it would serve you right if I killed it to rid myself of it!
I won’t have it said that Shetland Feldspar lost his beard to a
keeper of demons.”
He reached out and snatched Stiggle up, clutching him
solidly with one fist while hefting his axe with the other. Reid
stiffened, changing the grip on his knife from that of tool to
weapon and started to consider his available offensive and defensive spells. He certainly did not want to fight the broad little
man, but he would do so if forced to.
“I don’t think that violence against the imp will be necessary,” said a regal, unwavering voice.
Reid cast a glance over his shoulder, briefly, so as not to
give the dwarf opportunity to strike while he was not watching.
Two other strangers stood in the pathway behind him and Shetland. The taller of the two newcomers, a finely dressed young
man with bejewelled accessories and an impressively crafted
sword sheathed at his hip, was the one who had spoken. His
travelling companion, a shorter fellow in bright colours who
clutched a flute in one hand, regarded the turmoil with interest.
Reid stared back warily, making note of the small ivory horns
protruding from his golden-brown curls.
“Well, I’m certainly not going to let anyone cut this little
green bastard out of my beard,” snarled Shetland, casting a spurious look at Reid.
“That won’t be necessary either. My friend Snyder here
can help solve this dilemma. Show them what I mean, Snyder.”
His companion lifted the flute to his lips and began to
play. The air seemed to grow thick with his music. His listeners
felt like they were being wrapped in a warm, heavy blanket.
3

Magic University
One had to actively resist the calming effect of its soothing melody or be swept away into a mind-numbing oblivion. Stiggle
relaxed in Shetland’s meaty hand, which now barely restrained
the flighty creature as the dwarf swayed to the tune’s lilting
rhythm.
Snyder paused, and then his song took on a new feel,
light and snaky. The strands of Shetland’s beard, which had become entangled with Stiggle’s thrashing, started to writhe as
though alive. The whiskers twitched like brindle worms, wriggling themselves free from the imp’s limbs and crawling back
towards Shetland, until they once again hung loosely at his
chest. More out of surprise than intention, Shetland released his
grip on Stiggle, who instantly made a beeline to his perch upon
the bracer on Reid’s wrist. Shetland snorted, patting at his beard
in amazement. He stepped back to where his pack still lay by
the signpost.
“Bravo,” rasped a shallow voice. Everyone was now
suddenly aware of the eerie, transparent figure lingering nearby.
“Crisis averted.” None of the original four had any idea how
long this wraith-like person had been watching them since he
blended into the shadows so easily.
“Who are you and where did you come from?” demanded Snyder’s wealthy friend, obviously startled. He had been
looking rather pleased with himself until this latest arrival had
made his presence known. He did not like surprises.
“I could ask you the same, but I doubt you would answer
me truthfully.” As he spoke, his words tinged with bitter distaste, the air seemed to shimmer around the wraith-like man.
“Let’s just say you can call me Ebon, and I’ll call you Tom. Rather than asking me where I’m from, you should be inquiring as
to where I am going and what bearing it has upon your future.”
A ghostly limb gestured towards the path marked “Magic University”. “We travel the same road, but don’t set your sights on
first place. I’ll be the victor here, today. The rest of you misfits
and wretched Renegade-types may as well head on home.”
“Tom” pursed his lips, and drew in a breath, as if preparing to speak, and then deemed it more prudent to remain silent.
4

Meeting at the Crossroads
He released the air as a soft sigh instead. Snyder gave Tom a
knowing look, shrugged and turned to head up the path labelled
Magic University. Unnerved now, they both walked away at a
quicker pace than they had been using when they had arrived at
the crossroads. Ebon had a habit of making people want to leave
with some haste, both because of his appearance and his sour
disposition. This instance was no different. Reid and Shetland
were inclined to make themselves scarce as well.
“Pshaw! I didn’t come all this way just to turn tail and
run home,” grumbled Shetland, scowling at Ebon. “I don’t care
if I come in first. I’d be just as happy skipping these trials altogether, if they’d just fix me up and send me back to where I
came from, but I doubt I they’re gonna gimmee that choice. I’ve
tried everything else to restore my accursed flesh. If I’ve gotta
go this route, then that’s what I’ll do.” He gestured at his badly
scarred-skin that Reid could now see glimmered with tiny pinpricks of metal. “Life’s played a cruel joke on me. The question
is: can I beat it or will I be forced to live with it.” He paused as
he strapped his pack on and hefted his axe over one shoulder.
“An’ I don’t plan on wastin’ any more time chatting about it
with strangers. You two can lollygag about and natter like a
bunch of old grannies, but I got somewhere I have to be by noon,
an’ I plan on gettin’ there early.”
With a determined grunt, he trudged off down the path.
“I already know all I need to know of you and your
weak-minded cohorts,” breathed Ebon to Reid. “And if you or
those other detestable Renegade louts plan on focussing on your
perceived strengths and avoiding your known weaknesses, well,
let’s just say I’ll be using that to my advantage. Your presence
here is no threat to me.”
He floated off down the path, following after Shetland.
“What do you suppose he meant by that?” asked Reid,
once again to nobody in particular. He wondered how this Ebon
managed to know so much about the people he had just met on
the road. Reid had not intended on telling anyone that his initial
training was as a Renegade, and not in the Master magic that the
University taught. There was a stigma attached to Renegade
5

Magic University
magic and Reid was aware that there had been reluctance to admitting converting Renegades to the University in the past.
Gerant had faced that discrimination. Apparently, Ebon shared
the bias.
“Pardon?” a quiet feminine voice said. The word almost
made Reid jump out of his skin, certain that he was alone. He
turned to face the speaker, not knowing what to expect after his
last few encounters.
When he saw her, Reid was not surprised that this woman had succeeded in a approaching undetected. She had the
slight form and light step typical of a full-blooded elf. Unlike
the usual silvery gold colour of her kin, however, this woman’s
hair was a coppery red, its highlights gleaming like fire when it
caught the sunlight. He tried not to stare, but it was hard not to
get caught in the leafy depths of her wide eyes, a piercing green.
He held his breath, until he realized that she was waiting for an
answer.
“Oh...yes, um. I was just wondering aloud what that
shadow-man, Ebon, had said before he left. He suggested that
he would already know my strengths and weaknesses.” He
chuckled a little. “If that’s the case, I wonder if he would share.
I’m not even sure that I know what they are myself.”
The woman’s green eyes narrowed as she looked at him
like he was somewhat funny in the head. She had no doubt
missed the wraith-like man, who could only be seen while hovering in shadow with major effort. Reid fumbled to explain.
“You may not have noticed him. He was transparent and
difficult to spot, but the others who were here spoke to him, too;
so it wasn’t as if he were some figment of my imagination. He
suggested that he was one of the competitors in the admission
trials, like me – actually, he insisted that he was going to win top
seat. He’s a bit presumptive, if you ask me. I’m Reid Blake, by
the way, and this here is Stiggle.” Reid pointed towards the imp,
who was searching the space where the dwarf had been sitting
while he ate, looking for crumbs.
The elf’s face brightened.

6

Meeting at the Crossroads
“I’m going to be competing in the Trials as well. I’m not
as well-trained as I had planned to be by this point, but I think
I’m ready. At least, I hope I am. I’m Finch Loreleaf. I’m really
hoping I can place today. My mother did when she was my age,
and she wanted me to share in the experience. You can’t be a
proper Master without University apprenticeship. I know many
a novice apprentice privately, but those who are universitytrained never take them very seriously.”
Reid’s excitement at meeting Finch dimmed a little with
this declaration. He was hoping perhaps that she was just one of
the general attendees for the opening ceremonies and that he
might have the opportunity to get to know her better after the
trials, if he placed in one of the top three positions and ended up
attending the university. She appeared to be close to him in age,
although it was impossible to tell with a full-blooded elf, and
from what he had seen so far, she had a pleasant disposition. If
they were going to be rivals, however, competing directly with
one another, striking up a friendship might be awkward. That,
and it was clear that this Finch was from Master lineage. She
might share in the prejudice against Renegades, and as soon as
she discovered that Reid was one of their ilk, she would despise
him for it.
“I was just trying to build up the nerve to clear the last
stretch to the Trial Grounds,” Reid admitted. “That was, until I
bumped into a few of the other competitors. I’m still trying to
figure them out. Can you believe that one of them was a
dwarf?”
Finch stared at him like he had two heads.
“There’s no such thing as a dwarven wizard – he can’t
possibly be a competitor.”
“Well, he told me he was. I don’t think that he was magically inclined by choice.” Reid was well aware that the
dwarves were one of the typically non-magical races, and were
even rumoured to repel magic. He had never heard of a dwarven
wizard either. “There was something very unusual about his
skin. He was badly scarred, and he looked like he had metal
embedded in his flesh. It was ... painful. I’m not sure if it was
7

Magic University
this condition that is allowing him to participate, but what he
said before he left suggested that.”
At the mention of leaving, Finch glanced up at the sun
above them, now almost directly overhead.
“It was nice meeting you, Mr. Blake, but if we stand here
and chat for much longer, we’ll both be late for the opening ceremonies. I understand that this alone could disqualify us.”
Reid smiled and offered her his arm.
“Well, we had best be off then. Allow me to escort you
the rest of the way. Just because we will be rivals doesn’t require us to be enemies, right?”
She returned his smile and took the offered arm.
“Certainly not – lead the way.”

~MR~
Ebon and Shetland moved in stone cold silence along the
path. It was not long before they arrived at the clearing where
the Trials would begin. There were signs posted and a series of
platforms and stages in the process of being decorated for the
upcoming opening ceremonies.
The clearing bustled with activity. Apprentices and novices rushed about with fabric, flowers and various tools of
construction. Ebon seemed to feed off the chaos, watching contentedly from the sidelines. Shetland, on the other hand,
appeared to be disturbed by the discord and quickly found a corner in the shade where he could sit and avoid most of the people
moving about.
Ebon, drinking in his fill of the movement and the anxiety, eventually dropped back into the shadows as well. This
made Shetland quite nervous, as Ebon all but disappeared from
view when he did this. Even more disturbing to Shetland was
the fact that, despite being unable to see Ebon, he could still
“see” him. Sensing Ebon’s presence like a niggling swarm of
insects at the edge of his field of vision; the dwarf could not help
but know where the extra-planar being was at all times. Shetland shivered, almost as though he were trying to shake off the
8

Meeting at the Crossroads
knowledge of Ebon’s existence. The dwarf made a mental note
that he would distance himself from the wraith-like creature that
served as a constant reminder of his current “un-dwarf”-like
condition, the result of what should have been a lethal encounter
with molten enchanted metal as a child. Instead it had scarred
him badly, infusing his flesh with bits of the metal and it had
transformed poor Shetland into a living magical bauble with unpredictable effects.
Ebon laughed, startling Shetland to the point where he
almost dropped his axe.
“Don’t worry, stout one. I will keep to myself once the
games begin. You are of no threat to me,” Ebon said, hovering
at the edge of the shadows. “And I would trade you your condition for mine any day, so enough with the self-pity.”
Shetland was not sure what the irritating shadow-man
meant by that, but assumed that perhaps the shadowy form was
also one that Ebon had not been born with or had chosen for
himself. The dwarf scowled in the general direction of Ebon’s
presence and crouched down beside a large tree trunk. An elfin
woman, dressed in silken robes of red and gold had entered the
clearing and was bringing some order to the chaos by directing
several of the apprentices to specific tasks. The venue for the
opening ceremonies was finally beginning to take shape.
“That must be Fortia,” Ebon murmured, watching the
svelte yet imposing figure influence the flow of traffic. “I had
heard she would be seeking a new apprentice at the Trials. It
would seem my sources were correct.”
Shetland grunted. “Who else did your sources say was
apprentice-huntin’?”
Ebon scanned the clearing before pointing a ghostly limb
at a stout man dressed in greys and blues, standing at the far
edge of the activity, his hands behind his back.
“Him... Burrell. He just lost an apprentice to an ‘accident’. Apparently, the fellow was rushing things and caused a
very nasty explosion. I heard Burrell had to relocate because of
the damages to his quarters. – Hmmmm,” the wraith-mage
rasped.
9

Magic University
“What? What about the third one? There are supposed
to be three successful candidates,” the dwarf questioned
“Exactly, but something’s blocking me. Almost like a
perceptible blur in every accessible mind. It won’t let me read
the third. He or she is good...that means I’ll have at least one
surprise coming my way.” Ebon chuckled, with a very unnatural
echo. Shetland could not help but shiver in response.
“Stop that,” he growled under his breath, as much to
himself as to Ebon.
Ebon did not respond. Either he had not heard the dwarf
or he was choosing to remain silent. The preparations were
starting to diminish now, as the noon hour approached. The
stages had taken on a well-polished appearance and people were
finding their places, awaiting the start of the ceremonies. Tom
and Snyder had arrived in the clearing now and stood back, taking it all in. A few moments later, Reid and the redhead who
now accompanied him came into view. The pair lingered at the
back of the clearing, talking quietly.
“Heh heh – consorting with the enemy. Looks like the
half-elf has more libido than sense,” Ebon chuckled. Shetland
thought he detected a hint of envy in his grating whisper. A
flash of reflected sunlight drew their attention.
Two more strangers had entered the clearing, and one of
them, a shapely, athletic-looking, silvery-scaled woman, boldly
strode up to the main stage. Ignoring the more plainly-dressed
crew, she approached the lady in red and gold finery. Despite
the fact that the elfin woman was obviously busy with a series of
scrolls, the scaled-woman chose to interrupt her.
“Where do the Trial competitors sit?”
It seemed like a harmless enough question.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Fortia prefers tact. She won’t be impressed.” Ebon whispered to Shetland – or rather spoke quietly
within Shetland’s mind.
“Get out of my head!” hissed the dwarf in return.
The elfin woman glanced back in annoyance, dropping a
fancifully sleeved arm that had been in mid-gesture to her side.
She sighed.
10

Meeting at the Crossroads
“Does this mean the competitors this year are illiterate?
First row – see the sign? Reserved for apprenticeship candidates?” Fortia paused as she caught sight of a small man
teetering about with a pillar topped with flowers. With an expression of cool dismay, she started moving off, shouting,
“Duckert, that doesn’t go there! Take heed or you’ll break...”
There was a terrible crash and Fortia cringed. She eyed the
scaled woman briefly, and then continued moving towards the
origin of the noise, somewhere just outside of view.
Tom and Snyder wandered over and Tom offered the
scaled woman the chair closest to the centre aisle. He glanced
back over his shoulder at Reid and Finch before seating himself.
Snyder waited for a gesture from Tom before taking the seat on
his left-hand side.
“Maybe you should get a chair while the getting is
good,” murmured Ebon to Shetland. As he spoke, Finch and
Reid approached the front row and joined the others. Shetland
screwed up his face in disgust.
“And sit next to the demon-keeper. I’d rather sit on a
rusty nail. Nope, you can join them if you want, but I’ll keep my
distance for now,” Shetland sniffed and twisted his moustache to
the left. “Anyways, there are only three seats left – and two of
them are about to go, so I guess the last one’s yours.”
Two more people filed in, a cloaked and hooded figure
and a female gnome in pink. They took seats on the opposite
end of the row designated for the trial competitors.
“I don’t sit!” hissed Ebon.
Pulling himself deeper into the shadows, he began to
slide his way around the outer edge of the clearing. Shetland
watched him go, partially relieved to be rid of the constant magical itch that was Ebon, but also strangely uncomfortable at
having been left alone. He peered out from under the brush.
The sun was practically at the top of the sky. The dwarf decided
that Ebon probably hated being out at this time of day. Unless
standing directly under cover, he and his unusual condition
would stick out like a sore thumb.

11

Magic University
Shetland glanced back at the last remaining chair. The
little lady in pink seemed pretty harmless, and Reid and his
bothersome pest were three seats down. Besides, the starting
ceremonies were just about to begin. Gritting his teeth, the
dwarf stepped away from the trees and trudged towards the last
chair.
As he sat, the gnomish woman turned and smiled at him.
Shetland made note that not only were her clothing and sandals
obnoxiously pink, so were her hair and her irises. To make matters worse, they all glowed with magic.
“Bah, enchants everythin’...” grumbled Shetland under
his breath. Then he noticed the albino gecko sitting in her lap.
He had had enough with other people’s critters for one day.
“Gack! Not another one! They’re everywhere,” he admonished.
The gnome looked surprised, then realized Shetland was
referring to the lizard atop her knee. She giggled.
“What? Rex? He wouldn’t hurt a fly... ok, well maybe a
fly, or an earthworm, but nothing any bigger.”
Shetland cocked a bushy eyebrow, but did not stop
scowling.
A trumpeter dressed in burgundy, green and gold, Magic
University’s colours, stepped onto the left-hand stage and raised
his instrument to his lips. As the University’s theme song rang
from the horn’s brassy mouth, the school’s instructors, clad in
their finest garb, began to take their seats on the right-hand
stage. All but two instructors had a place on that far stage.
These two, Fortia and Burrell, made their way onto centre stage
where they turned to face the crowd, waiting patiently for the
music to end. The crowd hushed, and as the last note slipped
from the trumpet, the excitement in the air became almost tangible. The opening ceremonies were about to begin.

12

2
Opening Ceremonies
Silence settled over the crowd, as they were anticipating
a speech from Fortia or Burrell. Burrell approached the podium
at the front of the stage, and Fortia strode over to the table that
held the series of elaborate scrolls she had been handling earlier.
A light breeze blew through the air, carrying a hint of jasmine
and making everyone more aware of the bright sunshine streaming into the clearing. Burrell cleared his throat, pushing back his
periwinkle cloak, and then snapped into being a volume enhancement spell. His voice reverberated throughout the entire
clearing as he spoke.
“Tradition. It is the cornerstone of Magic University,
and adhering to tradition has helped us gather the finest students
in the land to participate in our teachings. Tradition has marked
our place in history and now brings us to the celebration of our
50th year of the Apprenticeship Selection Trials. Tradition is
why this current group of Trial participants now sits before me.”
“Not another boring speech...”grumbled Shetland. A
brief but stern glance from Fortia quickly silenced him.
“Tradition demands three elements from these opening
ceremonies: introduction and revelation of Trial participants, a
voluntary spell-binding of participants to follow the Trial rules,
and a release of participants into the first of the 12 Trials. I must
now put this question before the potential candidates. Will you
13

Magic University
accept these elements without question? If you agree, you may
join me on the stage when I call your name. If you refuse,
please remain seated and understand that your refusal disqualifies you from participating further in the Trials.”
A curious murmur rippled through the crowd. It was rare
for a candidate to refuse this intrusion into their privacy and
peace of mind, but not unheard of. All eyes turned to watch the
potential candidates. Most looked fairly unperturbed, but Tom
twitched nervously in his seat and Shetland was tugging at his
beard, shoulders hunched.
Burrell drew in breath to begin naming the candidates
from the list.
“Cerissa June of Smallport.”
The colourful gnome leapt to her feet, practically knocking Shetland out of his chair in her excitement. She then
realized she had dropped Rex and spent the next two minutes
looking for the white gecko before finally making her way onto
the stage. Fortia fingered the scrolls impatiently, giving Burrell
a look of exasperation. Burrell shrugged, smiling, as he directed
Reeree to her place on the stage.
“Ebon the Misplaced.”
The trees trembled as Ebon moved into the clearing towards the stage. The crowd watched in silence, unsure what to
make of the shadowy figure that remained a dark blur in the
bright sunshine. Burrell shuffled his feet behind the podium and
swallowed uncomfortably, obviously distressed by Ebon’s
strange appearance.
“Finch Loreleaf of Tetherwood.”
Finch paused briefly before making her way to the stage.
She glanced back at Reid who smiled reassuringly.
“Nia Brynwyrm.”
The scaled woman bounded haphazardly onto the stage,
assuming her place before Burrell could direct her.
“Reid Blake of Lochland.”
Reid stood to approach the stage, momentarily loosening
his hold on Stiggle’s collar. Stiggle had already decided that the
closest basin of flowers looked very much like lunch, and feeling
14

Opening Ceremonies
the tension on his collar relax, made a break for it. He launched
himself at the basin, coming to rest on the lip at its edge. Said
basin was precariously perched on the top of a lopsided pillar,
which had been recently repaired with somewhat sloppy and
fragile results. The entire construct teetered and collapsed,
dowsing the crowd with water, flowers, sawdust and ceramic
shards – along with one soggy and bruised imp. Reid rushed
over and scooped Stiggle from the pile of unhappy and damp
ceremony attendees. Pulling a bag from his belt, Reid shook the
water from the demonic creature and tossed its wriggling body
inside. Ignoring its ear-piercing shrieks, he slung it over his
shoulder and made for the stage, a determined look settling
across his features. He stepped into his spot on the stage, purposefully avoiding the grim stares from Fortia and Burrell.
Fortia shook her head and turned back to the scrolls. Burrell
glanced into the crowd, waiting for the chaos to settle before
continuing.
“Shetland Feldspar.”
The dwarf sat, watching the stage, hesitant to leave the
comfort of his chair. The crowd, which had been murmuring
discontentedly after the imp incident, grew quiet again. All eyes
focused on Shetland, wondering if the dwarf would be one of the
rare few to refuse to be scrutinized. However, before Burrell
could continue to the next candidate, Shetland did rise begrudgingly to his feet and trudge slowly over to the stage. Much to
Shetland’s distaste, he found himself next to Reid and his wriggling sack of imp.
“Snyder of the Fifes.”
Snyder moved swiftly up to his place on the stage.
“Ahem...T-thomas Regal of Seaforest.”
Burrell glanced up at the crowd. A bead of perspiration
slid from his forehead, down his nose and off of his chin. He
lowered his eyes as Tom stood and walked over to the stage.
Reid watched impatiently and suddenly wondered if there was
not something familiar about Tom, something that he had not
noticed before, but that he could not quite place his finger on.
Perhaps he had met him before and had forgotten about it. After
15

Magic University
all he had spent most of his life in Turmetti, which neighboured
Seaforest.
“Urwick.”
The otherwise unidentified robed figure stepped up in a
slow but steady manner, paying little heed to either the crowd or
the other candidates.
“And there we have it, our candidates for this year’s Trials.”
There was light applause from the audience.
“I now will pass the torch, figuratively of course, to my
peer and a fine sorceress, Fortia de Lynde. Fortia...” Burrell
stepped away from the podium, grinning, and Fortia approached,
scrolls in hand.
“Thank you, Burrell.”
Her smile was forced; she disliked flattery and found
Burrell was often guilty of attempting to use it to influence others. She knew he was hoping that he could sway her vote.
“As my cohort stated earlier, all of you are to be magically bound to assure adherence to the competition’s rules, but even
this binding spell may not function properly if you are hiding
powers from us greater than is evident at a glance. Therefore, a
more in depth scrutiny is required prior to administering the
spell. Hence, we have created the portion of the Opening Ceremonies known as the Revelation. Burrell, if you please...” Fortia
stepped back momentarily, gesturing at the stout mage in blue
and gray. He pulled a drawstring, and a drape of fabric which
had been previously undetectable, blending in with the stage’s
backdrop, slipped to the floor to reveal a large mirror. It was
clear to see that this was no ordinary mirror. Rather, at its centre
whirled a dark, shimmering nexus drawing in all the light from
its environs.
“To those of you who are attending these ceremonies for
the first time, be it known that this is the Glass of Revelation.
When an individual gazes into its depths, it reveals to all anything that may be hidden by that person, even sometimes hidden
to his or her self. Once more, we give you the chance to refuse
this rite of initiation and disqualify yourself from the Trials. If
16

Opening Ceremonies
you refuse at this point however, you will be escorted from these
premises by Magic University faculty, who are very adept with
dealing with both magical and physical threats.”
From the serious tone and expression on Fortia’s face, it
was not difficult to extrapolate that such steps were necessary.
There had been incidences of attempted sabotage in the past.
Fortia let her gaze drift across the candidates’ faces before continuing. No one appeared to be volunteering to be escorted from
the stage.
“Good. As you all know what to expect, we will continue. We will follow the same order as the one used to call you to
the stage. Cerissa?”
Cerissa, who preferred to be called Reeree, had decided
she did not want to force poor Rex to stare at himself in the eerie
looking mirror, and was currently trying to find a safe hiding
spot for him. She spent several minutes searching her pockets
until she finally determined one to be suitable. Fortia’s foot
twitched gently as she resisted reacting to Reeree’s lack of
promptness. Burrell looked mildly amused.
Finally, Reeree presented herself before the mirror. The
bizarre nexus twisted and blurred before solidifying into the silvery-sheened reflective surface of a traditional mirror. Reeree
looked over her rather colourless reflection. The gnomish woman in the mirror had mousy-brown hair and muddy-brown eyes.
Her clothing had lost it pink glow and bore the neutral colours of
natural fibres, lacking dye and trim of any kind. Reeree looked a
little disappointed at the plainness she saw in the mirror before
her, but Fortia appeared to be satisfied with the reflection and
Burrell gave Reeree an approving nod. Fortia then directed her
to the opposite side of the stage.
“Ebon, you are next.”
The dark grey wraith hovered in place for a moment.
“You may refuse if you wish...”
“No,” he hissed. He floated over to the mirror with a
single movement, like a dry leaf being blown by a strong gust of
wind. Once again the surface morphed to reveal something other than the dark form that stood before it. Instead, the mirror
17

Magic University
presented the form of a young, somewhat handsome man, with
white-blond hair and pale blue eyes. The shadowy candidate
shuddered, shifting closer to the mirror. The man within was
crying.
“That will do,” Fortia murmured, but Ebon did not move.
“Ebon, you must proceed to the other side of the stage,”
Burrell said in a hushed voice. But still Ebon did not move,
transfixed by the image in the mirror.
Fortia drew closer to the dark shape. “I know it pains
you to see your former self, but now is not the time to dwell on
what you have lost. Let this fuel you to strive harder at the Trials, for what you can learn at the University may be able to help
you one day restore yourself.”
Ebon did not move.
Fortia breathed a spell into being, quiet words slipping
from her lips. Suddenly, she was as transparent as Ebon, her
ethereal form hovering just above the stage. Her ghostly arm
firmly grasped Ebon’s and she led him away from the mirror to
the far side of the stage. She released him, and solidified to her
former state. Burrell looked very relieved.
“Next...ah yes, Finch.”
Finch paled as her name was called, but taking a deep
breath, stepped towards the mirror. The mirror seemed to take
longer this time, shifting and bubbling for several minutes before
finally levelling into a smooth surface. Finch gazed into it,
somewhat anxiously. The image was fainter than the previous
two. As Finch looked in, the hazy image of an older elven
woman stared out. Her hair was longer than Finch’s and more
auburn, less copper. The image was backlit by a soft, glowing
light, illuminating the woman’s pale skin and warm green eyes.
Finch smiled, as did the woman within, lifting a hand to greet
her. Finch reached out as well, her fingers approaching the mirror’s surface. Quickly, Burrell’s hand darted out and grabbed
her wrist.
“No touching. You don’t want to end up like Ebon here
– or worse.”

18

Opening Ceremonies
Startled at the speed of the stout, little man, Finch
jumped back. When she looked back at the mirror, the image
had vanished.
“So you say what we see in the mirror is something that
is hidden within us?” She stared at Burrell who still clutched her
wrist. He released her, letting her arm drop back to her side, and
nodded. With unexpected enthusiasm, Finch lurched forward
and gave Burrell a brisk hug before moving to the other side of
the stage. Fortia, who was still looking at the now empty mirror,
glanced back at Burrell, a flash of admiration playing across her
normally inexpressive features.
As Finch passed her, Fortia whispered, “I knew her. She
was an incredible enchantress, and an even better person.”
Finch smiled broadly, and took her place next to Ebon. Reid
stared after her, puzzled, and somewhat envious. She had already managed to earn the favour of one of the judges.
Burrell, still befuddled by the hug, attempted to regain
his composure by adjusting his robes before continuing.
“Nia, you are next.”
The scaled woman strode confidently over to the mirror
and stood before it, with hands on hips and a smug expression on
her face. She stared into it intently, as though she were daring it
to reveal something she did not know. As with Finch, the mirror
did not respond immediately but contorted its surface for several
minutes. Nia frowned impatiently, now appearing a little less
sure of herself. Finally, the surface settled.
Nia gaped and sputtered, looking less than pleased. The
other candidates craned their necks to see the image within. Reflected in the surface before Nia was what could only be the
image of Nia as a child, with a matching silver sheen to her
scales, and identical amber eyes.
“This can’t be right! This thing must be broken!” she
protested.
Burrell shook his head.
“The mirror does not lie.”
With a grunt, Nia crossed her arms and strode across the
stage. She stood there stewing, an imperceptible dark cloud hav19

Magic University
ing assumed a position somewhere over her head. She glared at
the mirror, then Burrell, then the other candidates.
“Reid, step up to the mirror – and you can hand me that
for the moment.” Fortia gestured towards the wriggling sack
that twisted and turned in his hand. “I’ll have someone hold on
to it for you until the ceremonies are over.”
Reid passed her the sack, which Fortia in turn handed to
one of her assistants. Reid approached the mirror with some
trepidation, but this time the mirror was quick to respond. It settled in seconds, and Reid found himself looking at his own face
in the mirror. The Reid in the mirror was not alone, however,
nor was he identical to the man observing the mirror’s contents.
The Reid within was shackled at both his ankles and wrists, and
burdened by thick iron chains. He also bore the weight of a
great stone yoke about his neck and shoulders. Behind him,
popping in and out of view, were the faces of grinning demons.
They cackled, revealing their sharp, yellowed fangs and waving
black thorn-like claws. Every few seconds, one would peer out
and yank at the reflected Reid’s hair or tug on his chains. Reid
had not been sure what to expect within the mirror, but this certainly had not come to mind.
He remained in place for a few seconds, trying to make
sense of it all. Was this referring to Gerant’s association with
demons? Had it somehow been tied into his own being? For
some reason, he knew that was not it. There was something else
behind this revelation, but he just did not understand it.
Reid stepped back. The Reid in the mirror attempted to
do so also, but the shackles and chains hindered his movement.
Reid looked back at the other candidates. Most of them
appeared to be as shocked by this vision as he was. Finch
looked sympathetic. He bit his lip, and stepped away from the
mirror. Shoulders sagging, and somewhat disheartened, he took
his place beside Nia. She no longer seemed to be upset with her
own revelation. It obviously could have been much worse.
“Shetland,” announced Fortia.
The dwarf trundled up to the mirror, but he stumbled
backwards again as the surface literally lurched out at him.
20

Opening Ceremonies
Burrell coughed nervously. He had never seen the Glass
do that before.
The surface calmed, still bulging in Shetland’s direction
as an image appeared within it. Shetland frowned as he peered
in. He grunted in a neutral fashion, unsure if he liked what was
there. The surface exposed a dwarven form that glittered with a
metallic sheen, one with the chromatic glow of enchanted metal,
giving him the appearance of a small iron golem. It caught the
light of the midday sun, nearly blinding the audience with its
glare. There was an awed murmur as many raised their hands to
their eyes for protection. After a few seconds of gazing at this
reflection, Shetland decided that he was unimpressed. With a
snort he turned and marched to the far edge of the stage.
“I thought this mirror was supposed to show somethin’
hidden. I already know about that,” the dwarf grumbled under
his breath.
“But many here don’t. This process is more for their
benefit than for our own,” the wraith-mage suggested. Shetland
winced. Ebon apparently had come out of his funk.
“Snyder, I believe it is your turn...”
With a sideways glance at Tom, Snyder stepped before
the mirror. There was a moment of haze and one big bubble,
and then the mirror slowed to a slight wave motion, but did not
settle. It did bear the revelation within, however. As if looking
into a pond rippling from a stone’s throw, Snyder’s reflection
was not his jovial, well-groomed self, but that of a savage, sneering beast. His hair and fur were knotted and tangled with burrs,
and his eyes wild and darting. Instead of Snyder’s fancy suede
boots, the satyr’s feet were great cloven hooves, the nails long
and twisted as though in need of a clipping. The creature
clutched at a set of panpipes. Every few moments it would lower its head in a threatening gesture, exposing the large spiralled
ram’s horns on its head, partially hidden by its frizzy hair. Its
body was swarming with flies, probably drawn to the filth and
rotted leaves matted into its fur, and as if to add insult to injury,
it would pause every few seconds to scratch at its groin. It was
not wearing any clothing, not even a modest loincloth.
21

Magic University
Snyder turned several shades of red, but his features did
not otherwise display any emotion. He stepped back, fluffing
his curls with his hands to keep his horn tips out of view. Then
he casually walked to his place next to Shetland. This time,
however, he purposefully avoided the ladies’ eyes.
Tom had a pained look on his face obviously feeling for
his friend in such a time of discomfort. Perhaps that was why he
did not respond to his name at first, distracted as he was.
“Thomas?” Fortia repeated.
Burrell eyed Fortia, clearing his throat. As he pursed his
lips to speak, Tom finally responded, snapping into action. Before Burrell could continue, Tom rushed over to the mirror. He
gazed in warily, holding his breath.
The mirror shimmered and spun, pausing to flash a brief
picture several times, but not long enough to make sense of the
image within. Finally it slowed, pulsating gently, and provided
Thomas’s revelation.
The image had a soft golden glow, and the Thomas in the
mirror looked no different than he did now, except that he wore
a nobleman’s formal finery instead of wealthy traveller’s clothing. He was also seated in a very sturdy and ornate chair and
was holding an unusual looking, rather intricate staff in his right
hand. Tom looked around; eying first the audience and then his
opponents, but no one seemed to respond in any way to the image within. With a slight sigh, he stepped away and, after receiving a permissive nod from Burrell, moved to the far side of the
stage.
“And finally, Urwick.”
Urwick’s hooded figure moved silently into position before the mirror. The mirror’s surface seemed to dance, almost as
though laughing, and then started into a strange tremor that lasted several minutes. It appeared to be fighting something, some
resistance to its power. And then the fight was over, without any
evidence as to which side had won, but the glass’s surface did
clear and there was an image within. Everyone drew in their
breath audibly. The image was that of a dark elf. His swarthy
skin and silvery locks were easy to distinguish from the neutral
22

Opening Ceremonies
greys of the background within. The Urwick in the mirror
grinned and his counterpart dropped his hood.
“I do dislike sunlight, but there’s no use hiding what you
now already know.”
Dark elves were generally disliked by, and rarely dealt
with, surface-dwellers. Those who did manage to adapt to the
top-worlder society’s ways were hesitant to make the surface
their place of residence because of the sun and its effects on their
eyes and skin. But Urwick was leagues from the mouth of the
Underrealm, a true rarity.
He waved his hand and the area around his face perceptibly dimmed, like a reverse halo.
“I do realize that most people prefer to look you in the
eye when they speak to you, but I also prefer to get to know
people before they pass judgement. It makes my life a little easier and keeps things civil.” He cocked an eyebrow at Fortia and
Burrell, and then quietly slid into place beside Tom.
Fortia turned back to the audience, holding the scrolls out
before her.
“With the Revelation now complete we must move on to
the next element of the opening ceremonies. I will be reading
the rules and enchanting you with the spell that will bind you to
follow them. This is your last chance to opt out – once bound
you will find yourself compelled to compete fairly in the Trials.”
She paused and watched the competitors, but no one responded.
“Good, then I will proceed. I will read the ten essential
rules of today’s trials. You will then all swear that you will follow these rules as written and intended. You may feel a slight
tingle as the magic takes effect but there should be no other side
effects. We have deemed this to be necessary due to previous
examples of blatant disregard for the rules.”
Fortia cleared her throat, unrolling one of the elaborately
decorated scrolls before her.
“Rule number one: Players are not to use their magic to
directly hinder or directly aid another competitor unless it is required specifically by the Trial.
This is an individual
23

Magic University
competition of magical skill specific to the Trials and is not intended to encourage interference or to test ability as a team.
This rule is not applicable to aid from magical equipment or devices. If you wish to share such items, you may do so.”
“Rule number two: You have one hour to complete each
of the first ten Trials, and a half hour each for the last two Trials.
After judging, winners will be declared at midnight.”
“Rule number three: The Trials are to be completed in
the following order: Trial of True Knowledge, Trial of Magical
Offense, Trial of Safe Passage, Trial of the Extended Reach, Trial of Swift Passage, Trial of Magical Defense, Trial of Hid-den
Treasure, Trial of Power Imbuement, Trial of Varied
Knowledge, Trial of Power Display, Trial of Strong Ties and the
Leap of Faith. The workings of each Trial will be explained to
you in detail at the commencement of the Trial. Any questions
must be asked at that point in time as you will not be overseen
during the Trial itself.”
“Rule number four: There will be no summoning of extra-planar beings during the Trials to aid you with the
challenges. There is, however, nothing specified with regards to
creatures that have been summoned prior to the Trials.”
Fortia paused, shooting a quick look at Reid, who shuffled his feet and shrugged. Gerant had unintentionally found
him a loophole.
“Perhaps we should amend that particular rule for next
year,” Fortia commented to Burrell.
“Rule number five: There shall be no physical hindrance
of the other competitors. This includes such things as physical
restraints, drugging, booby traps, assassination attempts, etc.”
Fortia’s countenance markedly strained with mention of
each additional example, as though she were reliving past experiences that she would rather forget. Burrell was a little less
subtle, cringing as each ‘physical hindrance’ was listed. The
crowd murmured, some recalling the events in question as well.
“Rule number six...” There was another pause. Fortia’s
face reddened slightly and her shoulders hunched. She spoke the
next rule through clenched teeth. “There is to be no bribery of
24

Opening Ceremonies
the judges. This includes no gifts of a magical nature and no
sexual favours.”
Fortia exhaled audibly and unrolled the second scroll.
“Rule number seven: All information regarding the Trials
that you learn during this competition is to remain secret and
may not be shared with outsiders. You may only discuss these
Trials with other students or alumni of Magic University.”
“Rule number eight: You are not to leave the premises of
the Trial grounds during the Trials. Nor may you obtain aid during the Trials from anyone who may happen to venture on the
premises or happen to scry your activities from afar.”
“Rule number nine: You may make use of any unused
Trial time as you wish at the Trial Way Stations. This includes
eating, sleeping, drinking, and fraternizing with the other competitors, although you are advised that you may wish to use this
time to prepare, mentally or otherwise, for the next Trial. You
are requested to refrain from such activities in the areas outside
of the Way Stations once the Trials have officially begun.”
Fortia paused to take a breath and smiled at the audience.
“And finally... rule number ten. Under no circumstances
will you be permitted to repeat a Trial once you have failed it, so
prepare carefully before attempting each of the Trials. Some
Trials have been specifically designed to fool those who seek the
most obvious or easy answer.”
“To complete the spell, you must now all state ‘I agree to
follow these rules as written and intended.’”
In unison, the nine competitors repeated Fortia’s words.
The air grew thick momentarily. Some shivered as they felt the
tingle Fortia had mentioned earlier. Ebon sighed, sensing the
magic like he had stepped into a warm bath. Shetland began
scratching and wriggling frantically, turning a shade of purple as
he withheld any protest due to the severe discomfort he was experiencing. Finally, the spell settled into place and the aggravating itch subsided. Shetland huffed.
“I can’t wait for this day to be over. If I had known
things would be this bad I might have stayed home,” he muttered.
25

Magic University
“We will now proceed in an orderly fashion to the Way
Station of the First Trial. There we will cut the ribbon that signifies the official commencement of the Trials. Your first hour
will start from that precise moment. I will lead and I request that
you follow me in alphabetical order. Burrell will also follow
behind you.”
Fortia turned back to the audience. “Thank you for attending these time-honoured ceremonies. We hope to see you
again next year and that you enjoy the rest of this lovely spring
day.”
She glanced at the contestants once again. “This way.”
Almost gliding down the stairs, Fortia descended from
the stage and headed into the woods. In an anticipatory silence,
the competitors followed. Once free of the clearing and ear-shot
of the audience, the nervous rivals started talking amongst themselves, a brief distraction to help settle their nerves. Reeree
chattered incessantly at Fortia, who stared blankly ahead, nodding occasionally.
“So what do you think the first challenge will be like? I
think she called it the Trial of True Knowledge?” Finch asked
Nia, curious to see what the scaled-woman was all about.
Nia shrugged casually. “Probably something requiring
divination magic...shouldn’t be all that difficult. The one I think
will be the real challenge is the Trial of Power Imbuement. Ten
to one you have to make some kind of magic item and the only
things I’ve ever made are potions. But I figure everyone will be
lacking in at least one area, so as long as I’ve got the other eleven covered, I’ll be fine.”
“Oh.” That got Finch to thinking. She had not made any
magic items before, not even potions, and she was not very adept
at divination magic. She was suddenly convinced she had bitten
off more than she could chew. She walked on in silence, feeling
like an itty bitty fish swimming in a very big pond.
Meanwhile, Reid and Shetland had started ‘discussing’
things.
“If that imp interferes with anything I’m doin’, I promise
you I’ll wring its little neck,” swore Shetland, gesturing with his
26

Opening Ceremonies
hands. This was in response to Reid releasing the creature from
the bag. The imp unfurled its wings and shook them out a few
times. It then leaned over and screeched at the dwarf. Shetland
hefted his axe and snarled back.
“I don’t think it will be able to interfere with you because
of the binding spell,” insisted Reid. He leaned over and grabbed
Stiggle’s tail, just to be on the safe side. “Anyway, once all this
pomp and ceremony is over, I’m sure we’ll be able to keep our
distance. The only place we’ll have to tolerate each other is at
the Way Stations and from what I’ve heard they are large
enough to maintain your privacy if you choose to avoid the other
competitors. Personally, I’m going to want to mingle, but you
can do what you want.”
Shetland cocked an eyebrow and grinned. “You want to
mingle, eh? What, one of them ladies has got you all hot and
bothered? The redhead is cute, with a sweet face. Or is it the
scaly one? Not bad looking either, if you go for that kind of
thing, and she’s got a nice, tight little...”
“What difference does it make,” Reid sputtered, interrupting again. “But I’m surprised you even noticed them,
neither of them have a beard.”
Shetland screwed up his face in irritation.
“That’s a myth!” he barked. “Our women rarely have
beards, no more often than the average human woman. A man
can appreciate feminine beauty, even if they aren’t the same
race. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any half-elves, or half-orcs,
or the like.”
Feeling somewhat insulted, Shetland decided this was a
good place to end the conversation. He crossed his arms and
scowled, watching the woodland scenery in silence as they
walked.
Snyder and Tom, who had been listening to Reid and
Shetland’s discussion, began whispering to one another. Urwick
decided to interject.
“The dwarf does have an eye for aesthetics, but personally I prefer the exotic beauty of the silver-scaled woman to the
pale-skinned elf.”
27

Magic University
Tom glanced back at Urwick, thinking for a moment.
Then he nodded.
“The elf seems too timid for my tastes. Nia has spunk; I
like that in a woman.”
Urwick cocked an eyebrow and gave the briefest hint of
a smile. “Some call it spunk; others would say she is cocky,
perhaps too cocky for her own good. Strange. I would have expected you would be inclined to the more demure ladies, the
ones more likely to obey than argue.”
Tom frowned a little, and shot a look back at Snyder,
who shrugged. He decided that the dark elf must be drawing his
own conclusions from what he had seen in the mirror.
“That does seem to be what is expected of me, but I
don’t always live up to others expectations. If I did, I wouldn’t
be here.”
Urwick chuckled quietly. “You shouldn’t make a habit
of avoiding things just because they are expected of you. Sometimes there is a good reason why people expect things to be done
a certain way, and we all have some responsibility in life we
have to live up to. I would never think of shirking mine.”
Snyder was quick to respond.
“Tom doesn’t shirk his responsibilities, but once in
awhile a person has to have some fun. That’s why he’s here, and
you can’t fault the man for that. A life existed for working and
fulfilling obligations is stifling, and not really worth living.”
Urwick laughed louder this time.
“And you would know that, Snyder, would you? Life for
you has never been stifling?”
Snyder balked at this, but Tom stepped in. “How do you
know all this? Are you reading our minds like that Ebon character, or do you just have amazing natural insight?”
Urwick grinned. “Neither, and I’m afraid that’s all I’m
going to have the chance to tell you. It would appear that we
have arrived.”
Before the single file of competitors loomed the large
cabin structure referred to as a Way Station, but its lofty interior
made it seem like a small, luxurious villa. If all twelve Way Sta28

Opening Ceremonies
tions were similar, the Trial Grounds had no doubt been a costly
venture for the University. The Way Station had been decorated
with wreathes, ribbons, flowers and banners, awaiting the appearance of the potential apprentices for the completion of the
opening ceremonies. Fortia paused by a ribbon in front of the
Way Station doorway, tied between two posts planted in the
ground there. She reached for a dagger sheathed at her belt. It
was a very ornate weapon, its blade tooled with decorative runes
and its hilt fashioned from ivory, gold, emeralds and somewhat
purple rubies. She held it out before her as she spoke.
“This is the first Way Station and there is one for each
Trial. There is an attendant here who will explain the Trial to
you and answer any questions that you might have regarding that
Trial before you attempt it. You may prepare yourself in whatever way necessary before proceeding to your particular Trial
Point. You will be given a marker, exclusively yours. There will
be a scry eye at each Trial Point to monitor your progress and
your success or failure. Please remember, there is a limited
amount of time for each Trial, so while you are advised not to
rush things, you can’t dawdle either. Are there any questions
before we begin?”
The competitors remained silent.
“Good.” Fortia stepped forward and brought the knife
down on the golden ribbon, which parted with ease. The ribbon
halves transformed into a flock of golden doves, that disappeared through the trees. “I declare these Trials officially open.”
There was a puff of green and burgundy smoke where
Fortia and Burrell had been standing and suddenly the competitors found themselves alone before the door of the first Trial
Way Station.
The Magic University Apprenticeship Trials had begun.

29

3
True Knowledge
The Way Station swung open to reveal a subtle vision, a
lithe-looking woman dressed in shimmering, shifting greens. As
she moved, vine-like tendrils extended and withdrew along her
sleek limbs. Her brownish-green curls snaked down her shoulders in an inviting manner. She glanced at the contestants, her
emerald eyes reminiscent of shadowy forests depths, alluring yet
haunting at the same time. The temptress in green spoke.
“I am Jadira, Attendant of Way Station One. If you
would like to join me in the Common Room, I will debrief you
on the rules of this Trial. After that, you are free to come and go
between here and your Trial Point as you please. You will find
your name on the door of your room and at your Trial Point.”
She turned away from them, her leafy attire catching the light
with its bright gloss. “This way...”
They all arrived in the Common Room and Jadira addressed them again.
“This first trial you must face is called the Trial of True
Knowledge. At each of your Trial Points, a magical item awaits
you. You must explore this item by every magical means available to you. The more information you can provide to the scry
eye regarding this item, the higher the score you will receive –
but note that more points are received for information that is
harder to obtain. Obviously, the challenger with the highest
30

True Knowledge
score will be named the winner. The highest score ever recorded
for this Trial is forty points, obtained by our current dean, Dean
Virtua. When you are done, you may retire to your rooms or
spend time with me and other competitors here in the Common
Room. Are there any questions?”
Reeree raised a plump hand. “Do we get points for observing the obvious, like colour, or is it just things that can’t be
tested by regular senses? What about alterations? Can we alter
the item and then use magic to observe that alteration? Do we
have to use all of our senses, like taste...?”
Realizing that if she allowed the pink gnome to continue,
Jadira might have to wait a long time to give Reeree her answers, the dryad chose to interrupt.
“We are not interested in any information that can be directly observed by your senses, only information that requires
some form of magic to be detected. And we want only information regarding the object as it is before you begin your
observations. Has that clarified things for you, or are there further pertinent questions? Remember, you only have an hour.”
She addressed Reeree directly with these words. The gnome’s
cheeks reddened slightly and she nodded.
The contestants pooled out of the Common Room and
hurriedly sought out their own private areas. The rooms were
small, but comfortable, with pitchers of cold water and equally
cold ale on the table by the bed. There was also a bowl of fruit
and dried meats. The majority of the competitors decided to
head for their Trial Points immediately and get the first Trial out
of the way. Ebon, who had no interest in the physical comforts
of his room, had already left. Urwick, Snyder, Tom, Nia and
lastly Reeree were soon to follow.
Reid swung around the corner as he heard the others
trampling down the stairs, nearly running head long into Finch,
and accidentally stepping on her foot. He apologized awkwardly
as she grimaced and held onto the toe of her boot. She took a
seat at the top of the stairs to examine the damage. Reid cautiously sat beside her.

31

Magic University
“It looks OK, although there might be some bruising. I
can be a bit of a klutz sometimes. That was one of Gerant’s pet
peeves. Of course, if he had been a little bit more organized I
wouldn’t have knocked so many things over. He hardly ever
closed a cupboard door behind him. I don’t know just how
many times I almost put out my eye on the corner of one of
those doors.” Reid grinned, hoping for a friendly response.
Finch had removed her boot and was rubbing at her toe,
but she smiled. “My mother taught me what magic I know. We
never seemed to get in each other’s way. It was like we were in
sync somehow.” She put her boot back on sighing. “She died
three years ago. I promised her that I would try to get into the
University so that I could finish my training. I doubt I could ever be as good a spellcaster as she was.”
Stiggle, who had been exploring the Way Station, chose
this moment to reappear and settle on Reid’s shoulder. His large
flat wings caught Reid and Finch squarely in the face and nearly
sent the pair of them tumbling down the stairs. They heard a
door close behind them and some hushed cursing.
“Shouldn’t you be keepin’ that beast in that bag!” Shetland grimaced at the imp as he wiped ale froth from his beard.
The imp responded by perching on the highest point of Reid’s
shoulder and screeching at the dwarf at the top of his lungs.
Shetland feigned a lurch forward, his fists clenched, and Stiggle
took flight, diving off Reid and swooping down to the main
floor.
“I doubt he can do much harm to the likes of you. But,
hey, if you’re scared...” Reid reached for the bag tentatively.
Shetland scowled, waggling his hand at Reid. “Scared!?
Of that puny thing – never! I was just thinkin’ of the ladies...”
It was Finch’s turn to interrupt. “Well, I’d prefer if
you’d let me decide those things for myself.” She rose to her
feet and started down the stairs. “Not that it really matters now.
I have a Trial to complete, and I plan to get a start on it before
the rest of the crowd has me beat.”
Reid also stood to leave. “I think the lady has a good
point. Why bother being here if I don’t put in my best effort.
32

True Knowledge
Come on, Stiggle.” He held out the padded wrist to the imp who
hesitated a moment, then launched himself over to the familiar
perch.
Finding himself alone, Shetland stared down the stairs
and contemplated his options. He could make an early start on
the Trial, but had no clue what he would do once he got there.
Then again, most of the competitors had probably left their
pitcher of ale untouched in their room. If he could manage to
get in, he could help himself to as many as he pleased. He wandered over to the closest door, which had been left slightly ajar.
Chuckling to himself, he slipped into the room, closing the door
quietly behind him.

~MR~
Ebon stepped up to his Trial Point. The walls of the
strange force field were supposed to be opaque, but he could see
through them. There was a small table within and on top of this
sat a strange cobalt-blue carafe. Above hovered the scry eye that
the judges used to monitor the competitor during the test. He
glanced at the other Trial Points. Empty, aside from similar
items to what could be found within his. He stepped into the
peculiar little chamber.
“Your first Trial has begun.” A voice echoed through the
chamber and reverberated in his head. He glanced up at the scry
eye. It was following his every move. Ebon reached out and
brushed the smooth surface of the blue vessel with his finger. It
glowed.
“Big surprise – it’s enchanted,” he muttered.
“Five points,” replied the disembodied voice, startling
Ebon. He had been reminiscing of the days when he could have
enjoyed the feel of the carafe’s smooth polish. Things were not
“tangible” anymore. He could still pick things up, telekinetically, but not feel them – not in the ordinary way. He could only
“touch” things that were not natural.
With magical effort, he picked up the vessel and it
glowed where it contacted his ethereal hand. Drawing it closer,
33

Magic University
he noticed a seal where the glazed mouth met the glossy bottom
of the plug. He could smell the magic there.
“Trapped,” he declared.
“Five points.” The voice was becoming familiar.
Without much thought, Ebon reached through the solid
bottom of the vessel and seized a handful of its contents.
“Ashes,” he thought aloud.
“Five points.”
Ebon wondered if his rivals would hear the voice’s echo
as he did. Hearing magical voices on multiple planes always
made them sound more ominous. He withdrew his hand from the
carafe. A scattering of ashes had adhered themselves to him.
Nothing solely on the physical plane was capable of doing that.
“The ashes are magically enchanted as well. This is easier than I thought it would be.”
His own voice blended with the one overhead, camouflaging the next “five point” statement. He focused on the ashes.
He would have to determine their purpose, or that of the vessel
for his next trick. Suddenly, the entire chamber began to sway
and spin. Ebon grabbed telekinetically at the table but was unable to grasp it in his disoriented state. He found himself lying on
the floor of the chamber, very woozy, and very aware of another
presence. Someone or something else was in there with him.
“Who – what are you?” He gasped, trying to regain his
senses as he stared up at the chamber ceiling and the trees in the
sky beyond. He sensed annoyance from the presence, and a
strange bitterness that could easily be compared with his own.
“You do not know?” The presence hissed. “Then I am
not prepared to tell you.”
Ebon sat up, slowly regaining his strength. “You were
captive in that vessel, weren’t you?”
“Five points.”
A chill wind blew through Ebon, pulling the ashes from
his dark ethereal skin, and scattering them outside the chamber.
He scrabbled over to the vessel and plunged his hand through its
side. To his satisfaction, when he withdrew it, additional ashes
had adhered themselves to his skin. The presence was there
34

True Knowledge
again. Ebon clutched at the chamber floor as he felt it lurch beneath him.
“Are you a demon? Talk to me!” he demanded.
The presence roared. “No more than you!”
A second breeze blew through the chamber, carrying the
ashes away. Ebon delved into the vessel again. Fewer ashes had
stuck to his skin this time. His mind raced.
“You are on another plane then, you are an outer planar
creature, like me?”
He held his breath. The disembodied voice did not
speak.
“Yes....and no,” the presence snickered, and this time the
ashes seemed to dance from Ebon’s skin. “One more – one
more question and I am free.”
“Yes and no. How can that be? I don’t understand.”
Ebon was growing angry. This creature was teasing him, talking
in riddles. He grabbed at the contents of the vessel, feeling
around anxiously, and then withdrew his hand. There were three
specks clinging to his skin. The presence was there again, but
much more faint.
“Are you a mage, then? A spellcaster?”
“Five points.”
The presence cackled and dimmed as it spoke. “I was
once, but not anymore.”
It sighed as the last three ashes drifted to the ground and
disappeared. “And never again. Free. I am free.” Then it was
gone.
“Dead, you are dead then...”
“Five points.”
Ebon reached for the carafe, but it was gone also. It had
crumpled into a fine dust and was blowing away in the wind, just
as the ashes had. Ebon grabbed at the dust frantically, but to no
avail.
“No! No! I need one more, so I can tie the record. One
more!”
He stood up, searching meticulously through the chamber.
35

Magic University
“Please, please, one more!” He wailed. He slammed
himself against the chamber wall out of frustration, only the wall
did not restrain him. He stumbled out into the forest. When he
turned back, the scry eye was flying off into the forest, and the
chamber was gone.
Ebon drew in a breath to protest, but realized it would be
futile. Without bothering a glance at the other competitors’ Trial
Points, he turned and headed back to the Way Station.

~MR~
Snyder and Tom arrived at their Trial Points, located
side-by-side. They could hear the low rumbling of Ebon’s voice
coming from one of the other chambers. Snyder waited for Tom
to step into his Trial Point before entering his own.
The chamber triggered a moment of claustrophobia for
the bard. Shuddering, Snyder reached for his pipes and blew a
soft, soothing tune. His fear eased, and he glanced down at the
table before him. The carafe was a warm orange in colour, with
a noticeable seal. He blew a quick melody on his pipes, watching for the seal to dissolve and the pottery plug to sink into the
bottleneck. With a slight spin and low hum, the plug skipped up
then sank slightly into the container, the seal gone.
“Five points.”
A strange voice echoed above him and he crouched, staring up at the chamber ceiling. Finding no source for the voice,
Snyder stood again and faced the table. He reached down and
gently lifted the carafe. He ran his fingers over the cool, smooth
surface of its glaze and grasped the plug. Snyder gave it a slight
tug. It yielded with a loud pop, and an acrid green gas spilled
into the room. It took a good ten minutes for the air to clear and
another five for Snyder’s eyes to stop tearing and his lungs to
stop burning.
A trap – and he had missed it. Snyder continued despite
his blurred vision and hacking cough. He had already used up
too much of his time.

36

True Knowledge
With a twist of his wrist, Snyder spilled the contents of
the carafe out onto the table. He stared at the dusty gray powder,
not daring to touch it. He sniffed at it. No strong odour. He
frowned, and put away his pipes. Instead, he reached for his
flute, and he began to play a lilting tune. The dust started to rise,
swirling up gradually in time to the music. As Snyder’s tempo
quickened, so did the movement of the ashes. They grew into a
billowing cloud, and slowly took the shape of a woman, who
danced upon the table top.
Snyder stopped playing, but the ashes did not settle, continuing to dance to the rhythm that the bard now maintained with
the tapping of his toe.
“Ashes of the dead,” he murmured to the dancing form.
“I think I have a song to help me.”
“Five points,” echoed the voice. Snyder was only slightly startled, but nearly skipped a beat.
Recovering his
composure, he drew in a breath, and began to sing. His voice
was warm and velvety, with the surety of many years experience.
“Spirit, spirit, tell me this – dancing in your quiet bliss;
Tell me, tell me, who you are, where you come from, and how
far; Why you dwell within this place, captured by this magic
vase; Then be free to go your way, no longer will you have to
stay.”
“Five points,” rang the voice, accompanied by ghostly
laughter.
“Answer questions I will three, then by their leave I am
free, I am Margo from the Isles, keeper of my children’s smiles;
I come from where you long to be, and pledged my spirit as their
fee; Their fee now paid I’m free to go, and I’m the one who tells
you so.”
The dancing ashes twirled a single pirouette and then
flew from the chamber.
“Ten points,” the voice declared.
Snyder paused. One of the answers had been cryptic.
Where did he long to be? Aside from the fact that home seemed
inviting right now, he considered the more obvious answer.
37

Magic University
“Margo was a mage from Magic University. She paid
her tuition by agreeing to be used in these Trials after her death,”
Snyder marvelled aloud.
“Ten points.”
Snyder glanced at the empty carafe and then briefly
looked around the chamber – nothing much left that he could
work with. With a shrug of his shoulders, he stepped out of the
chamber.

~MR~
Tom entered the magical chamber. A surge of apprehension swept over him as he looked at the royal blue carafe upon
the table and the scry eye hovering above. It was so different
without Snyder there to guide him along. The half-satyr had
been a wonderful teacher, but Tom still did not feel confident
enough about his skills to feel comfortable without him. He
sighed and approached the table.
Tom supposed it was his own fault. He had let people
pamper him all of his life and he did not have to be here. In fact,
many people would prefer he not be where he was, if they would
have known.
As Tom squatted and focused on the carafe, he considered how he and his teacher had first met. Snyder had been a
travelling entertainer. Tom had always been fascinated by magic and had requested that Snyder meet with him for a private
audience. He had food and wine brought to his chamber and
they had talked all night about magic. Having some idea at
Snyder’s true identity, Tom pressured Snyder into revealing that
his bardic talents were only a tip of the iceberg. The half-satyr
was a highly-skilled Renegade mage and his ability was much
greater than his bardic charade would suggest. Tom had leapt at
the opportunity. He had forced Snyder to remain with him, secretly keeping him as a tutor in spellcasting.
Tom gazed up at the scry eye. He hated the feeling of
being constantly watched, but he was accustomed to it. This trip
had been one of the few times he had experienced any sense of
38

True Knowledge
privacy, and it was likely because no one but Snyder and the
University knew who he was. He grimaced at that thought.
There would be hell to pay if they both returned to Seaforest,
and poor Snyder would likely serve as the scapegoat for this incident, not to mention other complications that might arise.
Perhaps it would be best if Tom returned alone – not that he was
so sure either of them would return at all. He had a chance of
succeeding at the Trials, as did Snyder. Of course, Snyder was
insistent upon limiting his magic use to his bardic skills. He
wanted to give Tom a fighting chance. This thought bolstered
Tom and he paused from his reverie to deal with the task at
hand. He was not about to let Snyder down.
Tom listed off the spells he had prepared for the day, trying to sort through what might be helpful in this instance. He
decided to sense magic on the carafe. The spell revealed to him
that the carafe, its contents, and the seal at its neck all held some
form of enchantment.
“Five points,” a voice said.
Tom glanced around, bewildered. He decided the next
logical action was to determine if there was a trap on the carafe.
There was.
“Five points.”
Tom was relieved the voice was not overly loud. He
listed through his chosen spells for a second time. There was a
definite problem. He did not have any means of disabling the
trap. His heart raced as he stared at the carafe. Did he want to
risk endangering himself in exchange for access to its contents?
Once more he wished that Snyder was there, pointing him in the
right direction. He assumed that his teacher would not have
been thoughtless enough to approach such a test without having
a spell for disabling traps. Maybe there was another way around
it.
Tom ran through his list of spells a third time. He had
two divination spells available to him. They could give him
some insight on the carafe’s contents without having to open it,
but he would have to use them carefully.

39

Magic University
“What is in this pottery vessel?” he asked upon casting
the spell, touching the carafe.
Tom liked the way the lore spell worked. The information was in his head, as if he had known it all along. These
were the ashes of a dead mage by the name of Duke Dante Morlon. Tom had heard of the duke in his history lessons. The
nobleman’s life had not been that exciting. He was a mediocre
politician and an equally mediocre mage. What had made his
story interesting enough for Tom to remember him was actually
what had occurred after his death. The duke had not left a will
and his children had bickered fiercely over their inheritance to
the point of inciting war. Tom’s father had suggested to him that
the duke had spoiled his children, ignoring them for the purpose
of practising his hobby of spellcasting, and trying to buy their
love to make up for it. An easy way of turning your children
into uncaring, greedy tyrants, his father had said.
Tom picked up the carafe, keeping his hands well away
from the vessel’s trapped mouth.
“The ashen remains of the sorcerous Duke Morlon,” Tom
chuckled. “Wouldn’t father be interested in this?”
“Fifteen points,” declared the voice in the chamber.
“Why are Duke Morlon’s ashes secured within this vessel?” he asked, using the second lore spell to divine the answer.
And suddenly he knew the truth. While the Duke’s children had
been bickering over the estate, Farkas Morlon, the middle son,
who had accepted the Duke’s ashes for safe keeping while
awaiting settlement of his father’s estate, had lost his father’s
ashes while gambling. The new owner, unsure of how to recoup
his money, had decided to see if the University would buy them.
They had, knowing the ashes could be useful for these Trials,
and offering a paltry fee in exchange for the Duke’s remains.
Morlon’s ashes were then placed in the carafe and his spirit secured there magically, until he had served his purpose in the
Trials.
“Traded by your son to clear a debt. What a way to end
up back at your Alma Mater,” Tom commented. “I guess this
shows that you shouldn’t try to buy your children’s love.”
40

True Knowledge
“Ten points.”
The plug on the carafe popped open and the carafe tipped
over, spilling its contents onto the ground. The ashes flowed
like water out through the chamber door and dispersed.
Tom was satisfied with his performance and Snyder
would be proud. The young man only hoped the next Trial
would go so smoothly. He stepped out of the chamber, heading
off in search of his teacher and friend.

~MR~
Nia was somewhat disappointed to find that her Trial
Point was at the farthest end of the site. She entered her chamber and without pausing to acknowledge the scry eye that
hovered overhead, she picked up the brilliant violet carafe from
the table. She scrutinized it briefly before attempting her first
spell.
“Ah, it is magical,” she exclaimed.
“Five points,” spoke the disembodied voice.
With a huff, Nia popped the plug out. Acrid green
smoke poured out of the carafe’s mouth, but Nia was fortunate
enough to notice it before it filled the room. She held her breath
and lowered her nictitating eyelids. She otherwise ignored the
gas, spilling the carafe’s contents onto the table.
Dust, somewhat ashy to the touch, she thought. A brief
moment of concern flashed through her mind as she considered
that the dust might be residue from the destruction of whatever
had been in the carafe. She shrugged - what was done was done,
and maybe she could still get some information with regards to
the residue. She did a history spell on the dust, hoping for some
answers. The results almost overwhelmed her.
She found herself experiencing the life of another, in the
span of a few minutes. Images, people, emotions and thoughts
rushed past her in a furious blaze of sensation. From birth to
death, she felt it all – the joys and the suffering. The ashes had
belonged to a human male, born to poverty and struggling all his
life for wealth, power, love and acceptance. He had died lonely
41

Magic University
and destitute, having reached some of what he had strived for
only to lose it through misfortune and poor judgement.
His name had been Chase Murdoch, and he had been
through these Trials himself. Nia reached out for these memories, hoping to gain some insight into the next eleven Trials, but
they slipped away too quickly, leaving her with mere glimpses at
their secrets. She did figure out that he had succeeded at the
Trials, but had no resources to cover the tuition cost and his third
position placing had only warranted a partial scholarship so he
had pledged his soul, or at least his ghostly spirit, to the University for use in the Trials. Then the memories began to ebb away.
“What a rush,” she breathed, still dizzy from the experience.
She thought about Chase’s pathway through life and how
it compared to her own. She had come to these Trials without
considering how she would pay the tuition if she placed less than
first, but in the top three. In fact, she invested little time or
thought in most of her decisions. But so had Chase, and it had
tripped him up in the end. Maybe she should be rethinking the
way she did things.
The last bit of responsive emotion cleared from her mind,
and she shrugged off the fear and regret that had haunted Chase
upon his demise. Just because he had drawn a bad hand from the
deck of fate did not guarantee any such result for her. Nia was
who she was, and she would not be happy any other way. She
gently drew her fingers through the ashes.
“Ah, Mr. Murdock. Life may have cheated you, and
death may have driven it home, but that isn’t going to stop me
from taking my chances. Some things in life are worth the gamble, even if I don’t make it into Magic University as you did,”
she told the small pile of ashes.
“Fifteen points,” spoke the voice.
Nia was puzzled as to how else she could get more
points. She had used up any spell she had that could provide her
with information about the dead man from the jar. She sprinkled
a pinch of the ashes into her palm and blew them into the air.
They floated lifelessly to the ground.
42

True Knowledge
“So can you give me anymore hints? I’d hate to miss top
ranking by a few points and have to pay my tuition the way you
did.”
“Five points.”
Nia grinned. Perhaps she had been a little quick to disregard the information from her spell. Perhaps it held more
answers than she had first believed.
She spent the next twenty minutes playing in the ashes
and recounting what details she could recall from the results of
the history spell, but to no avail. She was growing bored, and
getting dirty. The chamber was getting stuffy too. Nia finally
gave up, rising to her feet.
I need a bath, she thought as she stepped out of the
chamber. She felt a slight chill and glanced around. The ashes
were gone.
“Farewell, Mr. Murdoch,” she murmured. “Good luck
wherever you are headed.”
She turned toward the Way Station and started up the
path.

~MR~
Urwick stepped into the chamber, but did not look
around as the others had. Instead, he approached the table and
gingerly picked up the white opalescent carafe which he gently
placed on the ground.
“Sorry, Argus, maybe next year,” he said. The scry eye
did not follow him, nor did the disembodied voice speak.
Taking a seat on the table, he withdrew a notebook and a
self-inking quill from a satchel. He sat there for several minutes,
jotting notes in his notebook, pausing occasionally to ponder
some item. Then, with a conclusive dot from his quill, he
slapped the notebook closed and returned it and the quill to their
original place. He rose to his feet, and with a wave to the scry
eye, stepped out of the chamber.

43

Magic University

~MR~
Finch stared at the emerald green carafe, blinking back
the tears that kept trying to force their way to the surface. She
had been standing there ineffectively for about fifteen minutes,
growing more anxious with each second that passed. She had
determined that the carafe and its contents were magical and that
the seal was trapped, but beyond that she was stuck. She could
not dispel the trap, nor did she have any spells that could give
her a clue with regards to the carafe’s contents. This was what
she had been afraid of when she had first set out for the Trials.
She slumped down to the floor of the chamber, sliding her hand
into her belt pouch.
She drew out the locket that held her mother’s portrait.
She had been given the locket by her father, after her mother had
died, as a keepsake of her memory. Finch had used to wear it on
a chain around her neck, but the chain had broken on her way to
the Trials and she had not had the opportunity to repair it. She
touched the miniature’s face, wishing her mother could be there
to help.
“But I am here.”
Finch startled, dropping the locket. She could have
sworn that she had seen the miniature’s mouth moving. She
scrabbled forward, snatching up the locket from where it had
fallen. The portrait smiled demurely.
“Mother?” Finch exclaimed.
The miniature’s eyes lifted to meet hers and the mouth
moved again.
“In a way, yes, I suppose I am. Your mother linked her
essence with this locket before she died. I am but a thread of her
spirit, but I can connect you with her on the other side as well as
with the woman in the carafe.”
Finch frowned. “There’s a person in there?”
“A person’s earthly remains,” the portrait replied. “Her
name is Arwynna Goliath. She was an earth-mage here at the
University and her ashes are in that carafe.”
“Fifteen points.”
44

True Knowledge
Finch was pleased to hear the voice echoing overhead, as
it had seemed like ages since she had last heard it speak.
“Do you have any other questions for Arwynna?” the
portrait asked.
Finch thought for a moment. “I suppose it would be a
good idea to find out how she ended up in this carafe to begin
with, and why she doesn’t rest in peace.”
The portrait was still for a few minutes before responding
to Finch’s questions. “Arwynna says she was responsible for a
magical ‘accident’ here at the university. As she could not afford to pay for the damages resulting from the incident, she
agreed instead to serve in the Trials upon her death. She thought
it a small sacrifice at the time, but soon discovered that there is a
greater discomfort to service after death than ever could have
existed from any service during life. The enchantment on the
carafe trapped her spirit within, but now she is free, as she has
answered your questions and fulfilled her obligation.”
As the disembodied voice above spoke, announcing an
additional ten points, the plug on the carafe popped out of its
own accord. Instead of acrid green gas, a small dust devil
whirled out the carafe’s mouth and disappeared through the
chamber door.
Finch stared wide-eyed at the locket and the empty carafe. The Trial had gone so painfully slow at first, and suddenly
it was over, scoring additional points almost effortlessly. Had
she cheated? She had recalled in the rules it had stated that they
could use magic devices, so she supposed she had earned those
points fair and square. The miniature had ceased moving and
spoke no further.
Still numb from all that she had just experienced, Finch
got to her feet and left the chamber.

~MR~
Shetland staggered through the doorway of the chamber.
Seven pitchers of ale, and he was much more comfortable with
the idea of completing his first Trial. The scry eye loomed over
45

Magic University
him, following his every move. He stared at it through bleary
eyes, teetering slightly to the left, then grinned, waggling his axe
at it, and made a rude gesture. He stumbled forward, bumping
the table. The chocolate brown carafe wobbled for a few moments then toppled over. But instead of rolling away from
Shetland, it spun and rolled towards him, almost as though the
table were leaning in his direction. The carafe made contact
with his belly surprisingly hard. Shetland grunted from the impact, and batted away the offending item with one hand. In the
process, he dislodged the plug from the carafe’s mouth. Green
smoke spilled into the room. Shetland wheezed, coughed and
gagged, with a large discharge of tears spilling from his already
watery eyes.
In a rage, Shetland frenzied. He swung his axe blindly
about the chamber until it finally came into contact with the carafe. The vessel broke into four large shards, its contents
spilling onto the table. He then beat fiercely on the shards with
the blunt of his axe, scattering the ashes into the dirt below.
When he finally stopped to take a breath, all that remained of the
carafe was a gritty clay powder and the ashes were no longer in
sight, ground into the earth below Shetland’s feet. With a satisfied huff, Shetland stomped out of the chamber.

~MR~
Reid held the struggling imp well away from the lime
green carafe. Stiggle disliked confined spaces and was not happy in the slightest about remaining in the chamber. It took Reid
several minutes to calm the imp to a reasonable temperament
before he could proceed. Once Stiggle had settled, Reid lowered
him to the table. The imp hopped over to the carafe and gave it
a sniff. He sneezed violently.
“Ah, it’s magical. Now is that the carafe, the contents or
both?” Reid pondered.
“Five points,” spoke the disembodied voice. Reid
glanced up at the scry eye.

46

True Knowledge
“My guess would be both, but I guess it doesn’t matter.”
He watched Stiggle lick at the plug. The imp spat and spluttered
in disgust.
“A trap, you say. Get rid of that for me, will you?” Reid
sighed.
“Five points.”
The imp blew on the seal and a strange blue fire burned
for a couple of seconds. Then the plug sprang out of the carafe
mouth with a loud popping noise. The imp stuck his head into
the jar and sneezed violently for a second time, causing small
clouds of ash to billow into the air.
“See, I was right,” declared Reid. The imp had its uses
after all.
Stiggle grabbed the neck of the carafe, which was almost
his size, and with one solid shrug, tipped its contents out. Most
of the ashes made it onto the table, but a few drifted onto the
floor. The imp grinned, baring all of its needle-sharp teeth and
dove headfirst into the ashes. He rolled around in them like a
dog might roll about in something really smelly. Reid frowned,
puzzled.
“What sort of dust is this? You don’t usually like anything this much unless it is demonic – or dead,” he said, watching the imp bury himself deeper in the pile of ashes.
“Five points.”
“It’s dead? These must be somebody’s ashes.” He
picked up a handful. If he used minor necromancy to speak to
the previous owner of the ashes, he could save his lore spell to
determine the nature of the carafe. He spoke the incantation.
The ashes shifted and mumbled. Reid reached down and
plucked the imp out of the tremulous mound.
“You disturb me, young whippersnapper?” wheezed the
ashes. Reid nearly fell over. It was Gerant, his mentor. He
would know that voice anywhere.
“Gerant?! How did you end up here??”
“Five points.”
“Is that yer question, boy?? Think, now. Quick on yer
feet.”
47

Magic University
Reid hesitated. He knew the rules – one straight answer
or three yes/no questions. There were so many things he wanted
to ask Gerant, but he had to choose. He also had to focus on the
Trials, though, no matter how much he wanted to ask Gerant
about the Renegade mage’s hidden stash.
Reid opened his mouth but nothing came out. There was
an internal struggle that had momentarily robbed him of his
words. When the struggle finally ended, the voice of greed had
overcome the voice of reason. He convinced himself he could
get enough points from the lore spell on the carafe to make up
the difference.
“No, Gerant. That should be my question, but I have
something else I’d rather ask you. My question is: where are all
your secret caches located?”
Reid’s face betrayed no emotion, but inwardly, he
laughed. Gerant had always demanded so much from him, yet
had denied Reid his secrets. The pile of ashes heaved a great
sigh.
“How did I know you would ask something as silly as
that at this important a moment? Probably because I saw myself
in you – I missed out on true opportunity and now regret it.
Don’t make that mistake, boy.”
“You had many a year to lecture me when you were
alive, Gerant. Enough. I want my answer.” Stiggle, who had
reacted quite negatively to the sound of Gerant’s voice, was
clinging to the back of Reid’s shirt and peering at the pile of
ashes over Reid’s shoulder.
“As you wish. I had three secret caches. Beneath the
dirt at the base of the maple tree you will find a small trap door.
It leads to a cellar where I stored unfinished experiments and
unused components. At the back of the loft in the barn, in the
far right corner, you will find a chest. It contains all the summoning spells which I developed while I was alive. And lastly,
in the attic, I had an old wardrobe with a false back. The back
opens to a portal that will lead you into a cave where I stored
anything I considered valuable or dangerous. Not that you’ll

48

True Knowledge
listen, but I would stay clear of that troublesome mess. Good
luck, boy. I can see now that yer really going to need it.”
Stiggle landed next to the pile of ashes and with a single
hop, moved to its edge. He took a deep breath and blew. The
ashes scattered about the chamber; some gliding out the door,
others fluttering into the dirt floor and disappearing from view.
Reid was about to chastise the imp when he realized it did not
really matter anymore. Gerant had given him as much information as the spell would allow.
As he cast the lore spell on the carafe, Reid wondered if
he would regret the decision he had just made, confused by his
choice. Was not winning the Trials more important than finding
Gerant’s secret caches? Obviously, part of him did not agree
with that.
His spell revealed the carafe was a magical vessel that
trapped a departed spirit and prevented it from leaving. When
the trapped soul fulfilled an obligation owed to the carafe’s
owner, the enchantment would be lifted and they were free to
move on. This answer earned him five more points.
Unsure of his success, Reid snagged Stiggle by the collar
and stepped out of the chamber.

~MR~
Reeree pulled Rex out of her pocket, and plopped him
next to the pale pink carafe. The white gecko’s tongue flicked at
its glossy surface and he turned his cherry red eyes toward his
mistress. She fumbled with a bright pink ruck sack and after a
few minutes she pulled out a small magenta pot of ink and a
dusty rose quill. She then pried a small pocket open in the back
and withdrew a peach coloured sheet of parchment.
For several moments she scribbled copious notes on her
piece of parchment, glancing up occasionally at Rex and the carafe while she dipped her quill in the inkpot.
“I made a list of all the things I could ask about that pottery and its possible contents – and I can add extra questions as I

49

Magic University
go, once I know what’s inside the jar.” Reeree told him and
paused from writing to cast a quick spell on the carafe.
“Is it magical?” she read from the sheet. “Yes. Check
that one off.”
“Five points,” declared the disembodied voice above
Reeree’s head. She added a note to the sheet.
“Is it trapped?” she asked, invoking another basic spell.
“Yes. Check.”
“Five points.”
She used another of her lesser spells to remove the trap
and leaned over to pull the plug out of the carafe. She decided
she wanted a closer look at its contents, which she poured onto
the table.
“What are the magical properties of the carafe and its
contents?”
Reeree went into a lengthy incantation.
“The carafe is a soul vessel and is enchanted to trap the
spirit of Melithe the Sylph,” she told Rex as she pointed at the
pile of ashes. “…Until she has completed a boon for the University. When she has fulfilled this duty, the enchantment will drop
and she will be free to go. Oh, and there is a colour-alteration
spell on the carafe. It is enchanted to assume a colour influenced
by the spirit contained within. The carafe returns to a plain, gray
colour, unglazed, a day after the spirit has departed.”
“Twenty points.”
Reeree grinned and made a note of this.
“Well now that I know what was in the jar, I’ll need your
help, Rex.” Not wanting to be limited in time or possibilities by
a simple communication spell, Reeree decided to use one of her
aces up her sleeves – a channeling spell. She cast it on Rex and
waited. After a few moments, he spoke.
“What answers do you seek, enlightened one? Pray, give
me my freedom. Such a life of enslavement is true misery to
one of the fey folk.”
“Melithe, I wish to know your life story. Then you will
be free.”

50

True Knowledge
The sylph recounted her days as a Renegade mage, as
most of the fey folk were, and how she had to seek components
from the University when her child had been cursed by a warlock. She had had no monetary means to pay, so she had signed
their contract, leasing to them her spirit upon her death. They
had had to wait many years to obtain their reimbursement.
Reeree listened attentively, until she received a final five minute
countdown from the scry eye, and was ecstatic that she had
earned herself an additional ten points. Spending a couple of
minutes sliding everything into their appropriate places, she bid
Melithe farewell, allowed her her freedom, and stepped out of
the chamber.

51

4
Time Out
Urwick slipped through the front door of the Way Station. He had just crossed paths with the gnome, who was
heading out to the Trial Points as he was returning. He heard
some bumping around in the upstairs chambers and paused. It
was not Jadira – he was sure of that. He stood still for a few
moments, concentrating. With a cynical smile, some awareness
of something unseen bringing a sparkle to his eye, he continued
into the communal room.
The dwarf is of no concern to me, he thought, at least,
not within the capacity of these Trials.
Jadira stood to greet him as he entered. Urwick shot her
a knowing look. She sidled her way across the room, and draping one leafy hand over his shoulder, she drew in close enough
to whisper into his ear.
“What took you so long? I was expecting you back
sooner,” she breathed.
“Now, now,” he murmured, sliding his own hand across
her back. “I can’t give too much away, can I.”
Jadira grinned. She enjoyed being a party to a secret,
leaving others unaware. She grabbed Urwick’s hands and pulled
him over to the couch.
“I wish we had more time, but some of the others may be
back before we know it. We wouldn’t want to be caught in a

52

Time Out
compromising situation,” he reminded her. She sank back into
the couch.
“We’ll just convince them that I used my wily ways to
seduce you,” she suggested playfully. “Why would they think
otherwise?”
“There will be plenty of time for that after the Trials are
over,” he insisted, grasping her hand and giving it a gentle
squeeze.
“You are such a tease,” she admonished. “But as usual,
you are right.” She rose and straightened her garb and hair,
righting herself just in time for Ebon to arrive. His dark shape
hovered in the doorway.
“So I am not the first back. Or have you not yet travelled
to the Trial Point.”
Urwick responded only by cocking an eyebrow. Ebon
growled, a low thrumming sound, and slinked into the room.
“The fact that you have returned so soon suggests that
you were either very adept at the Trial, or a complete failure.
Tell you what – you tell me how you fared, and I’ll answer your
question,” Urwick said, taunting the wraith-like mage. Ebon
sneered.
“Success is relative.”
“I suppose it is. I sense you are not happy with your results. Maybe you should consider lowering your expectations.”
“And maybe you should mind your own business,” Ebon
snarled. “I have my own ambitions and you have yours, and
right now they happen to conflict.”
Urwick grinned. “Less than you might think, dark one.”
Ebon shrugged off his words and swept out of the room,
passing through Reid who had just arrived back from his Trial.
Reid was momentarily stunned by the chill that clutched at his
heart. He grabbed at the door frame with both hands and leaned
into it, attempting to catch his breath.
“Not what you expected, eh?” commented Urwick. Reid
shook his head, still not quite able to speak. As he finally managed to stand on his own, Reid glanced over his shoulder.

53

Magic University
“I’m not sure if you mean being run through by Ebon, or
the Trial itself, but both were a bit of a shock.”
Urwick chuckled as Reid wobbled over to a chair.
“Would you like to exchange tales, or was it a private experience.”
“Can I get you both some refreshments?” Jadira asked.
“How about a nice pot of tea?” the dark elf suggested.
“Reid here looks somewhat chilled.”
She nodded and sauntered off to the kitchen.
Jadira passed Snyder as he came through the front door.
He eyed her, but said nothing. Hearing Reid and Urwick in the
communal room, he joined them.

~MR~
Ebon stormed into his designated quarters. Despite the
bitterness brewing within him, he was not too distracted to notice that someone had been in his room. He picked out a faint
glow of magic by the empty ale jug and tasted a strong stench of
magic in the air. Shetland had been there.
Ebon listened attentively. From the thumping two rooms
over, he was not surprised that he could sense the dwarf’s presence. Shetland was still here, and he was likely intoxicated.
The wraith-mage took some comfort at this thought. That was
one less competitor to worry about.
He stared out of the window. Ebon could barely make
out the roofs of the Trial Point chambers, but he could clearly
see the pathway from the Way Station to the Trial Points. The
satyr hybrid was on his way back. Ebon continued to hover
there. He would watch for the others to return and contemplate
circumstances.
He had to win – it was his last hope. He thought back to
the horrible incident that had resulted in his current predicament.
His family had warned him not to apprentice to a Renegade
mage.
“Renegade magic is dangerous,” they had told him.
“Wait until you are ready to novice at the University.” But he
54

Time Out
had refused to listen to them. He had been a brash and impatient
youth, spoiled enough to expect to get his own way. And then
there was Lietta...
If he thought back hard enough, he could still smell the
soft woodsy scent of her perfume and picture the dark brilliance
of her eyes. His heart thudded in an almost lifelike manner as
memories flooded through his normally-sullen mind. He clung
to one particular memory, the one and only sexual experience
with his mentor. Ebon sighed. It was the only sensation of
touch he could recall: her lips and her fingertips against his skin.
Had she seduced him solely for the purpose of acquiring a second apprentice? He would never know, not allowing himself to
believe it. Believing it would destroy the only remaining fragment of his soul.
The problem with reflecting back to his moments with
Lietta is that those memories always led up to the accident, and
the point in his life where he had lost everything human. Lietta
had insisted he was ready to help her with the dimensional travelling spell. There were many people and places she had felt he
must experience as part of his training, places which he could
not reach without astral travel. The other apprentice, Beski, had
felt confident that nothing afoul would arise from the use of the
spell. They had both been wrong. Ebon always found the exact
memories of those moments failed him, perhaps to protect himself from his own wrongdoings, perhaps to preserve Lietta’s
unscathed memory intact. He was not sure who, but someone
had botched the spell, and it was blocked from Ebon’s mind. He
must have tried to escape into the astral plane and became stuck
halfway there when the spell ended, lodged forever in a world of
half existence – his own personal limbo.
Ebon snapped out of his reverie as he noticed someone
else was coming up the path. It was “Tom”. He had a Renegade
edge to him that tasted almost like curdled milk to Ebon. He
found the noble competitor repulsive, as he did Snyder and Reid,
and he could not help but see them all as a threat. Renegade
magic was dangerous, but it was also very strong. He wondered
who had been the Renegade who had trained the young noble.
55

Magic University
Tom was a cautious fellow, and had not yet allowed the image or
name of his teacher to linger in his surface thoughts when Ebon
was scanning him. Reid had been less cautious, and Ebon was
quite sure the name “Gerant” would guarantee Reid trouble at
the University. Snyder had been more secretive than Tom, his
thoughts guarded by magic, but Ebon was sure he would slip
eventually. In fact, Ebon did not doubt he would catch them all
up. He settled back into place to watch the window and he
schemed.

~MR~
Tom heard voices in the common room as he quietly slid
through the front door. He was not the first back, but he was
guessing he was not the last either. He waited in the foyer, attempting to identify the voices. The soft, feminine lilt was
undoubtedly Jadira’s and Snyder’s voice was as familiar as family. It took him a couple of minutes to be sure the other two
voices belonged to Reid and Urwick.
He was a little disappointed Nia was not there. He found
her presence invigorating in some ways. Satisfied that the unnerving wraith-mage did not lurk within, he continued into the
common room.
Tom took a seat next to Snyder in a rather plush burgundy chair. A bit like home, he thought as he relaxed. Jadira
gestured at the tea and he nodded. He enjoyed the pleasant view
of her stooping to pour, comfortable until prompted by Reid’s
question.
“I know I have some money that I inherited from my
mentor,” Reid began, “But what about everyone else? Not everyone will get a full scholarship, and from what I hear, the
tuition here is staggering. I doubt Nia, Finch or Reeree have
much in the way of resources, and the idea of signing up to
spend years as a corpse in a bottle seems pretty morbid.”
Urwick glanced at Tom, who stiffened a little. The
young man was hoping the subjects of wealth or status would

56

Time Out
not worm their way into conversation. Urwick noted Tom’s discomfort, clearing his voice to speak.
“Oh, I don’t know if people are that hard up around here.
And I’m sure the bottle thing is not as bad as it may appear.
Anyway, you may have underestimated people’s access to resources. I understand Reeree was a school teacher and has
stashed away quite a tidy nest-egg. Finch has family who can
pull strings. Most people choose to avoid unwanted attention
here. Of course, I know of no such financial options for Nia,
and Ebon does not have access to any earthly possessions. I
guess they’ll have to cross that road when they get there. If they
don’t like the service contract, they can always choose to decline
a seat, if offered. It’s their decision. They are not bound to accept their placement.”
“It’s not just apprentices who have to do service,” Jadira
added. “Any mage at the university who takes on one of the top
seeds has to give five years service to the Trials, as I am, on top
of any research that they are doing.”
Snyder stared at Jadira, wide-eyed.
“You mean, you are a mage – and you aren’t a Renegade?”
Jadira stared back, unabashedly, with an amused look.
“Unlike most of my brethren, I prefer structure to my
magic. And I like a sense of control. I won my seat here fair
and square. I paid my tuition by signing a service contract and I
have never regretted it. I graduated top of my class, and took on
my own apprentice. This is my fifth and last year attending to
this Way Station during the Trials. My apprentice graduated last
year and plans to take on a student of his own.” Without betraying any further emotion, she added: “And who knows, maybe
next year I’ll take on a new apprentice. They tend to offer more
to their teachers than you might expect.”
The room was quiet. Jadira moved to pour a fresh cup of
tea. A few drops trickled out, barely enough to fill the bottom of
her cup.
“Time for a refill, I guess.” She hoisted the tray up in
one graceful motion and swished out of the room. On her way
57

Magic University
to the kitchen, Jadira found an ash-laden Nia standing in the
hallway, looking up at the private rooms in frustration.
“Where is your bathroom? I need a bath.” The scaled
woman demanded.
Jadira smiled and took her over to the back door. She
opened it and gestured towards a flowery pathway leading into
the woods.
“You’ll find a lovely pool back there. It is fed by a hot
spring source.”
Nia looked a bit perturbed, but with a decisive shrug, she
headed off down the pathway.
When Jadira returned to the common room with the newly brewed pot of tea, she nearly ran headlong into Snyder in the
doorway. He barely paused then jogged out the back door. As
she moved into the room, Tom stood up to depart as well.
“Time to clear my head before the next Trial. A walk in
the woods ought to do it.”
Jadira gazed down at the full pot of tea, and hoped it
would not go to waste. Finch entered behind her, followed
closely by Stiggle who swooped down onto Reid’s shoulder.
Reid glanced over at Finch, who was being terribly quiet and
looked somewhat dazed.
“Did you find it difficult?” he asked her, hoping to draw
her into the conversation..
Realising that she had been totally lost in thought, and
had been a little rude to the others in the room, Finch quickly
gathered her senses.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, I did. I guess I didn’t really know
what to expect. Did you think it was challenging?”
Reid was not sure how to answer this. He had found it
challenging, but not likely in the way she meant.
It was at this point that they heard a horrible crash and
shattering noise out by the stairwell. Reid eyed Stiggle, relieved
the imp was not the source of this trouble and followed the others out into the hallway to seek out the source of the ruckus. He
caught a glimpse of Shetland stumbling out the front door and

58

Time Out
noticed Finch, Urwick and Jadira examining the broken remains
of an ale pitcher at the base of the stairs.
Jadira looked over at Finch. “I’m pretty sure that that’s
the pitcher from your room...you may want to make sure nothing
else is disturbed in there.” Finch nodded, and started up the
stairs.
Reid followed close behind her, while Stiggle settled into
an alcove to watch Jadira and Urwick as they gathered up the
pottery shards.
“I’ll go with you, in case you need any help cleaning up,”
Reid volunteered.
When the two were out of sight, Jadira targeted Urwick
with a suggestive look. He smiled back, and gathered the last
few large pieces while Jadira fetched a broom.

~MR~
Snyder stood in the cover of the trees, watching Nia as
she bathed. He had found the silvery-scaled woman intriguing
to begin with, and he was not one to be shy, but he could not
bring himself to approach her. She stood thigh deep in the water, rinsing herself with one of the sponges provided in the
bucket by the pool. She seemed to be enjoying its warmth and
the sunlight glinted invitingly across her scales.
Snyder had always been attracted to women of all shapes
and natures. He had dallied with a variety of races, and he had
even fraternized with elven and human nobility - but Nia was
nothing like anyone he had ever met before.
He shifted his weight as his left leg started to lose feeling, and a small branch cracked beneath his foot. Nia glanced
up, no longer totally absorbed in her bathing.
“Watching me, eh? I would have thought you would
have more nerve than that. Well, don’t just stand there. If you
find my bathing that interesting, then you might as well join
me.”
Feeling greatly chastened, he was about to step out from
his shelter, when Snyder suddenly realized Nia was not address59

Magic University
ing him. In fact, she was not even looking over in his general
direction. She leaned forward, scanning the bushes at the far end
of the pool. Tom stepped out from behind them. Snyder felt his
heart drop.
Nia giggled. “Ah, a peeping ‘Tom’, is it? Hiding’s not
necessary. I don’t bite. I’m a reptilian, not a crocodile.”
Tom reddened, but did not speak. He stood on the bank
of the pool, watching her intently. Snyder recognized that expression. He had seen it many a time before. Women were
drawn to Tom like flies to honey. Perhaps it was the allure of
his noble finery. Perhaps it was his empowered presence.
Snyder had never been quite sure of the source of Tom’s magnetism. In any case, if Tom beat him to a woman, Snyder did
not have a hope of luring her away, and he was not about to deal
with the mess Tom tended to leave when he used a woman and
tossed her away. Tom’s intentions with women were always
less than noble. After all, he had a pretty young duchess awaiting him at home as his betrothed.
Nia paused, unsure of Tom’s quiet observation. She let
her hands trail through the water for a few seconds.
“You know, it is rude to stare,” she teased.
“Well pardon me, but I can’t help myself,” he replied, his
voice low and still. His expression did not change, nor did he
attempt to look away.
Nia paused. She was trying to think of something clever
to say, but she was finding Tom’s attentiveness more than a little
distracting. In fact, it was not just flattering, it was quite arousing. Finally she sighed.
“Well, it isn’t fair to watch me without allowing me to
watch you in return. If you don’t come into the water, I’m going
to have to insist that you leave.”
She did not have to tell him twice. Without any sense of
desperation, he slowly shed his clothing and lowered himself
into the water.
Snyder bit his lip. If he wanted to stop this, he knew he
could use his magic; it was strong enough. But that was not the
way he did things. Who was he to deny Tom this opportunity
60

Time Out
out of envy? Nia was free to choose, and it was not Snyder’s
place to interfere. He believed strongly in this. He had never
used his magic to force his will upon others.
“No fear,” thought Snyder as he watched Tom approach
within arm’s reach of Nia. That was part of the allure. Tom had
none of the typical insecurities that were present in average folk.
He had never worried where his next meal would come from,
whether or not he would have a roof over his head, not even if he
would someday marry and have children. It had all been
planned out for him from the day he was born.
Snyder had not been nearly as fortunate. Raised by his
human mother, a single parent, he had been taunted and teased
by the other children for his mixed lineage and had lived in a
state of utter poverty until he had manage to snag the coattails of
an elderly Renegade mage. That was in Snyder’s early teens.
He had spent most of his days as a young adult practically in
slave irons. His mentor drove him like a mule and expected
more out of Snyder than he ever would have demanded from
himself. Beyond his initial teacher, Snyder had had one employer prior to Tom. There had been tension between him and
his student at the start, but Snyder had eventually stayed with
Tom by choice, and had never regretted that decision – never
regretted it, perhaps, until now.
Nia closed the gap between her and Tom, her thigh
brushing his as she drew near. She smiled, with a familiar look
in her eye that Snyder knew only too well. It would soon be
time to take his leave, but his own lustful notions held him in
place, overriding the sense of personal loss he was experiencing
at this moment.
Tom bent over and whispered something in Nia’s ear.
He stepped back, still regarding her with the same intensity as
before. She paused, thinking.
“No strings,” she agreed. “I don’t believe in them.”
Tom took her hand and led her over to the bank. As they
stepped out onto the grass, Snyder finally found the will within
him to turn away. It was too late to stop them now. With careful stealth, he headed back toward the Way Station.
61

Magic University

~MR~
Finch and Reid stood staring at the jumbled remains of
what had been a very inviting room. The bedclothes had been
strewn about the floor and were lying in tatters. The lovely glass
bowl of fruit was cracked and overturned on the floor, the grapes
trodden into the floorboards and the bananas mashed into the
velour seat of a chair. The pieces of dried meat from the bowl
were tossed, half-chewed, onto the bare sheet that remained on
the bed. The only thing seemingly untouched in the room was
the pitcher of water and accompanying glasses. However, upon
closer examination, it was hard to miss the gobs of spit that had
settled in the bottoms of the glasses and were floating near the
pitcher’s mouth. Finch looked about in dismay.
“I guess I must have left my door open,” she sighed. “I
could have sworn that I closed it. Do you think Shetland did
this?”
Reid was already investigating the lock on the door. He
nodded.
“I’m pretty sure it was him, and I don’t think you left
your door unlocked. Check this out.”
He pointed at the edges of the keyhole. They had a melted look to them, and had assumed the form of a round, stubby
finger. The keyhole seemed to glow.
“That’s the problem with a magical lock. While resistant
to most keys and hard to get through without the right spell,
some magical keys can be highly effective – even if that key is a
finger belonging to a freak of a dwarf.”
Finch started scraping the grapes off the floor.
“Here, let me help you with that,” Reid offered. He
picked up one of the spit-gobbed glasses and began to gather the
half-chewed jerky from the bed.
“I guess this isn’t something common,” Finch mumbled.
“Or they would have a rule for it, too.”
“They probably will next year.”

62

Time Out
Finch shifted over to start wiping at the banana on the
chair. “They watch everything we do here, don’t they? That
scry eye made me nervous. It felt like having someone peering
over my shoulder the whole time I was attempting the Trial. As
if the pressure wasn’t bad enough.”
Reid gathered up the bedding from the floor.
“I suppose if you have others expecting lofty things from
you it can be pretty bad. The only person I’ll be letting down if I
lose this thing is me. My family doesn’t care. They’ve never
had any faith in me to make something of myself.”
Finch paused, deep in a moment’s thought. “Actually,
my mother may not have had that much faith in me either. She
made sure she would be here to help, and I have already used
that help, so maybe she was right.”
Reid looked puzzled, arranging the tatters of the bedding
the best he could.
“I don’t understand.”
Finch fiddled in her pocket until she located the locket.
She drew it out and popped the latch. Reid walked over and
peered at the miniature.
“A lovely little portrait…how did this help you?”
Finch turned the locket so that she could see the tiny face
clearly.
“It spoke to me,” she said. “She had it magically enchanted before she died, and it helped me through the first Trial.
It let me speak to the dead person in the jar.”
“How is that wrong? They said that you can use magical
devices…so if you have the resources available to you, then go
for it. I would have liked something like that during my attempt.
I ended up using my most informative spell for another purpose.
I wouldn’t have needed to do that if Gerant had had my best interests at heart, like your mother. Anyway, your mother may
have felt guilty for not being there to make sure you completed
your studies properly. Some of the others here have had a big
head start, especially if they studied under a Renegade mage like
I did. They don’t have to follow the same guidelines and power
restrictions that your mother had to when she was alive. That’s
63

Magic University
the whole point to this place. Heightened power comes only
with the heightened mastery to control it properly. If Gerant
hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have had to go this route, even though
that’s what he intended for me right from the start.”
Finch pursed her lips.
“I suppose you are right. Mother wasn’t able to finish
teaching me all that she had intended to teach me before she
died. Maybe it isn’t a lack of faith in my skills but rather a debt
she felt she still owed me.” She stared at the open locket in her
hand. “It is a precious gift, and I guess I shouldn’t feel guilty
about making use of it.” She eyed Reid curiously. “What do
you mean - you used your most informative spell for something
else? And why would a Renegade mage want you to attend
Magic University when he didn’t? Mother wanted me to come
here, but that was only because it was what I wanted.”
Reid knelt down and started rubbing away some of the
banana mashed into the other side of the chair.
“Gerant used to hide things from me. He didn’t think
that the University had the wrong idea. He supported their ways
of trying to restrict power to those with proper mastery. In fact,
he had placed fourth in the Trials when he had attempted to get
in to the University. In a storm of bitterness, he had let himself
get drawn away by a Renegade mage looking for a strong apprentice. He told me many a time that he wished he had waited
and just focused on practising at improving what he already
knew until the Trials the next year. The University would have
let him run the Trials again with an appropriate alumnus sponsor. But instead he fell into the hands of a Renegade. They do
that, you know. The Renegades wait on the outskirts of the Trial
Grounds, hoping to snag the best of the rejects. Gerant imposed
his beliefs on me. To be honest with you, I never really aspired
to participate in these Trials until he decided that it was the best
thing for me. Still, I would have had a lot better chance of succeeding at this if he had shared more of his secrets with me.”
Finch righted the cracked fruit bowl and placed it back
on the table. She slid her locket back into its customary place,
for safe keeping.
64

Time Out
“What about Stiggle?” she asked him. “Your teacher
didn’t leave you totally empty-handed.”
Reid chuckled.
“Stiggle was an accident. Gerant had no intention of letting me use him for the Trials, but when Gerant died, Stiggle
became mine – like it or not. In fact, Gerant had no living family, so after his debtors took what was owed them, everything left
was deemed mine, including the things that I knew he had but
were never found.”
It was this point that they heard a booming noise outside,
a gonging sound. It was so loud it reverberated about the small
room.
Finch jumped.
“What was that?” she asked.
Reid moved over to the window. “I don’t know. I guess
we had better check it out.”
Together, they left to investigate.

~MR~
Burrell laughed as he stared at the scry pool. He stepped
back, clapping his hands in glee.
“What a performance! Such talent and an excellent...”
Fortia interrupted. She had turned away from the scry
eye and had been deep in thought.
“Yes, yes. Tell you what. You keep your favourites to
yourself and I’ll not bother you with mine; not this early in the
game anyway. Remember, we are supposed to keep an open
mind about this.”
Burrell smirked as he looked up at her.
“Kind of late for that isn’t it. That pendulum swung the
moment you set eyes on her application. You enjoyed teaching
her mother. Are you anticipating teaching her?”
Fortia sniffed derisively.
“Nothing is set in stone. She seems to be faring well.
She lacks a little in confidence, but that can be overcome with
time and effort. It’s all in the hands of fate now.”
65

Magic University
“Fate and a little favouritism,” teased Burrell. “It may
not be that simple my dear. The girl also lacks initiative. Between that and being more than a tad over-cautious, I believe she
has managed to cut her chances of winning in half.”
“We’ll see. She may develop a better sense of surety as
the Trials progress. I’ve seen it happen before. They can surprise you,” Fortia insisted.
“For her sake I hope you are right. Otherwise she is
prime Renegade bait.” He paused. “Speaking of surprises, who
do you think he favours?”
Fortia considered the options. “I thought I detected a
penchant towards that Reid fellow, but you know he will be inclined to misfits and there appears to be several of those to
choose from this year. It’s too early to tell.”
“Hmmm, he does get first pick this year as it is his first
time through,” mused Burrell. “I guess I can only hope he
doesn’t leave me with a couple of hot-heads to choose from...and
I guess that leaves you with whatever, or whomever, is left. You
are lucky I don’t have a practical joking nature, or if she placed
top three, I’d pick her just to spite you.”
Fortia did not acknowledge this comment with a response. She wandered back to the scry pool and awaited the
next Trial.

~MR~
The contestants, all but Reeree and Shetland, had gathered before the gong. There was a sense of anticipation in the
air, unsure of what exactly the sound meant. Jadira held the
hammer with which the gong had been struck and awaited their
arrival. Hesitating for a couple of minutes, she frowned and began.
“It is time to proceed. I will lead you all to the next Way
Station. Organize yourselves as you wish, but be quick about
it.”
As she finished speaking, a faint voice could be heard as
well as a shuffling of feet. Reeree was sprinting up the pathway
66

Time Out
from the Trial Points as quickly as her little legs could carry her.
She waved frantically and arrived at the gong huffing and puffing – a genuine look of relief on her face, which had reddened to
almost as bright a shade of pink as her cloak.
“Phew!” she gasped. “I almost thought I wasn’t going to
make it in time.” She looked around. “Where’s Shetland?”
A loud moan came from a clump of grass, a few feet
from the gong. At the centre of this clump lay Shetland, face
down on the ground. He stirred and sat up, holding his head.
“Stop ringing that gong already!” he spat, squinting at
the crowd. They all stared back at him. Nia was barely managing to restrain a giggle. Shetland’s hair stood out at all angles, as
did his beard. He teetered where he sat, eyeing the patches of
foliage entangled in his beard. After a few seconds, he stood up
and started searching frantically through the grass for his belongings, particularly his axe.
After a couple of minutes of watching this quest, Jadira
reiterated that it was time to proceed, and that they must follow
her. Hanging the hammer back on its hook by the gong, she
turned and began making her way through the woods. Everyone
followed but Shetland, who made a last ditch effort at retrieving
his axe. After a couple more minutes of searching in vain, he
admitted defeat and set off in pursuit of the others.
“Hey! Wait for me!!” he roared, gesturing with his fist.
He sprinted down the path, jogging as fast as his stubby legs,
and clouded mind, could manage.

67

5
Magical Offense
As they arrived at the next Way Station, Jadira turned to
the competitors and gestured at the large cottage-like building.
“Your next destination; you will find the attendant within. My job here is done.”
With a wave, she stepped off the path and into the
woods. Within seconds she had blended into the trees and had
disappeared from view. Snyder, who was at the front of the line
of competitors, continued along the path until he could see the
door, which was small and mossy-green coloured. The brush at
the pathway’s edge went from being chaotic-looking wilderness,
to a well-tended hedge. The attendant here was obviously a gardener.
As Snyder stepped up to the door to knock, it opened.
“Ah, you’ve arrived. No dawdling, this is a timed Trial
and we have much to do beforehand. You may call me Dr.
George. Now please, follow me.”
The man in the doorway was tall and somewhat elderly.
He was dressed in plain but well-made clothing, had dark hair
and spectacles, and smoked a sweet-smelling pipe. He offered
them a smile before turning away and stepping back into the
Way Station, just the barest hint of a smile without revealing any
teeth. Snyder paused before continuing in, trying to get a good
look at the contents of the dim room beyond the door. As he
68

Magical Offense
moved cautiously forward into the large cottage, the others followed.
The Way Station had a hominess and warmth about it
that the first one had been lacking. It smelled of honey, tea and
sweet rolls and the walls were a soft cream colour that was easy
on the eyes. The dark, thick shape of sturdy wooden beams extending up the walls and across the ceiling to support the thatch
roof gave the place a rustic look, almost as inviting as the small,
orange fire crackling in the fireplace. The furniture here was
much simpler than in the first Way Station, but for what it lacked
in luxury, it made up for in cozy comfort. The place was also
ornamented with a series of wooden carvings, all of objects and
creatures likely found in the garden. Dr. George stood in the
centre of the common room, puffing away at his pipe.
“You have five minutes to settle yourselves in your
rooms, on the floor above us. After that, you must join me in the
garden to receive your instructions and equipment. The Trial
itself is a forty minute timed event. You will have a few minutes
to relax when it is over, but not much more than enough time to
grab a quick morsel of food and something to drink or stretch
out on the bed for a short rest.” Reeree opened her mouth to
speak, but Dr. George stopped her in mid-breath. “Save your
questions for the garden. You don’t have much time to prepare
before you hear the bell toll.”
Without the sense of urgency which he had implied, he
casually strolled out of the opposite door of the common room,
leaving the competitors to their own devices. After a couple of
seconds of glancing about, the competitors scattered. Urwick
and Ebon headed out into the garden immediately. Tom and Nia
noisily galloped up the stairs to the personal rooms, followed
closely by Reeree. A grumbling Shetland headed for the kitchen, holding onto his head. Finch and Reid took a seat by the
fireplace, with Stiggle settling onto a perch at the mantelpiece.
Snyder hovered nearby, admiring a couple of the carvings which
were shaped like toadstools.

69

Magic University
“So it looks like your friend has taken a shine to Nia,”
Reid commented. Snyder shrugged, moving on to a beautiful
piece fashioned to look like an entwined snake.
“I believe the appreciation is mutual,” Snyder said, holding up the carving to get a better look. “Of course, it is just a
superficial bit of flirtation and fun. Nothing will come of it.
Tom has a betrothed at home.”
Finch looked a bit disturbed by this. “He shouldn’t be
dallying with other women if he has a fiance. That’s not very
fair.”
Snyder glanced back at her, a wry grin settling over his
features. “I don’t think he even considers that fact. Women are
a weakness of his, and probably always will be. His betrothed is
well aware of this. As long as she doesn’t have to see him messing about with others, she doesn’t really care what he does.”
Finch now was thoroughly shocked. “But there are consequences: diseases, children....”
“There isn’t a disease out there that enough money and
magic can’t cure,” Reid advised. “If Tom is as wealthy as he
seems to be, then he probably doesn’t care. As for the children,
well, that’s a different story.”
Snyder chuckled. “Magic can cure that, too. The right
device can prevent that consequence as well. Of course, you
have to be careful with that though. If the magic is too potent, it
could prevent you from having children when you decide you
want to. After all, any proper nobleman will want heirs to his
estate. And if it is too weak, it won’t necessarily work, especially if the woman is particularly fertile.”
Finch had paled and was not smiling. “I don’t think,
from the sounds of it, that Tom will be much of a proper nobleman. To be proper, one should be loyal and trustworthy. That is
something that I expect from my spouse, if I ever marry. You
have to make certain sacrifices if you become a part of that kind
of partnership. If there is no fidelity, then the marriage is a
sham. Even the suggestion of impropriety should be frowned
upon once you are engaged, let alone married.”

70

Magical Offense
Snyder laughed out loud at this. “In which case, Tom
would never have had the chance to flirt and tease, let alone explore even deeper. He has been betrothed since birth. I don’t
expect that it is fair to deny the man that much of his freedom.
What sort of prison would life be then?”
Finch had no answer for this. She stared into the fire,
brooding over Snyder’s comments. They heard Nia and Tom
descend from the rooms and venture out into the garden. Snyder
followed.
Reid watched Finch as she struggled with what had been
said. “If it makes any difference, I agree with you,” he offered.
“I don’t think he should be carrying on with other women if he is
engaged to somebody at home. That, and there is a difference
between flirting and following through on the sexual innuendoes. Weakness or not, a man can control his actions and
behaviour to some extent. If he chooses to fall into bed with any
woman who takes his fancy, then that is just it. It is a choice,
not a given. Of course it takes two. The woman must be willing
as well.”
Finch nodded, her expression softening somewhat. “I
don’t hold Nia in any higher esteem. She is no victim, but she
also may be totally unaware that Tom even has a betrothed. Of
course, that is as much her fault for not actually bothering to get
to know him as his for not sharing. They’ve known each other,
for what…three hours? For all she knows he could be a mass
murderer.”
Reid sighed. “Well, I highly doubt that. They screen the
applicants for these Trials very closely. I guess she just has that
‘seize the day’ mentality. After all, they may not see each other
again after these Trials.”
With these words, the air suddenly seemed to grow
heavy in the common room, taking on a great feeling of discomfort. Reid and Finch sat gazing into the fire in silence until the
bell tolled, summoning them into the garden.

~MR~

71

Magic University
Urwick watched as Ebon floated through the shadows
along the edge of the garden. It was obvious that the wraithmage was trying to gauge the terrain, and perhaps gain an advantage over his rivals.
Interesting tactics, Urwick thought, as he wandered over
to the platform at the centre of the well-tended garden.
Dr. George sat there, tinkering with strange box-like devices attached to collars. They looked something like small,
thick breastplates.
“Are they ready,” Urwick asked, following Ebon with his
eyes to make sure that he was out of earshot.
Dr. George glanced up at him briefly and nodded. “All
but the one for him,” he pointed at Ebon. “I have to make a few
last minute adjustments or he won’t even be able to wear it.
Otherwise, it would go right through him. It will have to be
reformatted to a semi-ethereal setting.” He paused, and pulled a
pocket watch from his shirt pocket. “I have a couple of minutes
before I have to toll the bell. It will be ready.”
Urwick nodded and grinned. “I have no doubt, George.
You have a knack with these things.” Ebon finished his rounds
and moved towards them.
“I would have preferred that the grounds were more unkempt, as they were at the last Way Station. With the foliage so
well-tended, there is less shelter available, fewer places to lie in
wait for ambush. Of course, there are still plenty of shadows, so
it won’t be all bad. That ought to give you somewhere to hide
out too.” Ebon hissed, circling the platform before settling in
one spot. Urwick cocked an eyebrow.
“Lie in wait for ambush? So you think you have this all
figured out?”
Dr. George seemed to be ignoring the conversation, immersed in his work.
“Isn’t it obvious? We have to show the strength of our
offensive abilities; so if I find a good spot to sit and snipe people, I’ll have this thing won in no time…piece of cake.”

72

Magical Offense
“And you think that telling me this will not hurt your
strategy how?” Urwick inquired, suddenly wondering if Ebon
knew more than he was letting on.
“Well, I figure it will come down to you and me anyway.
You are the dark, stealthy type and you will no doubt be using a
similar tactic. I guess the big question is who is going to be able
to play hide and seek better...you or me?” Ebon snickered, the
raspy sound reminding Urwick of fingernails on chalkboard.
Urwick found the situation amusing. Ebon saw him as a
threat and was trying to goad him.
It was at this point that Shetland wandered into the garden. He had his cheeks and hands full of sweet rolls and there
was honey drizzled in his beard. He paused long enough to dunk
his head in a fountain. He gave a satisfied roar, spitting pieces
of sweet roll in all directions, and flopped down in the grass.
After a series of grunting and chewing sounds, the noise trailed
off, only to be replaced a few minutes later by the low buzz-saw
drone of the dwarf’s snoring.
“Done!” Dr. George announced as he put in the last finishing touches to one of the devices. It seemed to blur out of
focus and become semi-transparent.
“That one must be mine,” breathed Ebon, as he approached the platform. Dr. George did not acknowledge this,
dropping the fuzzy-looking device into a large wooden box with
the others.
“Time for the Trial explanation,” the elderly Way Station
attendant said, reaching for the trail of rope that hung from a
large nautical-style brass bell, one suspended from an iron pole
at the far end of the platform. He swung the rope about with
great vigour for someone of his years, guaranteeing that all who
needed to hear the bell would do so.
Shetland scrambled to his feet, breathing heavily. He
searched about, frantic, then realized he already was where he
needed to be. He sat back down in the grass, grumbling to himself.
“I don’t know what it is with you people and bells.
Sheesh!”
73

Magic University
Within the next thirty seconds, all of the contestants had
gathered before the platform in the garden. After a quick head
count, Dr. George began his instructions.
“This Trial will test both your ability to use spells of an
offensive nature and any non-defensive spells which you have
that can supplement your offensive power. You will each be
equipped with a Trial Shield.” He paused to hold up one of the
devices that he had been tinkering with. “As you will notice,
there are eight panels on each of these Shields. While wearing
this device, you will find that you are able to cast offensive
spells or use offensive magical items against your opponents,
despite the binding spell. This is due to the fact that the device
has four functions. While worn, it suppresses the portion of the
binding spell regarding attacking your opponents with magic,
but also absorbs any damage done by magic to your person; it
suppresses any defensive spells, as this test is not one to determine your strengths with defensive magic; it records any damage
done to you by one particular opponent, hence the eight panels
representing each of your opponents, and finally, each panel will
change colour to reflect a win or loss from combat with that particular opponent. In other words, you can only score a
successful win against one opponent once during the Trial, so
there is no point fighting them twice, and while you are scored
on both wins, and total damage inflicted on your opponents, it is
in your best interest to focus your efforts. For every loss you
receive, your device will charge down, and you will not be able
to continue with the Trial until you have returned to the resurrection point…here,” he paused, gesturing at the platform that he
was standing on, “and recharge your device for five minutes.
The more you win, the longer you are in the game and the more
damage you can inflict on others.
To begin the Trial, you must follow the path flagged with
a marker of the symbol on your device. When you arrive at another post similarly flagged with the same marker, you must wait
there, touching the post, until you see your device charge up. It
will illuminate to reflect this. At that point, the games will
begin. Do you have any questions?”
74

Magical Offense
As expected, Reeree was the first to pipe up.
“We can use any spell to supplement our offensive spell
as long as it is not strictly a defensive spell? Can you be specific?”
Dr George gave her a slight smile. “Anything that
doesn’t hinder magical damage is permissible, completely defensive spells are not. Those spells merely will not function, and
I advise you not to waste them on this Trial. You will need them
later.”
“So we are allowed to hide and use stealth spells, like invisibility?” Ebon inquired, a low hiss carrying his words to his
audience. “What about speed spells?”
“All fine. They all enhance your offensive capabilities
and are therefore encouraged. Of course, if you make yourself
invisible and hide the entire Trial, you will score no points and
you will lose the Trial. The whole purpose of this Trial is to display your effectiveness as an offensive magic-user. Is that the
last of the questions? We will soon run overtime and that will
cut into the very few minutes you have after this Trial to ready
yourself for the next....” No one had anything further to say. Dr.
George was satisfied that he would be able to stick to his schedule. “Good, then you may set out for the flag posts bearing your
markers. Remember, you cannot begin before your device has
illuminated itself.”
He handed out the devices, saving the shadowy one for
last. That one he passed to Ebon. The contestants remained in
the garden briefly as they strapped on their device, then sought
out the marker bearing their symbol and headed down the path.

~MR~
Urwick arrived at the flag marker where he awaited the
Trial to begin. He glanced about, breathing in the warm spring
air and stretching casually as he stood grasping the flag pole.
After a couple of minutes, his point tracking device lit up. Releasing the marker, he paused to raise the hood of his cloak. He
disappeared from view.
75

Magic University

~MR~
Nia had paced out until she reached the orange flag
marker with the symbol that matched the one on her point tracking device. She touched the flag pole, and waited. It seemed to
take forever. Her mind raced with ideas and potential tactics for
the combats she would face. She had not focused on offensive
spells for the day, so she would have to use what she had sparingly. She also could not help wondering whom she would faceoff with first. That would make a difference. She considered
the possibilities and decided that her best strategy would be
speed, because she did not have the fire power that some of the
others would have. Suddenly, her point tracker lit up. The game
was on.
Nia kept her speed spell at the surface of her frantic
thoughts. She cast a silence spell on herself so that she would
not be heard by her opponents as she crept through the trees.
She wished that her silvery scales did not catch the sunlight with
such glare, but none of her minor spells would help her deal with
that problem. After a couple of minutes of searching, she realized the bushes up ahead were moving. She heard a low grunt of
satisfaction and saw Shetland’s raisin-like eyes peer through the
foliage. With only a moment’s hesitation, she cast her readied
spell and braced herself as Shetland leapt out from the brush and
launched himself full-force at her torso. He met her with his entire weight behind the blow, head to gut, and she normally would
have expected to have the wind knocked out of her from such a
grapple, but the results were much different. Something cushioned the force from the dwarf, and when Nia glanced down, she
noticed that a portion of one of the panels on the device she wore
had lit up. She could not understand it; he had not used a magic
spell, nor had he used a magical device...or had he?
But Nia did not have enough opportunity to think the situation through let alone concentrate on the first of her offensive
spells, as Shetland pummelled her head with his fists. While it
did not hurt, each blow was disorienting and Nia could only
76

Magical Offense
manage the simplest of spells as she reached out with one hand
and grabbed the dwarf’s shoulder. Shetland yelped in response
to her shocking touch and his eyes widened. Nia looked in disbelief at his device. No points had registered. She gazed down
at her own. All but three circles had been extinguished on one
panel. Looking up again, she found herself face-to-face with
Shetland as he stared, brow furrowed, into her eyes. Then, with
a fierce roar, he threw his head back and head-butted her. The
final three circles on the panel darkened and the entire panel
turned a dull grey. A panel on Shetland’s device shimmered and
took on a golden hue.
Shetland stepped back, wheezing and shaking his head.
A disheartened Nia also rose to her feet. She felt cheated. She
had lost her first bout, and not even the one successful offensive
spell had registered on Shetland’s device.
He stopped and glared at her. His knuckles were scraped
and bruised and there was blood on his face. This was not how
it was supposed to work, she thought. The dwarf turned and
plunged back into the woods, looking for his next mark. With a
sigh of resignation, Nia also turned and headed toward the resurrection point. She would need the five minute break just to try
and make sense of what had gone wrong.

~MR~
Reid released the marker as his point tracking device lit
up. He found a sheltered nook in a clump of bushes and wriggled his way in. Then he launched Stiggle into the air.
“Seek,” he commanded the imp. “Scout for me and let
me know if you see any of the others.”
Stiggle took flight and began to circle overhead. Within
a minute he was back, and tugging at Reid to follow. Reid slowly dislodged himself from the bushes. As he stepped out he
heard a great cracking snap and felt a strong pressure on his
back. He glanced down at the sudden darkness on his chest.
Half of one of the panels on the device was already extinguished. He twisted to look behind him. It was Finch. She was
77

Magic University
preparing to launch a second spell. Reid dropped to his knees
and tumbled under cover.
“Attack!” he yelled to Stiggle, as he launched a small
icy meteor in Finch’s direction. It caught her upside the head;
the impact of the blow made her stumble sideways, but did not
throw off her concentration. A portion of one of her panels
burnt out, its light shrinking even more as Stiggle attempted to
dig his way into the elfin mage’s shoulder. This did not seem to
distract her in the slightest. She had her focus, and was quite determined.
A second bolt of lightning arced from her hand, striking
Reid squarely in the chest. And that quickly, it was over. Finch
had defeated him in his first bout. Reid pulled himself to his
feet, shaking his head. He called Stiggle back, who was still attempting to rend Finch’s arm from the joint, without success.
Reid noted that a panel on Finch’s device had taken on a metallic gold colour and was no longer registering any points. That
must have been the panel that represented him, and her recent
win, much like the dull grey panel on his own device representing his loss. Without protest, he set off for the resurrection point.
Anyone but her and he would have been upset with his performance. She smiled, and disappeared between two trees.

~MR~
Reeree let go of the post as her device lit up. Immediately she dropped her colour spell. A bright pink gnome stands out
in the woods like a sore thumb. She considered her options and
decided the colour spell had its uses after all. She used it to create instant camouflage, choosing the best hues to help her blend
into her background. Hiding Rex away in the depths of her now
green and brown backpack, she added a silence spell to her disguise and crept into the bushes. Sliding forward on her belly,
she moved cautiously in search of a rival. If she was careful,
and could catch someone entirely by surprise, it could give her
the winning edge. She grinned to herself as she caught sight of
one of the other competitors. It was Snyder, and he was attempt78

Magical Offense
ing to climb a tree so he could play sniper. She definitely liked
this game.
Biding her time, she waited for the best opportunity to
strike. As Snyder balanced on one limb, and was reaching for
another, Reeree determined that it was her prime time. Figuring
she would have a couple of chances to strike before Snyder
would be able to respond in kind, Reeree went for one of her
more entertaining, less damaging, homemade offensive spells.
Snyder was caught completely off-guard by the series of large
pink rubber balls that pummelled him from behind. Several of
the lights on one of his panels went out, as he lost his balance
and fell to the ground. He winced as he hit the ground, expecting to have the wind knocked out of him. Instead, the blow was
cushioned by some invisible force, and a few more damage
counters on his device extinguished. Apparently, the damage
from his fall had been deemed a result of Reeree’s spell.
Snyder searched the brush, not sure where the gnome
was hidden. A few seconds later he was pelted by a second flurry of bouncing balls, this one catching him squarely in the face,
quickly followed by a third assault. Sourcing the spells to a
small grouping of shrubs, Snyder could barely pick out her shape
through the foliage. He threw a quick whistle spell her way.
The bushes next to which Reeree crouched began to swat at her.
Stifling a cry and chiding herself for letting Snyder get in a few
points of damage, Reeree shuffled backwards, gauging the
amount of damage she still had left to do to Snyder as he began
to sing something barely audible. She released an enhanced
magic dart just as he completed his wind-song. Battered back
and forth by the strong winds he had sent in her direction, she
took the painless blows with glee as she watched Snyder’s panel
turn gray with the impact of her dart. The relevant panel on her
device warmed to a golden glow. She beamed an equally glowing smile, despite her wind-tossed state.

~MR~

79

Magic University
Tom ducked behind a tree, making sure he was not a visible target on the path while he cast his shadowing spell. He
watched with pleasure as his hands lost form and colour, blending in with the silhouettes from the trees that surrounded him.
No one would be able to see him approach now, especially if he
kept to the edge of the pathway and its concealing shade. He
trotted nonchalantly through the brush, wondering who would be
his first conquest. He thought a tangle with Reid might be an
interesting challenge, or perhaps a confrontation with his teacher
might be fun.
The bushes around him, and his shadowy self, suddenly
exploded in flame. He gaped down at his point gauge. Only
four markers on one panel, mostly obscured by his spell, still
showed a slight glow.
Tom heard the slight hiss of a laugh that made him bolt
upright, chilled to the bone. There was a slight flicker of energy
as a magic dart caught him dead centre. The panel in question
faded to grey. Tom felt his heart sink. This win had been much
too easy for his opponent. He picked out the silhouette of Ebon,
also concealed in the shadows on the opposite side of the path.
There was a slight golden gleam on Ebon’s chest. The raspy
laugh continued.
“You stink of magic, Renegade!” the wraith-like mage
sneered. “Did you think you could hide from me like that? You
stood out in all your Renegade obnoxiousness!”
Ebon gloated for a few more seconds before retreating
into the woods. Tom sighed, shaking his head, and started out
for the resurrection point.

~MR~
Finch carefully picked her way through the shrubbery.
She was not about to use up precious magic, hiding from others,
when she could make use of nature’s camouflage, as she had
been taught by her family. Every few seconds she would pause,
listening, watching, and hoping for clues of someone’s approach.
And then it was there. Someone had rustled the bushes up
80

Magical Offense
ahead, disturbing a bird that took to the air. She saw the leaves
of the bush still trembling slightly from this disturbance and
crouched to see if she could get a good target on this next opponent. She held her breath as she finally caught sight of
Shetland’s unruly hair and blood smudged face. She let loose
with one of her two remaining lightning bolts. It caught Shetland square in the face. He screamed.
In an instant Shetland’s face had blackened and his hair
and beard were smoking, standing on end. His device was not
reading any damage. Something was dreadfully wrong.
Finch stumbled backwards, shocked by the results of
her spell. The dwarf stared in her direction, his beady eyes filled
with rage. He charged her as she hesitated.
The next few moments were a blur for Finch. She felt
herself being trampled and pummelled as the dwarf went into a
berserk rage, but she experienced no pain - only disorientation.
After a couple of minutes, Shetland finally ceased his furious
onset. He stood over a rather dishevelled-looking Finch, panting
and smoking. She stared at him wide-eyed, noticing that the
dwarf had two golden panels on his device. She glanced down
at her own device and counted one of each colour. Shetland had
defeated her. Before she could say anything, Shetland stumbled
away.
Finch sat up, brushing random leaves and evergreen needles from her clothing. That battle had not worked the way it
was supposed to. There was no doubt in her mind that her spell
had actually damaged the sooty and tattered-looking dwarf, instead of registering on his device. But the artefact had recorded
his win, and hers the loss, so perhaps it was some sort of magical
malfunction. Disappointed, but not discouraged, Finch returned
to the resurrection point.

81

6
More Offense
Reeree did not wait around long enough to watch Snyder
head back to the resurrection point. She shrugged off the last of
his wind-song and brushed the tussled hair from her eyes. Satisfied with the effectiveness of her tactics, she dropped to her
belly in the brush, and started creeping forward in search of a
second victim. After a few minutes of slowly inching her way
along the forest floor, she suddenly got an eerie feeling, as
though she were being watched. She shivered, a chill running
down her spine, and raised her head to look behind her. She had
just caught sight of Ebon’s shadowy form looming at her back
when the brush in which she lay erupted in flames. Most of the
point-markers on one panel of her device faded to black.
Ebon snickered as Reeree rolled onto her back and sat
up.
“You may be underestimated by the others, but you
won’t have that advantage with me, little one...”
Reeree reached into a pocket and came up with a tiny
wand. With a single wave and one word, an equally powerful
fireball blew up in Ebon’s face. Realizing he could not hesitate
to gloat, or he would lose what advantage he still had, Ebon
roared and released his speedy, magic dart. It struck Reeree
mere seconds before she was able to reciprocate that spell.

82

More Offense
“Touché!” Ebon hissed as he watched her dart strike his
ghostly form, moments after the panel on his device had mutated
to a soft golden colour.
Reeree lay back in the grass with a huff. When she sat
up again, Ebon was already gone. She would have to start thinking differently when it came to dealing with the wraith-mage.
She would have five minutes to contemplate that for future Trials while sitting at the resurrection point. Shrugging off the
minor disappointment from the loss, she struggled to her feet and
marched off.

~MR~
Nia was sitting on the stone platform, hunched over and
disgruntled, when both Reid and Tom arrived at the resurrection
point. As they took a seat on either side of her, Snyder appeared
in the clearing as well.
“Ahh, we must be the first batch of losers then,” Snyder
mused. “A clever little gnome took me out. Who were the
lucky rivals who defeated each of you?”
“Finch. Not much luck involved, though. She’s actually
quite skilled,” Reid responded.
Tom groaned.
“I drew the short straw. The wraith-mage caught up to
me first. He seems to be more powerful than the lot of us put together.”
Snyder raised an eyebrow. “It could be a matter of tactics...”
“Not in my case!” snapped Nia. “The dwarf cheated!”
Snyder gazed at her, puzzled.
Reid laughed, “I don’t think that’s possible.”
Nia glared at him, baring her teeth.
“I hit him fair and square,” she fumed. “But nothing recorded on his magic box. And he didn’t use spells, he used his
bare hands. I think the whole thing is rigged!”
Reid rolled his eyes and stood up, stretching his legs.

83

Magic University
“You’re just being a sore loser. Your spell must have
been a dud, and have you ever considered the fact that Shetland’s hands are technically enchanted items? He beat you
according to their rules. There are plenty of worthy opponents
here and not everyone is going to win.”
Snyder rose to Nia’s defense.
“Hey now, let’s not everyone jump to conclusions. The
dwarf’s device could be defective. It may not be an intentional
thing on his part, but if Nia says her spell worked and didn’t register on his device, I believe her. I suggest you consider that a
warning and try to avoid Shetland if possible. You could suffer
a loss at his hands unfairly.”
Dr. George, who had been inspecting the blossoms on
one of his bushes nearby, had caught part of the conversation
and approached the resurrection point.
“Those devices are fully functional,” he assured them. “I
tested them myself before the Trial. But if you suspect some
type of foul play, I suggest you appeal to the judges at the end of
the Trial. We have never had a year without some mishap. It is
the nature of the beast, I’m afraid.”
Nia seemed less than pleased, but the bluster of her fury
had calmed and she sat brewing, mostly in silence. Dr. George
returned to inspecting his flowers.
After a few moments Nia grumbled, “These Trials aren’t
what I expected…too much thinking, not enough doing.”
Tom grimaced and Reid shrugged. Snyder hopped up on
to the second level of the platform next to Nia.
“They are exactly what I expected,” he said. “Magic
University is all about mastery and control, planning and forethought. They don’t want people who run on instinct and
impulse. Now Renegade magic, on the other hand, lends itself
to those kinds of freedoms—”
“And the risks involved,” interrupted Reid. “That’s why
Gerant wanted me to attend the University. There are occasional
accidents even at the University, but a mage’s overall risk is
much more limited with the proper training and boundaries.
Gerant is a prime example of the risks involved.”
84

More Offense
“If a mage has a proper sense of self-discipline, if they
can use a certain amount of self-control, they don’t need the bureaucratic impositions of the University,” Snyder retorted.
“If you feel that way, then why are you here?” Nia demanded, following the conversation with zeal. Before Snyder
could reply, Nia disappeared.
“Where did she go?” Tom said, staring at the empty
space where she had been sitting.
“Her five minutes were up,” Dr. George stated, observing
by his hedges. “The resurrection point will teleport you back to
your starting point, so you return to the game immediately after
the penalty period.”
Tom stared uncomfortably down at the platform beneath
him. He hated magical teleportation. He was always afraid
something would go wrong and he would find himself trapped
inside a wall, or a tree. He looked to Snyder for reassurance but
instead disappeared along with Reid from the platform.
Snyder smirked. Things just kept getting more and more
interesting.
He stood up, waiting for the sudden breathlessness that
came with a portal spell. Finch entered the clearing and waved
at him. Seconds later, before he had even had a chance to speak
to her, Snyder also vanished.

~MR~
Tom gasped for breath, trying to regain his bearings. He
saw the post where he had begun the Trial, marked with his device’s symbol. After a few moments rest, and having regained
his composure, he stopped to think things through.
He had already had his bout with Ebon and as far as he
knew the others were not as keenly attuned to magic. Perhaps a
second shadowing spell was not that much out of order. He
needed to win this next bout if he wanted to place anywhere near
the top of the pack. Deciding it would be the last of its type he
would use on this Trial, he followed his inclinations.

85

Magic University
Tom slid backwards, quietly, into the woods and waited a
couple of minutes. Perhaps, if he used some patience, someone
would come to him.
His strategy proved sound. As he was beginning to wrestle with himself over whether or not he should set out instead,
Snyder came sneaking up the pathway. Had he been attempting
this himself, Tom probably would have missed the half-satyr.
Tom’s resolve had rewarded him with ample opportunity to
strike first.
Snyder did not suspect his presence in the slightest. Tom
waited a few more moments for his companion to sidle past him,
and then struck out at his back with a force orb. It caught
Snyder high, but firmly, in the left shoulder and he cried out in
surprise.
“Not again,” muttered the half-satyr Renegade, itching to
use some of his more powerful, non-bardic spells. He resisted
that temptation, but this time he did not hesitate. He leapt over a
clump of dense bushes and quickly played out a seeker spell. If
there was someone hidden out there, he was going to find them
before they got in a second attack.
Tom tried to avoid the hovering humming ball of light
that sought out his hiding place and served as a beacon to his
opponent. Realizing he could not keep the annoying sphere
from revealing his whereabouts, he decided instead to prepare an
ambush. When Snyder poked his head up to target him with a
spell, he sent out one of his crack-shot force waves. It would not
do enough to take Snyder out, but would definitely further
Tom’s lead and distract his rival. He succeeded at this goal, but
not without taking the damage from one of Snyder’s wind-songs,
one of his only truly offensive bardic spells.
“Oh come on, Snyder! I know you have more than that,”
he challenged his teacher. “You don’t have to take it easy on
me.”
“This is your test, not mine,” retorted Snyder loudly from
behind the bushes. “I’m not about to change my tactics just because I’m facing you. Another couple of my wind-songs and
you’ll want to turn tail and run.”
86

More Offense
Tom laughed heartily, but noticed that Snyder had started
up the next song. He would have to use something that would
have an area effect since he could not target Snyder behind the
bushes. He decided that it would be sweet irony if he used one
of Snyder’s personal creations to eliminate him from the bout.
Thorn-thrash it was.
When Snyder finally managed to untangle himself from
his supposed shelter, disengaging himself from the thorns which
had grappled him and slammed him forcefully against the
ground several times, he stood and gave Tom an acknowledging
bow. The windswept noble grinned, pulling pine needles from
his hair and twigs from his clothes.
“You did teach me well. Just because you wouldn’t use
one of your better spells, didn’t mean I wasn’t going to. I had to
find something effective. Your wind-songs were starting to become more of a threat.”
Snyder shrugged, glancing down unhappily at his two
grey panels. “You did what you needed to. This Trial just
wasn’t my game without going back on the promise I made to
myself. Bards were never intended to be combat mages. Inspire
others in combat, perhaps, but not take on the duels themselves.
Good luck with your next bout.”
They smiled and nodded to each other, and Snyder went
off in search of the resurrection point.

~MR~
Nia stumbled forward as she found herself somewhere
other than the resurrection point. She whipped around, warily,
until her eyes finally settled upon something familiar – the starter marker. Somehow, the resurrection point had sent her back
to the start when her penalty time was served. She felt her heart
lurch in a moment of panic. After performing so poorly in her
first bout, she definitely feared the outcome of this one. She
spotted an uprooted tree. She could hide in the hole at its base,
sheltered by the drooping roots, so she could have a few seconds
to think. She scurried over to it and crawled into its dim interior.
87

Magic University
Her mind raced. She was no good at planning things out.
She liked to be able to react to things as they happened; but
without knowing what sort of tactics everyone else was using,
this sort of methodology was sadly lacking. Her first instinct
against offense had always been a strong defense, but she could
not respond defensively. She felt her throat tighten and her eyes
itch. She knew she was getting angry, growing gradually more
frustrated. Nia had promised herself that she would not get upset if something like this happened, but she often found it
difficult to keep promises, even the ones that she made to herself.
She had not always looked at things from the same point
of view. “No strings attached” was somewhat new. Once, she
had appreciated strings as much as the next person. She had
made plans for the future. She had set things up and had expected life to fall into place, the way most people do, but after a
small series of uncontrollable disasters, she had come to the conclusion that her life was not meant to work that way. Everything
she had planned for had slipped from her grasp, and she had decided that from that point on she would stop living for what she
hoped would happen and start living for the present. Seize the
day.
Nia groaned. At this point, she only wished that she
could seize the hour.
Realizing that she was just wasting precious time, she finally forced herself to peek out of her hiding place. She caught
movement out of the corner of her eye, up in the trees. It was
Stiggle, and where there was Stiggle, there was Reid.
She withdrew into her hiding place. Reid – what sort of
spells would he be likely to have? She was starting to wish she
had spent less time dallying with the pretty nobleman and more
time gauging the abilities of her rivals.
“I know you are in there, Nia,” she heard Reid call. “I
have area spells. I can force you out or you can come out and
face me, one on one.”
Nia hesitated despite his threat. She soon found herself
shivering as a wave of frost swept through her niche, and a hand88

More Offense
ful of the point markers had extinguished on one panel. She was
not safe in there. Scrambling out of the entrance, she found herself face to face with Stiggle. The imp grinned, and then sunk its
teeth into her scaly forearm. There was no pain, and the wounds
healed immediately after the imp disengaged. Three more of her
point markers burned out.
Frustrated, Nia looked about wildly and spotted the top
of Reid’s head. He was approaching from the other side of the
fallen tree, and while Stiggle could see her, Nia was not yet in
Reid’s direct line of sight. She would need her most potent
spell. She had the time to concentrate, ignoring the imp who
was pulling away from her arm. As Reid finally caught sight of
Nia, crouched on the opposite side of the fallen tree, he was
greeted by a massive rock fall, rising up from the ground around
him and then tumbling out of the sky, pelting him from all angles. Driven back mercilessly, Reid fell, and for a brief moment,
neither of the rivals could see the other again. Nia struggled to
her feet; one more small spell and she would have him.
Suddenly, something small, dark and wriggling was in
her face, its claws entangled in her clothing, and its wings battering at her eyes and cheeks. Stiggle was not much more than a
nuisance, but he served that purpose well.
Nia felt the force of an ice meteor strike her on the right
side as she struggled with the tiny beast. It had latched on like
glue, and all of her efforts to remove it were unsuccessful. Finally, she resorted to the spell she had been saving for Reid. The
shock touch gave the imp a good jolt, and he released her,
shrinking away in pain and fear. She had peeled him from her
face just in time to see another ice meteor that ended the bout
strike her in the chest. A second panel went grey, and so did her
face. Without even acknowledging Reid, she slunk away. All of
this suddenly seemed so pointless.

~MR~
Ebon moved silently through the trees. The other mages
had been proving themselves as ineffective at this Trial as he had
89

Magic University
been expecting them to be. He eyed the two faintly golden panels on his device, giving himself a mental pat on the back. The
first Trial had not gone as well as he had hoped, but this one had
so far proven quite easy. He stopped. There was a glow in the
foliage ahead and a great stench of magic. This was not just any
mage using some spell of concealment. The only competitor
here who reeked that badly of magic was Shetland.
Ebon reached out and touched the dwarf’s mind. It was
frantic, enraged and desperately seeking to wreak havoc on
someone else. But there was something else there that Ebon
could not understand. There was pain – and not just the type of
pain from a twisted ankle or scratches from brambles. This pain
ran deep.
Confused, Ebon decided to take the dwarf by surprise.
He centred a fireball on the bushes through which Shetland
moved. The bushes erupted in flame.
Shetland’s mind shrieked with agony, a deep felt hurt
that shook Ebon to the core. He heard a shrill girlish whine.
Shetland staggered out of the bushes, ashen and smoking. The
dwarf was batting furtively at the charred, curled wisps that had
once been his beard. Looking over at Ebon with injury beyond
the searing of his flesh, Shetland hesitated before tearing away
into the forest.
Ebon did not follow.
He had noted the device that the dwarf wore had registered no damage.

~MR~
Finch and Reeree sat on the platform, awaiting their resurrection. Neither spoke as Finch deliberated silently over what
had gone wrong with Shetland, and Reeree contemplated further
dealings with Ebon. The minutes passed quickly, and soon they
had served their penalty term. Instantly, both women found
themselves sitting on the ground at the foot of their starter markers. It was only fitting that when they set out on the hunt, each

90

More Offense
in their own form of camouflage, they actually missed each other
on their first two passes.
On the third pass, Finch discovered Reeree the hard way.
She stepped on her. Reeree reacted the only way she knew how.
She paralysed Finch with a contact spell.
Frozen in place, Finch realized that she had lost this bout
before she had even begun it. As Reeree casually reduced the
glowing point markers from her panel, using minor spells with
minimal damage, Finch could do nothing but stand and stare.
She could not even close her eyes to avoid watching her own
demise.
As the panel on her device faded to grey, Finch felt her
limbs regain their flexibility. She was free, just in time to make
her way back to the resurrection point. She turned to give the
gnome her well-deserved kudos, but the little woman had already disappeared.

~MR~
Tom had decided he needed a better vantage point and
climbed a small hill covered in bushes. As he scrambled between two of the larger shrubs, he noticed something spiralling
in the air to his left. Making sure not to break cover, he slid on
his belly until he arrived at a hole in the brush. He was not sure,
but he thought he could make out the form of the imp, Stiggle.
That meant Reid was on the prowl, but luckily, Tom had spotted
Reid’s scout first.
Tom watched the imp as it circled two or three times then
returned to its point of origin. The young nobleman grinned. He
knew how Reid would approach, and that meant he could prepare some form of ambush.
Tom scanned the forest at the base of the hill. There
were four fairly large beds of swamp grass. If he could somehow lure Reid into one of those beds and entangle him there,
Reid would become a prone target. That way Tom could stay
hidden within his current cover and reduce Reid’s chances of
retribution.
91

Magic University
Tom considered his options. The best lure would be a
good illusion, but illusions were not one of Tom’s strong points.
He would have to rely on a mediocre one at best. That would
mean Reid would be less likely to believe it, and therefore more
likely to see through it. He needed to use some weakness that
Reid might have working against him. He would have to pick
something that would cause Reid to react with more instinct and
less thought.
“How can I make him throw caution to the wind?” he
pondered.
The only weakness that Reid had displayed so far was a
penchant for Finch. That gave Tom an idea.
As Reid quietly moved between the trees he first heard
then caught sight of Finch. She was coated in swamp mud and
was clutching at a clump of grass, nearly entirely engulfed by a
marshy mess. She pleaded for him to help her, obviously in
great distress. His heart stuck in his throat. How had she managed to get herself into this situation?
For one brief second he considered the fact that she
might be laying a trap – but he and Finch had already fought
each other and she had won. Without another thought, he sprang
into action. Stiggle shrieked at Reid as the half-elf leapt past the
imp, launching himself at the flailing figure sinking out of view.
As Reid’s feet touched the swamp grass, and he reached for
Finch’s outstretched hand the image faded. Reid found himself
staring into a placid bog, and before he could react, his feet had
become entangled by the now writhing and binding swamp
grass. It had been a trap, and he realised now that the predator
was someone other than Finch. They had used her image as bait,
and he had succumbed like the eager fish that he was. He
glanced about furtively, but conceded after a few moments of
being pelted with damaging spells that his search was futile.
This opponent was a truly clever one, and Reid had only one
choice: to admit defeat.
As a panel on his device faded to grey, he finally caught
sight of Tom, who had moved into view. Tom thought it was
only fair that Reid know who had just beaten him. Reid
92

More Offense
acknowledged this gesture with a casual wave, and with his feet
no longer bound by entangling grass, he headed off into the forest.

~MR~
Snyder was somewhat disappointed to find Nia once
again hunched on the top step of the resurrection point. Not that
he at all minded sharing the same space with her, but he knew
she would be even more upset than she had been before. She
rolled her eyes and sighed as she saw him approach.
“You too, eh? It would appear that both of our lucks
suck.”
Snyder hoped a little humour might lessen the tension.
“I think luck’s in my favour. I get to spend another few
minutes here with you.” He smiled.
Nia frowned and stared at her feet. Instead of the tension
lessening, an air of awkwardness had developed. Not knowing
how else to handle the situation, Snyder wandered over to the far
end of the point. Nia eyed him, wrinkling up her nose.
“I’m a loser, not a leper. I won’t bite.”
Unless you want me to, thought Snyder. “I’ve heard that
one before.”
He shuffled back towards her, but kept some distance between them.
“Tom got me,” he told her. “And here I thought he was
my friend.”
“I don’t think any of us have any real friends here. Reid
got me. I could have had him if it weren’t for that stinking little
demon he had with him.”
“It’s just a matter of a lack of training. If you had a bit
more experience—”
Nia’s look soured as she interrupted. “Who made you the
expert? Looks like you’ve ended up here as often as I have.
Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”
Snyder retreated at this sudden burst of hostility.
“If you only knew,” he thought.
93

Magic University
“Actually,” Snyder pointed out. “Bardic spells are not
intended to be offensive. It’s not my forté. I expect I’ll fare
much better at the other Trials.”
Nia harumphed at this. They sat in silence for a few
moments.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but what sort of training did
you have for these Trials?” Snyder inquired tentatively.
Nia allowed her shoulders to drop and splayed her legs
out. She sniffed.
“I used what money I had to pay a University trained
mage to teach me the basics, and I scrounged up a couple of
used spell-books. It was the only option I had. Money and I
don’t tend to hang together for very long.”
Snyder chuckled. “I have the same problem, but I seem
to be able to find new sources of cash when I need them. Right
now Tom keeps food on my plate and clothes on my back.” Realising he had said more than he had intended, he quickly
changed the subject. “You said that this was your only option,
but what about the Renegades?”
Nia scoffed at this. “Do I look crazy to you? I don’t
want to be taught by someone who is just as likely to blow me
up as they are to successfully train me. Or worse, I could end up
something like Ebon.”
“Well, not all Renegades are like that,” Snyder insisted.
“I was taught by a Renegade.”
“Sure, but nobody fears a bardic Renegade. If I wanted
to be bard, I’d consider it. I, however, have higher ambitions.”
Snyder cocked an eyebrow. “For example?”
Nia stared up at the sky, pensively. She drew in a long
breath.
“I used to want a simple life. A cozy home, lots of kids,
a relaxed sort of life – you know what I mean. But I’ve had to
abandon that idea, so I want something big. Something that will
benefit me now: wealth and riches, pervasive fame, nights spent
partying. Perhaps I could be a court mage, or great adventurer/explorer.” She paused and looked at Snyder who was finding
it difficult not to laugh.
94

More Offense
“What?!” Nia spat.
Snyder exhaled loudly, wiping tears from the corners of
his eyes.
“I’m afraid the best way to get what you just described is
to become a bard. Ok – unless you are good, you won’t be able
to aspire to much in the way of wealth, but you can expect some
measure of fame and bards get invited to all the best parties.
Nor will being a bard hamper any plans for adventure or exploration. It’s easy to get around when you can carry everything
you need to make a living on your back. Court mages have to
bear a lot of responsibility and only the best graduates from the
university can hope for such a position. I still don’t understand
exactly what it is that the University offers you. You’ve abandoned ideas of comfort and security in your mundane life. Why
not be equally reckless in magic?”
Nia’s features drooped.
“Some things get chosen for you. I finally want to do
something on my own initiative, and this is it. How is that hard
to understand?”
Snyder felt his heart melt. He could see there was some
great conflict brewing within Nia’s scaly body, one she had been
battling for several years. Surprisingly, the thing he wanted
most in the world was to get inside her head and understand exactly what it was that was driving her in this direction.
Perhaps...? He had done it once before, a casual scanning of all
the competitors. Maybe if he dug a little deeper. Using his magic, he reached out, delving deeper than he had dared to before.
Equally as suddenly, Nia was gone. Snyder roared in
frustration.

95

7
Personal Attacks
“Hey, why all the noise?” asked Reid as he rounded the
corner. “Oh, Snyder, you again? It’s not all that fun revisiting
this place, is it?”
“You can say that again,” grumbled Finch as she approached from the opposite direction.
Reid smiled.
“Tom,” he sighed. “He tricked me, fair and square.”
Finch giggled.
“Reeree – ditto.”
Without warning, Snyder disappeared.
“That is just so wrong,” Reid said as he stared at the
space where Snyder had been sitting. “Isn’t there a better way
that they could do that, instead of popping us back and forth?”
Finch slid into Snyder’s vacant spot.
“Still warm. Just the way I like it.”
She looked over at Reid’s device and noted the single
gold panel. “You got someone, too. Who fell before your magical fury?”
Reid plopped himself down on the stone next to her.
“Nia, but only thanks to a distraction from Stiggle – she has
some pretty potent tricks up her sleeve.”
Finch’s eyes widened.

96

Personal Attacks
“I can imagine she is less than happy. She hasn’t been
having much luck. I hope she can shake that for the next Trials.”
Reid leaned back, stretching out in the sun.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say she’s been that unlucky.” He
glanced up at Finch, one hand shielding his eyes from the sun’s
glare. He shot her a wicked little grin. “It’s not every day you
get to have a taste of the Crown Prince of Seaforest.”
Finch gasped, shocked at this revelation. Reid chuckled.
“I had some time to think about it, and I knew that I recognized him from somewhere when I saw him on stage at the
opening ceremonies. But I’m not joking. I saw Tom and his
father three years ago during one of the larger harvest festivals,
out past the westernmost limits of the Plains of Turmetti. He’s
not just some snotty, rich kid out for a lark. He’s heir to the Seaforest throne, not little Lord Thomas.”
“Why didn’t they mention it when they introduced him?”
“He probably wants to keep it a secret. Who knows,
maybe he isn’t even supposed to be here – travelling incognito,”
Reid said.
“If that’s the case I hope they don’t catch up with him
until they finish the Trials. It would be a sin to get yanked away
before he could finish,” Finch remarked.
“I wouldn’t complain. He’s probably one of the stronger
competitors. If you took him out of the picture we both would
be one step closer to the top seat.”
Finch frowned.
“If I win, I want to win because I deserve it, not because
someone gets eliminated prematurely. I want to earn one of
those top spots by being the most skilled and able spellcaster.”
Reid sat up and looked her squarely in the face.
“You are skilled, and able, take my word for it. But there
is always an element of luck in this kind of a contest. Maybe the
person who places eighth or ninth may not really have what it
takes, but I wouldn’t bet money on it that if you took all nine of
these people and ran them through the motions on some other
day, you would get the same results. Take Nia, for example.
She seems the type who discourages easily. If she had run into
97

Magic University
someone other than Shetland in her first bout, it may have
changed the entire outcome of this Trial.”
Finch seemed somewhat doubtful.
“I want you to promise me that if you get the opportunity
to take one of those three seats, you’ll do it. I know that you
want it, and not just because it was what was expected of you.”
Reid winced slightly as he spoke, his words striking a nerve in
his own heart. The image he had seen in the mirror was slowly
becoming clearer.
Finch nodded. Then she and Reid allowed a lull in the
conversation, to consider the opponents they had not yet faced.

~MR~
Nia settled at the base of her starter marker. She would
wait for someone to come to her this time, without hiding. She
had deemed this Trial a failure and was not about to waste anymore energy fretting about her next bout. She caught sight of
the gnome in the bushes, despite Reeree’s well-coloured camouflage. She waited to see what Reeree would do before she
responded.
“Bring it on,” she murmured nonchalantly.
Reeree paused, puzzled. The scaled woman seemed to
be watching her, but remained inactive. Did she have some dangerous plan of action hidden up her sleeve? Was this some sort
of trap? Reeree decided that she would have to start small, in
case Nia had some trick to make her spell backfire on her. She
struck out tentatively with a lesser magic dart.
Nia watched as the dart arced up her left arm and a couple of her point markers extinguished. With a roar, she lashed
back, throwing one of her favourite earth spells Reeree’s way:
Landswell. The ground shuddered and buckled beneath the
gnome’s feet, tossing her high into the air. As she landed with
an almighty thud, Reeree decided she would have to break out
the heavy artillery. She reached into her belt and drew out the
tiny wand she had used earlier. Rolling to her feet, she sent out
the fireball in Nia’s direction. It exploded directly at Nia’s feet,
98

Personal Attacks
setting the brush and starter marker aflame as well as extinguishing the majority of her point markers. One more magic dart, and
she was a goner. But Nia got to respond first. Without any hesitation, she lashed out with a force whip.
The thread of energy bit into the protective magical
shield emitted by Reeree’s device as Reeree leapt to her feet and
lobbed a magic dart at Nia. As the smoke cleared, Nia stared
down at their devices. Gaping, with a shriek of dismay, she realized that there was a single point marker still aglow on the
gnome’s device. She had miscalculated her damage and been
off by one point. She could have won, and this failure was no
one’s fault but her own. Without waiting to see the panels
change colour, she stormed away, her expression sullen and her
heart grim.

~MR~
Ebon was more than pleased with himself. The taste of
victory was sweet in his mouth and he felt totally invincible. A
far cry from the first Trial, he thought.
Lurking in the shadows had proven highly effective, and
it certainly helped that several of his rivals reeked of Renegade
or stealth magic. As he gloated over this fact, the familiar scent
once again ebbed through the air. Not as strong as the dwarf, but
stronger than Reid or Tom. Ebon was sure he smelled the halfsatyr.
It would take him a few minutes to spot Snyder. The
bard blended in with his background somewhat, due to natural
camouflage, and Ebon had picked up his scent from quite a distance away. Snyder had gone back to his original strategy and
had sought refuge in a tree. He was perched within the sheltering branches of a sycamore, looking for a target, while softly
whistling out a hunter-zephyr tune. Ebon paused to enjoy the
moment, and then struck.
The sycamore erupted in flame. Rudely interrupted,
Snyder recovered his spell and sent the zephyr out to find his
nemesis. With a snickering hiss, Ebon awaited the zephyr’s ar99

Magic University
rival and took its damage, just to feel sporting. Then he swatted
the minor wind spell aside and launched a second fireball at the
tree. Overkill – and the half-satyr had not even known what had
hit him. Stroking the fourth gold panel with glee, Ebon set off to
find his next victim.

~MR~
Finch felt dizzy as she got to her feet. The instant teleportation from the resurrection point was always somewhat of a
shock to her system, and it took her a couple of seconds to regain her senses. She had not even tried to mingle with the
foliage when Tom stepped out on the path before her and flung a
force spear at her. While the blow did not have the usual incapacitating effect, it did bowl Finch over and blotted out several
of her point markers. She dove into the bushes and threw a vermin spell at Tom to keep him busy while she caught her breath.
Tom was still dancing around to avoid the spiders, snakes and
rats nipping at his heels when Finch managed to right herself and
weigh her options. Finch considered using her strongest spell,
but decided against it. She was saving that in case she encountered Ebon. She hoped it would do sufficient damage to take the
shadow-mage out with a single spell, but she was not sure if it
was enough. It could be wasteful to use it on Tom, who had already taken a few points from her vermin. She launched a small
lightning bolt his way.
Shaking off the effects of both of Finch’s spells, Tom
wheeled to face her. The fact that everyone kept seeking shelter
behind bushes was a true boon to him. He let loose with a thornthrash.
Disoriented from being entangled, from having her device shielding pierced by thorns, and from being thrashed about
in all directions, Finch was unable to respond quickly enough to
finish Tom off with a lightning bolt before he ended the bout
with a force orb. The battle was over, and Tom had won.
As Finch made her way back to the resurrection point,
she could not rid herself of the sinking feeling that she had made
100

Personal Attacks
a grave mistake. Being conservative in a primarily offensive
contest had proven to be the wrong decision. She had lost the
opportunity to beat Tom, and there were no guarantees that she
would eliminate Ebon, who appeared to be the strongest competitor. She kicked herself for not jumping at an opportunity to get
a guaranteed kill. Perhaps Reid was right. There was an element of chance to these Trials.

~MR~
Ebon was following his nose again. He had picked up a
faint stench of Renegade magic, and he could see that the trail
was leading him to Reid. He was about to strike when he felt a
nudge at the back of his neck. It was the imp, who clung to his
shadowy form with a demonic death grip. Stiggle’s tiny sharp
claws were piercing his device shield and had registered a few
points on one panel. Ebon snarled, reaching back and grabbing
the annoying creature, which was tangible in the wraith-mage’s
alternate plane, by its tail. Winding back, he flung Stiggle as
hard as he could at the nearest tree trunk. The imp made contact
with a sickening crunch and dropped to the ground, lying very
still.
Reid had not noticed this altercation, but he had lost sight
of Stiggle. In the process of searching for his small ally, he realized that the shadows were shifting in an odd manner behind him
on the path – Ebon. Reid breathed a sigh of relief that he had
seen the wraith-like mage before detecting his presence in a
more painful manner. He struck out with fervour, sending a
large ice storm Ebon’s way. Before Reid’s spell had finished
driving Ebon back with its stinging pellets and fearsome winds,
Ebon rendered retribution in the form of a powerful fireball.
Reid was hoping to finish the bout with an ice meteor, when he
caught sight of Stiggle out of the corner of his eye, lying motionless at the base of a tree. The moment’s hesitation while he
glanced the imp’s way was enough to give Ebon a head start on
his magic dart. It struck Reid’s chest a millisecond after Reid
had released his spell, and just prior to the ice meteor finding its
101

Magic University
target. Reid’s panel faded to grey and Ebon’s glowed to a favourable gold.
Reid raced over and scooped Stiggle up off of the
ground. He was alive, but just barely. Wanting to rebuke Ebon
for his excessive tactics, Reid turned to face the other competitor, but Ebon was gone, intermingled with the other shadows in
the forest and lost from sight.
“Brute!” he called back into the shadows.
Reid thought he heard the echoing hiss of Ebon’s laughter, but he was not sure. He cradled Stiggle against his chest and
wondered if he would be able to treat the creature’s wounds. He
hoped to at least have him up and running for the next Trial, but
he feared the worst.

~MR~
Reeree lay silent as she watched Tom stride past her on
the path. She noticed that he moved with a spring in his step,
perhaps because of the three golden panels on his chest. Then
again, he always seemed to walk with a bit of a swagger and his
head held high. It would be nice to see him brought down a
couple of notches. Despite the fact that it would not result in
much damage, Reeree decided that she would use a couple of
minor spells on him, just to get the better of him. She started
with a grease spell, chuckling gleefully to herself as the nobleman went base over apex. The effects of the spell registered a
couple of points on Tom’s device. She followed up with a mudfall, which coated Tom with gooey brown ooze, but only
registered a single point from the force of the blow.
The results were more effective than Reeree had anticipated. As Tom sat gasping in a puddle of greasy mud, trying to
clear the sludge that dripped down his face and into his eyes,
Reeree was given ample opportunity to strike with a much more
powerful spell. She slid the little wand out of her belt and sent a
fireball Tom’s way. The greasy ooze surrounding him exploded,
but instead of extinguishing with the end of the spell it continued
to burn until one of Tom’s panels turned grey. She had uninten102

Personal Attacks
tionally turned Tom into a giant Molotov cocktail, and the
strange combination of spells Reeree had used had prevented
him from responding in kind.
Tom briefly caught sight of the green and brown mottled
gnome running off into the woods as he finally clambered to his
feet and made for the resurrection point. Still shaking the mud
from his clothes, he tried to ignore the second grey panel that
somehow had remained devoid of the mud that coated the rest of
him.

~MR~
Snyder cringed as he caught sight of Nia, once again
seated at the resurrection point. This time she did not sit
hunched and fuming, but instead was stretched out rather casually, staring coolly off into space. He sat next to her, not speaking
at first, and then decided to test how responsive she might be.
“We have to stop meeting like this. People will get the
wrong idea.”
Nia remained silent at first, but her eyes revealed a
glimmer of amusement.
“Tell me more about Renegade magic,” she said. Nia’s
tone of voice was steady and unflinching.
“I tell you what. I’ll relate to you a few things about my
experiences with Renegade magic, if you offer me something
about yourself in return.” Snyder watched her intently, hoping
he might finally get some answers.
“I suppose it’s only fair. But if that’s the case, I want
you to tell me how you and Tom ended up travelling here together…off the record.”
Snyder swallowed hard. He had sworn himself to secrecy, but was inclined to answer Nia’s questions despite this.
Perhaps he could find a way to avoid some of the bigger issues,
like revealing Tom’s true identity.
“OK,” he replied. “Well, the first thing I’ll let you know
is I’m not just a bard, and I didn’t really come here for me,”

103

Magic University
Snyder admitted. “So I promised myself that I would stick to
just my bardic spells for the Trials.”
Nia’s eyes widened. “Go on.”
“I’m Tom’s teacher, not just a travelling companion. He
had no other resources for learning magic, so I showed him the
ropes, in exchange, of course, for food, shelter and a small fee.”
“How did you meet him? What made him decide to
learn from a Renegade?”
Snyder side-stepped, knowing some of her questions
could lead to dangerous territory. “No, it’s your turn. You mentioned something about small disasters ruining your dreams.
What did you mean by that?”
Nia drew her legs in and rested her head on her knees.
“How much do you know about my people’s culture?” she
asked.
“Not much,” Snyder admitted, regretfully.
“The males of our kind are highly aggressive. They are
very possessive of their females, and the more powerful males
sometimes have several wives, obtained often by killing the females’ other suitors.”
Snyder shuddered. He was not sure if he wanted to hear
this after all.
“When I was quite young I was married off to an older,
quite domineering male. I was his third wife. The other females
did not accept me at first, but I worked hard at winning their
friendship and eventually, they grew to like me. It looked like
everything would go well from that point on. I would have a
quiet settled life, raise my husband’s children and live rather
harmoniously in our family. Then came the first egg.”
“Egg? Your people lay eggs?”
Snyder tried to hide the shock in his voice, but it was difficult. He could not imagine Nia in that situation.
“We find live births as difficult to envision as you do egg
laying. Actually, our way is much easier on our women. And
strangely enough, our women are prized more than our men, unlike your culture. Female children are highly valued, whereas
male children are seen as potential rivals by their own fathers.”
104

Personal Attacks
Snyder bit his tongue. He supposed it was not unthinkable for a stepson to pursue one or more of his unrelated
stepmothers. Obviously, there were some cultural taboos that
just were not shared.
“This was my first egg, and I was warned by the other
females that if I was not careful and remained too active, the egg
would come early and not be properly developed. I chose not to
heed their warnings, and they proved to be right. The shell was
too soft, and the egg too small. The baby died, and to make matters worse it was a female, the more valued sex. My husband
exiled me from the family and forced me out of my home. I was
left with nothing, and was shunned by my community.” Nia’s
voice had slowly lowered to a whisper, and she had closed her
eyes. Her pain was quite evident.
Snyder wanted to speak, but was not sure how he should
react to this revelation. This was obviously something that had
troubled Nia deeply for a long time, and often was the motivation behind her rash behaviour. He reached out his hand and
started to say something when she disappeared. Snyder sighed.
“What timing.”
A few seconds later, Reid entered the clearing, closely
followed by Finch. Snyder noticed Reid was cradling the imp,
who was not stirring.
“What happened?”
Reid scowled. “Ebon. I know he may have thought of
Stiggle as a weapon, and wanted to rid himself of a potential
menace, but he could have used something less harmful. I don’t
have any healing magic.”
Snyder reached into a pouch and tossed Reid a potion.
“Try that.”
Then Snyder disappeared.
Finch offered to hold Stiggle while Reid forced the imp’s
mouth open and poured the healing potion down the creature’s
throat. When they were done, Stiggle began to stir. He sat up
weakly and waddled around the stone platform. He flapped his
wings a few times, but they were still quite damaged. He would

105

Magic University
not be flying again for some time. He struggled back to Reid’s
side and clung to him, making pitiful mewling noises.
“I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that Ebon would do
something like this. He’s not the most compassionate soul.”
“And Stiggle is an imp. There are plenty of very nice
people who wouldn’t think twice about crushing one of these
little scoundrels. They are somewhat evil. Anyway, I always
got the feeling that you didn’t really care for him.” Finch
watched the imp crawl into Reid’s lap and curl up into a ball.
Within seconds, Stiggle was snoring.
“I know, but he’s all I have left, and he does listen to me,
most of the time.”
Finch looked surprise. “Don’t you have any family?
Gerant couldn’t have been it...”
“No, they aren’t dead or anything like that, but when I
agreed to apprentice to Gerant, they pretty well disinherited me.
Just call me Mr. Black Sheep. Turmetti’s very close to Seaforest
and shares many of their reservations towards Renegades.”
Reid’s face betrayed his anger. Obviously, he did not
feel as though his family had treated him fairly. “Not that they
ever offered me an alternative. They weren’t willing to help pay
to have a university graduate teach me the basics, nor did they
encourage me to take on some other endeavour. I was pretty
well on my own before they washed their hands of me.” Reid
looked puzzled and stiffened a little. “Who’s that?”
Finch swivelled; someone was walking towards the resurrection point covered in soot and mud. As he neared, she
finally came to the conclusion that under that obscured exterior
was the man who had recently given her the royal boot.
“It’s Tom. Aha, so someone got you too!”
Tom nodded, and found himself instantly alone once
more.

~MR~
Ebon caught sight of the scaled woman basking in the
sun on a large rock. She was not even trying anymore. He
106

Personal Attacks
grumbled to himself. What sport was there in fighting someone
who did not look prepared to give him a run for his money? He
walked right up to her.
Staring down at her silvery, glinting face, he hissed, “Get
up!”
Nia opened her eyes.
“Oh, it’s you. Get on with it already. Resurrection point
is much more comfortable…too many pointy grooves on this
boulder.”
“Get up and fight me! If you weren’t prepared to try,
you should have refused a placing at the Trials when they first
offered it to you.”
Nia could sense Ebon’s rage growing. His shadowy
form seemed to pulsate with the energy from his fury. Nia got
leisurely to her feet.
“If it’ll speed this up, fine then. And the appropriateness
of my presence here is between me and the University. You
should keep your nose...” She hauled back and swung, releasing
a shock touch as she struck the device’s invisible shield squarely
in front of Ebon’s ghostly nose. “On your face.”
Ebon reared back in surprise, and chose not to restrain
his rage in response. A pool of darkness streamed from his fingers and encircled Nia’s neck. He squeezed. He continued
squeezing until Nia’s panel turned grey and her device failed,
renewing the binding spell that forced his release. He stepped
back, panting. He had expended more energy on the scaled
woman than he had intended. She smirked at him.
“Thank you. Quick and easy, just like I expected. I’m
glad you didn’t hold yourself back on my account.” Spinning
on her heel, Nia casually strolled away.
Ebon felt cheated. He had wanted to wallow in the
pleasure of his win, but instead he felt drained and hollow.

~MR~
Snyder ran. He had caught sight of a small figure that
had been too broad to be the gnome, and had set off in hot pur107

Magic University
suit. If he caught up with Shetland, he would be able to test the
theory that the dwarf’s device was defective. He was not sure
how something like that would affect the outcome of the Trial,
but for Nia’s sake, he thought it was worth knowing.
The chase continued for several minutes, when Snyder
lost sight of Shetland’s diminutive figure in a grouping of lowlying trees. He was about to follow the dwarf in, when Snyder
was blind-sided by the chilling surface of an ice meteor. Snyder
dropped to his belly. He could hear Reid chuckling.
Snyder was torn, he felt compelled to follow Shetland into the clump of trees, but he knew Reid would be trying to finish
him off. Perhaps he could send something Reid’s way that
would keep him busy, while Snyder continued his pursuit. He
brought out a small tin whistle and blew it twice. Several patches of dried leaves at Reid’s feet swirled up and began to take
shape. Unsure of what to expect, Reid decided to set on Snyder
with the big guns. Pulling one of two silvered acorns from a
leather string about his neck, he tossed it in Snyder’s general direction. The resulting blast left Snyder in a crater the size of
small pond. And somewhere from within the grouping of low
trees, the baritone rumble of pain that might come from a male
dwarf echoed into the forest.
As the disturbed dirt and foliage cleared from the air,
Snyder heard a distinct hoot of victory from Reid. He glanced
down. Grey. He sighed. He would probably not get another
chance to test his theory on Shetland, and until he spent another
five minutes at the resurrection point, he would not have the opportunity to try.

~MR~
Ebon had been searching for Urwick and Finch throughout the entire Trial. The search for Urwick had been futile, but
Ebon was sure he would be able to locate Finch, if by no other
means than by sensing her thoughts. He had felt her faintly on
several occasions, and now, finally, she was drawing near. He
still could not see her, but he knew she was there. He was
108

Personal Attacks
thankful for her tendency to underestimate her own abilities. It
would give him the edge that he would need.
She had a spell saved especially for him, but it was a targeting spell, and if she could not see him, she might not be able
to strike him with it. He stopped in his tracks abruptly. She had
spotted him. While she concentrated on her spell, he threw a
blindness spell at her.
Finch gasped as her world went black. She would have
to use her ball lightning spell without being able to actually see
Ebon. She struggled to continue the incantation. A burst of heat
about her, and the roar of flames suggested that Ebon had followed with a fireball. Fighting back a wave of panic and the
urge to lash out with a weaker area of effect spell, she managed
to maintain her enchantment, but the internal conflict from fear
and doubt had its intended effect. Ebon, while not distracting
her from her spell, caused enough mental chaos in Finch to make
her lose her bearings and become disoriented. Had she managed
to maintain her confidence and self-control, had she maintained
a calm mind, Finch had enough spatial sense and targeting ability to strike Ebon down, despite her blindness. However,
disoriented and panicky, she struck out wildly. The ball lightning missed Ebon by a couple of feet. He roared with laughter,
his hoarse whispery hiss a painful acknowledgement of Finch’s
failure. Her blindness subsided as Ebon’s final magic dart met
its mark.
Finch turned away, ruing the fact that she had not used
the spell on Tom when she had had the chance. She headed
back to the resurrection point with a very heavy heart.

~MR~
As a rather tired Reeree paused to take a breather, the
fates smiled upon her. After failing to find any rivals she had
not yet encountered, and after unsuccessfully trying to scale a
tree for a better vantage point, the bushes before her suddenly
shook and shifted, and Reid peered through. Surprising each

109

Magic University
other with this close encounter, a point blank magical battle ensued, with both competitors shooting off of the cuff.
Reid resorted to quicker, weaker spells, hoping to nickel
and dime Reeree down with all haste. Reeree grinned and
whipped out her little wand. With the resulting fireballs being
both fast and furious, Reid fell quickly. It had been a clean
fight, with Reeree the obvious winner.
Before they could turn and go, the great clanging of a
bell announced the end of the Trial.

~MR~
Within a couple of minutes, everyone but Shetland and
Urwick had returned to the clearing and the resurrection point.
Nia and Snyder stood waiting with Dr. George when the others
arrived, their final penalty period incomplete. Dr George did a
head count and glanced grimly about before he spoke.
“There have been some problems which the judges have
decided require some discussion. This may delay the next Trial
by a few minutes. The judges have agreed that they will not reduce the Trial times but will instead reduce their own judgement
time at the end of the Trials to accommodate for this delay. In
the meantime...”
There was a terrible groan that emerged from a patch of
shrubbery, and after a great deal of shaking and crackling of
branches, a very bruised, burned and beaten Shetland emerged.
He stumbled forward, moaning in pain and ripped the point
marker device from his chest. He waved the device in the air,
opened his bloodied mouth to speak, and collapsed in a heap on
the well-tended grass.

110

8
Safe Passage
The majority of the competitors sat in the common room
in silence, waiting for news. Ebon had retreated to his personal
room, suggesting snidely that he would be better prepared for his
next victory if he spent the time between the two Trials in seclusion. The door opened, and they all turned expectantly, but it
was not Dr. George who walked through it. It was Urwick.
“Where were you?” demanded Nia. “You didn’t fight a
single bout with anyone!”
“I strayed from the path in an attempt to avoid direct confrontation, and I got lost. I’m lucky I managed to make my way
back before the next Trial,” he admitted.
There was a slight murmuring amongst the others. The
door opened a second time. This time Shetland shuffled in,
looking much less the worse for the wear. He averted his eyes,
his hands self-consciously drawn to cover his hairless chin. Dr.
George strode in behind him.
“Well?” Nia exclaimed, not giving George any real
chance to begin. “What happened? What did the judges decide?”
“The device was not at fault. Mr. Feldspar’s magical
magnetism was strong enough to override the artefact and as a
result, the damage that should have been absorbed by his shield
was instead received as an actual affliction to his person.
111

Magic University
Thankfully, he also appears to have an unnatural resistance to
magical damage, or it would have required more than a major
healing spell to resuscitate him.”
Nia stood, looking severely irate. “But what did the
judges say? How will that change the outcome of the Trial? Do
we get to do it again?”
Dr. George gave her a stern look, and spoke firmly. “No.
The judges have reviewed the events of the Trial, and will award
points to those competitors who actually damaged Mr. Feldspar
as should have registered on his device. Otherwise there is no
change. Part of these Trials, Ms. Brynwyrm, is to test the versatility of the potential candidates. If you are unable to adapt to
the unexpected, then you will not have much success with your
studies at the University.”
Nia’s back arched and her entire form took on an air of
hostility. “But that’s not fair! This whole crazy mess changed
everything...”
“Did it, Ms. Brynwyrm? Think back to your encounter
with Mr. Feldspar carefully. Would his device working effectively have changed the outcome of your bout? I think not. And
as for any other effect that this incident had on your outcome, I
do not believe that this is a reflection of Trial procedure nor the
judge’s decision. Fairness is a matter of perspective.” Dr.
George raised his eyebrows as he spoke, without any reflection
of reciprocal anger. “I will now read off the scores from this Trial and total scores to this point. If you have any further disputes
with regards to our scoring system, you can take them up with
the judges at the end of the Trials. When I am done, you have
two minutes to gather yourselves and your belongings and meet
me in the garden for procession to the next Way Station.” He
drew in breath.
“The scores for the second Trial are as follows: Ebon the
Misplaced 267 (six wins, no losses), Cerissa June 227 (five wins,
one loss), Reid Blake 134 (two wins, four losses), Thomas Regal
120 (three wins, two losses), Shetland Feldspar 80 (two wins, no
losses), Finch Loreleaf 76 (one win, four losses), Nia Brynwyrm
65 (no wins, four losses), Snyder of the Fifes 18 (no wins, four
112

Safe Passage
losses), and Urwick 0 (no wins or loses.) The scores are not a
reflection of Trial points which are awarded based on standing,
not overall damage. Presently, this leaves Ebon and Cerissa in
the lead with 75 Trial points each, Thomas has 60, Reid has 55,
Finch has 50 Trial points, Nia and Snyder both have 35, and
Urwick and Shetland both have 20.” He paused, pulling out his
pocket watch. “I will see all of you in the garden in two
minutes.”
His pace brisk, but his manner somewhat casual, Dr.
George left the room.
The competitors looked at one another. All were relieved that Ebon was not there to gloat again at his success, and
many were watching Reeree, taken aback by her high standing.
Could this little woman, pink once more, rival the strength of
Ebon?
Shetland, more concerned with the loss of his beard than
his low standing, was the first to quietly creep from the room,
following Dr. George out into the garden. The others slowly
trickled out after him, leaving Nia and Snyder. Nia fumed, glaring intently at the fire. Snyder paused for a second, preparing to
say something, then decided the better for it. There would be
more time to talk later, and Nia needed the opportunity to reflect
on her current situation. Seeing her no longer as an intimidating
prospect, but rather a potential Renegade recruit, Snyder felt timing was of the utmost importance from this point. He would
wait, and proposition her again later.

~MR~
Nia was the last to enter the garden, but she was there
when Dr. George tolled the brass bell. The competitors lined up
haphazardly behind the elderly attendant, wondering what they
could expect from the next Trial.
The pathway led them uphill, and the forest gave way to
lower brush and grassy meadows. The next Way Station was
therefore visible from quite a distance. It was little more than a

113

Magic University
spruced up barn, leading most to the conclusion that there would
be little down time. They were wrong.
A vivid thwacking noise could be heard as they approached the large, natural wood-coloured building, greyed
somewhat by the elements. Dr. George stopped, gesturing them
forward.
“This is as far as I go. You will find your next Way Station attendant, Renaldo, around the front. Good luck to you all,
and may you find what you each seek.”
Pulling his pipe and tobacco from his coat pocket, he
veered about, and started back down the pathway. Reid, at the
front of the line, carefully advanced. He started as a loud
thwack erupted from the front of the Way Station just as he
stuck his head out.
“Oh, sorry!” called a cheerful, deep voice. “I didn’t realize you were here yet.”
As the group made their way to the front of the building,
they found themselves at the edge of a make-shift archery range.
Renaldo, the new attendant, had been practicing, and from the
grouping of his shots at the bull’s-eye, was apparently very
good. Looking at him, one would not expect skill of this calibre
with a bow, for he was not the slender, stream-lined archer one
expected when imagining a fabled marksman. Instead, he was a
large burly man, with a warm, deep laugh, a mop of curly brown
hair and a wide, crooked smile.
“Renaldo Rowanrock, at your service.”
He bowed low and placed his bow on a stand which already supported a quiver full of arrows. Then he strolled over,
peering at the competitors.
“Well, at least you’re all here. Someone told me we
nearly lost one of you at the last Trial.”
At mention of this, Shetland tried to slink off.
“Hey there! Don’t go anywhere. I have to explain the
rules to you first, and you may be the first one up to run the Trial,” Renaldo said.

114

Safe Passage
The big man wandered back over to the bow stand,
stooping to pick up a rolled-up piece of parchment. He unravelled it, glancing down at the scrawling black letters before him.
“Reid Blake, Thomas Regal; the first two on my list.
Sound familiar?” Renaldo asked.
Tom approached Reid as the attendant continued.
“I’ll explain this, and if you have any questions you can
ask them before you begin your run. Basically, you have five
minutes to reach a token that is found up here.” He pointed towards a small cliff at the crest of the hill. “You must overcome
all obstacles before you: the cliff, the bridge and the brambles,
and do so safely. If you are injured in any way, your turn is
over. If you run out of time, your turn is over, but I must add
that the course is designed to be completed easily within five
minutes, if you are not thwarted by the obstacles. This is mainly
a defensive test, but it also will try your ability with movement
spells. If you do not complete the course in the time allotted,
you will be awarded points based on where in the course you
had arrived at when your time expired, or the point at which you
are disqualified. There are bonus points for reaching the token
at the course’s end.” Renaldo paused. Met only by blank stares,
he continued.
“Those whom I have not called will await their turn in
the Way Station, until summoned by a returning competitor.
You are free to do as you wish if I have not already called your
name. Ebon the Misplaced and Nia Brynwyrm should be prepared, as they will be the next two. You two...” he gestured
toward Reid and Tom. “Follow me.”
Renaldo paused by his bow stand, tying on an elaborate
purple cloak fringed with silver fox fur. He then gathered up his
bow and arrows and started up the hill. The two competitors followed obediently. Everyone else drifted away to settle in at the
Way Station.
Ascending to the top of the hill, they arrived at the
aforementioned cliff. It was reasonably small, easily scaled
without much danger, but a fall from near the top could break a
bone and would definitely leave a bruise.
115

Magic University
“When you confirm your readiness, you wait for my
command to begin,” instructed Renaldo. “Once I say go, you
must scale this cliff, cross the bridge that spans the ravine beyond the top of the cliff, and reach the token on the other side of
the brambles at the opposite end. There will be many threats to
your person and you must heed the time limit. Do you have any
questions?”
Reid thought for a moment. “Are there any spell restrictions?”
Renaldo shook his head. “Whatever you consider necessary, you are permitted to cast. Are you ready?”
Taking in a deep breath, Reid nodded.
“Begin...now!”
Reid whistled, and then began his first spell. As he completed the incantation, Stiggle came into view behind them. The
potion that Snyder had given him had proven very useful and
had greatly increased his rate of healing. With the exception of a
few small cuts and bruises, the imp was barely scathed.
Stiggle had been off hunting, and his mouth and claws
were smeared with the blood of some small rodent. Reid rose
into the air, lifted by his levitation spell, and Stiggle swooped
down, grasping Reid’s leather bracer. As he had been trained to
do, the imp pulled Reid in the direction the mage pointed, towing him with ease.
Arriving at the top of the cliff, Stiggle shrieked a warning
at Reid. Some danger was approaching, and it was something
airborne. Realising that he would have to protect both Stiggle
and himself from the oncoming threat, he cast a force shield. It
would be reasonably short-lived, but Reid did not care if it fizzled after his five minutes were up.
As Stiggle pulled him beyond the top of the cliff, Reid
caught sight of the potential danger. There were half a dozen
creatures resembling silver foxes with metallic claws, exaggerated fangs and sinewy bat wings. They had been circling over the
ravine, but moved to attack as soon as both Stiggle and Reid
came into view. Despite their assault, Reid directed Stiggle
forward.
116

Safe Passage
The imp watched the strange flying foxes as they spun
and dove around him, trying to penetrate the magical shield with
their claws and fangs. He screeched gleefully at them as he
pulled his master forward, taunting them in a devilish fashion.
Reid shared this feeling of invulnerability until one of the flying
creatures connected with the shield by his head and left rend
marks. They were actually damaging the transparent shell, suggesting their claws had some resistance to magic.
Reid urged Stiggle onwards, hoping that the shield would
withstand the beasts’ efforts until they managed to hurdle the
brambles and reach the token. Reid eyed the rickety bridge below him, and was thankful he did not have to attempt to cross it
in the conventional manner. The monstrous flying foxes proceeded to shred the shield in two more places, but Reid and
Stiggle had reached the opposite side of the bridge and had only
the brambles remaining.
They had just cleared the far edge of the thorny hedge
when one of the fox creatures completely penetrated the shield.
In a frantic race to the end, Reid dropped his levitation spell and
dove for the token. His fingertips connected with it seconds before he felt the beast’s claws slice into his ear.
Sights shifted and Reid looked around dazedly. Stiggle
squawked and clambered up his arm onto his shoulder. Reid
was touching his hand to his wounded ear and wiping away the
blood, when he noticed Renaldo and Tom several feet away.
The token had transported him back to the start. Renaldo
strolled over and helped him up.
“Good show! Sorry about the ear, but it’s a hazard of the
course. At least you scored full points.”
Reid brushed himself off and tried to inspect Stiggle,
who dodged Reid’s attempts furtively. He decided that the
imp’s behaviour implied he was unharmed. Reid faced Renaldo,
who paused to withdraw his list.
“When you arrive at the Way Station, send Ebon and Nia
back here. You should also mention that Urwick and Cerissa are
next.”

117

Magic University
With a nod of acknowledgement, Reid trotted off down
the hill, closely followed by Stiggle. Renaldo returned to Tom’s
side.
“Mr. Regal, any questions?”
Tom shook his head.
“Good, confirm when you are ready.”
Tom positioned himself at the bottom of the cliff.
“Any time” he said.
Renaldo gave him the go ahead, and Tom was off.
He decided that his best option was his leaping spell. As
he calculated, he could leap up the cliff, across the ravine and
over the brambles, all with one spell – efficient and speedy. He
cast his spell, and he sprang upwards towards the cliff-top.
As Tom’s feet touched down on the rocky earth, he
caught sight of the incoming flying foxes. He had not been expecting this. If he paused long enough to cast a decent defensive
spell, he would burn out his short-lived leaping spell, and it was
his only one. Contemplating the dilapidated bridge, he weighed
his odds. With only a brief pause, he decided he would risk the
next leap without any defenses, and hope he could make it to the
token before the strange creatures reached him.
With a great bound, he spanned the ravine and touched
down on the opposite side. He managed this without setting a
foot on the bridge. The flying foxes had closed on Tom, but had
not yet reached him. He lurched forward, attempting to clear the
brambles and touch the token before they could make contact.
About halfway over the briar, he felt a stinging burn as one of
the beasts sank its fangs into his shoulder.
Tom felt things transform, his head swimming from the
sudden shift and his shoulder throbbing. He was at the base of
the cliff again. Renaldo approached. He helped Tom to his feet.
“Please return to the Way Station and instruct Urwick
and Cerissa to prepare to join me.”
As Tom strolled down the hill he passed Ebon and Nia
on their way up. He smiled at Nia, and she responded in kind,
but there was a definite glimmer of apprehension in her eyes.
Tom wondered what Snyder had been telling her.
118

Safe Passage

~MR~
Stepping into the Way Station, Finch could detect the
distinct aromas of leather and cedar. The building had definitely
served some farmer as a shelter for his livestock, but had been
converted to accommodate Trial competitors. The individual
rooms were stalls which had been sealed for privacy, and each
one contained a modest but comfortable cot and a sturdy wooden
desk and chair. There was no kitchen in this Way Station, but a
buffet of various breads, cured meats and cheeses, as well as an
assortment of fruits and juices, had been laid out on a long table
in the common area. Seating in there consisted of stacked bales
of hay.
Shetland pushed his way past Finch and made straight for
the meat and bread. He began to wolf them down in great handfuls. Nia stared at him in disgust.
“Do you ever stop eating?”
Shetland glared at her.
“I have to keep up my strength. Anyway, it’s not like
cloud boy over there is going to eat his share.” He gestured at
Ebon, who was about to step into a converted stall. Instead, the
wraith-like mage faced the dwarf.
“As a matter of fact,” he hissed, “I still appreciate a good
meal, on a purely aesthetical level. It is just something that is
unnecessary. I draw my energy from other sources.”
Shetland paused long enough from his gorging to cock a
scorched eyebrow. Shavings of smoked beef clung to the tattered remnants of what was once his beard and they wiggled as
he spoke.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well now,” Ebon snickered hoarsely. “If I reveal my
secrets to you, it might reduce my competitive edge.”
Shetland grunted, and turned away to focus wholly on
the food, but Urwick was intrigued.
“Secrets can be helpful sometimes, but they aren’t the be
all and end all of a man’s existence. In fact, I offer a wager...”
119

Magic University
The others were suddenly interested. Even Snyder, who
had sprawled out on several of the hay bales for a catnap, sat up
and listened.
“I have a magical ring in my pocket that I will hand over,
at the end of these Trials, to the person who can offer me a revelation of something I deem the most interesting personal secret.”
“What does the ring do?” asked Finch.
Urwick smirked.
“Now that is my secret, which I will give to the winner of
my wager.”
Ebon shifted across the room, blending into the shadows
in the corner. He was unhappy, making a low noise reminiscent
of distant thunder in his annoyance. He wished desperately that
he could dip into Urwick’s thoughts, as he could with most of
the others, but something blocked his probing, a monstrous solid
wall.
“What if I offer a secret about another?” Ebon suggested.
Urwick shook his head. “No, it must be about you. If
anyone wishes to share confidence with me, I’ll be in my room.”
He gestured at the farthest converted stall and then wandered
over.
The others milled about, considering Urwick’s unusual
offer. At this point, Reid appeared through the front door.
“Hey! Ebon and Nia, you’re up next.”
Nia jumped up and disappeared through the door, but
Ebon lingered. He approached Reid.
“The dark elf is fishing for secrets. You may want to see
if you are interested in the bait,” Ebon hissed, watching for
Reid’s reaction. To Ebon’s surprise Reid only looked somewhat
amused.
“Can’t say I have any he would want. With me, what
you see is what you get.”
With a reproachful huff, Ebon followed Nia out the door.
Reid helped himself to some food, sitting down on a hay bale
next to Finch.
“So what’s Ebon talking about? He said something
about Urwick looking for secrets?”
120

Safe Passage
“Urwick made an offer: a magic ring for the best personal secret. I wish I had something juicy to offer him, but I’m not
that exciting a person.”
Reid smirked at this.
“What?” Finch said.
“I don’t agree, that’s all. And you probably have one of
the best secrets here, sitting in your pocket.” He gestured toward
the hidden miniature of her mother.
Finch considered Urwick’s stall. It seemed like a
worthwhile venture so she scrambled to her feet and approached
the door. Reeree emerged from within, looking quite sheepish.
Finch slipped past her, wondering what the little woman could
possibly have to hide, and hoping her locket would prove more
interesting.

~MR~
As Nia arrived beside Renaldo, Ebon breezed past her.
She had been finding the brisk winds near the top of the cliff
both chilling and unsettling, but they could not compare to Ebon’s heart-wrenching touch. She stepped back, hoping the
wraith-mage’s performance might inspire her for her own run.
Ebon listened to the Trial instructions and waited for Renaldo’s sign, then began his ascent of the cliff. He nonchalantly
drifted upwards. As he reached the top, he caught sight of the
rickety bridge and paying little heed to the flying fox beasts
which approached, he continued to drift forward across the ravine. He was not bracing himself as the first fox struck him
halfway across the bridge, expecting the claws to swipe harmlessly through him. They did not. The flying fox’s claws had
been enchanted to affect other-dimensional creatures, Ebon included. As the sharp talons tore painfully into him, Ebon
howled in both surprise and indignation. He found himself at
the base of the cliff, beaten by the course.
With cool distaste, Ebon barely acknowledged the Trial
attendant’s instructions to direct the next two competitors, Ur-

121

Magic University
wick and Reeree, to make their way up from the Way Station.
Silently, Ebon slunk away.
Nia steeled herself mentally, realizing she had a lot of
ground to make up if she would have any chance at placing in
the top three, but feeling somehow refreshed by the fact that Ebon had obviously failed. Renaldo explained the requirements of
the Trial and waited for her word to start timing her.
Nia trusted her climbing skills, but if she took serious
damage from a fall, no matter what the circumstances, she would
be out of the running. She had plenty of buffering defensive
spells.
“Sandskin,” she murmured to herself, and breathed the
incantation.
A solid yet flexible layer of sand adhered itself to her
skin; light enough not to hinder her climbing, yet sufficient to
cushion small blows. With her new earthy skin, Nia seemed to
merge with the stone surface of the cliff as her claws quickly and
efficiently pulled her to the summit. Hastily, she scrabbled over
the edge, slightly out of breath.
She froze as she spotted the flying foxes. Her defensive
spell would be enough to keep them away for a short period of
time, but not for the amount of time it would take to safely manoeuvre over the rickety bridge. She decided instead to use an
earth shaping spell and manipulate the cliff rock into a small
ledge that would span the ravine.
She completed the spell as the first fox attacked, scraping
some of the sand from her hip. She gasped as the claws brushed
against her scales, leaving deep gashes in the sandy coating.
Without hesitation she sprinted across the narrow band of rock,
not considering the consequences if she lost her footing and fell
into the ravine. Another of the foxes reached her as she got to
the other side, leaving equally deep gashes in the sand on her
back.
Nia stared at the thorny bushes ahead of her, and realized
with the holes in her defenses trying to crawl over or through
them would not be safe. Instead, she settled on a tunnelling
spell. Diving into the hole as soon as it opened up before her,
122

Safe Passage
she escaped the menace of the beasts circling above her and
shuffled on her elbows and knees through the shallow opening in
the dirt. She popped her head up through the opposite end, and
had no trouble tapping the token on the other side. She could
not help but breathe a sigh of relief as she found herself once
again at the base of the cliff. Renaldo approached, smiling.
“Congratulations, and well done. I would have to say
your performance is the best yet. You may return to the Way
Station and enjoy a well deserved rest. Please inform Mr. Feldspar and Ms. Loreleaf to prepare.” Nia nodded breathlessly.
She raced past Urwick and Reeree, anxious to share the news of
her success.

~MR~
Finch emerged from Urwick’s stall; she noted Tom had
returned, but knowing what she did about him, she could not
bring herself to look him in the eye. He seemed intrigued by
this, and leaving off his conversation with Snyder, he approached her.
“Your secret can’t be all that bad, can it? You look like
the cat who swallowed the canary.”
“I think I have an interesting secret, but I don’t know if it
can compare with some of the other secrets around here,” she
said, now eying him cautiously. “Are you going to share one
with Urwick?”
“I haven’t decided. I have a feeling it isn’t as much of a
secret as it should be.” Tom looked back at Snyder with an air
of dissatisfaction. “I think some people here may be sharing
more than they should.”
Finch bit her tongue. She was tempted to make a snide
remark about him sharing too much with Nia, but she decided
better for it. She wondered if the fact that he was royalty somehow made him morally exempt, because she no longer felt the
impulse to chastise him. Then again, there was now the additional factor that offending him could involve much more severe

123

Magic University
repercussions. Trying not to consider this, she turned her attention to Snyder, who was entering Urwick’s stall.
Meanwhile, Reid abandoned his hay bale to join her and
Tom.
“So, what did Urwick think,” he asked Finch.
“He was intrigued,” she admitted. “But I don’t know if it
will be the prize winner. It depends on how many of the others
take him up on his offer. Not surprising, a lot of people have
things they don’t like sharing.”
“The path to Magic University tends to be a rocky one,
with lots of obstacles and pitfalls,” Reid laughed. “I doubt anyone here has lived much of a mundane life…except perhaps for
her.” He gestured toward Reeree.
At that moment the door opened and Ebon quietly floated
in. He quickly darted towards Urwick’s stall, not slowing as he
plunged through Snyder who was emerged from its interior. A
look of strained shock swept over Snyder’s features and he
stumbled over to Tom, trembling and gasping. Tom braced his
companion momentarily, glaring at the closed stall door.
“He really shouldn’t do that. If he wants people to give
him a little more acceptance, that’s not the way to go about it,”
Reid said.

~MR~
Urwick was sitting casually on his cot when Ebon swept
in.
“You have a secret to share?” Urwick murmured, his features expressionless. “The problem is, Ebon, I know a lot more
about you than you could possibly imagine. The number of secrets you possess that are not already available to me is limited.”
Ebon had always found Urwick’s presence somewhat irritating, but this was infuriating. He tried to find the right words
to respond, piqued by his rage.
“How could you possibly have such knowledge?”
“Because I was once just like you...not physically, but
emotionally.”
124

Safe Passage
“Bah! How can you possibly know what it’s like to be
me. Perhaps you’ve faced discrimination because of your racial
background, and perhaps people judged you without giving you
a chance, but there’s much more to my suffering. When you
cannot reach out and touch the things you desire, life loses all
purpose. The only thing I have left to live for is restoring myself
to what I once was, and that is a lofty ambition.” Ebon’s voice
grew sour.
“And hence the fear of failure. Mine originated from believing everyone wanted me to fail, but I was wrong, and so are
you. Barriers, whether physical, social, or psychological can be
overcome. And the only way to escape failure is to keep trying
until you get it right.”
Ebon growled and turned to leave. He had decided Urwick was right; there was nothing he wanted to share with him.
“Know this. You will have to face the same choices that
I did, and I only hope you choose the more difficult, yet more
rewarding path. Sometimes when we find the world has little to
offer us, the best thing to do is to offer what we can to others.
You still have a purpose for living as long as you can do that.
You have limited resources available to you, but you should
make the best of what you have instead of griping about what
you don’t have. Things could be worse. Failure should be the
least of your concerns...”
“Stop it!!” Ebon thundered, no longer wanting to hear
what Urwick had to say, “Enough of this insipid drivel! I didn’t
come here looking for a counselor! I don’t care what you think
you know about me; you’re wrong!” The wraith-mage’s cynical
wall threatened to crumble and fall. He had to get away...or better yet, send Urwick from him. He refocused his thoughts on the
game at hand - the Trials.
“Despite the fact that you would love to poke and prod at
my psyche further, you and Reeree have a date to keep with Renaldo. I suggest you hurry.”
Urwick’s brow furrowed as he got to his feet and swiftly
exited the stall. Ebon listened for their departure, extending a
tentative magical tendril to sense the gnome leave. He could not
125

Magic University
gauge Urwick’s presence with this method, and that still unnerved him. For someone who was doing quite poorly in the
Trials, Urwick appeared to have a level of power above and beyond a practised novice.
A few moments later, Ebon both heard and felt the blaring excitement of a victorious Nia entering the Way Station.
Trying his best to block out everything beyond the walls of the
stall, he turned inward and set himself to rebuilding the emotional defenses that Urwick had so casually torn away.

~MR~
Urwick listened patiently as Renaldo explained the process and he waited for the man’s signal to begin. The dark elf
used a very basic climbing enchantment and scaled the cliff up
out of sight. Five minutes later, he appeared several feet away.
Renaldo approached him to let him know he had exceeded the
time allowed and to ask him to inform Finch and Shetland to
make their way up. Without expression, Urwick departed.
Reeree watched him leave, sad that Urwick had not been
able to complete the course and wondering how that reflected on
its difficulty. She breathed deeply and decided that she would
give it her best shot. Pulling Rex out of her pocket, she shuffled
over to the starting point. Renaldo ran through the rules. She
confirmed that she was ready, and then she was off.
Placing Rex at the base of the cliff, she cast a shrinking
spell on herself and clambered onto his back. In her extremely
diminutive form, riding Rex was like riding a small pony, with a
broader back and a shorter drop to the ground. Rex scaled the
cliff with as much ease as Nia had, in about twice the time, as
Reeree clung tightly to his bright white hide.
Reeree spotted the beastly flying foxes almost immediately, and breathed a happy sigh that they had not noticed her as
of yet. Rex’s albino colouration would have rapidly given them
away, had the foxes not been seeking larger prey. Reeree hastily
threw a camouflage spell over them both and surrounded them
with a minor shield. She then scanned the bridge. It would be
126

Safe Passage
difficult for Rex to manoeuvre past the huge gaps in between the
planking, but if she increased his size it would increase his
weight, putting extra strain on the flimsy structure and possibly
attracting the flying monsters. Deciding not to risk the latter, she
urged him forward.
“Slow and steady, that’s the best way to go.”
In this case, however, it was not. Speed was of the essence, and although the minute couple cautiously made it to the
other end of the bridge, that was as far as they had gotten when
Reeree’s Trial time expired. She and Rex were suddenly sitting
at the base of the cliff, staring up at a giant-looking Renaldo.
She dispelled her shrinking spell with a slight sigh.
“No go, eh?”
“You’ll get some points,” he assured her. “But others
fared better. I sense by your performance you are not much of a
risk-taker.”
“Being here is a risk for me - I hold to the practise of better safe than sorry and I’m not about to change who I am for the
sake of these Trials. I was willing to stray from my usual path to
see if the University wanted me, but if you don’t want me the
way I am, I guess you just won’t have me.”
Renaldo chuckled. “A fine outlook on life. If you do
manage to place in the top three, despite the occasional failure,
I’m sure you’ll find a master to apprentice you who shares it.”
With a grin, Reeree plucked Rex from the ground, and
started down the hill.

~MR~
Finch and Snyder watched Shetland eat. Tom, Reid, and
Nia had decided to share their Trial experiences, but not wanting
to give anything away to those who had yet to complete the
course, they had excluded Finch and Snyder.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Finch dug into
her pocket and pulled out her locket. A startled expression
crossed Snyder’s features, which he tried to disguise with an air

127

Magic University
of casual aloofness. Shetland was not fooled. He trundled up to
Finch and without warning, snatched the locket from her grasp.
“Watcha’ got there?” he muttered, as his stubby fingers
worked the latch on the cover. He glanced over at Snyder as the
lid popped open. “Mmmmm, pretty. Hey, this is the lady from
the mirror!”
Finch’s mouth had dropped open and she sputtered, but
could form no words, unaccustomed to such boorish behaviour.
Snyder lurched forward and slipped the locket from Shetland’s
grasp, quickly returning it to its owner.
“I don’t think I heard you ask for the lady’s permission to
touch such a treasure, never mind the fact that what’s in it is her
business alone.”
Shetland grunted and wiped his nose with his hand.
“Hey, I’m not hiding anything from you. I figured since
you both found that thing so interesting it might be more than it
looked. So who’s the pretty lady in the picture?”
Trying to recover from Shetland’s uncouth intrusion,
Finch remained silent, with a hint of a scowl shadowing her features. Snyder was trying to look thoroughly irritated, but there
was something wrong about the nervousness reflected in his
body language. Eventually, Finch decided to give in to the
dwarf’s prying.
“It’s my mother. She had this painted before she passed
away.”
“She died? I thought you elves lived forever.”
Finch’s face reddened and she gritted her teeth, trying to
fend off his callousness.
“She grew ill and all of the treatments we tried were ineffective. Sometimes magic is not the cure-all some people seem
to think it is.”
“Well, I hope you’re wrong about that,” Shetland grumbled. “I got a problem that needs fixing and my only hope for a
cure is magic. That’s why I’m here.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”

128

Safe Passage
The three competitors turned to look behind them, but
knew who had spoken before they confirmed it. The low rolling
rasp was hard to ignore.
“He has as much right to be here as you, Ebon. The University deemed him eligible and you should respect that fact.”
Snyder found Ebon’s presence disturbing. The dwarf was annoying, but Ebon was just ‘wrong’.
“Ah, vying for the position of ‘Protector of the Misfits’
are we, beast-man? Well, you’re wrong on this point. I may not
be quite...” Ebon paused. “Normal, but the dwarf here is not a
wizard. He can’t cast a single spell. He has usurped the position
from a rightful contender.”
Shetland’s beady eyes flashed with rage, and his face
was slowly growing purple. He stood tensely, his fists clenched.
Finch looked disturbed, but remained silent.
“I wouldn’t say that that was a requirement,” Snyder
said. “He scored effectively on the last Trial. He may have
some chance of succeeding at this one. He may not be able to
use magic the way you or I can, but he has proven that he can
use it. In fact, I think in some way he should be given preference because he is inherently magical. I’ll never be able to see
things from that perspective. I would think someone in your position might see beyond the surface, but perhaps that’s why you
haven’t managed to solve your own dilemma. Maybe if you
changed your way of thinking, and stopped examining everything from within self-centred boundaries, you might learn
something.”
Ebon’s shadowy form appeared to grow and loom before
Snyder, his anger lending a hint of acidity to the air. The wraithmage’s eyes flashed red.
“Careful where you tread, Renegade,” he growled. “I
may not be able to break your spirit, strong and resilient, but not
so for some for whom you have developed some affinity.”
Within Snyder’s head reverberated: “She’s as unstable as you
are steadfast. Push me like that again, and I’ll send her over the
edge.”

129

Magic University
It was at this point Urwick emerged through the door.
“Finch and Shetland, Renaldo has asked for you next. I guess
that means you are last, Snyder.”
His sudden entrance seem to deflate the tension and as
Finch and Shetland departed, Ebon and Snyder begrudgingly
went to separate corners of the Way Station.

~MR~
Shetland was the next to stand at the base of the cliff and
await instructions from Renaldo. On the Trial Attendant’s
command, he scrabbled up the rocky cliff surface. He fell twice,
but managed to recover from both incidents unscathed. After
three minutes of great exertion, he succeeded in clambering over
the top.
As he stood, Shetland spotted the first two flying fox
monsters swooping in from opposite sides. He braced himself
for impact, preparing to snatch at the beasts as they drew near.
He did not even contemplate the bridge, and perhaps this was for
the best, as the dauntingly feeble construct would have dashed
any hope he had.
Shetland’s aim was not exact, but he did manage to successfully grapple both of the winged creatures, one by the throat
and the other by its mid-section. As the beasts attempted to flee
in panic, he was suddenly airborne. The unnatural animals were
much stronger than they first appeared. Shetland looked down at
the ravine that was moving quickly past his dangling feet, and
closed his eyes. He struggled to overcome the extreme vertigo
that swept through him. Despite being willing to accept the
risks, the fear was too much to bear. As he lost consciousness in
a faint, he also lost his hold on the foxes. Luckily, they had already carried him past the far end of the ravine, and he plunged
limply into the thorn bushes.
Shetland roused to the stinging pain of several dozen
scratches and the concerned face of Renaldo. The man smiled
with relief when he realized the greatest injury to the dwarf had
been the one to Shetland’s ego. Without further word from Re130

Safe Passage
naldo, Shetland stood abruptly, shook the dirt and foliage from
his clothes, and trudged away.
Renaldo returned to Finch. Snyder had joined her while
Renaldo had been tending to the dwarf.
“I hope you fare better than that poor fellow, but he did
manage to complete more of the course than some of the others.
Do you feel ready?” the large man said.
Finch nodded with some reservation.
The cliff was not a big problem. With a hasty incantation, she assumed the form of a songbird. When she reached the
peak, she caught sight of the small monsters intent on hampering
her progress. She cursed inwardly and dispelled her transformation for the sake of a defensive spell, one she could not cast
without the ability to speak. Clearing the ravine would have
been easy as bird, but she would have had no protection from the
flying foxes and her speed in that form would not have exceeded
theirs. She pondered the dilemma of the rickety bridge and ravine as her skin bubbled and hardened.
One of the beasts struck, but merely careened off her. If
nothing else, Finch’s skill with defensive spells was solid. She
was beginning to understand how diversity was a definite requirement in these Trials. She settled on a lighten spell and
decided to risk the bridge. Despite a couple of near slips and a
few hairy moments when the bridge swayed or wobbled, she
made it across in near record time. A few more fox attacks
bounced harmlessly off of her rock-hard skin.
Finch did not pause at the thorn bushes. She clambered
effortlessly over the top of them and managed to tag the token
on the opposite side with a few seconds to spare. She grinned at
Renaldo as she appeared before him, and gladly shook his hand
as he congratulated her. Her step lighter from both her spell and
renewed hope, she happily returned to the Way Station.
“Just you left,” Renaldo told Snyder.
“All alone again, as usual,” Snyder sighed.
He did not like going last, but he took some comfort in
the fact that not everyone had successfully completed the course.
He slid a mandolin from his pack and approached the cliff.
131

Magic University
“Ready when you are,” he assured Renaldo.
Receiving the direction to begin, Snyder played a soft
tune on his instrument. A small white cloud descended from the
sky and settled in front of Snyder, hovering there. Snyder
stepped up onto the cloud, continuing his song, and the vaporous
form magically supported his weight. As Snyder quickened the
pace, the cloud began to rise again, lifting him up and over the
edge of the cliff.
Snyder’s face dropped as he caught sight of the flying
foxes. He could not manage to continue his cloud-song and deal
with the beasts at the same time. With great reluctance, he
changed his tune, the cloud disbursing beneath his feet and leaving him standing on bare rock.
The new song was very reminiscent of a lullaby, and as
the foxes approached they slowed, caught up in the lulling comfort of the music. Snyder cautiously crept across the bridge,
playing his instrument. Without missing a note, he made it to
the other side, facing the next problem of the thorn bushes. At
this point he was stumped. If he stopped playing the song to
pacify the monsters, he would no doubt be attacked before he
could make it through the bushes. But without some other song
to lift him over or clear his way, the thorns would remain a barrier to his passage. Before he could settle on some solution, he
ran out of time.
Renaldo met him at the cliff base in silence, and gestured
for him to descend to the Way Station. Snyder was satisfied that
he had done what he could, and hoped the next Trial would offer
better opportunities.

132

9
Extended Reach
“I have the scores, if you wish to hear them,” Renaldo
announced. “The judges have calculated scores as follows: tied
in first position are Cerissa June and Reid Blake with 95 points
each.”
Reid could almost feel the burn of Ebon’s harsh red stare
upon the back of his neck. He knew the shadow-mage resented
him for displacing him from the top ranking. Renaldo continued.
“Tied for second place are Ebon the Misplaced, and
Finch Loreleaf with 90 points.” Everyone eyed Finch, seeing
her with new esteem. Ebon seethed in silence, reminding himself he would not underestimate the ease of the course in future.
“Next, at 85 points, is Thomas Regal, followed quite
closely by Nia Brynwyrm at 75 points.” Nia glanced over at
Tom and beamed; she was not out of this race after all.
“In the last three positions are Snyder of the Fifes, Shetland Feldspar, and Urwick, at 55, 45 and 30 points respectively.”
Snyder casually shrugged off sympathetic looks. Shetland was more concerned that he had been caught in mid nose
pick by those who watched for his reaction. Urwick remained
silent and unresponsive. Either his position had caused him to
hide his despair, or he genuinely did not care. No one could un-

133

Magic University
derstand how such a seemingly skilled candidate could be faring
so poorly.
“Gather any belongings you have with you and meet me
out front. We will proceed to the next Trial,” Renaldo concluded.
The competitors rejoined him outside, and followed to
their next destination. Cresting the top of the hill, they descended into the meadow of the area below. The Trial site was visible
from a fair distance away. It was composed of a flat, circular
area containing three large tents, surrounded by a scattering of
small white buildings. One of these buildings was larger than
the others and obviously older. A small female gnome, with
blond hair and dressed in white, awaited them at the far edge of
one of the tents. She gave them a smile as they approached, her
apple-like cheeks shining with a rosy glow and her squared spectacles catching the glare of the sun.
When they arrived, Renaldo turned and said, “Here we
are. I leave you all in Lilly’s care now. I’m sure you’ll find her
hospitality to your satisfaction. Good luck.”
With that he swept past them and headed back up the
hill. Lilly approached them, with a quiet, unrushed manner.
“Welcome to the Trial of Extended Reach. I will explain
the rules and then you are free to proceed as you wish. There are
three Trial Points. You have been appointed to one of the three
and you will have to take turns, so check the lists for your name
and time slot. You each have been allotted 15 minutes to complete the Trial and will be considered finished at the end of this
time, even if you have not completed all ten portions of the Trial. When you leave, the tent will reset to its original state for the
next contestant. There are 10 items in various positions, distances and formats within the tent. You will position yourself on
the blue circle within the tent and when your Trial begins you
must retrieve all 10 of the items and place them in the crate by
the blue circle. At no point may you touch these items, nor may
you use an item that you hold physically in your hand or mouth,
or other body part to reach for these items. You must use magic

134

Extended Reach
in some form or another to extend your reach and retrieve the
item.”
“As you will have a fair amount of free time, please consider this as an opportunity to reflect upon your performances to
this point. You each have been assigned your own cottage for
rest and privacy, and there is a communal building, which also
happens to be a historical landmark for the University. It is the
first schoolhouse ever used by the University, restored for use as
a Way Station. Are there any questions?”
Despite the fact that she spoke quite quickly, Lilly was
quite eloquent and none of the competitors had any difficulty
following her instructions. Finch gazed upon the ancient
schoolhouse as Lilly finished her speech.
“It looks so old...” Finch breathed.
The building did look rather aged but sturdy nonetheless.
The elements had taken their toll on its exterior, and despite the
rehabilitative efforts of the University staff, magic could only do
so much to repair something that had not been properly cared for
and which had been initially abandoned for something newer
and better. The University had eventually come to realize the
archival value of the old schoolhouse, but only after it had almost succumbed entirely to disuse. The state that it was in
currently was a magical miracle, restored to slightly better than a
mere shadow of what it once was.
Reid spoke up. “You said we can use any extensions of
reach obtained magically, as long as we are not in physical contact with them. But we can use a physical object to extend our
reach as long as we do not touch this object?”
Lilly nodded, realizing all too well that Reid was referring to the imp who perched on his arm. As this was the only
question, Lilly gave them a five-minute start time, and they scattered to examine the lists posted on the tents. Tent one listed
Ebon, Snyder and Nia, tent two, Tom, Urwick and Reeree, tent
three, Reid, Finch and Shetland. Ebon, Tom and Reid hovered
by the tents, preparing for the start of the Trial. The others
headed for the schoolhouse, all but Urwick, who made for his

135

Magic University
cottage declaring, “I’m still looking for the best secret. Feel free
to visit me.”
The interior of the schoolhouse was reminiscent of a museum, with tea and spicy buns set up in one corner. The
paintings on the wall were old and reflected various stages of
being for the University. Encased in glass were relics and artefacts that the University had deemed to hold some historical
value. The chairs were a combination of old fabric-upholstered
seats and sturdy wooden stools and benches.
Most moved about the room scanning its contents with a
modicum of interest, but Finch wandered about, enthralled. She
could almost feel the items whispering their history to her, and
as her fingers drifted over the worn surfaces of the benches and
stools, she could imagine students sitting upon them, excited to
learn. Lilly approached her.
“It’s nice to see someone who can appreciate the value of
history. When you understand the history of a place, you can
see that place much more clearly. Everything has a story, and
once you know its story, you understand its essence.”
Finch nodded and after several trips around the room, finally settled in one of the softer chairs with a cup of tea. The
others had already sat and were discussing their own histories in
relation to Magic University, what it was that had motivated
them to apply. It was Reeree who had initiated this conversation.
“My village is not that small, as far as villages go. I had
about twenty pupils in my classroom, and I’ve watched many
children grow up and move on, but I never seemed to quite fit
the mould of the average citizen, despite a regular job and a
normal lifestyle. If something unusual was going to happen, I
was always somehow involved and while I was happy with my
place in life, I was always a little bit ...” She reached for the
word to express her feelings.
“Bored?” offered Finch.
“Exactly. I’ve never been a very good judge of my own
strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve spent most of my life won-

136

Extended Reach
dering if there wasn’t more for me out there. More, that is, if I
were willing to take a chance.”
“So one day, when the University recruitment officer arrived in our village and did some preliminary testing, he
suggested I apply, insisting that I did have the talent and skill to
at least make it into the Trials. I couldn’t decide though...give
up the safety and security that I’d established in my own little
world, give in to the lure of novelty, or turn away the kind of
opportunity I might never have again. I came to a conclusion in
a rather unorthodox way. I flipped a coin.”
“I decide things that way every day,” Nia told Reeree.
“It certainly makes life a lot more interesting.”
Shetland snorted. “At least you made the choice for
yourself, no matter how you did it. Some of us never really had
much of a choice. This was imposed on us: me, Ebon....”
“And Reid, in some ways,” thought Finch, glancing at
the tents outside.

~MR~
Reid centred himself on the blue circle. There were objects at various points around the tent, at seemingly random
heights and distances from the circle. Some of the items were
suspended by some means, some were openly accessible, and
some appeared to be held within some sort of container.
Reid stared down at Stiggle. The imp had hopped to the
floor and was sniffing at the empty crate. With a brief sigh, Reid
set his mind to the task at hand.
The closest item that was in immediate view was lying
unbound on a shelf. It appeared to be a lock of green hair, tied
with a green leather band. Reid directed Stiggle to pick it up and
drop it in the crate. The imp ogled it and tasted it, coughed in
disgust, then finally obeyed. Reid frowned and cursed beneath
his breath. If Stiggle stalled for each item, he might run out of
time.
Reid next directed Stiggle to pick up the second closest
object. Stiggle did not have to ascend as high for this item, atop
137

Magic University
a small table. He leapt upon it in a single bound, knocking the
table over as well as several other stands and containers. Some
toppled to the ground and their contents shattered. Others merely hit the floor of the tent with a thick thud, and rolled away.
Stiggle squealed in rage, clutching at the item from his wobbly
perch - a small, wooden turtle. After hissing and stamping, he
scrambled back to the crate and dropped the token in.
Reid groaned, eying the mess. He mentally wrote off
three of the items and sent Stiggle out after a different target.
This item was suspended in a crystalline cube filled with some
sort of gelatinous substance. At first, the imp was hesitant about
dipping his claws into the colourless ooze, but after a few moments of tentative prodding and a menacing glare from Reid, he
dove in with gusto. Stiggle splattered the contents of the cube
haphazardly about, flinging it in all directions: upwards, from
side to side, and occasionally directly at Reid. He finally retrieved a silver arrowhead and flew over to the crate to drop it in.
“At last,” Reid grumbled, feeling somewhat exasperated.
He had Stiggle turn his attention to a small object suspended from a wiry piece of twine. The ebony cat-shaped
button was actually tied to this string, making it more difficult to
retrieve. Stiggle made no attempt to untie the twine. Instead, he
braced himself and pulled, but it would not yield its hostage.
Finally, in frustration, Stiggle clamped his fangs down on the
twine and gnawed viciously at it. It snapped, and Stiggle tumbled away, button in hand. He landed clumsily on another of the
more fragile tokens, destroying it in the process. Reid grimaced.
Stiggle, ignorant of the damage he had just done, held up his
prize gleefully, and then waddled over to drop it in the crate. It
clattered into the bottom.
There were two more items Reid deemed salvageable,
but he was running out of time, so the items, now irretrievable,
no longer seemed to matter. The one redeeming feature to the
current situation was that the two tokens rested on either side of
the tent, greatly reducing the chance that Stiggle would damage
one while retrieving the other. Reid decided to send Stiggle for
the easier target: a wreath of sticks that had been looped over a
138

Extended Reach
broomstick-like pole. Unlike many of the other items, Stiggle
retrieved this one incident-free. He grasped the wreath in his
claws and flew to the tent ceiling, lifting it off the pole as he rose
into the air. This token held little interest for him, so he casually
released it into the crate as instructed.
The last item Reid believed was worth any effort was a
small bejewelled dagger which had been plunged hilt-deep into a
tight, wooden sheath attached to a stand. During an earlier
struggle, Stiggle had knocked this to the floor. It would not be
easy to disengage. Stiggle hopped over to it and tugged futilely
at the visible portion of the hilt. After several seconds, Reid decided a lubricant spell would be necessary. The spell was cast,
and imp and dagger went flying across the room, the sheath finally releasing its contents. Stiggle and the token landed in the
crate together, a split second before Reid’s time expired. All
other items in the tent disappeared.
With an expression of dissatisfaction, Reid scooped up
Stiggle, and left the tent.

~MR~
Ebon drifted through the tent flap and settled himself
above the blue circle. Wary after his last failure, he still could
not help feeling that he had an edge over his competitors in this
Trial. He could not be disqualified for handling an item physically, as it was impossible for him to do so.
Using his telekinesis, he leisurely plucked the first six
items from their places and dropped them carefully into the
crate. The last four targets would require a little more manoeuvring. With a minor ignite spell, Ebon severed the twine that
suspended the cat-shaped button before retrieving it. He also
upended the crystalline cube’s contents to avoid spending any
unnecessary time mucking through the ooze for the buried token
within.
The last two items posed a slightly greater challenge.
One of the items, the ring was in a locked box. The other, a
small glass star, was stoppered tightly within an earthenware jug,
139

Magic University
balanced precariously on a narrow ledge. Ebon decided he
would deal with the latter first. He carefully eased the clay vessel into the crate with his telekinesis, and then vaporized it,
leaving only the star behind, untouched. The box would not
yield easily to such similar manipulation as it was firmly attached to its stand and Ebon’s vaporize spell did not extend that
far.
Finally, he thought, a true test of my reach.
Even if he had an unlock spell, which he did not bother
with, manipulating the tiny latch on the box with his telekinesis,
from such a distance, would not be easy. He settled upon a solution to this dilemma. He used a phase spell on the ring, which
momentarily made it dis-solid, and had it drop through the base
of the box and the stand beneath it. The ring reformed before
striking the floor of the tent, landing with a faint “chink”.
Seconds later, Ebon released it into the crate, with the
other nine items. He strode out, through the tent wall with still a
minute to spare. He turned towards Urwick’s cottage. They had
some unfinished business.

~MR~
Tom sat on his haunches at the centre of the blue circle,
staring at the remainder of the Trial. He had already retrieved
the four more simple targets with a basic “pull” spell, a very limited form of telekinesis. He had also managed to use an unlock
spell to open a locked box, but he now found himself without a
viable solution to continue further. He ran through all of his options in his mind. Nothing seemed appropriate, but he was not
ready to just give up.
Snyder had suggested that his persistence and inventiveness were two of his most valuable traits. A leader often found
himself in a position where he would have to come up with some
never-before-used method to make the best of limited resources.
Tom had to look beyond the basic manipulation of the objects
before him and find a creative approach instead. He scrutinized
the items. They were all reasonably small, about the size of a
140

Extended Reach
person’s hand or smaller. They were made out of various materials, although three of them were metal. This struck an odd
chord with Tom, and brought to mind his Personal Magnetism
spell. The only reason he had not considered this spell before
was that it drew the items directly to him and would result in undesirable physical contact. Then the answer dawned on him.
Without hesitation, he cast a force shield spell, and then
followed up with the Personal Magnetism enchantment. The
ring, dagger, and arrowhead rapidly made a beeline for his person, dislodging themselves from their containers, but stopped
just before touching his outstretched hand, their progress hindered by the force shield. Tom swivelled in place, so that the
hand the items were almost touching was extended over the crate
beside his circle. He released the Personal Magnetism spell, and
the three metal tokens fell into the crate.
Tom’s time expired before he could arrive at any solution
to recover the remaining three items, but he was satisfied with
his results. As the tent’s contents faded from view, he stepped
through the flap, and made his way toward the communal building.

~MR~
Urwick was sitting patiently at the small table in his cottage and was watching the door intently, when Ebon drifted in.
“I still have unfinished business with you,” Ebon rasped.
“I want that prize you offered, and I intend to present you with a
secret beyond compare.”
Urwick looked nonplussed. “It might surprise you to
know that I have already heard more than one interesting revelation. If you scratch beneath the surface, and gaze into the
depths, there is much more to your fellow competitors than
meets the eye.”
Ebon snorted in disgust. “A few prissy little sob stories
earn your respect?! Their situations are nothing compared to my
own. All they need is a good, strong shake in some instances.
For example, that stone-headed dwarf not only looks a gift horse
141

Magic University
in the mouth, but he spits in it too, and that foolish lizard laments
the loss of a family that she threw away through her own choices...”
Urwick smirked at this.
“What?!” the wraith-mage fumed defensively.
“I just find it amusing that you recognize the evidence of
certain flaws in others, but cannot see that you possess the
self-same faults. There are benefits to your unusual situation,
just as with the dwarf, but you, as does Shetland, choose to focus
on the negative. And as for bemoaning current circumstances
which can be blamed on past choices, well, let’s just say you
have that skill mastered...”
Ebon offered only silence. Should he be outraged? Defend his actions? Lay blame elsewhere? He could not decide,
and instead stood dumbfounded, shocked by the cruel truth of
the dark elf’s words. He finally settled on explaining what influences had pushed him to act. It meant reopening the book of
his memories to a page he had shunned since the accident.
“It wasn’t my choice that caused this! Not directly, anyway,” he protested. “It was Lietta that was to blame. She
seduced me, she swayed my decision, and she was the one who
faltered in the end. She was supposed to be my teacher, my
mentor, and someone I could trust!”
He paused briefly, changing his line of thought abruptly.
The pain of even touching on that moment in time burned in him
with the intensity of flaring magnesium. Instead, he struck out
as he had grown accustomed to, when the pain became too much
to bear.
“You hear stories about the Renegade life, how dangerous and chaotic it can be, but then you see the adepts who flaunt
their success, like that lackadaisical Reid or that cocksure Tom.
And Lietta was one of them. How was I supposed to be a proper
judge of something I didn’t really understand?!”
Urwick pushed himself back from the table and rose to
his feet. He approached Ebon, fearlessly, drawing closer than
any of the others had ever voluntarily ventured. Ebon struggled
to interpret the expression that had finally settled over the dark
142

Extended Reach
elf’s features. It was almost as if Ebon’s pain had been reflected
in Urwick’s face. Finally, Urwick spoke, his tone low and quiet.
“You wait. You research. You find out what the potential consequences are to your decisions. You use wisdom and
patience, and you don’t allow your actions to be guided solely
by whim or libido.” He grimaced slightly, a flicker of regret flitting across his face. “Now I have a Trial to complete, so we will
finish this conversation later.”
Urwick headed toward the cottage door. He hesitated,
turning back toward Ebon.
“By the way, if you ever even think of threatening Nia,
or any of the other competitors again, I will see to it that you
don’t have the opportunity to finish these Trials. There may be
ways around the binding spell, but that kind of lack of control
will get you nowhere.”
With that, Urwick departed.
Ebon watched the door, feeling cold and empty. The
dark elf’s comments had startled him. Had Snyder mentioned
the incident? It didn’t matter. Ebon would have to step more
carefully in future.

~MR~
As Tom and Reid entered the Common Room, Finch and
Snyder left, making their way out to the tents. Tom glanced at
Nia as he descended into the lounging area, but purposefully
took a chair next to Reeree instead. The gnome was currently
explaining how she had discovered a new way to make tea that
helped preserve its freshness and flavour. Shetland had been
listening, initially, but had found the topic to be a good cure for
insomnia. The snores from his chair were not quite loud enough
to drown out her friendly chatter
Perturbed, Nia turned her attention to Reid, who had settled into the soft chair Finch had just abandoned. The scaled
woman shifted in her own seat, cocking her head in a coy manner. Reid pretended not to notice, but despite her unusual
appearance, he found Nia attractive, too.
143

Magic University
“So, are you enjoying this experience, or is it just an exercise in futility?” she asked with a sly grin. Reid was unsure
how he should respond to her attentions. He wondered how
Finch would react if she were present. Reid had never found
women of any creed easy to interpret.
“I like it, actually. It is an excellent chance to meet new
and interesting people and to test my own limitations. Even if I
don’t win one of the seats, it was worth the trip,” he replied. He
decided to be frank with Nia, and in the process solidify his own
intentions. “Honestly, the best part was getting to meet Finch. I
think we’ll be good friends, and if all goes well, perhaps even
more someday.”
“Yes, I suppose with her it would be a ‘maybe-more-someday’ situation. But I say, why wait. People come
together and drift apart all the time. If you don’t enjoy what’s
there while it is still available, you may never know what you
missed.” Her eyes narrowed as she spoke, eying Reid in a coquettish manner. Reid felt his cheeks growing red and hot.
Catching sight of one of the school’s artefacts, he leaped to his
feet and ambled over to get a better look. Nia pursued him.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?” Nia whispered in his
ear, as she approached him from behind. Reid stiffened. He had
been hoping she would allow him to subtly make his escape.
The other competitors were watching him, sensing his discomfort. Reid decided the best way to deal with this problem was to
be blunt.
“Yes, you are. I won’t deny that I find you attractive, but
I’m honestly not interested in anything you have to offer more
than friendship. I’m not here to socialize and even if I were, you
aren’t my type. I’ll be going to my cottage for a bit of privacy,
and I’d appreciate it if you do not follow.”
He shouldered his way past her and headed for the door.
Too surprised to react, she simply watched him go. Then, without acknowledging the others in the room, she also charged out
of the door.

144

Extended Reach

~MR~
Finch was relieved her mother had taken the time to
teach her a niggling little spell like “tweak”. Most magic instructors considered it a waste of time and energy, a spell that
restricted influence to items less than two pounds and no more
than 10 feet away. That had allowed her to easily manipulate the
closest five items, all of which were under a pound in weight.
Now she found herself trying to figure out what other means she
had to access the remaining five. She sat down on her circle,
fingering the locket hidden beneath her shirt.
After a couple of precious minutes racking her brains,
she finally withdrew the locket and flipped open the lid. Her
mother’s eyes stared out at her, quickly melting away the greatest of Finch’s anxieties. Before she even tried to speak to the
miniature, Finch caught sight of something that instilled new
inspiration in her weary mind. Her mother had always carried a
small sheath with her that she left empty, in case she made use
of her ghost dagger spell and needed somewhere to store it before the spell ran out. Finch had not mastered the spell, and it
would only last a few minutes in her hands instead of the hours it
endured for her mother, but it had a reach greater than that of the
tweak spell. Finch flipped the locket closed and stashed it away,
clambering to her feet.
Finch cast the spell, and gauged the ease with which she
could retrieve the remaining items with the short pointed form of
the phantom weapon. The most obvious prize was the small
wreath that would be easy to hook on the end of the dagger. She
managed, with only minor effort, to snare the wreath on the
floating blade and drop it into the crate. Finch smiled. Her
mother had come through for her again, indirectly.
She cut the twine and speared the cat-shaped button next,
and was in the process of trying to jimmy the lock on the box
concealing the ring when her time expired. Seven items – not a
complete success, but better than she had expected. Finch
stepped out of the tent just in time to see Reid disappear into his

145

Magic University
cottage. With a brief glance at the communal building, she followed him.

~MR~
Snyder eased into position over his blue circle and pulled
out a small tin whistle. Most of the tokens were going to be
simple for him to retrieve. Only the items truly restrained and
out of view might pose a problem. He lifted the thin instrument
to his lips and began to play.
The tune was a familiar one, the same song he had used
to untangle Stiggle from Shetland’s beard when they first met.
The tokens began to twitch in place, rising from their perches to
dance about the tent before settling into the crate as the music
directed them. Even the twine did not prove to be an obstacle,
untying itself from the button in tune to the rhythm.
It came down to the final two items. He would have to
unlock the box before continuing his melody, and the dagger
would not budge from its perch in the tight wooden sheath.
With a brief change to the tune, Snyder used an alternate
song to release the latch on the locked casket. Then it was simply a matter of returning to the original melody to retrieve the ring
within. That left only the dagger.
The bejewelled dagger proved to be a greater challenge
than he had expected. Try as he may, it would not budge. He
worked at it in varying tempos and volumes, hoping an increased
intensity might help to jar it out, but he soon had to admit defeat.
His time expired, with only the one item not retrieved.
Stowing the small flute away, Snyder exited the tent,
whistling contentedly.

~MR~
Urwick was late starting, thanks to his latest encounter
with Ebon. He sauntered over to the circle and hesitated a moment, looking somewhat thoughtful before stepping into its
centre. He gestured casually at the lock of green hair and it
146

Extended Reach
floated over to him. He waved his hand and it dropped quietly
into the crate.
Urwick stooped to pick up the green tress, turning it over
in his hand and examining it with a smile. He then stepped out
of the circle and walked over to the various tables and shelves at
the far end of the tent. One by one, he handled each of the remaining tokens, regarding them carefully as he had the lock of
hair. Finally, he retreated, returning to the tent flap as he pocketed the green curl and band. Without a backward glance, he
stepped out of the tent.

~MR~
Finch knocked on the cottage door. It creaked open and
Reid peered out.
“Am I interrupting something, or will you welcome
company?” she inquired.
He looked somewhat relieved.
“Well, I wouldn’t let in just anyone, but since it’s you,
come on in.” As Finch entered, Reid pulled out a book, and
showed it to her. “Some of Gerant’s old notes,” he explained. “I
thought I’d go over them and maybe get some ideas that might
help me out with the remaining Trials.”
Finch’s eyes widened.
“They aren’t notes on the Trials are they? I mean you
mentioned he tried and failed but...”
“Nope, they were spellbound then as we are now. Even
if he had wanted to, he couldn’t have done it. Anyway, I guess it
would be cheating and that’s not my style.”
It was Finch’s turn to look relieved. The idea of cheating
was something she would never be able to contemplate.
“Actually,” Reid continued, “I was looking for new and
improved ways to control Stiggle. My plan to make use of him
in the last Trial backfired somewhat, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt
to brush up on some of the available commands. He may be
trained to serve, but he’s just a tool like any other. If you don’t
know how to make proper use of him, he won’t work for you.”
147

Magic University
Finch by this point had moved over to the settee and was
about to have a seat when she heard a grunt and saw a pile of
cushions shift. Drawing one aside, she found the imp curled up
in a ball, sleeping and apparently dreaming.
“I would have thought he would have been an advantage.
You didn’t have to waste precious spells,” she commented, selecting a less comfortable looking stool to sit on instead.
“What I saved in spell use I sacrificed in time and grace,”
Reid admitted. “No perfect score for me, I’m afraid. Letting
Stiggle loose in that tent was like liberating a bull in a china
shop, and I don’t mean that in just the figurative sense.”
Stiggle stirred. He groaned and turned over with a yawn.
“Well if it makes you feel any better, I didn’t get a perfect score either,” she remarked. “It will be interesting to see
how the others fared.”
Reid tensed a little as he caught a glimpse of Nia wandering past the cottage window. He telegraphed his discomfort to
the point that Finch noticed it.
“Did you and Nia have some sort of disagreement?” she
asked.
“Not exactly,” Reid replied. As the scaled-woman continued past his cottage and entered Urwick’s, he relaxed. “I
think Tom is finished having his fun with her and she is on the
prowl for a new playmate - stalking new prey. I have a feeling
that once she decides she likes she sees, it’s hard to shake her.”
Finch did not respond, but joined Reid by the window.
They watched Ebon emerge from Urwick’s cottage, and drift
away.

~MR~
Snyder passed Nia on her way out of the communal
building and watched as she headed for Urwick’s cottage instead
of the tents. He was so focused on her departure that he almost
got trampled by Shetland and Reeree, who were proceeding out
to the tents.

148

Extended Reach
The old schoolhouse was mostly empty, just him, Tom
and their hostess, Lilly. Snyder sat next to his student and gave
him an earnest grin,
“Looks like everyone’s in the mood for some privacy. I
hope they aren’t gossiping about us,” he said. Tom looked a little uneasy.
“You didn’t tell anyone about me, did you? Nia seemed
to be giving me a bit of the cold shoulder at one point during the
last Trial. I’ve decided I’m going to keep my distance from her
from now on, just to be safe.”
“Of course I didn’t tell her about your true identity...I
promised I wouldn’t and I keep my promises. Maybe Ebon said
something to her. He is reading our minds, and he does know
the truth about you.”
Snyder paused, his stomach queasy and his mind racing.
He had hoped Tom would lose interest in Nia quickly, but not
something this abrupt. Chances were she would see this as a rejection or insult. She had agreed to no strings, but Snyder had
watched Tom leave a trail of broken hearts involving girls who
had made similar agreements. For the first time since they had
met, Snyder felt anger and a sense of distaste towards his companion. That Tom suspected a breach of trust saddened him
greatly.
Tom frowned, unsure of Snyder’s sincerity.
The
half-satyr’s body language suggested something was wrong. He
squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, his features plaintive.
Brusquely, Tom turned his attention toward Lilly.
“I think you were probably right. This is a Trial for contemplation. I’ll be in my private cottage, and if anyone asks I
don’t wish to be disturbed.”
Lilly nodded quietly and glanced over at Snyder as Tom
left.
“For some reason, there always seems to be a bit of disruption between the contestants at this point in the Trials. But
things will settle. You’ll see,” she assured Snyder.
He swallowed hard, hoping she was right.

149

Magic University

~MR~
Urwick was not expecting Nia to be in his cottage when
he arrived - Ebon perhaps, but not her. Taken aback, he lost his
composure and reacted with some hostility.
“You said we were welcome to come see you” she explained. “I guess that’s considered as an open invitation, for
magical lock purposes.”
Gathering his wits, Urwick relaxed and walked over to
the settee.
“Are you here for the wager? You should be at your assigned tent.”
“I have a minute or two to spare.”
Urwick shook his head. “Not now. I won’t interfere
with your attempt at the Trial. We can talk at the next Way Station, if you still feel it is that important.”
He did not want to turn her away but if this episode affected the outcome of this Trial, he would have some explaining
to do. He walked over to the door and opened it, gesturing for
her to leave. Nia sighed, purposefully brushing against him as
she moved past. The contact was unexpected.
Urwick closed the door firmly behind him. Jadira was
not one to get jealous, but if he was not careful, Nia could get
him into a lot of trouble.
He fingered the lock of green hair in his pocket and
turned away from the door.

~MR~
Shetland pushed his way gruffly though the tent-flap. He
stomped over to the blue circle and leered at the setup before
him. Shetland grunted. He was about to leave the tent without
even trying, when he noticed something unusual. The tokens he
was supposed to retrieve seemed to vibrate, with very minute
tremors, almost like they were humming. This reaction was very
familiar to Shetland, who had experienced it many times before.

150

Extended Reach
It meant that the items were all enchanted, and due to their embodiment with magic, they were all attracted to him.
Shetland chuckled to himself. Cocking a bushy eyebrow,
he advanced a little within the circle, contemplating a theory.
He extended his hand towards the closest object. The lock of
hair shuddered and twitched, then began to inch towards him.
As the token picked up momentum, it hurtled towards his face.
His warrior instincts had him reach for the absent axe, and when
that failed, for the closest large object to use as a shield - which
happened to be the crate. Grabbing it by one handle, he flung it
in front of his face. There was a small “thump” as the bit of hair
struck bottom.
Shetland paused and shifted the crate before him, peering
inside. The token lay securely within, and Shetland knew that
this Trial would not be a complete failure. He was supposed to
have the item move from point A to point B, the crate, without
making physical contact with him, but there was nothing in the
rules saying that he couldn’t move the crate to a more useful position.
Shetland managed to retrieve three more items this way,
one of which shattering as it struck the crate.
When his time expired, Shetland stepped out of the tent
with a satisfied grunt. The fact that he had scored any points at
all was a victory, as far as he was concerned. For the first time
since he had arrived at the Trials, he did not feel quite so
out-of-place.

~MR~
Reeree stood on the blue circle, rummaging through her
ruck sack, searching for Rex. It took a few seconds of digging
before she could locate him.
“It’s almost as if you know what’s coming,” she remarked. She slid him out, and gave him a chiding look. I know
you hate it when I alter your shape, but it’s my best chance. As
a bird, you’ll be able to reach all of the items and have an easier

151

Magic University
time manipulating the stoppers or latches, without toppling any
of those tippy little pedestals.”
Rex blinked at her, sitting passively in her hand. Reeree
accepted this as consent, and cast her spell. Instantaneously, instead of an albino gecko perched on her palm, it was a little
white bird.
Reeree methodically directed Rex to gather the various
tokens. In the meantime, she set about freeing up some of the
more restrained items. She cast an unlock spell at the
ring-bearing casket and ignited the centre of the wooden sheath
so the dagger would slide free with ease.
Rex was quite capable, in avian form, of retrieving the
ebony cat button by untying the twine upon which it was suspended. He followed with the ring and the dagger.
The only item left was the stoppered clay jug with its
fragile hostage. The stopper was too snug and awkward for Rex
to manipulate, and any spells that Reeree had that would eliminate the earthenware vessel would also likely destroy its
contents.
The gnome was not about to concede defeat. But once
again, time was not on her side. As she sat and formulated a
plan to deal with her dilemma, her time expired. The items vanished.
She called Rex back to her, but she did not restore him to
his natural form.
“I may need that spell for later, Rex. I’m afraid you’ll
have to suffer a bit for my sake. I promise I’ll make it up to you
later.” He cocked his head at her and chirped.
Reeree lifted Rex to her shoulder, and he nestled into the
drape of her bright pink hair. With a cheery smile, she left the
tent.

~MR~
Nia shuffled into the tent, somewhat morose. She
flopped into a seated position on the blue circle with a sigh.

152

Extended Reach
Glancing about, she decided she would have little success with
the Trial. She kicked the crate over onto its side and sulked.
“Stupid Renegades,” she grumbled.
Snyder, Tom and Reid...they were all insensitive boobs.
Then she did a mental backtrack. Snyder could not be lumped in
with the other two, but there was still something about him that
rubbed her the wrong way. Maybe it was just the fact that she
knew he was a Renegade.
She scratched mindlessly at the dirt as she contemplated
her rivals. Disturbing the dirt, and piling it into a small mound,
she was suddenly struck by inspiration. She eyed the over-turned
crate. Maybe...
Nia stood up.
“Earth-shake.”
She cast her spell. The ground beneath her and the Trial
display began to tremble. The shuddering was not enough to
cause her to lose her balance, or to knock down the tent, but it
did cause everything in the display to teeter and shift, tokens
toppling from their perches and the more unstable pedestals falling to the tent floor.
When the spell ended, Nia considered the ragged mess
she had wrought. All but three of the items lay amidst the rubble, but only two of the fallen items were seriously damaged.
The other five Nia deemed salvageable. Carefully manipulating
the dirt around them with her shape earth spell, Nia pushed all
five objects into the overturned crate. Her time expired a few
moments after the last of these five were inside.
Nia sniffed nonchalantly as the haphazard scene vanished
from sight. Half of the targets were hers. Half was better than
none, which was what she had resigned herself to at the beginning of the Trial. Holding her head up, she strode out of the tent.

153

10
Swift Passage
Lilly rang the echoing bell that hung above the old
schoolhouse to signal the end of the Trial. The competitors
gathered before her, awaiting further instructions. She gave
them a gentle smile, pushing back her spectacles.
“The judges are still calculating your scores, and I have
been instructed to escort you to the next Way Station immediately. The attendant there will post the results when they are
received and you will be able to inspect them at your own leisure. The Trial is arranged much like the first. There will be
Trial Points with scry eyes, and you are welcome to choose the
moment at which you will attempt the Trial during the hour
available to you. We recognize that you will likely need rest after completing this Trial, so you have been allotted a fair amount
of time to do so. What you choose to do with your time, however, is up to you”
Stepping down from the flat stone upon which she stood,
she gestured everyone forward.
“Please, follow me.”
The competitors were unusually silent as they trailed the
small gnome down the forest path. They regarded each other
warily, a noticeable tension in the air that had not been there before.

154

Swift Passage
They arrived at a much smaller clearing than the previous
four. Before them loomed the next Way Station, a gigantic treehouse, or rather, a series of smaller tree houses assembled in one
giant old tree. Several scry eyes hovered at the far end of the
small clearing, marking several narrow pathways leading away
from the Way Station’s lot.
The competitors were suddenly aware of the next attendant, who hovered just below eye level. At first he had
overlooked the diminutive form of a woman with opalescent
wings, framed by a faint aura of flames. Her brilliant red hair
was touched with silver, and her golden-flecked brown eyes bore
into him.
A fire sprite, Snyder concluded.
She stared up at them with an air of impatience, hands on
hips and lips pursed.
“Listen up, because I don’t like to repeat myself,” she
chirped. “I am Ping, your next Way Station Attendant, and if
you have any questions about the Trial of Swift Passage, you’ll
direct them to me.”
She waved Lilly away as she squawked out her instructions. Ping did not wait for any further response. She gestured
towards the massive tree house.
“That is your Way Station. You each have your own
personal tree hollow to rest in. Or, you can gather communally
on the Main Platform. Refreshments are available.”
“When you feel up to the challenge, you may head down
to your Trial Point and commence your Trial. The object of this
Trial is very straight forward. You will find yourself at one end
of a pathway, accompanied by a scry eye. When you declare
that you are prepared to begin, you must get from one end of this
pathway to the other as quickly as you possibly can. There will
be minor terrain obstacles, but nothing will jump out at you like
Renaldo’s beasties. Are there any questions?”
Ebon was the first to speak up this time.
“Where will you be posting our scores, and when will
they be available?”

155

Magic University
“Antsy are we? Well, I’ll be posting them at the base of
the tree. You can check on them at your leisure once they arrive.
As to when this will happen, I guess that depends on the judges.”
She gave him a look of disdain, “Anything more pertinent to the
Trial at hand?”
“Are there any limitations to the spells we can use?”
Reeree inquired.
“Nope,” replied Ping, batting her wings as she spoke.
“Anything you have that you think might be useful in getting
you there faster is allowable, within the parameters of the Trial
rules, of course.”
Lastly, Reid spoke. “How is this scored?”
“Well, aside from the fact that the fastest time wins, it is
scored much like the Magical Offense Trial. The competitor
with the swiftest time gets 40 points, and each highest score beyond that gets 5 points less. He or she who comes in dead last,
gets no points whatsoever.”
Ping waited, but as there were no other questions forthcoming, she pressed on.
“Good luck to you, and if you need me I’ll be on the
Main Platform, once I’ve received and posted the score list.”
She flitted away. Once she had gone, they all paused to
examine the Way Station and its surroundings.
The small clearing was a hub, with pathways extending
like spokes. It was lined with lilac bushes and berry brambles.
Within the clearing itself, the ground was soft and mossy, left
damp by the shadow of the great tree looming over it. Lichen
clung like shaggy hanging beards from its lower branches and
large brownish-orange toadstools had sprouted at its roots.
One by one, they scaled the rope ladders to the Main
Platform to investigate. The Main Platform was by no means
small, with a spiral staircase descending into its centre and exits
branching off from the stairs into the renovated hollows of the
tree. Although quite tiny, there was enough room in each hole to
support a hammock, a chair, a miniature table and a lantern.
Hardly luxurious, these private nooks could be described as cozy.
156

Swift Passage
Returning to the main level, many of the rivals took a
seat on the floor cushions there or helped themselves to some
chilled cider or lemonade. Ebon expressed his distaste with a
snort, and drifted back down to the base of the tree. He would
prefer to dispose of the formalities and deal with conquering the
Trial course. He found Ping at the bottom of the rope ladder,
posting the scores from the previous Trial.
Ebon glanced over her thimble-like shoulder at the large
piece of paper with seared edges. Locating his score, he snickered to himself with pleasure. 130 points, and he was just barely
in the lead again. The gnome was proving to be an obnoxiously
pink thorn in his side, and one that could not easily be eliminated. As his mind briefly stabbed at tentative violent solutions to
this problem, he found his thoughts going blank and he felt
somewhat disoriented. The binding spell was functioning as intended. Obviously, it had not recognized any threat to Nia or
had somehow considered that threat an idle one. He huffed, and
headed away from the scorched notice, picking out the Trial
Point post that marked a pathway as his.
Ebon examined the course before him. The end was a
lengthy distance away, but that would not be a problem for him.
It was a simple matter of stepping from one plane to the next,
and back again. He signalled his readiness to begin to the scry
eye.
With only a moment’s thought, Ebon shifted into his alternate plane. His presence there was much like it was on the
physical plane – being trapped in an odd limbo existence between the two, and not quite existing in either. He could no
more tangibly affect things there then he could on his native
plane. A second moment of concentration and he was back on
the course, at the end point of his pathway.
Returning to the Way Station, he passed Urwick who
was preparing to begin his Trial. Closer to the ancient tree, Nia
was scanning the list for her points. Finding her listing, she
wandered away nonchalantly, but he could sense her severe disappointment. He relished the rage that simmered within the
scaled-woman, ready to boil over at any moment.
157

Magic University
Re-entering the Way Station, Ebon found himself distastefully regarding his options of what to do with the remainder
of the hour. The cubbyholes were too restrictive for his liking,
accustomed to a new freedom the other competitors had never
experienced. They also lacked any real privacy, in his opinion.
The Main Platform meant that he would be exposed to the nauseating social bandying of the other competitors. As a
compromise, he found an isolated corner on the platform, blending into the shadows cast by the ancient tree’s foliage.
Hopefully, no one would even notice he was there.

~MR~
Urwick stood by the scry eye and glanced up at it with
disinterest. “I hope you are enjoying yourselves,” he muttered.
“I’ll begin now.”
With a yawn, Urwick trundled down the path, stretching
as he went. He paused to sniff a lilac bush, contemplating a
blossom. He sighed. Finally, after several more delays, he
reached the finish mark.
“This is ridiculous,” he murmured and portalled back to
where he had begun.

~MR~
Nia tried to gauge the length of the pathway before her
and the number of minor obstacles present. A quicken spell
would do the trick, but she would have to pay heed to anything
that might trip her up. Her mind obsessed over her current
score. She and Snyder were now tied at 90 points with only
Shetland and Urwick behind them. As far as she was concerned,
that was last place. Shetland lacked any viable training and Urwick was some kind of incompetent. She could not understand
how either of those two had been chosen for the Trials.
She stretched, preparing for the sprint ahead of her. At
the point where she deemed herself sufficiently limber, Nia began to cast her quicken spell. The moment she felt the surge of
158

Swift Passage
energy prickling beneath her scales, she sprang forward. She
moved like a silver streak, her claws catching at the earth and
propelling her forwards, her eyes keeping a close watch on the
space before her. As she moved, she nimbly avoided any outjutting roots or overhanging branches. Within seconds, she had
reached the finish mark.
Nia squatted, breathing heavily, and gazed up at the
cloudless sky. It was these kinds of tests, combining magic with
some physical aspect, which made her feel at home. Sadly, they
seemed few and far between.
She stood, no longer gasping for air, and trotted back
down the path. She wished that she could find all the Trials so
satisfying.

~MR~
Shetland scowled. The posting was not in his native
tongue, and Shetland could only read dwarven runes. He stood
by the list, waiting for someone else to descend. A few moments later, Reeree appeared.
The gnome was quite eager to rattle off the scores in a
well-projected voice.
“Ebon has 130 points, I have 129, Reid has 116, Finch
has 113, Tom has 110, Snyder and Nia have 90, you have 53 and
Urwick has 32.”
Shetland grunted. At least he was not dead last, but that
could change quickly. He had no idea how a thick, leadenfooted dwarf could get anywhere near the concept of “swift”.
He stomped off to his Trial Point.
On his way, he passed Reid who was gazing down his
own pathway, his hand held high to shield his eyes from the sun.
Stiggle hopped on the ground near his master’s feet. Noticing
Shetland’s approach, the imp glared at the dwarf, gnashing his
teeth. Shetland glared back.
Shetland halted abruptly by his scry eye and scanned the
course before him. Fairly straight with a few bumps and twists.

159

Magic University
But what speed did he have to offer? Then something caught his
eye...
There was a distinct glint in the sunlight at the far end of
the path, a familiar looking sight that caused his heart to race.
Without a second thought, he lunged forward, barrelling down
the pathway faster than his stubby legs had ever managed before.
He burst down the path with hardly a stumble or a blink
until he came upon the final obstacle - an extended tree root.
His foot caught in the loop at its edge, and the next thing Shetland knew, he was literally flying through the air. He toppled,
end over end, before landing on his back with a tremulous thud
at the end of his pathway.
Shetland lay there stunned, gagging on the dust he had
disturbed with his fall. As he came to his senses, his eyes bleary
and his joints aching, he felt about frantically for the item that
had inspired such a run. As his fingers touched metal, then slid
down to the cold, smooth haft of his axe, a great weight seemed
to lift from his shoulders. Someone had found his axe and had
left it here for him. Lifting it up carefully, he examined it, and
then clutched it to his chest. He was still holding it this way as
he got to his feet and headed back to the Way Station.
He hardly noticed his surroundings as he trundled over to
the tree, staggered up to the Main Platform, then descended to
the deepest hollow within the centre of the trunk. Dragging
himself into the hammock there, he cradled the axe like a lost
child found and promptly fell asleep.

~MR~
Reid wandered wordlessly back from the finish mark and
released Stiggle into the brush, feeling strangely dissatisfied. He
had run the course without any problems, using his usual “Stiggle-pulls-his-levitating-master” trick. He knew it would not be
the best score, but it would not be the worst one either.
Despite his best efforts, despite all he had learned during
his time with Gerant, his performance here seemed so “average”.
Gerant would have been disappointed by this, but not surprised.
160

Swift Passage
He had told Reid once that he lacked the ambition to rise to his
true potential. Reid wondered, did everyone have to be powerhungry to be successful? And if so, then where did personal
happiness and idealism play into things?
Reid stopped at the base of the tree. He did not really
feel up to fraternizing with the others, nor did he feel any desire
to rest. Carefully picking out a well-rounded hollow in the roots,
he decided instead that he would stay put. He leaned back and
relaxed, resting his head on the trunk’s rough bark.

~MR~
Snyder wished he had some high tempo, speed-altering
song to play, but the truth was all of his songs were quite mellow. The closest thing he had to a quicken spell was a high gait
dance number he liked to call “happy feet”. Silly as it sounded,
the idea of fast-stepping down the pathway in a magicallyinduced dance seemed a lot more opportune then floating slowly
down the pathway on a little white cloud or jogging hastily down
the pathway without the means of magic. He groaned, hoping
no one would catch sight of his bardic routine.
Snyder signalled to the scry eye that he was about to
begin, and lifted a thin reed flute to his lips. The piercingly high
notes seemed to burn in his ears and within seconds he had lost
all control of his feet. Trying to ignore the sheer ridiculousness
of the situation, Snyder instead concentrated his efforts on his
music. It was quite an accomplishment to maintain the rhythm
as he bounced haphazardly to the quickened beat.
Reaching the end of the course was a true chore, but
Snyder managed to do it somewhat faster than by any other
means he had available to him. When he was finished, he was
exhausted, and the hammocks at the Way Station beckoned.

~MR~
Reeree quietly stood by her scry eye and grasped the centre stone setting on one of her rings. She could see the finish
161

Magic University
mark from her current position. That was important, as the spell
she was about to use only worked within line of sight. Confirming to the scry eye she would begin, she twisted the setting on
the ring. She disappeared, and within less than a second, she
reappeared at the end of the course.
Chuckling merrily, she trotted back to the Way Station.

~MR~
Finch gazed down the pathway, perplexed. She had a
flight spell that would serve its purpose here, but she was wary
about using it up this early in the game. It was her one and only.
She did have a couple of lesser speed enhancement spells she
could use but...
The error in judgement she had made during the Magical
Offense Trial kept coming back to haunt her. Whenever she
made an effort to come up with an alternate plan, she could not
help but wonder if she would be making the same mistake twice.
Her conservative nature bantered with this sense of foreboding.
Finally her, desire to use the flight spell won over. How many
other competitors would resort to enhanced running, or flight, or
perhaps something even faster?
She reached the end of the course several seconds later,
still unsure if she had made the right decision. It was over now.
The decision had been made, and all that was left was to observe
the consequences.

~MR~
Tom perched at the end of his pathway, trying to decide
what would be his best move. He had a potion of flight tucked
away in a hidden corner, but this course did not merit its use,
especially if he could come up with something faster.
He crouched down, taking in the span of the course. After some contemplation, he decided a flash door spell would get
him there a few moments faster. It would not transport him to

162

Swift Passage
the very end, but he could sprint the last few feet and the resulting time would be lesser than clearing the same area by flight.
Tom stood, grinning, and patted the hidden pocket containing the potion of flight. He would save that source of
ammunition for a more effective moment. He knew what he had
to do now. He signalled his readiness to the scry eye, and in a
flash, he was gone.

~MR~
Nia approached the Way Station. She wanted to speak
with Urwick, but he once again seemed to be suffering in his efforts and had yet to return.
She mentally compared the men at the Trials. Ebon
frightened her, and was beyond her reach. Shetland disgusted
her. Tom had been fun, but they were done. No strings, they
had agreed. Reid was too prissy and that left Urwick and
Snyder.
Perhaps she would spend the remainder of the Trials entrenched in boredom.
Nia escaped her thoughts long enough to catch sight of
Shetland staggering past her. He disappeared up the rope ladder.
She decided to wait for Urwick on the Main Platform.
It was not long before Snyder appeared at the top of the
rope ladder, his limbs trembling slightly from exhaustion and
beads of sweat trickling down his cheeks.
“You look like you’ve been through the wringer,” Nia
teased. “Found it challenging, did you?”
“Call it a good workout.” He approached, taking a seat
in a woven grass chair. “Tell me something, Nia. Are these Trials really what you were expecting, or did you have something
different in mind?”
“I gave up on expectations long ago. I just try to get
whatever I feel I deserve…however I have to. I try not to depend on anyone else, and I let others know that they shouldn’t
plan on depending on me. I take life at face value, living from
moment to moment. That way you have your ups and your
163

Magic University
downs as they happen to come your way, and they are usually
short-lived. You never have to deal with those soul numbing
disappointments that planning can bring.”
As Nia spoke Snyder could see that her mind was somewhere else entirely. He leaned in closer.
“A wise friend once told me,” he murmured, “that there
is no pleasure truly worth experiencing that doesn’t involve
some risk of pain. The greater the pleasure, the more pain there
is to be suffered from its loss. I believe that you don’t really live
until you give over to that notion, accepting the risk of pain for
the sake of the pleasure. From what I’ve seen, you only play at
living on the edge. When any real crisis comes your way, when
true adventure knocks at your door, you turn and run, or at least
shy away. If you want that child in the mirror to grow up, you
have to find a little courage and stop running away from the
things that frighten you.”
Nia scowled as she watched him descend into the hollow
centre of the tree. How could someone who had chosen to be a
Renegade mage dare to question her choices?
Crossing her arms, and sitting back in her chair, Nia tried
to stay angry at the half-satyr. A sweet melody trilled out of the
tree hollow, a gentle tune that had no doubt originated from
Snyder’s flute, and Nia felt her defensiveness dissipating. Swept
up by the soothing lilt of the music, she let her mind drift and her
thoughts mellow.
Ebon, who had been observing this from the corner,
jeered silently at their antics. He had been taking some perverse
pleasure at Nia’s hot and prickly rage and disliked the lukewarm
sentiment caused by the bard’s music, washing her anger away.
Ebon had prodded at what he could reach of the half-satyr’s
thoughts, but found the tame infatuation within quite distasteful.
Ebon grumbled inwardly at what he deemed some
warped form of lunacy on Snyder’s part. Why was the Renegade mage so interested in a woman who was insecure,
capricious and afraid of any real form of commitment? She had
nothing to offer any sane male. Moody to an extreme, possessing her would be like grasping the blade of a double-edged
164

Swift Passage
sword. Despite this, Snyder saw something worth valuing in
her. If Nia’s appeal to Snyder had been solely physical, Ebon
would have been more likely to believe it. She was attractive by
the average man’s standards, although unusual, especially considering the lack of hair. Nevertheless, most people do not go
looking for a family pet and bring home a dog with a history of
biting, even if it is a pretty one.
The wraith-mage was abruptly drawn away from his
thoughts by the appearance of Finch, Reeree and Ping. As they
ascended onto the Main Platform, Finch found a place adjacent
to Nia, but eyed the scaled-woman warily as she sat down.
“Don’t worry,” Nia insisted. “I won’t be stealing your
boyfriend and I have no arguments with you.”
“He’s not my boyfriend. We are just friends. He just
happens to prefer the company of women who are a little more
subtle than you.”
“I have no use for subtlety. I offer whatever I happen to
feel like offering, and if they don’t accept, I move on. That’s the
way things work and that’s fine by me.”
“Each to his or her own,” Finch muttered.
Reeree followed the conversation in awkward silence,
occasionally glancing at Ping, who hovered near Ebon’s corner.
Nia picked up on the gnome’s discomfort and, for a lark, decided
to pull her into the conversation.
“What about you?” Nia asked Reeree. “You don’t seem
to be attached to any one man. Do you prefer subtlety, like Miss
Manners over here, or do you jump in when things look inviting?”
“Well, neither actually,” Reeree acknowledged. “Not
that I committed myself to any vow of chastity, but I decided
long ago that I wanted to be free to come and go as I please, and
a loss of freedom is a risk you take when you get involved, especially if there are children as a result. I knew someday Fate
might send me off in a new direction, and I wanted to be prepared to answer that call. I didn’t feel the need to have children
of my own; I practically raised several of the children in my
community and that was satisfying in itself.
165

Magic University
My mother always said that the best way to deal with an
unknown equation is to consider all of the variables, look at the
possible consequences, and make a decision - after that, no regrets. From what I’ve experienced in my life, she was right.
I’ve always taken some time to make any choices in my life, but
I don’t beat a dilemma to death. I analyze the situation, make
my choice, and it’s done. I don’t regret the choices I make.”
Reeree turned to Nia.
“You need to do a little more thinking before you act.
Start considering the consequences beyond just a decision’s direct implications for you. You act as though you do not fear
death, but the truth is you are afraid to truly live. If you race
blindly through life, you’ll miss the real opportunities when they
present themselves. “
Reeree then faced Finch, who was grinning at Nia’s lecture.
“And you...you need to learn not to waffle. I’ve watched
you trying to make a decision and you never quite seem satisfied
with the end results. You have to accept that everyone is fallible
and no decision is guaranteed to be perfect, no matter how long
you dwell on it. You don’t want to miss opportunities because
you’re still stuck at the last road block life has thrown your way.
Stop worrying and start living.”
Her stern, matronly words were enough to stifle the conversation after that, and all three women sat in silence, waiting
for the Trial period to come to an end.

~MR~
Tom noticed Reid sitting alone at the base of the tree,
and approached gingerly.
“Taking a break from everyone’s company? Or just not
big on tree houses?” he asked.
“Not into tree hollows or crowds, but I don’t mind a little
company. Grab yourself a patch of grass and have a seat.”
Reid felt odd addressing royalty as he would some other
commoner, but he did not think it necessary to reveal to Tom
166

Swift Passage
that his cover was blown. Had someone other than Tom or
Finch approached, Reid would have probably feigned disinterest
for the sake of solitude. But Reid knew he would probably never have the opportunity to “chat” with a crown prince ever again.
“So, what made you decide to try out for the University.
Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a mage,
or did it grow on you?” Reid joked. His tone was deceptively
nonchalant, but he was very curious about Tom’s motivations.
“Not really either of those,” Tom replied. “At first magic
was just a distraction, a folly of sorts to help pass the time, but as
I got better at it, I started wondering where my potential lay.
Exactly how far could I go with this so-called hobby, if I chose
to? I decided to test my limits and these Trials were the best test
going. When Snyder agreed to come with me, there was nothing
holding me back. So here I am. What about you?” Tom asked.
“What drove you to attempt these Trials?”
“I’ve been asking that a lot myself lately. I used to think
that I wanted this more than anything, but I know that’s not true.
I might have blamed it on my Renegade mentor, Gerant and his
own failures. He did pressure me to do this, but he never really
expected me to succeed where he had failed. I know part of me
wanted to go to Magic University to get away from the Renegade label and the stigma attached to it. Now that I’m here, I’m
compelled to see it through to the end, if for no other reason than
to stick it to Gerant.”
Tom chuckled. “I guess in a way then, we are here for
essentially the same reason. I want to prove I can do it for my
own sake, and you want to prove you can do it for the sake of a
memory. Pretty sad, isn’t it?”
Reid nodded, pulling his knees in closer to his body.
“Makes you wonder how many people are actually here
because they want to go to the University more than just wanting
to prove that they can win at the Trials.”

167

Magic University

~MR~
Urwick lowered himself into his chosen niche. He
slipped into the hammock and waited. Five minutes behind him,
Nia appeared at the entranceway. This time, he was expecting
her.
“Now you have no excuse to brush me off so easily,” she
said.
She slid into the hollow, which suddenly became uncomfortably crowded, and leaned in towards Urwick, purposefully
closing the distance. Urwick wished at that moment that Nia
was some homely creature that repulsed him. Any show of
arousal would serve as encouragement for her behaviour. Not to
mention, Jadira would have his hide. He recoiled. She pulled
back, looking somewhat annoyed.
“What is it with everyone around here? I’m not looking
for anything serious, just a slight diversion. Normally, I have no
problem in finding a willing second.” Nia spat, in disgust.
“Actually, I already have something long term, Nia. We
both know that you are attractive, but that’s not the be all and
end all to every man, despite the superficial claims and deeds of
some. You banter with others feelings and throw your own
about with little caution or care. Some men might ignore that for
the sake of lust, but others will be repelled by that type of behaviour. It also tends to antagonize other women. Do you want to
alienate everybody?” Urwick spoke quietly, trying to gauge if
Nia was preparing for another mood swing. Instead, she sank
wordlessly to her knees.
“Maybe...the world seems so much safer that way. I
don’t need to belong to anything permanent, because nothing
really is. All I need is the occasional brief connection...”
“If that were the case,” Urwick interrupted, “you
wouldn’t be here right now. You’ve had that connection once
today, yet you still seek out more. There’s an emptiness that you
keep trying to fill, and it can’t be filled with these frivolous dalliances.”

168

Swift Passage
Nia shook her head. “I don’t want anything more. I’ve
tried it. It doesn’t work for me.”
Urwick stared her directly in the eye. “You don’t really
know that. You’re just listening to the fear. In fact, I’m pretty
sure fear has governed most of your life. Someday, you’re going
to have to learn to trust again, or you’ll never know what you
could have had. And believe me, you will regret it.”
Nia pulled away, angry and frustrated. She quickly manoeuvred her way out of the hollow and up the spiral staircase.
With a sigh, Urwick lay back in his hammock and gazed
at the striations along the walls of his hollow, rocking back and
forth ever so slightly.

~MR~
Burrell gazed at the image before him with a slight
frown. Fortia sat stiffly, her hands interlocked, and a grim expression etched into her delicate features.
“I didn’t expect things to be so turbulent. It has been
competitive in the past, but this year it’s different. Everyone
seems to be struggling.”
“Not everyone,” Fortia remarked. “Your little pink favourite seems to be faring quite well. It’s almost as if she were
immune to the turmoil.”
Burrell shook his head. “Not immune, but, from the
looks of things, quite resilient. Age and wisdom - they can serve
as effective armour in such hostile environs. I was concerned
she would find it difficult keeping up with a troupe of youngsters, but she has proved me wrong.”
“I can tell that you find her success quite exhilarating.
Don’t forget, some of the more difficult Trials are yet to come.
That age may become a hindrance.”
“She has a lot of heart; it will get her far. You only belittle her ability because your own favourite has not had a strong
showing. Afraid, are you, that you will have to settle with an
apprentice the likes of the wraith-mage?”

169

Magic University
“Arrogance…there is too much arrogance in that lot.
They all need a good dose of humble pie. That would help weed
out the bad seed.”
Burrell chuckled. “And yet I’m sure ‘He’ finds all that
arrogance quite amusing.”
“No doubt,” muttered Fortia as she turned back to survey
the hazy image, “no doubt.”

170

11
Magical Defense
“Time is up!” Ping announced. Her shrill little voice reverberated throughout every inch of the Way Station and the
clearing surrounding it.
“You have three minutes to meet me at the base of the
tree. We will then proceed to the next Trial.”
The competitors gathered, some feeling slightly rested
but most starting to notice the pull of gravity on their limbs and
weariness in their heart. It was more than just the type of physical fatigue that resulted from pushing yourself beyond the
typical norm. These Trials demanded creativity, strategy and
focus to an extreme. It took a toll on everyone involved, even
Ebon.
Ping examined everyone present, making a quick head
count to assure that all had heeded her call. Satisfied that they
had, she gestured for silence.
“I have the updates for your scores,” Ping declared. As
she spoke, she waved the list at them, one that had scorch marks
on it where her fingers had made contact with the paper.
“In order from first place to last: Cerissa June, Ebon the
Misplaced, Thomas Regal, Finch Loreleaf, Nia Brynwyrm, Reid
Blake, Shetland Feldspar, Snyder of the Fifes and Urwick.
Therefore, the tally to this point is: Cerissa, 169, Ebon, 165,

171

Magic University
Thomas, 140, Finch, 138, Reid, 131, Nia, 110, Snyder, 96, Shetland, 63 and Urwick, 32.
“Before anyone despairs at poor performance or chooses
to quit now, I will point out three facts. There are still seven
Trials remaining with a potential 280 points to be gained. The
next few Trials are more focused, and many say, the most challenging. And finally, if you choose to quit before the final Trial,
you will not be allowed to attempt the Trials again in future.
Now, I ask that you all follow me.”
Without confirming that the competitors followed, she
started on her way at a reasonably speedy pace.
The air had begun to cool and it was a somewhat chilled
and sombre group who followed Ping. Finch and Reid were the
only two not making an obvious attempt at putting distance between themselves. Even the normally cheerful Reeree seemed
somewhat aloof. Nia purposefully led the pack, staying as close
to Ping as possible. Urwick and Ebon lingered far at the back,
barely keeping Shetland in sight.
The path was easy to follow. A very distinct alley had
been cleared in the thick brush, but as they travelled the brush
began to thin and the air became damp and salty. In addition to
the temperature dropping, the light was also changing to some
degree as evening approached. The sunlight would still remain
for another two or three Trials, but after that they would be
forced to compete by some other form of light.
The competitors eventually emerged from the now sparse
brush and as they crested a grassy embankment they could hear
the roar of the ocean. On the other side of the hill, the grass
gave way to rock and sand, and gradually to the sea. Along the
rocky beach, the path weaved its way to an ancient ship, stranded on the shore.
“Your next Way Station,” announced Ping, gesturing towards the ship. “You should have no problem locating Lohnes,
the attendant. Just think big, broad and scaly.” With that, she
flew away.
The competitors took in the sight of the eroded vessel
perched unsteadily before them. Compared to many of the other
172

Magical Defense
Way Stations, this refurbished ship was little more than a hovel.
Its timbers were weathered and somewhat battered.
Nia pointed at the gangplank. What they saw there suddenly made the Way Station even less inviting.
“That must be Lohnes, and the way in,” she observed before trotting off down the beach. The others hesitated, watching
the figure that had emerged from the ship. He was twice the
height of the tallest of them, and twice as broad as Shetland.
Although seemingly some sort of giant human, Lohnes’ hair was
the colour of seaweed and his skin was touched with the slight
silvery sheen of scales. He also had very long and slender
hands, with webbed fingers.
“So this,” sputtered Reid, “is what Ping meant by big,
broad and scaly. Here I was expecting a large reptilian.”
The giant strode gracefully down the gangplank, greeting
first Nia and then approaching the others to give them welcome.
“Good day to you all or I might say good evening, as twilight nears.” Lohnes’ voice was low and raspy, and it resonated
across the beach. It reminded them all of the sound the surf
makes as it crashes against the rocks.
“I prefer my guests to get settled into the ‘Solange’ before I explain the next Trial,” he rumbled. “So seek out your
cabins and I will meet you in the galley in a few minutes. But
don’t be long.”
Reid shuddered. He envisioned leaky, drafty cabins with
scratchy hammocks and weak fish broth with hard tack in a rickety galley. As he opened the door to his cabin, he was greatly
surprised. The cabins had been well protected against leaks or
drafts. They had been refurnished and renovated since their seafaring days. The decor was rather elaborate with down-filled
mattresses on the bunks and a keg of fine ale by the door. Reid
hesitated before running his fingers over the grand mahogany
writing desk and swivel chair, the kind of thing one would expect to see in only the finest of captain’s quarters. Despite the
comfort of the cabin, Reid chose not to linger; he did not want to
miss the reciting of the Trial rules. Nevertheless, he was one of
the last to arrive at the galley.
173

Magic University
A second surprise awaited him here. Instead of weak
broth and hard tack, the sweet smell of creamy fish chowder and
fresh crusty rolls greeted him as he stepped into the Galley. He
would hardly expect this kind of hospitality at an upper class
inn.
Lohnes barely fit into the large room, crouching a little
where he sat on the floor. “As you can see,” he joked, “I prefer
to remain on the deck when the weather is agreeable. I take
great pride in being a good host, so if you have any needs that
are not being met, please let me know, and I will do my best to
accommodate you.”
“Now that you are all here, as promised, I will give you
an explanation of the current Trial. You will each take a turn at
running a gauntlet involving eight varying forms of attack.
There is a list posted with the order in which you will be attempting this Trial out on deck. The course should take you at
most about three minutes and you will have to wear a special
Trial device, similar in some ways to the one you wore for Magical Offense.” Lohnes held up an example.
“The course is a short trip down the beach. Upon leaving
the ‘Solange’ you will find markers directing you to the starting
point. I would suggest you make your way there a few minutes
before your scheduled run, to be prepared. If you have any concerns about device malfunction, I can assure you that these items
have been tested very carefully, and even if there is a spell failure, the damage you will be facing is not real, and can do you no
harm. The only effect of such a failure would be a lack of any
damage points registering on the device.”
Even with this reassurance, Shetland was noticeably
tense.
“If you manage to fend off all 40 damage points, you will
achieve a full score for the Trial,” Lohnes continued. “For every
calculated unit of damage you fail to avoid, your point total will
be reduced by one. To date a full score has never been achieved
in this Trial. Are there any questions?”
“Yes, this is basically just a shielding, resistance, avoidance test, is it not? We will not be able to use shadow spells or
174

Magical Defense
teleportation spells to avoid the ‘gauntlet monsters’?” asked
Finch.
“This is not a situation where you can merely escape past
or hide from the attacks like Safe Passage. You must prove
yourself capable of defending against attacks when you lack the
opportunity to escape or hide. The spells you mentioned will not
have any effect on your outcome. This is considered to be one
of the more definitive Trials,” the giant said.
Lohnes appeared to be sympathetic. Others had obviously faced this Trial with limited defenses and failed.
“Alright, here is the order in which you will be attempting this Trial. First up is Finch Loreleaf. Cerissa June and
Shetland Feldspar will go second and third. Don’t forget to harness on your devices on your way out to the Trial site.”
The three competitors slowly rose from their seats and
gathered up their equipment. Lohnes continued.
“The remaining six will proceed to the cavern at the appropriate times in the following order: Urwick, Tom, Nia,
Snyder, Ebon, and Reid. Make sure you take your device before
leaving the galley. Otherwise, your time is yours to do as you
please. I’ll be up on the deck if you need me.”
With that, Lohnes crawled out of the galley, his head
scraping the doorframe as he squeezed through the door.
Ebon “harumphed” and left soon after Lohnes had gone.
He had been hoping to be one of the first up, not one of the last.
Strapping on his gear, he decided he would spend a few moments in the comfort of his room before proceeding up the
beach.
As he hovered in the extravagant cabin, he gazed out of
his porthole at the shore beyond. Urwick’s prodding had left
him numb and somewhat bewildered.
Ebon could not understand the dark elf. The wraithmage knew there was something wrong about Urwick, but he
could not explain what. Urwick’s poor performance in the Trials
was a mystery. Even on an off day, he should be at least surpassing the untrained dwarf. Add to that the level of curiosity
Urwick displayed, and suddenly something became evident to
175

Magic University
Ebon. Urwick was some sort of spy. But if he were a spy, then
how did he manage to escape the prying magic of the all revealing mirror from the pre-Trial ceremonies?
Ebon felt a twinge of sadness as he remembered the mirror. He so wanted to gaze into its depths and see his own true
physical form once again. He would give up anything they
asked if they could only make him resemble once more the man
he had seen in the mirror.
When he had carried himself in that form, his only concern had been power, be it accessed through magical ability or
physical influence. Wealth, sex, and magic – those things had
made him happy. He had hated his physical form for its weakness. He had never been very athletic or muscular. Also, his
appearance had done little to attract women. With average
height, a somewhat slender build, and a rather pasty complexion,
he had not been known for his sex appeal.
As much as he had decried his physical form, turning his
attentions to other methods of gaining power in the days prior to
his accident, he now would trade the great power he had finally
managed to obtain to be that weak, pasty-faced soul once again.
He missed the tastes, touches and other sensations that now
eluded him. He missed having others ignore him rather than always responding with revulsion.
Urwick’s words continued to gnaw at him. Given the
opportunity to exist as he was now, for the sake of power, his old
self might have jumped at the prospect, willingly sacrificing
what he now lamented losing. However, if that had been the
case, the sacrifice would have been voluntary and the choice his
to make. It was the fact that he had not had the chance to decide
his fate, but rather it had been forced upon him, which tormented
him so.
He moved away from the porthole, still wrestling with
his regrets. If he could guarantee himself a place at the University, it would give him a sense of hope that had long been lost to
him.
Staring at the cabin’s mirror, he considered the hazy reflection within. Maybe Urwick was right, maybe he should
176

Magical Defense
make the best of things as they were, but if there were something
worthwhile to his current state of being, other than raw power,
he would need someone to help him see exactly what that was,
especially since had had been gradually losing his humanity.

~MR~
Finch was tentative on her approach to the caverns.
While she was quite secure in her ability on the offensive, to a
certain degree, she knew she was lacking on the defensive.
Reeree, who had come up behind her, gave her a slight nudge
forwards.
“Give it your best shot. No matter what the weakness,
you’ll never know how you would’ve done if you don’t even
bother to try it. Think of it as a game, but don’t focus on winning – just play.”
Finch had to admit that the gnome was right. Hesitating
would only hinder her, especially if it made her miss her turn
altogether. She stepped past the marker and into the darkness
beyond.
She was blinded momentarily, but as she moved past the
mouth of the cavern, her eyes adjusted to the dim torchlight.
Stepping forward, she ran through her short list of defensive
spells. With a quick calculation of time and effort, she settled on
a combination of a minor magical shield and a deflective shell.
There was a slight glow about her as she brought the spells into
being and her limbs felt somewhat heavier. Drawing in a deep
breath, she proceeded.
The first “enemy” to emerge from the cavern wall took
the form of a raging barbarian, weapon in hand. It caught Finch
totally by surprise and with a yelp, she cowered and crouched.
As the barbarian plunged his spear into her score-keeping device, the savage, weapon and all, dissipated into nothing. No
points registered. Her spell choice had worked in this instance.
Trembling, Finch stood and stumbled a few more feet
forward. As she shook off the shock of the sudden appearance
and attack from the deranged wild-man, she caught sight of the
177

Magic University
second threat as it gradually morphed out of the cavern wall.
Finch expected the form to solidify, as had the barbarian, but the
creature remained a misty collection of shadow, reminiscent of
Ebon. Finch’s heart lurched, anticipating the chilling touch before the creature had even reached her. It gave a raspy sigh as it
breezed through her. Once again, however, nothing registered
on her device. Finch was relieved.
Finch recoiled again, in response to the nightmarish
wretch who sprang forth from the following section of wall. Her
instincts told her that this was something undead, rather than
demonic. The beast turned its ghoulish face towards her and
opened its rotting maw. It shrieked. This time her device did
register a single point. She was not invulnerable.
Fearfully, Finch clutched at her heart – this Trial was like
a bad dream. Creeping around the bend, she found herself standing in the second section of the cavern. The air before her began
to shimmer and blur, and she sensed the next attack would soon
be headed her way. What she did not expect was to be bombarded by four attacks simultaneously. Four wizards materialized before her, each launching a magical bolt her way from a
small wand wielded in their outstretched hand. The first wizard,
wearing silken light blue and yellow robes shot forth a flash of
lightning, his hair raised and crackling. The second wizard offered a fiery ball of flame which illuminated her brilliant orange
and red tunic and her coppery-bright curls. The third wizard,
dressed from head to foot in blindingly white fur, presented
Finch with a razor-sharp spear of ice from his wand. The forth
wizard grinned evily, twisting slightly within the depths of his
stark black robes as he launched a ray of negative energy.
Finch felt nothing from the impact, but the device revealed she had not fared as well from this barrage of attacks.
The box had registered twelve more points and her score had
dropped to twenty-seven.
Shakily, she gathered her wits and made for the exit. The
sunlight streamed in through the rock opening, illuminating the
way. As she was about to step out, her last opponent struck.

178

Magical Defense
Finch did not recognize at first the strange insect-like
bird with a disproportionately large head. When it opened its
beak and trilled as it flew down from its ceiling perch, she suddenly realized what it was – a mind-thrush. She had heard tales
of its brain crushing song and could almost feel her head tingling
in response. Her shielding spell did not endure for more than a
second, offering minimal resistance before it collapsed.
Finch looked down at her scoring device. The last attack
had stolen an additional four points. She kicked herself for not
anticipating a psionic attack.
Stepping out of the cavern and into the remnants of daylight, she headed off down the beach.

~MR~
Waiting for her turn, Reeree studied Shetland who leant
against a rock, clutching his axe. She could not blame him for
appearing apprehensive. With the malfunction of the previous
score-keeping device, she understood his reluctance at having to
rely on a similar tool.
“You found your axe,” she commented when Shetland
caught her staring.
He nodded with a grunt, pulling his axe in even closer.
“I’m not gonna let it out of my sight, again. They’ve
taken my beard and my dignity. It’s all I have left.” Shetland
brandished the axe as he spoke, scowling menacingly.
Reeree smiled, hiding the annoyance she felt towards the
University administrators for unnecessarily exposing Shetland to
the dangers of the Trials. He had no hope of winning, and she
could not understand why they had allowed him to compete.
Finch emerged from the far end of the Trial site. Reeree
gave Shetland a farewell nod, and stepped into the mouth of the
cavern. Faced with the dark innards of the tunnel, she considered her options. She wanted to be prepared to deal with
anything that came at her, but her defensive spells were only a
minor part of her repertoire. If she had managed to save up sufficiently to purchase the protective robes she had hoped for, she
179

Magic University
would have had an edge, but between the ring and supplies to
make the wands and the costs for travelling, she had been just
short. That meant if necessary she had a goodly amount to cover
any tuition expenses, but it did not help her now.
Gritting her teeth, she selected a series of minor defensive spells to cast, and then moved deeper into the tunnel.

~MR~
Shetland tried to focus, hoping to catch some clue as to
what lay within the darkness beyond the cavern mouth, but his
eyes were not nearly that keen. He hovered by the entrance
marker, ruing his own approaching turn.
While he waited, Urwick and Tom neared him, talking
quietly about their own experiences with magical battle. All
three stood quietly until Reeree emerged from the other end.
Shetland shuddered, noisily drawing in a slow breath. Then, he
proceeded into the cavern.
Unlike the others, once immersed in the darkness within,
his eyes quickly adjusted to the dim interior and he found the
damp echoing stone quite invigorating. Shifting his axe to one
shoulder, he stepped forward.
Shetland was startled into action as he faced down the
charging barbarian. With a snarl, he swung fiercely at the oncoming warrior, attempting to cleave his dis-solid opponent in
two. Due to the lack of resistance, he lurched forward, almost
falling flat on his face and grazing the palms of his hands on the
rocks. The barbarian had not been susceptible to his attack, but
Shetland’s device revealed the opposite was not so. Five points
had registered and only thirty-five remained.
Every Trial that he endured made him wish even more
that he had not come this day, and that he had not even applied
in the first place. His only desire in life was to feel normal, to
escape the stigma of being an outcast, and he could probably
manage to exist happily within his current condition if he could
find somewhere where he could fit in. Nonetheless, even outside his dwarven homeland, there seemed to be no proper place
180

Magical Defense
for him. His brethren did not accept him because of his magical
nature, and those on the outside of the community turned away
from him because he was a freak, and a dangerous one at that.
Magic was unpredictable around him and his life seemed jinxed.
The only person that had any idea what it was like to be
Shetland was Ebon, and the wraith-mage offered no sympathy.
Nothing had changed here.
At this thought, Shetland found himself facing down an
enemy he first thought was Ebon. Shetland shivered at the chill
touch, his teeth set and his face momentarily frozen in a grimace.
After the phantom enemy had moved on, Shetland recoiled
backwards, clutching at the wall. He glanced down at his device
and was surprised to see only nine of the lights extinguished. He
had managed to avoid some of the damage.
So focused was he on this minor victory that he failed to
notice the creature that was solidifying before him. He only became aware of the horrific monster’s presence as the banshee
actually screamed. The sound startled Shetland to attention. He
screamed as well, bolting a few feet back down the tunnel before
recovering his senses. He checked his scorekeeper. Only twenty-six lights remained.
Shetland was breathing heavily as he rounded the corner
into the next section. He groaned, wishing he did not have to
endure the remainder of the Trial to pursue his goal. He stared
as the four wizards began to appear, with a sensation that something was not quite right. His skin began to tingle and itch. That
meant that the next attacks would be magical in nature.
Shetland grew panicky, searching for refuge from the incoming threats, but there was nothing in sight that would serve
as a sanctuary. Eventually Shetland decided his only option was
to sink to his knees and cover his head.
The optical illusion was obscured from Shetland’s view,
but the accompanying sounds blared about the cowering dwarf,
vivid and strong. Shetland shrunk into a smaller ball as the
lightning crackled, the fire hissed, the ice shard chimed and the
negative energy ray wheezed. He also felt the nature of the attacks from their phantom sensations. The prickle, heat, and cold
181

Magic University
left him shuddering. The damage from the attacks might not be
real, but the spectacle that accompanied them was more than
convincing.
Shetland peeled his fingers from his eyes and stared at
his device. Much to his surprise, twenty-points still remained,
and he had only a brief jaunt left to reach the exit. In a daze, he
made his way out, not even noticing the final enemy, the mindthrush, as it stole another five points.
Emerging from the cavern, Shetland did a little dance of
triumph. He had discovered something about himself he had not
known, and better yet, the spell scoring device had not seemed to
malfunction in any way. Uninjured and elated, Shetland hoisted
his axe over one shoulder and started back towards the Solange.

~MR~
As Finch came up the gangplank she found Lohnes sitting on the deck. He had a large knife in one hand and a piece of
wood in the other and was quietly whittling. Finch took a seat
on a barrel nearby so she could watch. When the piece of wood
was no more than a splinter, Lohnes tossed the remnants of his
whittling into the pile of woodchips and reached for another
piece of wood from the small stack at his feet.
“What are you doing?” Finch asked.
“Whittling,” he replied.
“But aren’t you going to whittle something out of the
wood, something simple like a snake or a leaf, like Dr. George’s
carvings?”
He shook his large head. “Snakes and leaves are actually
quite complex. And no, I prefer to just whittle.”
“What’s the point?” Finch continued. “When you are
done all that work you have nothing to show for it.”
Lohnes smiled.
“Not true, little one. Some things should be done just for
the sake of doing them. Whittling is something I enjoy. It relaxes me and brings me peace of mind. If there’s one thing I’ve
learned in life it’s that peace of mind can be more valuable than
182

Magical Defense
any material thing. I do not have Dr. George’s skill, or his eye
for detail. Nor do I have the inclination to struggle against the
nature of the wood, because even the best artisans shape part of
their work against the grain. Instead, I just push the knife gently
across the wood and let things go as they may.”
Reeree arrived on deck and found her own place of repose, leaning against the deck’s railing. She remained unusually
silent. Finch spoke again, addressing Lohnes.
“You don’t tend to talk a lot do you?”
“I only speak when I feel that I have something worth
saying. Why disturb the beautiful music that is all around us for
the mere sake of hearing my own voice. In most cases, I’d rather listen to the wind, the birds, and the water.” He spoke
without looking up, concentrating on the task at hand. His voice
was soft and low.
“How do you determine the value of what you might
have to say? Just because it may seem unimportant to you,
doesn’t mean no one else will deem it useful,” Finch said.
“Life experience has taught me what things are worth
sharing and what I should keep to myself.” He gazed out at the
sky, “But a wise person learns to recognize true value. Like, the
only thing of any real value that tends to come out of these Trials
is the fact that many of you will finish them with a better sense
of self. I know I did. If you attend the University, so be it. If
you do not, you obviously weren’t meant to.”
“Struggling against our own natures...” Finch breathed.
She clambered off of the barrel and approached Reeree at
the railing. The two women stood there admiring the sky, which
was starting to take on a myriad of different colours. Reeree
sighed happily.
“I wonder if there is a name for every colour out there. I
never realized how beautiful an ocean sunset could be,” she exclaimed.
“They are all a kind of gray, actually,” murmured Lohnes.
Both Finch and Reeree swivelled to face him, bearing
expressions of utter confusion.
183

Magic University
“I don’t mean literally,” the sea giant explained. “But
really all shades, if mixed in the right combination, will just end
up a muddy gray. Kind of like people, alone most are fascinating, but mingled in a crowd, many facets of their character can
become obscured and lost. That’s why I prefer to deal with others one-on-one.”
Lohnes leaned back, stretching his long lanky arms up
over his head.
“The sunset may be beautiful, but everyone notices that.
Other things equally beautiful, but less obvious are ignored. The
fog is a mellowing thing and somewhat romantic, as well as quietly dangerous. The storm is uplifting and tumultuous. They are
a necessary function of the world we live in, but most think negatively of them.”
Reeree considered Lohnes’ words and turned back to
contemplate the ocean view. Just as the greys were necessary in
the scheme of colours, just as the fog and the storm were as important and as interesting as the sunsets, there were often ignored
because of appearances, like some essential people. Certain
people did simply blend into the masses – and she would never
be one of those people ever again.

~MR~
Urwick moved into the cavern mouth. He glanced down
at one of the rings on his fingers and shrugged at the cloak on his
back. He frowned, shaking his head.
“I’m not going to do it,” he insisted, under his breath.
Without any further hesitation, he squared his shoulders,
lifted his head and continued into the tunnel.

~MR~
Tom and Nia tried ignoring each other as they awaited
Urwick’s completion of the Trial, but it did not work. Tom still
found Nia intriguing, and ended up watching her as she paced
back and forth. His betrothed, Mathilde, was a beautiful woman,
184

Magical Defense
by any man’s standards, but in most ways delicate and fragile.
She reminded Tom of a china doll who might break if you handled her roughly. Nia, on the other hand, was sleek and
powerful, and there was more of a concern that she might break
you. He grinned at this thought, and Nia caught him staring. He
quickly looked away.
Nia made a sharp noise of contempt and moved over to a
large flat rock. She stretched out languorously and relaxed,
making the best of the fading sunlight.
Tom moved to sit beside her. His betrothed avoided the
sun, trying to maintain the fair complexion that was prized by
the peerage. He found her obsession with appearance and social
graces boring, but the truth was, she would make a good wife for
a king, and Tom’s father liked to remind him of that.
Nia lifted herself up on her elbows and cocked her head
Tom’s way.
“There’s someone else, isn’t there. That’s why you
wanted no strings.”
Tom frowned.
“How can you tell?”
“You were thinking about her just now. I could see it in
your face.”
Without acknowledging one way or the other, Tom
caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Urwick was finally exiting the tunnel. Tom made a quick departure, heading
for the cavern mouth. As he left, Snyder arrived.
“Hmmph!” Nia huffed, and lowered her head back to the
rock surface. “Let me know when he’s done, would you Snyder?”
“Sure,” Snyder agreed, settling himself in the place that
Tom had just abandoned.
Nia sighed in frustration.
“Everyone here seems to have something to hide. This
has got to be one of the most secretive band of misfits and outcasts I have ever encountered. I can understand why Urwick
offered up his little wager. My curiosity is getting the best of
me, too.”
185

Magic University
“Might I point out that you are a part of this ‘secretive
band of misfits and outcasts’ as well?”
The normally loud and in-your-face Nia suddenly became quiet and sombre. She did not meet Snyder’s gaze, but
instead stared blankly off down the beach.
“I definitely meet the requirements to qualify as an outcast, and I have as much to hide as any other person, in some
ways. But aside from discussing my personal life in detail, what
you see is what you get. With the exception of Little-MissManners, who seemed to have been very sheltered from the real
world, I would have to say that the mirror had a lot less to reveal
about me than it did the rest of you.”
At mention of the mirror, it was Snyder’s turn to withdraw and grow quiet. She had definitely touched a nerve. Then,
as if he had been thrown a lifeline, Snyder jumped at the sight of
Tom emerging from the far end of the Trial tunnel.
“He’s done,” Snyder indicated, thankful for the diversion.
Nia glanced up. She could see Ebon’s shadowy shape
looming behind them. Shaking off the mild fatigue that had accompanied her basking in the sun, she hopped off her perch and
happily proceeded into the cavern. Defensive spells were her
thing.

~MR~
As Tom headed up the gangplank he passed Reid on his
way out.
“Good luck!” Finch called to Reid from the railing, as he
strolled away. Reid nodded and continued down the beach.
As Tom reached the top of the gangplank, he placed a
hand on Finch’s arm and gestured towards the far end of the
deck.
“Can I ask you a question?” he murmured. “I just want
an opinion on something from a woman’s perspective.”
Looking somewhat surprised, Finch agreed.

186

Magical Defense
“I know this may sound strange,” he began, “but if your
family ever asked you to marry someone, for the sake of the
family’s best interests, would you do it? Or would you insist on
being left to make your own choice?”
Finch looked bewildered.
“I’ve never really considered a question like that because
I’m positive my family would never demand such a thing from
me. Anything regarding marriage has always been my own decision.”
Tom gave a frustrated sigh. “Well, maybe I can put a
different swing on things. What if you made it into the university and you became a fully-trained mage. If your peers were to
pressure you into keeping your distance from the Renegades,
and you decided you loved one, Reid, for example, would you
let their feelings affect your relationship?”
“I don’t think I could predict my response until I faced
the predicament. I value love, don’t get me wrong, especially if
I deem it true love and not lust or infatuation. But I also think
that sometimes we do have a responsibility to consider the other
people in our lives, and that sense of duty may have a strong
bearing on any decision. I’ve been in love, but never with anyone who exhibited any strong sense of commitment to me, and
by that, I don’t mean he didn’t feel compelled to marry me.
However, he did make unreasonable demands on me, and he
valued his feelings in certain circumstances far beyond own. In
my case, he wouldn’t allow for compromise, so I don’t think that
he really loved me as much as he claimed to. All of that would
have a bearing on my own decision and if you are considering
sacrificing family duty for the sake of personal interest, be sure
you know exactly what you might be getting and exactly what
you’ll be giving up.”
Tom took Finch’s hand in his own, kissed it gratefully,
departing to go below deck. Not wanting to hypothesize on
what specifically Tom had been referring to, Finch returned to
her spot by Reeree at the railing.

~MR~
187

Magic University

Snyder dug into his pack as he entered the cavern, pulling out a small lyre. He strummed it lightly. One of the
limitations he had as a bard was that he was not talented and
multi-faceted enough to maintain more than one defensive song
at a time, which meant he was limited to one spell for this Trial.
He would have to choose between spells, a strong one that
would have no bearing on primarily physical attacks or a weaker
more generalized spell that would shield him from most attacks
to some extent. He decided to gamble that there would be little
in physical threats and went with the stronger more focused
spell.
He proceeded into the tunnel, ready to face what was
there.

~MR~
Ebon ignored Reid’s approach, hovering impatiently by
the Trial marker. He desperately wanted to get this Trial over
with. He suspected he would fly right through it with ease, but
decided to take precautions nonetheless to avoid a repeat of the
events in the Trial of Safe Passage. The moment he caught sight
of Snyder’s exit, Ebon entered.
Pausing just beyond the caverns mouth, Ebon made his
preparations. The physical would not harm him, so he had to
plan against all other possible effects. He decided a general
force wall would enhance his natural resistance and just to be on
the safe side he threw up a mind bar. Once these were complete
he proceeded into the tunnel.
A triumphant Ebon emerged at the far end. His tactics
had proven sound and the result…an impressive score of thirtyseven.
“Beat that!” he snickered, directing his thoughts to the
little pink gnome. He started back towards the “Solange”, with
his only regret being that there had been no one else there to
witness his success.

188

Magical Defense

~MR~
Reid stood alone on the beach. He had decided to let
Stiggle sit this one out, as the imp did not lend him any defensive magic in any form. Ebon had gone in before him and Reid
could not help but wonder what it was like to live as the wraithmage did. Reid’s life had never been an easy one, but his problems seemed so trivial when compared with Ebon’s. While Reid
might bear the stigma of being a Renegade, he could always hide
what he was if he chose to. There was no hiding Ebon’s affliction. Reid doubted he would have been able to maintain his
sanity if trapped in the same predicament.
Because of this heavy mist now hanging in the air, Reid
almost missed Ebon’s departure from the far end of the tunnel.
Bracing himself for what lay within, Reid stepped into the cavern and began his preparations.

~MR~
As Snyder walked up the gangplank, he noticed Reeree
disappear below deck. Lohnes sat whittling, quietly humming to
himself, and Finch stood at the railing, gazing out to sea. She
seemed wistful.
“Lost in thought?” he asked her. “Reminiscing perhaps?”
“More like considering what things might be like if I had
made different choices in my life.”
“Aren’t you happy?”
“For the most part. It isn’t necessarily that I don’t like
the choices I’ve made. I’m just curious as to how things might
have turned out if I had done things differently,” Finch replied.
“For example...?”
She was unsure if she wanted to share such personal details with Snyder, but Tom’s questions had gotten her thinking.
She had a pretty good feeling that the bard would not abuse her
confidences. He had kept Tom’s identity secret, and his behaviour so far in the Trials invited her trust.

189

Magic University
“There have been three major choices in my life that
have had considerable effect on its course. One was agreeing to
novice to my mother. I had several other opportunities, including taking on my father’s trade – he is a fletcher – but I
considered my strengths and weaknesses and decided magic was
my best option.”
“You were lucky to have such a choice available to you,”
Snyder responded, somewhat solemnly. “If I had not chosen
magic, I’m afraid I’d likely be some street-weary pickpocket or
some hardened cutthroat. Magic was a lifeline Fate threw me
and I decided I had better grab on.”
“I never would have thought that. I just figured you were
inclined, so you went with it. When you put it that way, I guess
I was lucky I even had a choice. Others are not so fortunate.”
Snyder nodded. “You may not make it through to the top
three, but you can still make use of the training you have and
there will be other alternatives. You can hire on a universitytrained mage to give you private lessons, and maybe try the Trials again next year. Or you could find a good Renegade
teacher.”
Finch stiffened at this suggestion.
“I could never do that,” she said quietly. “It was one
thing I promised my mother before she would agree to novice
me. I won’t go back on my word.”
Snyder smiled sympathetically. “Then perhaps that isn’t
a viable option, but you still have choices. Some people don’t.”
“Like your royal companion?” Finch suggested. Snyder
looked startled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell him that I know.
Reid recognized him, but his secret is safe. Will they allow him
to attend the university if he succeeds in winning at the Trials?”
“I highly doubt it, but that remains to be seen. It hasn’t
happened before in his family. You didn’t happen to mention
this to Nia? Tom seemed to be under the impression that she
knew. I think that’s why they’ve been giving each other the cold
shoulder.” Snyder leaned into the railing, looking somewhat
anxious.

190

Magical Defense
Finch shook her head. “As far as I can tell, Nia is blissfully unaware. I suspect the only reason Reid mentioned it to me
was because he wanted to share his discovery with someone and
perhaps felt I was the least likely to share the news further.”
Snyder looked back at Lohnes. The giant did not look
up, nor did he seem to be listening.
“So that was your first big life decision. What were the
next two?”
“Well, coming here was the third one, you already know
all about that, but the second one happened going into my second year as a novice. Sage, a neighbourhood boy had become
somewhat enamoured of me, and I of him. He wanted me to run
off and marry him, abandon my lessons. I did think very highly
of Sage’s family, but I wasn’t ready for marriage and I didn’t
want to give up my studies. So I said no. He didn’t take rejection well. If he had been willing to wait, we likely would have
gotten married after my mother died, and I wouldn’t be here
right now. He married someone else less than a year after I
turned him down.”
Finch was quiet for a moment. Snyder could tell that
having to make many difficult choices at an influential age with
little guidance had affected her deeply. It explained her reluctance in making decisions in general.
Lohnes stood up behind him and gestured down the
beach.
“The last of your rivals return.”
Ebon was nearing the “Solange”, drifting along the
rocks, and Reid followed a fair distance away.
“We will gather up your devices and prepare to depart
for the next Trial. Meet me on deck in five minutes.” With that,
Lohnes strode down to greet the final two.

191

12
Hidden Treasure
The competitors gathered on deck waiting for direction
from Lohnes.
“I have the scores for you, and you may or may not be
pleased with the results, but try not to let that have any bearing
on your further efforts. The scores were as follows: Urwick
40...”
Everyone stared in disbelief. The mage who could do no
right had finally done no wrong.
“Ebon 37, Nia 31, Snyder and Reid 29, Tom 26, Finch
and Cerissa 23, and Shetland 17. The resulting tally as of the
current moment. Ebon 202, Cerissa, 192, Tom 166, Finch 161,
Reid 160, Nia 141, Snyder 124, Shetland 80 and Urwick 72.”
No one spoke. Even Ebon was surprisingly silent, considering his new lead. The scores were close, and Ebon and
Reeree seemed destined to place in the top two, but who would
take the third seat? Even Nia seemed to have a chance at this
point. Only the final three had little hope at a win.
Lohnes waved them forward and headed down the gangplank, setting out along a pathway inland. The light was
growing dim, but visibility was only beginning to be hindered
and likely, they could complete the Trial without supplementary
illumination.

192

Hidden Treasure
The path led them into a salty smelling marsh and as they
wove their way through the tall grass, they lost sight of the beach
and the Solange altogether. They were forced to step carefully
for, as Shetland discovered much to his disgust, stepping off the
path could send you knee deep into wet, stinky, black mud. In
his case, it was more like thigh deep. With some assistance from
Tom, Reid and Lohnes, the dwarf was dragged back onto the
path. The others avoided him, as he now smelled worse than
before, so Shetland trudged along at the back of the pack, grumbling as his boots squelched with every step.
Eventually, the marshland opened into a clearing, a
pocket of dry, firm land surrounded by trees. The Way station
was a series of uninviting little huts fabricated out of willow
sticks and adorned with grass mats, and cotton pillows. Each hut
contained little clay jugs holding water and blackberry melomel.
The Common area was apparently a series of log benches assembled around a flickering orange campfire. The new Way
Station attendant stepped out from between two of the huts.
Most people seemed interested, raising their eyebrows and trying
to get a better look at the character who approached. Snyder
stiffened visibly. Their new attendant was a full-blooded satyr.
“Meet Baran,” Lohnes said. “He will see to your needs
for the next hour. It was nice to have had the opportunity to
meet all of you. Good luck.”
With that the giant set off for the Solange, although even
with the dusky sky, it was some time before he disappeared
completely from view.
Baran was definitely not the creature Snyder had seen reflected in his mirror. He wore noble finery, and carried himself
as one would expect from only a truly civilized gentleman. His
hair and beard were carefully trimmed, adding to his look of refinement, and his eyes gleamed with intellect. The only hint of
his true nature showed when his gaze lingered on Finch and Nia.
When Baran turned his attention to Snyder, they both refused to
look away. Snyder felt the hair on the back of his neck rise and
Baran curled his lip in contempt.

193

Magic University
Baran finally pulled away. He moved to the centre of the
clearing, near the campfire. His cloven hooves left subtle indentations in the soft mossy ground as he walked.
“First, the rules. I have nine maps of the swamp,” he
gestured to a large bag slung over his left shoulder. “Hidden
somewhere out there,” he flung his hand out in the direction of
the terrain surrounding the Way Station, “are nine golden tokens,
well concealed and well out of reach. They bear an MU on one
side and your Trial marker on the other, so attempting to steal
someone else’s is pointless. The token’s general location will be
clearly marked on your map and your goal is to retrieve the token and return it to this clearing before any of your rivals. This
is a race. The first in will score the highest point value, the next
in, five less, and so on. If you fail to bring in the token before
the end of the race, you will score no points. There will be a
lovely pyrotechnic display to signify the Trial has ended and you
must then return directly to the Way Station, token or no token.
Any questions?”
Reid was struggling to control Stiggle who had spotted
some movement in the swamp grasses. He knew the imp would
be a required resource for this test and he was not about to let
him wander off. He did manage to get one question out through
gritted teeth, however.
“Are there any spell limitations?”
Baran shook his head. “Consider this a test of magical
ingenuity. If you are clever enough, any spell may be of some
use during this Trial.”
“And our time limit?” chimed in Reeree.
“You have approximately 45 minutes. I assure you, for
most of you there will be no opportunity for dawdling. Not
without sacrificing a few points. Is that everything?”
There was some murmuring, but no further inquiries.
“Good, I will hand each of you a map. When I indicate
you may begin, you may unroll your map and proceed.”
Baran distributed the maps to the competitors and stood
back.
“You may begin.”
194

Hidden Treasure
Everyone scrabbled to open their maps. Seconds later,
they had all disbursed, disappearing into the marsh in various
directions.

~MR~
Tom huddled in the shadows on the edge of the clearing,
waiting there for the others to move out of view. He was very
pleased that he had not expended the spell he was about to use
on the Extended Reach Trial. He slid a scroll from his belt
pouch and unrolled it next to his map. He then selected a coin
from the same pouch and placed it on the ground beside the map
and scroll. He began the incantation and after a series of words
and gestures, the coin seemed to dissolve into a haze. When the
haze solidified, it was not the coin that lay in the dirt but a lovely
shiny token, glittering gold, with an MU stamped on one side
and Tom’s Trial marker on the other.
This was no forgery or attempted substitution. If you
were able to envision the required prize, Magic Transference
would exchange something of similar size for the desired item.
Wherever the token had been hidden, the coin from his pouch
now lay.
Tom crouched and eagerly scooped the token into his
hand. He headed towards the clearing, with every intention of
claiming first place.

~MR~
Finch had no problem following the map, as her keen
eyes were unhindered by the twilight. After a couple of minutes
strolling through the boggy terrain, she came upon a craggylooking dead tree, uprooted and rotting in the black mud. Something instinctual told her that her token was hidden within -- but
where, and how could she get to it?
Approaching the tree, she allowed her fingertips to trail
over its rough barky surface. She closed her eyes, breathing
slowly and trying to simply “feel” the tree. As the edge of her
195

Magic University
fingernails caught upon an unnatural spacing in the bark, she
opened her eyes and looked down. There was a panel that had
been cut into the tree and then replaced. She managed to slide
the panel away and glanced down into the hollow. Within she
found a small wooden box, embossed with some type of wards.
That box held the prize - she had no doubt - but how to reach it?
She had a quick trick her mother had taught her targeting only
wood. She worked her magic and a green flame enveloped the
box. Seconds later, sitting in a pile of ashes in the palm of her
hand, was the desired token.
As Finch sprinted back, she breathed in the moist cool
evening air and laughed out loud. Tom was waiting for her back
at the Way Station when she arrived.

~MR~
Reid raced along the path, but unlike Finch, he had some
difficulty distinguishing the edge of the path. After the first two
missteps that resulted in him being ankle deep in mud, Reid
slowed to a leisurely stroll. The trip would have also gone a bit
faster had he not been forced to pause and wrestle Stiggle into
the bag. The imp had proven to be less than cooperative, so
Reid had decided his only recourse was brute force.
Reid caught himself abruptly, nearly falling as he tripped
over a small rock, unseen in the shadows of dusk. Stiggle
squealed as the sack and the imp within bounced hard against
Reid’s shoulder blade.
“Shut up!” barked Reid, trying to concentrate on the map
before him. “If you didn’t want to be in there you should have
been more receptive to my commands. You never treated Gerant with that kind of disrespect. It’s your own fault. If you do
what I say when I take you out of the bag, once I find what I’m
looking for you’ll be free to hunt until I call for you again.”
There was a few meek mewls from the bag, but Stiggle
gradually settled.

196

Hidden Treasure
When Reid arrived at the spot indicated on his map, he
was not very pleased at what he found there. The terrain was
fairly bleak looking, with the exception of an old rotting tree and
a medium-sized boulder. Otherwise, it was just grass and mud.
Reid dropped the sack. Stiggle screeched as it hit the mud.
“Out!” Reid ordered. “Find me gold, and then you can
do what you like.”
Stiggle rolled out of the sack and shook out his folded
wings. Giving Reid a hateful scowl, he leapt into the air and began to circle the area. Soon after, he gave a cry of triumph and
swooped down to the old tree. Reid was puzzled, watching
Stiggle alight upon the crook of the two main branches. The imp
stooped and tugged at something outside of Reid’s line of sight.
Stiggle managed to wrench something loose from a hollow in
the crook that could not be observed from below. He dropped a
small velvet case into Reid’s outstretched hands before he disappeared into the mist of the dimming sky.
Reid examined the box closely, turning it end over end.
There appeared to be some sort of magic restraint sealing the
contents of the box and preventing easy access. Reid also suspected, upon seeing familiar looking runes, that the casing was
trapped. After determining that the warding would come into
effect only if the box were opened, Reid set about removing the
seal. He planned on dealing with the trap afterwards.
“A general dispel should do the trick, as long as the caster magic wasn’t too strong...” he murmured to himself.
Reid felt confident that the binding would not be overly
powerful. After all, this was a Trial to test the abilities of novice
mages.
He cast the spell and waited. The wards faded from
view, countered by the spell as well, and the case gave a slight
hiss as the seal vanished. The lid yielded to gentle pressure and
as expected, the token gleamed brightly within.
Without wasting time, he slid the token from the box and
dropped it into his belt pouch. For a further measure of security,
he untied the pouch from his belt and gripped it tightly in his

197

Magic University
hand. Then he started back down the pathway, as quickly as he
felt was safe.

~MR~
Baran sat making small talk with Tom when Finch came
into the clearing and handed him her token. Reid followed a few
seconds behind her. They both sat down by the campfire to relax.
“So the treasure yielded itself quite quickly to the three
of you. I’d ask you what your method was, but most prefer not
to reveal it.”
Tom smiled, with a hint of smugness in his expression.
“A life of privilege may be part of it,” he suggested.
“I’m used to getting what I want, and I’m not afraid to strive for
it.”
Finch curled up her nose at this. She found this blatant
arrogance more than a little distasteful.
“And as is typical with the likes of most upper class folk,
you have no care with regards to who you have to step on to get
it. You don’t seem to consider whom you may be hurting in the
process.”
Tom cocked an eyebrow.
“I don’t see how that should affect you. The only way I
could possibly ‘hurt’ you is if I beat you - fair and square I might
add - at these Trials.”
Reid felt compelled to come to Finch’s defense as she
quickly regressed into silence, sitting with a rather cold and indifferent expression on her face.
Tom returned to his
conversation with Baran, this time discussing female conquests.
They spoke as if referring to battles or duels, revealing deceitful
tactics and expert manipulations. Finally Reid interrupted.
“Have you no respect for the fact that there is a lady
seated here, listening to your bragging? Not that she would have
the lack of sense to allow herself to be swayed by either of the

198

Hidden Treasure
likes of you, but you could consider her feelings. Most women
prefer not to listen to such swill.”
“That’s ok, Reid” Finch insisted. “I was just leaving anyway.”
She walked stiffly back to the hut deemed hers, without
attempting to hide her irritation. Baran chuckled and Tom
shrugged, returning to the conversation, but Reid knew he would
not feel satisfied until he had somehow driven his point home.
Now that Finch had left earshot, the conversation became
increasingly lewd and graphic.
“It would seem you’ve found a kindred spirit,” Reid interrupted again, addressing Tom. “This might explain why you
and Snyder became friends. Birds of a feather, eh?”
Tom abandoned the discussion momentarily, facing Reid
with a frown.
“Actually, that’s one area where we strongly differ.
Snyder and I usually prefer opposite types of woman, and he desires the more gentle and quiet ladies. They aren’t my type.”
“From what I gather, you do share an interest. And you,
with your betrothed being the noble and demure type, will have
to settle for gentle and quiet, whereas Snyder can choose whoever pleases him. You’ll have to accustom yourself to that type of
woman. If Snyder wishes, he can spend the rest of his life with
someone like...oh, let’s say Nia.”
Reid was not sure where all of this was coming from, but
he had sensed a definite tension as of late between Tom and
Snyder and suspected Nia might be at the root of it. Reid’s
words struck a definite chord with Tom. The prince was presented with a case where he could be denied something he
wanted, and unlikely to be able to influence the outcome.
In a sudden burst of rage, a loss of control Reid was not
expecting, Tom leapt to his feet and stormed angrily off into the
woods. Baran seemed a little surprised, but after briefly contemplating the last spot where Tom had been sitting, he turned
back to tend to the fire.

~MR~
199

Magic University

Shetland fumbled with his map. He might not be able to
read what was there, but he did not feel that put him at any disadvantage. He caught the gist of the directions, and that was all
that mattered. His token was not far away.
Pausing where he sensed the earth had been disturbed, he
got down on his hands and knees and sniffed the air close to the
ground. After a few seconds of searching, his sensitive nose
picked up the distinct metallic aroma of gold. He braced himself
where the scent was strongest and started to dig.
Several minutes later he dragged a small chest from the
hole he had hollowed out in the thick black mud. As he brushed
the muck away from the lid’s edge, he noticed some sort of writing that faded from sight at his touch. He grumbled to himself.
That had probably been important.
Gripping the lid and bottom tightly, he tried to pull it
open. The box would not yield, so he set it down and pondered.
There was a keyhole. He could try the same trick that had
worked at the first Way Station. He pointed a finger, his pinky
this time as the lock was smaller, and jammed it into the keyhole. The box trembled for a moment and the metal fittings
oozed away from Shetland’s finger. With a light shove, the box
lid fell open.
Like a starving child grasping at candy, Shetland fell upon the token with great urgency. Clasping the golden coin in a
tight fist, he stumbled to his feet. Without further hesitation, he
bounded down the pathway, hooting at the top of his lungs.

~MR~
Urwick had followed Shetland down his pathway. Stepping into the shadows he had watched the dwarf, taking notes as
Shetland had claimed his hidden prize. Urwick smiled as the
dwarf bounded past him with unrestrained joy.

200

Hidden Treasure
The dark elf shook his head in amazement. Why had
such a miracle been wasted by the Fates on the likes of a dwarf?
Some greater power was probably laughing somewhere at this
divine practical joke. It was shameful the way many of these
competitors had been blessed with great gifts, recognizing only
the hardship accompanying them.
He could not be too hard on them. He had had to face his
own demons once, and had come through fine enough. He had
survived his own hardships, but not totally unscathed.
Urwick looked over his shoulder. Shetland had moved
well out of sight.
“To me,” the dark elf whispered.
His token appeared in the palm of his hand. Closing his
fingers over it, he took a deep breath and followed Shetland
slowly down the pathway.

~MR~
Nia galloped down the pathway at top speed. She had
slipped in the mud twice already, but had managed to recover
easily, escaping its mucky grasp without much of a struggle.
She arrived at a fork in the road and stopped to consult her map.
This was where the treasure was supposed to be hidden.
She had no locating spell available to her. She could use
guesswork, but that might take all night. She only had so many
earth shift spells so she could not dig out the entire area, assuming the token was even buried somewhere. As there were no
other likely hiding places in this empty section of the marsh, she
was pretty sure that had to be the case.
Nia lay flat on the ground, trying to gauge if there were
any noticeable mounds or easily identifiable disturbances in the
mud. Much to her disgust, there seemed to be no such clues.
With a soft curse, she rose to her feet and kicked at the dirt in the
centre of the pathway. The loose soil shifted with ease, unlike
the hard, almost trodden, rock-like earth otherwise found there.

201

Magic University
Dropping to her knees, Nia scrabbled at the dirt with her claws
in several areas of the pathway.
When Nia was fairly certain she had narrowed her search
down to a couple of square feet, she cast her shift earth spell.
Seconds later, she held in her hand a small copper box that she
was sure contained her token. She grabbed the lid and pulled,
but it would not open. It was then that she noticed the wards inscribed around the lid. Those would have to come off, as they
obviously were keeping the box sealed and preventing her from
opening it. She dispelled them, not realizing that the symbols
had been the markers of a trap and that she had also removed
them both with the same spell.
She opened the lid with a hearty laugh and snatched up
the token. Then, she leapt to her feet and raced off down the
pathway.

~MR~
Shetland arrived at the Way Station slightly out of
breath, but cheerful. He tossed his token to Baran and disappeared into his cabin. A few moments later, Urwick appeared.
He also entered the clearing with little fanfare, and quietly
placed his token in Baran’s outstretched hand. He chose not to
remain by the campfire, leaving Baran and Reid in uncomfortable silence.
Nia sprinted in, less than two seconds later. Breathing
more heavily than Shetland had been, she handed her token to
Baran and took a seat beside Reid.
“So I’m second?” She inquired smugly.
“Not exactly...” Reid began. Baran shook his head vigorously, talking over Reid. “You’re actually sixth, pretty one.”
Nia was flabbergasted.
“Who…?” was all she managed to sputter.
Reid continued. “Tom was first and Finch second. I
made it in third. You just missed Shetland closely followed by
Uwick.”
202

Hidden Treasure
“What?” Nia looked as though she had been slapped
across the face. “Beaten by those losers...how?”
“They were simply faster than you, my dear. But no
mind, you beat the two leaders, and you were definitely not
last,” Baran said.
Reminiscent of Tom, Nia rose to her feet and stormed off
into the woods in a huff.
Eventually, some of the force of Nia’s aggravation wore
off and she settled on a large rock jutting out from the marsh
grass. She sat quietly for some time, watching the last light dying in the sky. She was suddenly facing the possibility that she
may not be able to struggle her way to third place, let alone the
top. Not that she had given up all hope, but it seemed much less
likely to become reality. She had never considered what she
might do if she did not win.
Nia had spent all of her savings on her training, she had
limited skills in any other trade, and she would have to support
herself somehow. Several possibilities flitted through her mind,
but none of them appealed to her in the slightest.
Nia heard the grass rustle slightly behind her. She turned
abruptly to face the intruder. It was Tom. She recognized the
look of lust on his face, but had not necessarily been anticipating
that she would see it again. He approached, and she stood to
face him. Without a word passing between them, she launched
herself at him and they fell into the mud, hurriedly pulling at
each other’s clothes. They struggled for dominance over one
another, their animal instincts overwhelming them. The pair
delved into each other, twisting, biting and embracing with no
other inclination than to fulfil their most basic needs.
When they were done they lay breathlessly in a dirty,
tired heap, enjoying the contact of skin on skin.
“Why?” breathed Tom. “Why does it have to be this
way? I can have almost anything I want whenever I want, why
can’t I have this too?”
“It’s not the way things were meant to be,” Nia whispered, rolling over and stretching out. “If you wanted something
longer term, I wouldn’t have been interested. I would have been
203

Magic University
wary of you. I don’t get the need for that. But this,” she gestured at herself and Tom, “this I understand.
“That’s not what I meant. I think I was making you an
offer - maybe one we could make work. I can’t marry you, and
that’s not what you want, but maybe we could settle on another
arrangement. I could put you up in a cottage all your own, and
provide you with anything you needed...”
“A mistress!” Nia snorted. “You want me to be a mistress, kept on the side to use at your whim? I don’t know what’s
worse, being chained at the ankle by a pair of gold rings or being
kept as a whore in storage, waiting to respond to some man’s
libido. Am I supposed to want to be some toy you play with
when you have a moment of leisure time where you can escape
your daily obligations? I couldn’t live like that!”
Tom looked forlorn, his blood still boiling from that
rushed moment of passion. “How is it any different from what
you are now?”
Nia stood, gathering her mud-sodden clothing with fervour. “I don’t live at anyone’s beck and call, and I don’t exist to
serve any particular person’s pleasure. I do what I please and if
that happens to coincide with your desires, so be it. But I refuse
to belong to anyone – I don’t care what price is being offered!”
Tom grew frustrated to the point of anger. Unaccustomed to being denied anything, he drew back his fist to strike
Nia, but found himself toppled into the dirt because of the binding spell. He gazed up at her, pleading.
“If you knew who I was, you wouldn’t deny me.”
Nia had already started to walk away, but she turned
back for a final response.
“I know who I am, and that’s all that matters.”

~MR~
Snyder sat on a rotting stump along the pathway marked
on his map. The token was hidden somewhere nearby, but how
was his bard magic going to help him find it?
204

Hidden Treasure
He contemplated the problem, occasionally rising to his
feet and pacing about the area. He eventually conceded the solution to his problem required more than a simple ground search.
He would have to find some original approach.
It was a shame that this was not merely a coin in his collection tin that he could summon to his hand with a quick lilt on
his flute.
He paused.
Perhaps that spell could serve his purpose...after all, the
token was gold and coin-shaped.
Snyder sat down on the stump once more. He wiggled
the flute from his pack and lifted it to his lips. He played the
basic spell song and waited, listening. He heard a faint, but resounding “tink!”
Somewhat more hopeful, he played the little ditty several
more times, trying to follow the accompanying “tink” sound as
he moved about. Eventually, his efforts brought him to a patch
of marsh grass which had been carefully tangled together in a
haphazard looking manner. Returning his flute to its rightful
place, he grasped the knotted tuft in both hands and started tearing it apart. At the centre of the twisted bundle lay a small tin
box which likely contained the token he sought.
A couple of songs later, he held the treasured medallion
in his hand. Snyder wondered how many had already returned
to Baran’s camp. He stepped onto the path and started on his
journey back.

~MR~
Reeree moved more slowly along her pathway than the
others had. She was growing weary, her age finally beginning to
show. She remained enthusiastic, but foot races and lengthy
treks through the wilderness were more activity than she was
accustomed to in a day. As she drew near to the marked location
on her map, she stumbled over to a large boulder and sat down.

205

Magic University
Fatigue had etched itself on her jolly little face and it was an effort for her to smile as she released Rex into the air.
“Seek magic,” she instructed, and the little albino bird set
off, circling the area in search of anything enchanted.
After several minutes of flitting about, Rex finally settled
on a small tangle of grass and chirped urgently. Reeree got to
her feet, approaching to investigate. Untwisting the matted grass
revealed a small, rose quartz coffer. She caught sight of the
wards along the edge.
The light was dimming, and her ability to focus was waning. After a couple a false starts, Reeree finally managed to
remove the wards protecting the coffer’s contents. A simple unlock spell to remove the seal, and the golden token within was
hers to claim.
Slowly rising to her feet, she strained her eyes to pick out
the pathway back to Baran’s camp. Ruing the trip back, she
trudged forward. Rex settled back on her shoulder, once again
nestling into her hair.

~MR~
Ebon was halfway to his destination when his map
slipped away from his telekinetic grasp. This had never happened to him before, but he had also never put such a demand on
his physical reach before today. He juggled the map with what
little physical force he could still manage to muster, flipping it
over so that he could at least memorize its contents.
He continued onwards, abandoning the map face up in
the mud. He had not expected this would happen, and knew it
meant that he would have to feed, something he rarely felt the
inclination to do. This did not please him. Feeding took time
and energy, and he had neither.
Arriving at what he believed was his destination, he began his search. He had no trouble locating the leather wallet that
contained the token. He could pick out with ease the two glowing magical auras surrounding the purse, and they smelt
206

Hidden Treasure
absolutely heavenly, like the aroma of fresh bread or strong coffee. He salivated at the thought of absorbing all of that sweet,
distinctly different energy. The one reminiscent of coffee was
harsh and bitter, but strangely satisfying, the other somewhat
bland, but slightly sweet and very substantial. That was the only
one he intended to feed off of, absorbing what he could as quickly as he could. This was the plan, but once he started, he could
not stop.
He had not recognized his hunger, had not realized just
how ravenous he had become. He sucked back the spell’s energies, lost in the instinct to feed and absorb. Before he had
realized it, he had completely devoured the first spell and had
started in on the second. He had lost all track of time, and as the
last drop of energy slipped past his ethereal lips, he stretched
out, thoroughly satisfied and replenished.
He wielded his new found strength to open the purse,
now devoid of any protective spells. There was no more fumbling. With nimble telekinetic manipulations, he undid the clasp
and was opening the purse when there was a strange whirring
and whistling noise that drew his attention away from his prize.
Suddenly the sky grew bright with a spectacle of colourful flashes and several sprays of lights. It was the pyrotechnical display
Baran had referred to earlier, marking the end of the Trial. Ebon
had failed.
He gazed down at the now useless golden token before
him, and howled.

~MR~
Back at the clearing, Reid sat with Snyder at the campfire. Baran had regressed into stony silence with Snyder’s
appearance and had moved away from the fire, concentrating on
preparing the magical fireworks which would mark the end of
the Trial.
Seconds after Baran’s departure, Snyder caught a
glimpse of an angry and mud-covered Nia rushing past him and
into her hut. Curious, he headed off in the direction from which
207

Magic University
she had come, hoping to determine the cause of her outrage. He
found Tom sitting on a patch of marsh grass, pulling on his
boots. Snyder eyed him accusingly.
“What happened?”
“Women are just too damned temperamental, especially
that one.”
“You didn’t—” Snyder began, his hackles rising.
“I didn’t do anything that she didn’t want, if that’s what
you are suggesting,” Tom interrupted. “I don’t need that, and I
thought you knew me better than that by now. But I did say
something she obviously took the wrong way. I’m sorry I
doubted you, old friend. It’s pretty evident she has no clue who
I am. She doesn’t recognize a good thing when she’s staring it
in the face.”
Snyder frowned, taking a seat on a fallen log opposite
Tom.
“What did you say to her that would make her that mad?”
“I suggested she be my mistress. You know I can’t marry her, and that’s not what she wants anyway, so I offered her
what I thought was the next best thing. She acted like I wanted
to put a collar around her neck and chain her to my bed. I mean,
really, I was offering her a life of leisure with practically anything her heart desired. When she loses this thing, where else is
she going to go?”
“Well, first of all,” Snyder replied, “she hasn’t lost yet,
and even if she does, I was going to offer to take her on as an
apprentice. There may be a few obstacles to overcome, such as
her prejudice towards Renegade magic, but we may be able to
work something out. Secondly, many women would find your
offer repulsive. I mean, the average hard-luck barmaid or street
tart might find it appealing, especially if they knew who you
were, but Nia truly is a free spirit. She may not have the best
way of dealing with her problems, and she might shy away from
any type of intimacy beyond the physical, but she fights for what
she wants with a ferocity I haven’t seen in a long time, and she is
refreshingly impulsive. You must see something appealing in

208

Hidden Treasure
her or you wouldn’t have made her that offer. You’ve never offered it to any woman before.”
Tom scowled, getting to his feet and pulling shreds of
marsh grass from his hair.
“And I doubt I’ll ever make a similar offer again. I like
her because she doesn’t want commitment and because she’s
rough and fun. That’s it. Mathilde is none of those things, dainty flower that she is. However, if Nia has such stern objections,
I’m sure there will be others who will be willing to lend me the
occasional morsel of excitement I crave in exchange for a few
shiny trinkets.”
Snyder nodded, expressionlessly.
“I’m sure there will be.”
He watched as Tom straightened a few more wrinkles
from his clothing and marched off towards the camp.
“...And Nia deserves better,” he breathed, when he was
sure Tom was out of range.

~MR~
Reeree arrived in the clearing and handed Baran her token mere seconds before he set off the pyrotechnics display.
Even above the din of the fireworks, all within the marsh shivered at the chill from Ebon’s keening. A few cautious stares
passed amongst the other competitors who sat by the fire or
emerged from their huts. No one was looking forward to the
wraith-mage’s return as they prepared to move on to the next
Way Station. No one but Urwick noticed when Ebon did reappear, sliding in silently amongst the shadows.
“With your performance so far, one failure will not cost
you a place in the top three,” Urwick whispered to him.
“Shut up!” hissed Ebon, his aggravation almost tangible.
Baran called them all forward.
“Please take and light a torch. We will be proceeding to
the next Trial.”
All but Urwick and Ebon moved forward to select a tikilike torch and set it aflame. Dusk had now passed, and they
209

Magic University
were all aware that darkness would now be a factor in any Trial
that lay before them.

210

13
Power Imbuement
“Before we go, I will give you your scores and tallies,”
Baran announced. “The scoring for Hidden Treasures is as follows: Thomas 40, Finch 35, Reid 30, Shetland 25, Urwick 20,
Nia 15, Snyder 10, Cerissa 5 and Ebon 0.”
Silence. Many were awed by the lack of performance
from the wraith-mage and the gnome. Baran continued.
“This results in these totals: Thomas 206, Ebon 202, Cerissa 197, Finch 196, Reid 190, Nia 156, Snyder 134, Shetland
105, and Urwick 92. And now that I’ve graced you with such
astounding news,” there was more than a hint of sarcasm in
Baran’s voice, “we’re off.” He lifted his tiki-like torch into the
air and started to walk into the darkness, away from the camp.
Ebon and Urwick lingered in the shadows at the rear of
the rank and file.
“How can you remain so bitter?” Urwick prodded. “You
are still in second place?”
The glowing redness of his eyes – all that could be seen
of Ebon in the darkness – narrowed.
“I should be outdistancing this pack of losers by miles.
Many of them reek of Renegade magic and the others are dawdling fools, or altogether incompetent.” Ebon was tempted to
say “you included” based on Urwick’s performance to date, but
he knew this was not true.

211

Magic University
“Perception and reality don’t always conform, Ebon,”
Urwick insisted. “You are quick to judge, focusing on others
blatant faults and blind to their hidden talents. Underestimating
someone else’s strength can be a huge weakness unto itself. If
you really want a chance of winning this, you have to stop second guessing everyone based on their perceived ability.”
“Few of them have any real value, no matter how deep
you scratch,” Ebon scoffed.
“That’s not true. I can see something in each of them.”
“Then your eyes are better than mine, dark elf.”
“Okay, take Nia, for example...” Urwick began.
“Hot-headed, overly impulsive, and, in general, a loose
cannon. Not to mention completely unstable,” Ebon scoffed.
“But she has a very strong sense of self and has to be
somewhat resilient to survive some of the tragedies she has endured. And Finch...”
“An insipid little wall-flower, who lacks any confidence
and wallows in self-doubt,” huffed Ebon.
Urwick crossed his arms and cocked an eyebrow. “I suspect you should re-examine her potential. A shrinking violet she
may be, but if she gets the right push she will exceed all expectations. Cerissa?”
“A withered ball of pink fluff, but strangely talented.”
Ebon had to concede at least that much.
“More than a match for you,” Urwick suggested. “How
about Reid?”
“An indecisive and mediocre Renegade. He lives in the
shadow of his mentor.”
“That could change. And mediocrity often accompanies
indecisiveness, but some day he might buckle down and get focused. That may affect his path significantly.”
Urwick watched the others, who had gained some distance on them and were well out of earshot.
“Hunh!” sneered Ebon. “Not likely.”
“He could exceed expectations just as Finch may someday. Meanwhile, Tom mainly has to live up to the ones already

212

Power Imbuement
held for him,” Urwick said, gesturing to Tom and Snyder who
walked directly ahead of Ebon and him.
“Our regal prince? If arrogance were drops of water he
would have drowned by now. He thinks he is all-deserving and
without flaw. He and his simpering lackey both reek of Renegade magic.”
“Now, now; this would be a good example of the pot
calling the kettle black. Tell me exactly where you draw the line
between a lack of confidence and arrogance, my friend. Nothing
helps win a competition like a positive attitude. Besides, Renegade magic, while undisciplined can still prove to be very
powerful. You would know that from personal experience.”
Urwick knew this last comment would be like pouring
lemon juice on a paper cut, but Ebon had been asking for it. In
response, with a burst of rage, Ebon flew off into the shadows,
distancing himself from Urwick.
The dark elf watched him go, grinning smugly. They
had not actually gotten to the point of discussing themselves.
The group came to a sudden stop. They had arrived at
the next Way Station. It was a bizarre locale, a massive rock
outcropping surrounded by trees. On one side of the outcropping was a large opening into a giant chamber-like cavern. On
the other side, built right up against the rock, was a lofty chalet
with a scenic roof patio.
A pale face peered down at them. The stranger tossed a
large wooden staff to the ground, and then scrabbled down the
side of the building after it.
When the attendant came to a stop at the base of the cliff,
he faced them. Finch recognized him as one of the Aquatu, the
coastal elves who were much stronger and stouter than their
woodland brethren. He had coal black hair braided at the sides
and ice-coloured eyes. He was wearing the bare minimum of
leathers and a wicked grin. Before Baran could speak, this new
attendant introduced himself.
“I am Wulf,” he announced. “Wulf Reefrock. And this
is the Way Station for the Trial of Power Imbuement. There is
spring water in the common area if you wish to slake your thirst
213

Magic University
before we begin, but you will have little opportunity to otherwise
make use of my hospitality, a few minutes before and after the
Trial and that is all.”
He paused, stooping to pick up his staff.
“You will have three minutes to ready yourselves, and
then you must join me at the cavern entrance.”
Wulf then drifted off towards the cavern mouth.
The competitors felt a little lost. Baran had quietly crept
away as Wulf was speaking. There was a bit of shuffling and
milling about before one by one they followed after Wulf without bothering to enter the chalet.
The cavern mouth seemed to grin at them as they approached, with great stalactites and stalagmites becoming
silhouetted teeth in the dim light. Wulf stood within, directing
each of them to a workbench as they entered. A small bag was
perched atop each bench. When everyone was in place, he began his instructions.
“I will now hand each of you a relic, prepped to be a receptacle of temporary or permanent enchantments. Your
objective is to imbue this with as much magical power as you
are able to within the next 35 minutes. At the end of that time,
you will wait here as I test each item. You have a bag before
you that will provide any material components that you may require. Scoring will be based on the potency of each spell with
which the relic is empowered, up to a maximum of 40 points.
And if you are somehow able to imbue the relic with a permanent enchantment within such a limited time period, it is an
automatic 40 points for that single spell, no matter how potent.”
He paused briefly. “Are there any questions?”
Finch raised a hand.
“By potency, do you mean spell strength or duration?”
“Both actually,” Wulf replied. “A strong spell of a short
duration will have a similar point value to a weaker spell of a
much longer duration. Anything else?”
The competitors remained non-responsive or shook their
heads “no”.

214

Power Imbuement
“Good. Your time begins when I indicate you should
start.”
Wulf paused, raising his intricately carved staff high
above his head and striking it violently against the cavern floor.
The rock around each of the tables began to morph and shift, until each competitor and their workspace had been surrounded by
a thin wall of stone.
“You may begin,” Wulf declared. His smooth but deep
voice echoed throughout the chamber. He wandered back to the
rocky cavern wall, and swung up onto an outcropping, perching
there to wait out the next 35 minutes.

~MR~
Reeree was very relieved that there was no physical element to this Trial. She gathered up the rosewood statuette
before her and considered her plan of action. She allowed herself five minutes to determine what combination of spells she
would be best able to complete, given the time restrictions, for
the highest probable point total. Then, she set about the task of
concisely proceeding as planned.
First was old faithful, her colour spell. Rosewood, she
figured, deserved to be pink. She followed with another simple
spell - illuminate. As the statuette lit up, Reeree’s section of the
cavern took on a lovely rosy glow.
With a cheerful smile, Reeree next enchanted the statuette with another small spell called blossom. Tapping into the
inherent nature of the wood, she brought forth a series of leaves
and pale pink flowers.
She was enjoying this game and was starting to feel
somewhat rejuvenated. Her renewed excitement helped her to
fend off some of the fatigue she had been experiencing and improved her concentration. Considering the simplicity of the
spells and her knowledge of them, it was no surprise that there
were no false starts this time around.
She followed with two more lesser incantations, making
the wood resistant to wood rot and water damage. Finally, she
215

Magic University
invested her last few minutes in two more potent enchantments.
She magicked the statuette to levitate and as a piece de resistance, shrank it down to the size of a thimble.
Placing the tiny glowing trinket hovering over the palm
of her hand, she sat back and waited for the wall to drop.

~MR~
Ebon brooded at first, still sore over the results of the last
Trial, but he was well aware that he had this competition beat,
and gradually his anger subsided.
He picked up the ebony wand before him, which had
been carved into the image of a black cat.
“Cute,” he muttered sarcastically.
Here, his current form would prove to be a true advantage over his rivals, as they struggled to place as many puny
temporary enchantments on their relics as possible. He could
access power that they could not even dream of reaching through
regular means. As a result, he would have his lone permanent
enchantment in place long before the halfway mark of their time
allotment. With a malicious grin, he focused on his relic.
Reaching into that other dimension, as opposed to stepping in and out again as he had before, was like plunging your
hand into a waterfall. It was harsh, cold and powerful, but he
could direct the flow of magic from there and use it to harness
the spell to the relic that he was enchanting. The spell became
bound to the item and remained there unless someone could unleash that harness. Ebon could undo these permanent enchantments, but few others could. He continued on, enduring the unpleasant sensation.
There were some limitations involved. Certain spells repelled the harness. Anything associated with heat and light
would not adhere to this magic from the other side, even though
Ebon could use the energy to power all of his spells. This meant
no wands of fireballs or lightening …but Ebon had another plan
in mind.

216

Power Imbuement

~MR~
Finch stared intently at the willow rod, her mind awhirl
with ideas. Many were unreasonable given the time use they
would require for their potency level, so she disregarded them.
Some were a little dubious, but one spell which her mother had
taught her to help out the local farmers was both reasonably potent and long lived. If she could bolster its point value with a
few minor incantations, she could make good use of her time.
The spell was a water-divining spell and would turn the
willow twig she held into a divining rod. As far as she was
aware, it had never left any of the farmers who had come seeking their help dissatisfied.
Finch fumbled through the component bag for a few seconds and came up with the few inexpensive items that the spell
required. They seemed to almost spring into her hand at her
whim.
Cautiously, she began her work, aware that she would
have a few minutes left at the end when the divining rod was
complete.
Several minutes later, she set down the rod, not daring to
test it out and turning her attention instead to any small spell she
could manage in the time remaining. She settled on the most
familiar one, illuminate, and sighed happily as the rod lit up with
a soft white glow. That, she hoped, was all she would need to
score well at this Trial.

~MR~
Reid made Stiggle sit on the workbench as he examined
the relic he had been given. It was some form of baked clay talisman, molded into the shape of a grinning imp’s face. He
poked at it a couple of times and scratched at its surface, all the
while keeping it well out of Stiggle’s reach. Once Reid was satisfied that the talisman was not very fragile, he handed it to
Stiggle and instructed him to hold it, without eating it.

217

Magic University
Reid was keenly aware that Stiggle’s inherently magical
nature would help to secure any spells to the talisman, making
the imp a useful tool as long as he did not decide that the bauble
looked like lunch.
Ironically, the first moment Reid did turn his back, Stiggle decided to ignore his master’s wishes and gave the talisman a
hasty nibble. Luckily for Reid, Stiggle found the talisman less
than appetizing and promptly let it drop back into his cupped
little clawed hands.
When Reid turned again, Stiggle grinned up at him, trying to look innocent. Reid sighed. He knew the imp had been
up to no good, but as everything still seemed to be in its rightful
place, he decided to let the issue slide.
With all components on hand, Reid set about casting his
three enchantments of choice, all protective spells which Gerant
had taught him so that he could help his mentor guard his belongings versus theft. The first spell sensed danger and warned
the caster, the second was a minor wards which would activate if
anyone but the caster touched the item, and the last one was a
sun rune which emitted heat and brilliant light if the enchanted
item was disturbed without speaking a command word. Because
Stiggle was serving as a channeling vessel for these spells, he
was immune to their effects.
Administering the final touches, Reid took the talisman
back from Stiggle and waited the few seconds for the rock shield
to fall away. He believed his strategy was sound, but only time
would tell.

~MR~
Nia chuckled as she slowly turned the silver scepter,
shaped like a snake, over in her hand. She had enchanted similar
trinkets for her teacher’s children, and firmly believed turning
the item into a play-thing would be the best way of scoring the
most points. She placed the scepter on her workbench and started digging through the bag of components.

218

Power Imbuement
As she withdrew the items she would need, she considered the spells that would be required to turn her relic into an
entertaining toy. She would give the item life-like colour and
have it squirm on command. She would also have to make it
come to her when instructed to do so. After she was done putting these spells into place, she was then faced with several
remaining minutes with which to work more magic.
She ran through her repertoire of spells. Her teacher,
Astrelle, had shown Nia one enchantment that she had created to
guard her metal belongings. When the item was moved by
someone other than people specified by the caster, it would
begin to heat up, gradually becoming too hot to handle. Apparently, many a pickpocket had had their baggage ignite in flames
because they had stolen something from the wrong mage.
Nia laughed as she cast the spell. Handling this snake
would give someone quite a surprise.
As she put the finishing touches on the spell, she heard a
loud “crack” and the stone wall surrounding her workbench began to descend.

~MR~
Tom examined the bronze circlet he had been given, tentatively. Snyder had taught him little in the way of item
enchantments, claiming that any such spells with real potency
required a discipline above and beyond that of a Renegade mage.
Tom laughed quietly to himself. He could not imagine what
Snyder would know about discipline, but at least he recognized
he did not have it. Perhaps that was why Tom believed he could
exceed the power of his mentor, with the right training.
Tom propped up the circlet on his fingertips and started
with two minor incantations. The circlet warmed with a familiar
glow, pale and orange, and he cast alarm on it to personalize it to
his touch. He paused, delving into thought.
Tom decided one of Snyder’s bardic spells would actually be applicable. He added a laughter spell to the relic.

219

Magic University
Beyond such spells, Snyder had only allowed him to access those that could aid him in combat, something he might
actually need someday, but this relic was not a piece of armour,
nor a weapon. Then again...
While the circlet was reasonably delicate and would do
little to injure an opponent, it could be an annoyance if flung at
someone with a goodly amount of force, and Tom’s boomerang
spell would bring it back to him. He dug about in the component bag, and after a few minutes he had completed the fourth
spell.
Tom rocked back on his heels, slipping the circlet onto
his head and considering what would likely be his last spell. He
breathed deeply, well-aware that precious seconds were ticking
away. Smokescreen came to mind, but he was not sure if he had
enough time left. On the other hand, it was potent enough that it
should prove to be a reasonable amount of points.
He grimaced, and proceeded to start work on the spell.
He would work with as much speed as he could muster.

~MR~
Snyder juggled the little jade frog from hand to hand. He
had already decided he would treat the relic as he would any
stage prop, and work with a multitude of lesser spells, but there
was still the matter of choosing the ones which would be the
most appropriate.
He pulled out his flute and warbled off a stretch of spell
tunes: wiggle, glitter, laughter, hum, stink, ring, jump and
smoke. The shimmering little frog would be a veritable spectacle when activated. Snyder leaned over his workbench, fatigued
and out of breath from his efforts. He glanced up at the sparkling green rock atop his workbench and considered what
remained as finishing touches. Straightening up, he stretched his
hand in preparation for two more songs.
Enamoured with the jade brilliance, Snyder decided the
colour spell he would cast would merely serve to enhance the
natural beauty of the stone, adding shadow, texture and gold and
220

Power Imbuement
brown highlights to the amphibian’s surface. Lastly, illuminate,
so that the frog would not merely glitter, but would also truly
shine.
Gazing into the soft emerald light, Snyder admired his
craftsmanship. Sometimes, it was the little things which made a
difference. What he would lose for potency, he would make up
for in sheer volume. Now it was just a matter of seeing how the
others fared.

~MR~
Shetland glared at the small metallic hammer on the
workbench before him. He felt the competition organizers had
purposefully created this Trial just to taunt him, for he could no
more influence this little token than he could grow a daisy out of
the top of his head. To make matters worse, the trinket was magic-imbued metal - the bane of his existence.
He snatched up the little hammer with a snarl, smashing
it several times against the workbench in annoyance. He
stopped, breathless, with saliva trailing down his lips and chin.
With a snort, he noticed that his frustrated rally had put divots
into the stone of the workbench but had left the relic unhindered.
With a frantic howl, Shetland shoved the miniature
hammer in his mouth and tried biting down on it. This time, he
did manage to mark the metal slightly, but not without causing
himself pain. With a yelp, he spat the relic out and clutched at
his jaw.
Muttering angrily to himself, Shetland stared down at the
little replica. It had landed in the components bag, head down
and haft up. Grasping the bag in one hand and the tiny haft in
the other, he began stirring it around haphazardly. Various
components spilled out of the bag as he did this, splattering
across the work bench and onto the floor. Shetland stirred fervently until the rock wall about him began to shift and slide
away. He pulled out the hammer, blew off some of the powdery
remnants, and clutched the relic warily, awaiting his fate.

221

Magic University

~MR~
Urwick hopped up onto the work bench, ignoring the laurel wreath beside him. Pulling out parchment and a self-inking
quill, he began to scribble. After a few moments he frowned and
rubbed at his eyes. There was just enough light to cause him
problems. Any dimmer and he would see clearly, and with a bit
more light his secondary sight would kick in, but with the current level of brightness, he found reading a strain. Urwick
touched his finger to the quill, whispered, and the quill took on a
soft white glow, increasing the brightness in the niche ever so
slightly.
Satisfied with the change, Urwick returned to scribing his
notes.

~MR~
Wulf climbed off his perch and moved to the center of
the chamber. Once again, he raised his staff above his head and
brought it down with a thunderous “crack!” The walls separating the work areas of the competitors began to tremble and
bubble. Then the shaped stone curled down and away, exposing
the contestants to each other once more.
Wulf gestured for their attention, wandering over to a
tenth unused work bench.
“Place your enchanted relics here,” he directed. “I will
now test them.”
He set about checking each individual item for its new
abilities, determining potency and duration for the judges. When
he arrived at Shetland’s little hammer, he looked puzzled.
“I can’t determine the nature of the spell used on this...
what is it?” Wulf inquired. Shetland raised an eyebrow and
shrugged.
Wulf’s instructions were to actually test out any item if
there were questions with regards to its enchantment. Considering the creating mage himself could not offer answers, Wulf was
thinking that perhaps this method would be unwise. On the oth222

Power Imbuement
er hand, he did not want to be considered at fault for causing an
unnecessary delay in the Trials. Wulf asked everyone to back
away, and then brought the hammer down on the workbench surface with a fair amount of force.
The entire cavern shook and the rock of the workbench
began to split. As the crevice widened, bouts of steam began to
rise from its centre. All the competitors watched on nervously.
Even Ebon remained wary.
Wulf believed he may have acted too hastily.
The real panic started when a set of giant glossy black
claws appeared at the edge of the hew, followed by an enormous
brownish-red scaly hand and a huge, grinning demonic face.
The creature’s smile revealed a mouthful of needle-like teeth the
size of an average man’s forearm. His reptilian eyes searched
the crowd for a target and he lashed out without warning, grappling Nia with his great talons.
Instead of acting, Wulf retreated. One of the potential
new students might be eaten on his watch, and no manner of
dealing with this problem came to mind.
Then, he fainted.
Many of the others were in no better a state of mind.
Finch cowered at the far-side of the cavern alongside Shetland
and the normally regal Tom. Reid stood between them and the
beast, but felt powerless to act, all too aware that it was a similar
circumstance that had brought about Gerant’s demise. In fact,
there were only four who leapt forward to act: Urwick, Ebon,
Reeree and Snyder.
The rest of the short-lived battle was a blur to those who
hid in fear. Reid however played spectator to the entire affair.
Reeree circled the creature hoping to find a more advantageous position from behind him as Urwick launched himself at
the beast, hands outstretched. He lurched to a stop at the edge of
the crevice, screaming an incantation at the top of his lungs. A
great strand of magical energy encircled the demon as it raised
Nia above its mouth, preparing to devour her whole. Urwick’s
magic was strong, but the creature was stronger and it would be
moments before it broke free and continued its mayhem.
223

Magic University
It was at that point that Urwick felt Ebon’s hand reach into him and lend a flow of magic from his alternate plane,
strengthening and enhancing Urwick’s spell. The feeling was
nothing like Urwick had ever experienced before, and he suspected nothing like he would ever experience again. Energy
pulsated through him as he fed off of the magical battery that
was Ebon. At the same time, Urwick felt trapped, unable to
move, unable to disconnect from the great surge of power, and
for a moment he felt drawn backwards into the alternate plane.
For a moment, he understood what it meant to be Ebon.
And then, it was gone. Ebon had released him, the demon had disappeared, the rock had sealed and Reeree was
struggling to get out from underneath a fallen Nia. No one was
badly injured. Nia and Reeree had a few bruises from the impact
and Snyder stood by the shattered workbench looking somewhat
dazed, but aside from an unconscious Wulf, everyone was mostly unscathed, at least on a physical level.
Urwick could not understand it – all he had done was put
up a barrier to restrain the beast. Where had it gone? He looked
at Ebon.
“What did you do?” the dark elf demanded.
“I lent you a hand; it looked like you needed it. But
don’t get any ideas. I just did it because I didn’t want that thing
spoiling the competition. The last thing I want is to have to go
through these Trials all over again. The sooner I can separate
myself from this lot, the better.”
Urwick knew Ebon was not telling him the whole truth.
In fact, Urwick doubted Ebon would ever be able to lie to him
effectively again.
“No, that’s not what I meant. I know you helped me
with the restraint spell, and I appreciate that, but how did you
make it disappear?”
“I didn’t,” Ebon admitted. “I thought you did.”
That left Reeree, Snyder or Reid. Puzzled, Urwick approached the one he deemed the most likely candidate.
“Reid, what spell did you use to eliminate the demon? I
thought we were all doomed.”
224

Power Imbuement
Reid stared at him blankly.
“It wasn’t me, Urwick, I thought you and Ebon had dispatched it. If it wasn’t you, it must have been...”
It was at this point that Wulf began to stir. He looked
about frantically, clutching at his wooden staff. The expression
of terror slowly eased from his features as he confirmed that the
demon was gone. He did a mental head count, then his icecoloured eyes sought Urwick out of the crowd.
“What happened?”
“You mean after you fainted?” Urwick snapped, giving
him a pointed stare. “Someone dealt with the problem. I can tell
you who definitely was not our saviour, but I can’t say for certain who it was. One thing I do know is that we seem to be
reasonably safe, no small thanks to you.”
Wulf’s eyes narrowed.
“I was just following instructions,” he growled. “You all
are supposed to be no better than mere apprentices. I shouldn’t
have to deal with the likes of summoning magic. That should be
far beyond your level of power.”
Shetland, who was still trying to make like a rock and
blend into the scenery, bolted upright.
“Did I hear you right? Does that mean I get full points
for this Trial?”
“Mmmm…although I think you ought to be penalized for
jeopardizing all of our lives. Sadly, that doesn’t factor into this
situation, as you weren’t the one who summoned the demon effectively, and the binding spell prevents you from doing
anything like this with any intention to harm. Perhaps we should
consider expanding on that…somewhat.” Wulf gritted his teeth
as he spoke, rubbing at some bruises suffered as he had collided
with rock in his dead faint.
Then a startled expression crossed Wulf’s face.
“Wait a minute...how long was I out? We need to move
on to the next Trial!”
Wulf spent the next few minutes herding the dazed and
bewildered competitors out of the cavern along with their tiki
torches. He had them gather in front of the Way Station.
225

Magic University
“The next attendant will have your tallies for you. Follow me, and no dallying. We are late as it is.”
Urwick observed everyone closely as they started towards the next Trial grounds. The demon incident had shaken
even the bravest of souls and had changed the overall mood.
Finch and Tom looked gloomy, enduring some shame over their
cowardice. Nia and Snyder appeared dazed – suffering some
shock from the incident. Reeree seemed sore and exhausted,
Reid confused and Ebon and Shetland...well that was difficult to
fathom, but the two were talking together, and that seemed odd
enough.
“How did you do that?” the wraith-mage rasped. “My
mistress was capable of performing such a feat, but not without
some risk of error. And I hope to be able to reach that point of
power someday, with the appropriate training, but I can’t manage it yet.”
“It was an accident,” grunted Shetland.
“What! You mean you managed to do that without specifically trying? Think about what you could achieve if you
knew what you were doing. Urwick was right – I have been underestimating the competition.” Ebon’s tone had changed,
holding a hint of awe, so different from his usual sullen hiss.
“But I don’t want any of that,” Shetland grumbled. “I
never did. Everything has always been just another accident.
All I want is to be normal. Surely you can understand that, if
anyone here can. I don’t want to live this way, and if it comes
down to it, I just won’t. These Trials are my last hope.”
Ebon was taken aback. He had just been thinking that he
had found in Shetland a glimmer of hope that he might someday
escape his own situation, and even if that were not the case,
while he was somewhat unhappy with his current state, it was
not all bad. Yet for some reason, this dwarf, who seemed to
have suffered a much less severe twist of fate, was on the verge
of drowning in despair. To Ebon, this just did not make sense.

226

Power Imbuement

~MR~
Fortia and Burrell had been perched over the pool, faces
pale. After a prolonged silence, their tension eased and they settled back into their seats.
Burrell, now growing red-faced with repressed anger,
shot Fortia an annoyed stare.
“I told him that dwarf would be trouble, but he insisted
we allow him as one of the competitors. If he weren’t participating in these Trials, we wouldn’t be dealing with the likes of that
misfit, nor Ebon for that matter. That situation nearly became
one of the worst disasters in Trial history. We’ve never had to
deal with the prospect of this many deaths before.”
“You forget that your own favourite was also here by his
choosing,” Fortia pointed out, with a shrug. “He seems to have a
preference for the underdog, and so it is that two of the less stellar candidates have been, up to this point, stealing the show.”
“That might be so, but that still doesn’t excuse this mess.
In fact, had it not been for one of my more typical selections, we
would have to explain multiple casualties to our Board of Directors. One would never have expected to see such a display of
power from a bard, especially one who is failing so miserably at
these Trials,” Burrell retorted.
“Hah! Don’t pretend such naivety, Burrell. He must be a
Renegade, and a potent one at that. As much as we have tried to
weed them out and keep their type away from these Trials, more
than half of that lot are Renegades. The only thing we can be
thankful for is that they’re here because they’re willing to convert.” Fortia stood as she spoke, towering over Burrell.
He did not look up at her, but forward into the pool.
“Let’s hope that truly is the case. They may just be here to recruit our own best away.”

227

14
Varied Knowledge
The next Way Station was well lit and visible from quite
a distance. It was an old previously-abandoned lighthouse,
perched on the top of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. At the
summit, standing near the edge, the Solange could be observed
where it lay on the beach far below. A small wiry man with a
dark complexion, long black hair, spectacles and a large hookshaped nose, stood waiting in the doorway. He tapped one foot
impatiently.
“This is your next Attendant,” Wulf blurted. “His name
is Moe, and I suggest you join him as quickly as possible. We
are already late.”
Wulf waved them on and then scurried away. Moe
watched them approach, his arms crossed, and his face disdainful.
“I hope there is a reason my cohort delivered you in a
less than prompt fashion. No matter, I have no interest in hearing his excuses...we will just have to make up for lost time. So,
you have exactly three minutes to place your belongings in your
personal space and join me in the lab.” He gestured at a small
plain blue door to the left.
“I will explain the Trial process in there. There will be
no time to socialize prior to the Trial, and you can consult your
scores for the previous Trial upon completion of this one. I will
228

Varied Knowledge
post the scores in the library, next to the Common Room. Now
hustle.”
The strange little attendant’s voice was somewhat nasal
and very piquant. He was not one with much tolerance for those
who did not value punctuality.
Three minutes later, the competitors had rejoined Moe
and were exploring the contents of the large laboratory. They
followed the svelte man, who was dressed in long, plain, brown
robes, to an enormous metal table. A multitude of magical items
had been laid out across the table top, and each item bore a
numbered tag. There was a slate board and chalk for each individual.
“This Trial is essentially a follow-up to the last one.
You have proven how capable you are at enchanting a magical
relic, now we will test your ability to recognize and identify
them. On this table are 20 items. Your objective is to determine
if the item is enchanted, and if so, with what particular type of
magic. The more you identify correctly, the more points you
will receive. You may stay for the full 45 minutes or you may
depart as soon as you deem yourself finished, but once you leave
this room, you will not be permitted to re-enter. Do you have
any questions?”
Moe’s eyes swept across the room. Most competitors
still showed some signs of shock: trembling hands, bewildered
stares and in most cases, general fatigue. The level of enthusiasm in the room was low.
“No questions. Good. Then you may begin at your leisure. If you need me, pull this bell-pull and I will rejoin you as
quickly as possible. In the meantime, I will be located in the
Common Room as Trial rules dictate.” Moe looked a little disgruntled at the mention of this last fact, but proceeded stiffly out
the door, leaving them all to their own devices.
They each gathered up a slate board and began to examine the items in greater detail. Shetland ignored the items at
first, and tried peering around other people’s shoulders, hoping
to get a look at their answers despite his inability to read anything but dwarven runes. To his dismay, even as they wrote he
229

Magic University
was unable to see what was being written. The slates had been
magically enchanted to preserve the information for the writer
and the judges’ eyes only. Grumbling under his breath, he abandoned his nonsensical tactic and set about gawking at the items
on the table.
A numb silence hung over the room until Snyder quietly
left the lab. He was closely followed by Reeree and Shetland,
the latter of which had given up the task almost as quickly as he
had his attempt at cheating. He had bothered to mark down
which items he believed to be enchanted and made a guess at
what they were, but he gave no further details as to their nature.
A few moments later, Reid put down his slate. He
glanced over at Finch, who smiled and then he strolled out the
door, soon accompanied by Tom. Finch remained for a few
more minutes before both she and Ebon decided they had accomplished what they could and departed from the room.
That left Urwick and Nia. Nia scrawled an occasional
observation on her slate, but stopped when she realized that Urwick was spending more time watching her, before he wrote
anything down, than he spent examining the magic items.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“The same thing you are,” he suggested, nonchalantly.
“I don’t think so,” Nia replied. She approached from the
other side of the table.
“What is your game, anyway?’ she said, handling one of
the items she picked up on her way over. She gestured at him
with it as she spoke, grinning.
Urwick’s eyes clouded slightly and his features grew
grim, reflecting an internal struggle. After a few moments he
stiffened, and his mouth curled into a forced smile.
“Would you believe that I’m taking notes for the judges,
and while I’d like to be out observing the others in the Common
Room, I have strict instructions that my primary function is to
observe the Trials themselves directly, whenever possible?”
Nia frowned, staring at the item in her hand with disgust.
She tossed it back onto the table.

230

Varied Knowledge
“Poo! It’s not what I thought it was.” She regarded Urwick with a sideways glance. “Ha, ha. Very funny.”
She scratched something off of her slate.
Urwick relaxed noticeably.
“Well it’s nice to see that you have recovered from the
last Trial’s scare,” Urwick commented, watching for her reaction.
Nia picked up another item from the table.
“It was quite exciting, actually, but I knew somebody
would eventually get me out of that mess. They’d never let anyone die in these Trials right? And thanks, by the way.”
“You’re welcome, but I’m only one of many who helped
out…and I’m not so sure about that death thing. I couldn’t have
restrained that beast for long without Ebon’s help, and I still haven’t figured out who was powerful enough to banish it. That’s
no apprentice spell,” Urwick confessed.
Nia dropped the item she was holding, looking somewhat
startled.
“Ebon helped me? I didn’t think he was capable of helping anyone but himself.”
Urwick shrugged.
“He’s quite capable; I just don’t think he has quite realized it yet. He refuses to acknowledge that he helped me for any
reason other than self-interest.”
Nia picked up the following item, scribbling a few more
notes onto her slate board, looking puzzled.
“So I have a mystery hero, do I? Well, I’ll figure out
who it is eventually. People aren’t that good at keeping secrets
from me.”
Urwick smiled at the irony.

~MR~
Moe was sitting in the Common room, staring intermittently at the plain off-white walls and black and white tiled floor.
His hunched shoulders and nervously tapping feet betrayed his
discomfort. He was not one who enjoyed social situations of
231

Magic University
any kind, especially enforced ones. He happened to glance toward the door when Snyder made an appearance.
The bard made a beeline to a soft-looking chair. He
seemed drained of all energy and near collapse. Moe’s eyes narrowed.
“It can’t have been that difficult,” the attendant sneered.
Snyder, who had closed his eyes to the brightness of the
room, allowed them to flicker open.
“No,” he said quietly. “I’m just tired.” Then, with a
slight smile he added, “It’s past my bedtime.”
Moe got to his feet. “Well I hope that didn’t affect your
performance on this Trial. I’ve told them they shouldn’t place
this Trial so near the end of the course, but no one ever pays
much attention to what I have to say.” His features hardened
into an unhappy grimace, his muddy brown eyes reflecting his
discontent. Snyder nodded sympathetically.
Reeree strolled into the common room, her bright pink
adornments screaming with colour in contrast to the black, white
and neutral tones that bedecked the walls and floors. Moe gave
her a cold stare, wrinkling his nose at her gaudy fashion sense.
Snyder perked up momentarily upon her arrival.
Reeree trundled over to sit beside Snyder. She leaned in
towards him.
“Can you tell me how you did it, or is it a secret?” she
whispered.
Snyder pulled back slightly. He had assumed only Reid
had been wary of his banishment spell, something no lowly apprentice should ever try and one even he had dared use out of
desperation. Being perhaps the most skilled of all the mages in
that cavern, he had felt the burden of protecting the others fall
squarely on his shoulders, especially with Nia in direct jeopardy.
Nonetheless, Reeree was aware that he was more than he
appeared, more than even the mirror had revealed. Snyder liked
being viewed as harmless and preferred to go unnoticed when
possible. In fact, the only person he had been hoping to perhaps
impress was Nia, and she had failed to acknowledge his assistance.
232

Varied Knowledge
Reeree watched Snyder struggle to respond. After several moments, she spoke up.
“It’s OK. I understand. We all have our reasons for being here and we all have our own way of dealing with different
problems.”
“Who has a problem,” grunted Shetland, as he strutted
through the common room door. “Aside from that twiggy fellow
over there,” he added, gesturing at Moe. Moe ignored the comment, leafing his way through a small leather-bound book.
Shetland clambered onto the firm tan-coloured couch
next to Reeree, setting his axe on the floor at his feet. “What
happened to the ale? There’s no ale here.”
Moe pulled his nose out of his book with a thin smile.
“Each attendant is given free reign to provide whatever
environment and or forms of hospitality they choose. I like to
read - so you’ll find a large and varied library just beyond that
door.” He pointed at a door at the far end of the room. “But
since they insist on placing this Trial so late in the day, I do not
see the necessity of providing food or beverages, as most of you
have likely gorged yourselves or drunk yourselves silly at the
other Way Stations. Besides, if you can restrain your avarice for
a short while, I’m sure the next Way Station will have something
to your liking. Edwin is a bit of a rabble-rouser who likes his
drink.”
Without awaiting a response, Moe returned his attention
to his book.
Scowling, Shetland slid off the couch and, picking up his
axe, marched out of the room. He just missed bumping into
Reid and Tom, who had recovered from earlier disagreements
and were chatting as they entered the common room.
Tom glanced about.
“Where are the scores from the last Trial?”
Both Snyder and Reeree were so drained that the thought
of checking their tally had not even crossed their weary minds.
Moe peered up from the book.

233

Magic University
“You’ll find the scores posted just inside the door of the
library but I’ve already memorized the sheet if you’d rather not
read them for yourselves.”
Tom strode over to the door, closely tailed by Reid. Reeree watched them go with some interest, but could not muster
the energy to join them. Snyder invested all his efforts in merely
staying awake.
The two men returned a few moments later. As they approached from one side of the room, Finch entered through the
other.
“Ebon’s back in the lead again,” Tom grumbled.
“You’re in second place for the first time,” Reid told
Finch. “I guess you know where your strength lies.”
Tom gave Reid a forceful nudge. “The winners have
hardly been decided. Ebon only has an eight point lead over
your lady friend, and Reeree is only five points behind that. No
one can say for certain yet what the final outcome will be.”
“Oh you’re just sore because you’re not in the top three
anymore, and I’m only four points behind you. Heck, even Nia
is catching up,” Reid chuckled.
“Perhaps, but the true underdogs continue to lag at the
back of the pack, right?” Snyder murmured.
“Sorry, Snyder,” Reid acknowledged. “You are still far
behind most of the others, and Shetland’s actually gaining on
you. He’s only 14 points behind you now.” Reid did not bother
mentioning Urwick. Even if he managed to get the top score in
all of the remaining Trials, Urwick was an unlikely candidate for
placing in the top three. He placed no threat to any of the other
competitors. Snyder rose up from his chair.
“I think I’ll be happy to just make it through the next few
hours without falling asleep standing up. There is a bed somewhere upstairs that is calling my name.”
Snyder passed Nia as he headed through the hallway to
reach the stairs. They both paused, greeting each other with silence, then moved on.

234

Varied Knowledge
Snyder had barely settled himself on the bed in his private quarters when there was a knock on the door. Optimistically anticipating Nia, he said: “Come in.”
Instead of the lithe and impulsive scaled-woman, Tom
swung through the door. He closed the door firmly behind him
before turning back to Snyder, his face clouded with rage.
Snyder watched him in silence, puzzled by the sudden show of
anger.
“I spoke with Reid, and he told me what you did back
there in the cavern. You’ve been holding out on me. I thought
the agreement was that you would prepare me for these Trials to
the best of your ability. You lied to me.” Tom’s eyes flashed as
he lashed out, but he did not raise his voice, or make any aggressive gestures. Snyder sat up on the bed.
“I never lied to you. I taught you all you needed to know
for these Trials and that was the agreement. I meant what I said
when I told you there were some things a Renegade should not
learn because they lack discipline. I happen to know that because I just took a risk back there that I shouldn’t have, I wasn’t
acting using reason. If the spell that I had tried had failed, and
there was a significant possibility that it would, we would have
been a lot worse off. Urwick and Ebon had the situation under
control when I overreacted. You may believe that you were
raised with a strong sense of discipline and control, but the truth
is that if you feel threatened, if someone is closer to perfect than
you are, you feel obliged to try and show them up, or at least belittle them in some way. Until you learn to repress that urge, or
until you have the type of controls that Magic University can
teach you, the more powerful types of magic should not be
available to you.”
Tom swelled with ire, the only thing holding him back
being the threat of the binding-spell.
“That wasn’t what I hired you to do. I hired you to teach
me what I needed to know to win. If I wanted you to decide
what I could and couldn’t handle, I would have let you know.
I’m my own keeper. I’m quite capable of choosing which risks
I’m willing to take.”
235

Magic University
At this point Snyder got to his feet. “I think not, your
Highness. If you did something incredibly stupid with the magic
I taught you, which led to your death, for example, I can guarantee your family would hold me personally responsible. I like my
head exactly where it is, thank you. As things stand, I would be
exiled from Seaforest for just being with you here today, even if
there weren’t other factors complicating the issue.”
Cursing under his breath, Tom bolstered his way out the
door. He charged down the hall and disappeared into his own
room. Nia and Reeree stood in the doorway and watched him
go, having inadvertently overheard some of Tom and Snyder’s
conversation. If Nia had been capable of growing pale, she
would have been as white as a ghost at that moment. She
glanced over at Reeree who frowned and disappeared into her
own private chamber.
Nia stared at Snyder’s door, considering the doorknob for
several minutes before walking away, following everyone else’s
lead. Her door barely made a sound as it closed softly behind
her.
Reeree peered out of her door after Nia had gone, slipping back out into the hallway and approaching Snyder’s. She
knocked quietly, and heard a sigh from within, with a quiet
“Come in.”
Needing no further prompting, she wandered in.
Snyder sat up with a start, obviously half asleep.
“Wha-what? Oh, Reeree, what are you doing here?”
Reeree stood at the end of the bed, her hands on her hips
and a stern look on her face. Snyder groaned, attempting to hide
his head under the pillow.
“I came here to talk to you about the foolish games you
and that princeling have been playing with Nia.”
Snyder moaned, re-emerging from behind the pillow. It
seemed he would get no peace from anyone after this Trial – and
no one could keep anything secret amongst this group.
Reeree continued. “That poor girl may normally have a
strong spirit, but she comes across as being particularly vulnera-

236

Varied Knowledge
ble at the moment and the two of you are taking advantage of
that fact.”
“But, I wouldn’t...” stammered Snyder.
“Hush! I’m not finished. You may have honourable intentions. She seems aware that you’re smitten and it has her
very confused. I can’t blame her really; you’ve hardly known
her a day and you and Thomas are playing tug-of-war with her
feelings like two dogs fighting over a piece of meat. I can see it
coming from him, because he was raised to believe he was better
than everyone else, but you…well...” her face softened somewhat, and her voice lowered. “You should know better.”
Snyder had a feeling Reeree understood him better than
he would have expected. He nodded quietly, grimacing slightly
at the internal struggle she had evoked. Past, present and possible future all seemed to place demands on him at once.
“If you really find her that appealing,” Reeree chided
softly, “then give her some room. She needs to find herself
again, that part she lost when things went bad. She needs time to
heal her wounds.”
Once sure that Reeree had finished her rant, Snyder finally seized the opportunity to speak.
“I understand that. I am keeping my distance in most
ways, and I wish Tom had the sense or decency to do so as well,
but the truth is my interest goes beyond that of a personal nature.
I need a new apprentice, or assistant. As much as I hate to admit
it, I’ve become dependent on the help Tom was giving me, and I
know we’ll be going our separate ways whether he wins or not.
Besides, Nia needs something worthwhile in her life, to make up
for all that loss, as much as I need a helping hand. She may not
see it yet, but we have a lot to offer each other, in addition to
friendship or beyond,” Snyder said, trying to make his case.
“Apprenticeship – or at least some form of mentoring –
do you think that’s proper? Where I come from it is highly unethical to teach someone for whom you have strong feelings.
Once you are in a position of respect and influence, it can skew
their perspective of you. You could take advantage of the situation...”
237

Magic University
“I won’t,” Snyder stated firmly, with much more presence than his usually subtle self. “I know I can control myself
enough not to abuse her trust. It will be strictly professional.”
Reeree’s frown softened slightly. “I just hope the matter
doesn’t get out of hand. She certainly knows her own mind.”
“The decision will be completely hers, but I feel obliged
to make the offer, when the time is right.”
“Please be cautious. I don’t think you realize what you
are getting yourself into,” Reeree murmured before exiting the
room.
“I never do,” Snyder sighed.

~MR~
Ebon had hovered momentarily at the common room
door, but since the dwarf was not there, he decided instead to
take advantage of the privacy of his reasonably spacious room.
He wanted to consider the new information he had just retrieved
by monitoring the other competitors’ surface thoughts. Surprisingly, the truth was that the strange little half-satyr bard had
been the mage who had forced the demon back to its place of
origin.
Each new recent revelation had been like a stunning
blow. In their midst, there were several people of great power
who not only chose not to flaunt their talents, they instead went
to great effort to try and hide them. It did not make sense. Ebon
had been trying to sort out why they did such a thing as to feign
weakness, but the concept was too alien for him to grasp. They
could not all be spies, lurking in the background for some unfathomable reason? That did not seem possible to Ebon, and to
understand exactly where Shetland, Snyder – and even Urwick –
were coming from, he would have to adjust his way of thinking.
He could perhaps understand the dwarf’s position. Culturally, magic was taboo, frowned upon in most instances unless
granted by divine favour. Shetland’s situation had turned him
into an involuntary outcast, shunned even by his own family.
Unlike Ebon, the dwarf had never aspired to be a powerful wiz238

Varied Knowledge
ard. At least Ebon had desired part of the results of his transformation. He was unable to imagine his state of mind if none
of this had any appeal. Perhaps in Shetland’s situation he would
have gone beyond trying to hide who he was, and would have
just given up.
The others, Urwick and Snyder, were mages by choice.
The only reason Ebon could devise for Snyder’s evasiveness was
the Renegade nature of his magic and the stigma that was attached to it. Perhaps he no longer wished to live that life, and
hid his true nature in hopes that he would not be judged with bias by the non-Renegades running this contest. But if that were
the case, would he honestly be willing to lose at the Trials to
maintain his charade? Ebon doubted that.
No, there was something buried there, and Ebon felt that
even if he dug fairly deep he would not be able to uncover what
was hidden there.
Urwick was the ultimate puzzle. He was a mage by
choice and not a Renegade, with his thoughts as tightly guarded
as a virgin princess’s chastity. There were too many questions
and not enough answers. Add to that his immeasurable fascination with the other competitors and their private lives and pasts,
and Ebon knew there was something to him that went beyond
what the magic mirror had revealed.
Ebon gazed out of his window. The darkness of night
was as murky as the dark elf’s inner mind. Ebon was starting to
believe that finding out the truth was as important to him as
winning the Trials, and it would seem a lot less likely to happen.

~MR~
Moe sat facing Reid and Finch. After a few awkward
moments, he gestured towards the library door.
“I’ll be in there if anyone needs me.”
This left Finch and Reid alone. Finch sighed.
“I can’t believe I panicked like that. We all should have
been trying to do something to combat the demon. I feel like
such a failure.”
239

Magic University
Reid gave her a look of utter disbelief. “You’re kidding,
right? We’re novice mages and something like that would have
given the most experienced wizard a run for his money. What I
can’t believe is that any of us even made it out alive, let alone all
of us. The fact that we are all here to lament about it suggests
that at least one of these ‘novices’ is a lot more capable than his
presence here would suggest. Even under the best of circumstances, that situation would be a harsh challenge. It was an
accident like that one that doomed Gerant.”
Finch eyed Reid warily. “But he was a Renegade. Those
of us who have proper mage training should be prepared to handle that kind of incident.”
Reid felt his hackles rise. He had found Finch appealing,
and pleasant company up until this point, but he had witnessed
the kind of discrimination Gerant had endured for being a Renegade, especially from Master mages, and he had never understood why there was such a pervasive distinction, even if their
magic was somewhat riskier. Finch’s mother being a Master
mage meant that the prejudice had likely been passed from
mother to daughter.
Reid sat back in his chair, unsure if he wanted to initiate
this argument with Finch. The truth was, a university-taught
mage could be as dangerous as any Renegade; it just took longer
to amass enough power to be any kind of threat. For some reason, this gave Masters a sense of superiority over their magical
brethren. If Reid placed in the top three Trial positions, he
would be expected to think this way as well. Reid only now
recognized that this was something he would never be able to
do.
Silent and unresponsive, Reid was seeing a chink in the
friendship that had blossomed between them. He and Finch
would always exist in two separate worlds.
With a numbness that chilled his normally buoyant spirit,
he got to his feet and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Finch asked. “Did I say something wrong?”

240

Varied Knowledge
Reid glanced back at her, aware now of the chasm of belief that existed between them.
“No, Finch. What you said is what any good student of
Magic University should be willing to say. I guess it was just
something I really didn’t want to hear.”
With that, he left the room.
Finch stared after him in dismay. She could not understand what had upset him. Although somewhat ineffective in
dealing with the demon, he had proven himself reasonably
brave. He would make a good student, even better than herself,
with all of her doubts. It was fear that differentiated them, and
perhaps Reid thought less of her because of it.
The incident had proven her unprepared. If she did not
place in the top three, with the limited knowledge her mother
had given her before her death, Finch would be no better than a
hedge-witch for the rest of her days. The fears she faced had to
be conquered. She had to harden herself if she was going to win.
Finch vowed she would do this, somehow. She did not
want to see her mother’s training go to waste.
Moe stepped out of the library. He gave Finch a cold
stare.
“It is time to move on,” he told her. “We will meet in the
foyer in a couple of minutes.”
Feeling the fatigue of such a strenuous day, Finch followed Moe into the foyer. He carried a small roll of parchment no doubt the latest scores.
Moe rang the old ship captain’s bell and waited. The
competitors gathered.
Without bothering with a head count, Moe read off the
scores and what everyone assumed must be the total tallies.
“Ebon, 37, 279,” he snipped. “Cerissa, 27, 256. Finch
18, 252, Tom 16, 240. Reid 16, 236. Nia 24, 216. Snyder 18,
177. Shetland 9, 154 and Urwick, 11, 103 Got it? Good. Now
follow me.”
He turned stiffly to open the door and grabbing a torch
from the wall sconce, he headed out into the night. The competitors hurried to follow.
241

Magic University

242

15
Power Display
Moe stepped carefully along the rocky pathway. Going
at a hasty clip, he managed to maintain his footing, even in the
dim light of the torches. The competitors struggled to keep up
with him, showing all the symptoms of physical exhaustion as
well as the hobbling side effects of stubbed toes and twisted ankles. After a few moments of ascending to a second plateau
along the cliffs, they finally found themselves descending
through low bushes, quite quickly. It was only by sheer chance
that no one lost their footing in the dark and tumbled down
through the dense shrubbery.
Finally, the brush began to thin out. The pathway had
gone from rock to soil, growing drier and dustier. Footing was
more tenuous as their shoes and boots slid through the loose sediment, but at least now the ground was flat.
Without warning, Moe stopped and crouched down.
There was a low rumbling and the outline of an entranceway
could be made out in the dust. Moe thrust his torch down into
the darkness, and then spoke a quiet word. Several globes which
lined the stairs began to glow.
“This way,” Moe stated.
The steps descended into a series of small stone rooms,
well-lit by magic. Several of the lesser-dressed candidates shiv-

243

Magic University
ered slightly in the cool, damp air. Moe dismissed them with a
belittling glance and indicated that they should sit.
“Your next Way Station Attendant will join you in a few
moments,” Moe said curtly. Then he left them alone to wait.
Reid eyed the uninviting room.
“I hope this isn’t the common room,” he murmured.
“Then you are in luck,” came a cheery voice in reply.
A young man, with sandy-brown hair and strange goldcoloured eyes stepped into the room, followed by a demure girl,
thin and bearing dark hair and sallow skin.
“Unlike Moe, I’m an enthusiastic host. Edwin is the
name, and this is my apprentice, Sasha. I won’t be giving you
any details on this Trial. As part of this test, the judges will be
observing your reaction to a situation when you are not given a
chance to prepare. Follow me.”
The common room was a lovely sight for weary eyes.
The floor bore a giant tapestry rug, woven with brilliant reds,
golds and purples. Strewn about the room were enormous cushions, also fashioned from dazzlingly colourful fabrics. There
was a large radiant fire in the fireplace, illuminating the room
with its flickering warmth and a pot of hot cocoa steamed on the
hearth, with earthenware mugs lined up beside it.
It was an inviting scene, unlike Moe’s cold display – a
true juxtaposition. Shetland eyed the cocoa in mock disgust.
Edwin grinned.
“If you prefer something a little stronger, I will gladly
accommodate.” The dwarf’s eyes lit up, gleaming almost as
fiercely as the fire at the far end of the room.
“You may make yourselves comfortable. If there is anything else you need that is not here, I will do what I can to get it
for you. There are private rooms available, but they are a bit
colder and somewhat damp, so hopefully you will prefer to remain social and enjoy the comforts of my common room.”
Most of the competitors had already settled themselves
onto the pillows. Reid was helping himself to the cocoa, and
eyeing a restful looking corner.

244

Power Display
“Sasha will now escort the first of you, Urwick, to the
Trial. She will return to fetch each person in turn. I will remain
here, to keep you entertained.” Edwin pulled up a stool as he
spoke. He snapped his fingers and a mandolin appeared in his
hands. He sat down and began to play.
Sasha offered a hand to Urwick and led him quietly out
of the door.
Relaxing, everyone in the common room felt temporarily
free from problems and quarrels. Finch sat next to Reid, leaning
into him in a gesture of fatigue and friendship. He put his arm
around her, gazing into the fire.
Reeree plopped down between Snyder and Nia, stretching out on a particularly fluffy pillow. She closed her eyes,
enjoying the music and was lulled gently to sleep.
Despite the offer of stronger brew, Shetland too had fallen asleep, his snores less noisy than on previous occasions.
The only two people not quite at ease appeared to be
Tom and Ebon. Watching others enjoy such physical comforts
was a true torment for Ebon. It tweaked his dissatisfaction in his
current form. He hung back near the door, hoping he would be
one of the next summoned so that he could then seek the solitary
sanctuary of his private room. Perhaps, as Urwick was currently
at the Trial, Ebon could speak to him in seclusion, when he himself was done. After all, he still had many unanswered
questions.
Sasha reappeared and Edwin gestured towards the
wraith-mage. “It’s your turn,” the solemn girl murmured as she
approached.
Ebon followed the girl through the network of tunnels
that made up this Trial Point. He had suffered somewhat from
claustrophobia in his original form, but in his current form he no
longer felt any sensation of walls closing in on him. As the corridor came to an abrupt end, Ebon perceived three glowing
figures within the chamber beyond. They radiated magic in such
a way that Ebon had noticed them long before anyone else
would have in such a dimly lit room. Their auras were all familiar to the wraith-mage.
245

Magic University
The torches flared on the walls and everything came into
plain view. Burrell stood directly before Ebon, with Fortia to his
right and a strange hooded figure cloaked and blurred from view.
Ebon was perplexed. He knew this person even though
he could not establish where or how. It was an intimate familiarity, unlike those of Burrell and Fortia. The wraith-mage
hesitated by the doorway.
“Move to the centre of the room,” Fortia commanded.
“This Trial is your opportunity to display to the judges what you
believe is your most powerful magical ability. You are not restricted in any way, but be aware that you will be judged solely
on the potency of the spell, so choose carefully.”
Ebon hovered before them, his gaze constantly drifting
towards the hidden one of the three. A desire burned within him
to unmask and reveal.
“Are you ready?” Burrell asked.
Ebon nodded.
“Then you may begin.”
The wraith-mage cringed at the knowledge of what he
must do. It was by far the most potent of his spell abilities, but
also the most unpleasant. He braced himself and reached into
the alternate plane. He then began to channel a flow of energy,
letting it rush through him. Controlling it this way limited potency. To increase its power, Ebon did what he had only ever
done twice before; instead of restraining the flow, he let it go.
The negative energy thrashed through him like a great
blast of cold wind. His body ached with an intense pain from
teeth to toes. Unable to contain his reaction, he howled as the
energy belted through him and blasted into the room.
After several minutes of this tortuous display, Ebon finally managed to recapture the flow and restrain it once again, but
not before being horribly battered and beaten. He stumbled to
his wraith-like knees and remained there for some time, hunched
and trembling. When he finally managed to recover, every inch
of him felt numb.
His magic had blasted rock from the walls and shaken
the floor to the point where cracks had formed in the stone. The
246

Power Display
judges had remained untouched, protected by their own magical
defenses.
“That will suffice,” stated Burrell calmly. “You may exit
through the far door.”
Ebon touched each of the three minds before him, but
black curtains of resistance enveloped their thoughts, keeping
them well hidden from his prying tendrils. Resigning himself to
not knowing, he followed Sasha through the exit. As they approached the common room, Ebon directed Sasha to stop.
“I don’t want to go in there. Show me where the private
rooms are.”
With a startled look, Sasha obliged.
Reeree was the next to be summoned to the Trial Point.
Sasha escorted the little gnome through the tunnels to the chamber.
Reeree eyed the judges warily. They wanted a display of
power, and she would give it to them, but it may not be what
they were expecting.
The gnome began her spell. It was a complex illusion
which she had designed for her music class and school functions,
and which she had improved upon year after year. A podium
appeared before her with a slender conductor’s wand that she
picked up and held high. Tapping the podium gently with the
wand, she began “conducting” the illusion.
She gestured to her left with the slim stick, and a large
dog-like creature with sad eyes appeared, playing a violin. The
music was sweet and plaintive. Reeree then pointed towards
“centre stage”. An anthropomorphic goat shimmered into existence, accompanying the violinist with a large base drum. The
cadence was low and rolling.
Reeree next directed the judges’ attention to the right
side of the “stage” with a single wave of her baton, as another
musician emerged from nothingness. A small, pink dragon solidified, playing a reed-like manner of instrument. It carefully
manoeuvred its clawed fingers along this strange piccolo. Its
higher-pitched notes contrasted vividly with the mournful sound
of the violin and the deep rhythm of the drum.
247

Magic University
Reeree continued to summon forth nine more musicians,
weaving together multiple threads of sight and sound. As the
orchestral piece drew to a close, the musicians faded from view.
Drained by the extreme effort and concentration required in
maintaining so many spell elements, Reeree took a step back and
sagged against the wall. Burrell gave her a brief nod and Fortia
directed her to exit the chamber. As Sasha led her away, the
dark figure took a turn at speaking.
“That took preparation and talent - perhaps not the most
ground-shaking display, but certainly one that exposes her potential. I can see why she is favoured by you, Burrell.”
Burrell smiled, but tensed at the same time. If Reeree
won a top three seat, he definitely hoped to have her as an apprentice, but he did not get first pick and his cohort, who would
choose first, seemed too enthusiastic about the gnome for his
liking.

~MR~
Ebon drifted through the dank stone corridors, seeking
out the door marked as Urwick’s. Thanks to Urwick’s little contest and open invitation, Ebon did not need permission to enter
the room. Despite this, the door was physically barred. Ebon
drew back. Urwick had always left his room accessible. Why
would he give out an open invitation to the other competitors,
only to block them from the room by alternate means?
Of course, unlike the magical lock on the doors, physical
barriers were no hindrance to Ebon. He forced his way through
without disturbing the blockage.
The room was empty. Urwick was not in the common
room, but nor was he here. The binding spell prevented him
from going off site, so where exactly was he?
A strange wave of paranoia ran through the wraith-mage
and he tried to force his way into the other rooms, but no one
else was present, and Ebon had no other invitations. Perhaps,
Urwick had weaseled an invitation from another and was searching through their belongings in their absence. Perhaps, he had
248

Power Display
some way of overcoming the powerful magical protection spells
on the rooms. Ebon was aware that Shetland could openly ignore them.
Ebon checked his own room before returning to the dark
elf’s quarters. Urwick was not there, but he might make his way
back there before the end of the Trial. If so, Ebon would be
waiting. He now had even more questions than before...

~MR~
Finch was the next to be summoned to the Trial Point.
At the notion that the judges would be observing her performance directly, her visage paled and her hands began to tremble.
She understood now was not the time to succumb to stage fright,
but she found their presence daunting.
Burrell explained how the Trial worked and Finch was
told to begin.
Try as she might, she could not escape the anxiety that
accompanied a live display. Fear of failure would be self-fulfilling. In her nervousness, Finch could not think clearly. Without a single potent spell identified as being at easy disposal,
Finch recoiled mentally and tried to work on instinct. In desperation, she closed her eyes.
Her mind drifted back to a memory of one of her days
while in training with her mother. It was late autumn, when the
air was crisp and you could see your breath when you exhaled.
Her mother had insisted that they go for a walk, giving her lesson outside. Ever obedient, Finch had complied, despite concerns that the cold might take additional toll on her mother’s
failing health.
This had happened close to the end of woman’s life. She
had been targeted by a magical affliction, a wizard’s plague, that
at that time had no cure. There was nothing slow or gentle about
it and mages had been dropping like flies. Finch’s mother maintained a full shielding spell around her daughter, to make sure
the contagion did not spread to her novice. This effort exhausted
and weakened the ailing woman, so she limited their lessons to
249

Magic University
an hour a day. Finch had watched her mother degrade and fade
over the course of a couple of weeks, despite a variety of treatments. They both knew she was dying, and all the magic that
they could muster was not saving her.
As they neared the frozen surface of the spring, which
still bubbled up below the thin layer of ice shielding it from
view, Finch’s mother had taken a seat on an icy tree stump. A
short walk was as much as she could handle.
As Finch waited for her mother to regain her strength,
she found it hard not to stare. Her mother’s soft, fair skin had
grown grey and papery. Her silken coppery curls had lost their
lustre and had become brittle. Her warmth and vigour had
slipped away, leaving shadowed sunken eyes, emaciated limbs
and a death-touched demeanour.
“Today, dear, we will make it snow.”
Finch had so many questions she wanted to ask her
mother, but she knew she did not have the time. She had always
expected her mother to be there and life was teaching her the
hard way that things did not always work as expected. She listened intently as her magical mentor explained how she could
create a weather condition in a small area with limited effort.
Making it snow was not the most useful application, but it was
only one aspect of the spell. The same enchantment, in the form
of rain instead of snow, could be used to irrigate fields in the
spring or summer, during periods of drought. If nothing else
came of these lessons, the local farmers would consider Finch an
asset and pay well for her assistance.
Finch followed her mother’s instructions with great precision. Moments later, the silvery-white flakes began to drift
down from the sky. Finch’s mother was smiling, but tears were
visible at the corners of her eyes. The young woman knew her
mother was proud and desperately sad, both at the same time.
Finch returned mentally to the Trial Point, and opened
her eyes. Snow was drifting lazily from the stone ceiling of the
chamber and settling onto its cold hard floor. The spell was only
so powerful, but for the first time during her competition in the
Trials, she honestly did not care. Finch still aspired to attend
250

Power Display
Magic University, she still would not give up without a fight, but
this moment was a personal one and she would not let her ambitions destroy that. She followed Sasha out of the chamber and
did not look back with regret.

~MR~
Reeree plopped herself onto a pillow next to Tom. He
was glaring into the fire, teeth clenched and shoulders stiff.
“You seem unsettled. Perhaps it might help to talk about
it?”
“No, I’ve done too much talking already, Cerissa. I’m
just going to cease the banter with the other competitors and do
what I came here to do...win this thing.”
Reeree cocked an eyebrow.
“And when you do win, what then? Are you going to
follow through and attend the University? Any nobleman’s son
without a proper entourage is obviously here against the wishes
of his family. Do you plan on proceeding against their will and
do whatever you please? Or will you eventually succumb to
their wishes and abandon your seat, after cheating some other
hopeful out of a desired prize. You would leave a vacancy,
wasting the University’s time in the process, and all to run with a
whim.”
“I am not cheating anyone out of anything,” Tom responded resentfully. “I play a fair game here.”
But Tom eyed Reeree warily. He had been debating her
question himself. It had been a knee-jerk reaction to his anger
towards Snyder. Perhaps Tom saw winning these Trials as an
opportunity for choice, choice in a life where everything had
been chosen for him. His training, his lifestyle, his wife, even
his words, dictated to him by his family and his advisors. For
once he wanted to have two paths clearly laid out before him and
be able to say: “I’m doing this because this is what I have decided I want to do.” Even if he chose not to accept the seat, for
once it would be his decision.

251

Magic University
Reeree had not expected an answer from the young
prince.
“I wasn’t referring to cheating at the Trials. We play another game here today, each one of us, and you don’t feel you
need to play by the rules. Privilege is not entitlement.”
She had wanted to plant a seed of distraction in his mind,
and she could see by his thought-provoked expression that she
had succeeded. Lost in his reverie, Tom did not notice Sasha reenter the common room and approach him from behind. Before
he could comment further on what Reeree had to say, Edwin’s
apprentice had led Tom away.

~MR~
Tom stood before the judges. His current situation further strengthened his belief that Snyder’s withholding of spells
and access to power had robbed him of a sure win. With greater
power, Tom was certain he would have no fear of defeat. Instead, he would have to hope that the best of his mediocre magic
would do. Irritation burned at Tom’s insides. Despite this, he
forced himself to be calm. Maximizing his abilities would require rational thought, and for that he needed a clear mind.
Tom eyed the judges carefully as he considered possible
tactics. They would want substance as much as show, so flashy
would only be useful if it had a practical application. Scouring
his remaining repertoire, the only spell that he could pinpoint as
fitting that description would not be all that effective within the
confines of the rock chamber. He would need wide-open sky.
“I do have a spell to offer in display,” he informed the
judges. “But I need to be outside to properly produce the best
results. You’ll see what I mean if you permit me this change in
environs.”
Burrell nodded. “That will not be a problem.”
With a snap of his fingers, in a whirl of shadow and air,
the four were transported into the desert above the Trial
Grounds. Tom gazed up with satisfaction at the black starry sky
above him. This would no doubt suit his purpose.
252

Power Display
Giving the judges a few moments to regain their bearings, he began his incantation. The spell was a fairly intricate
“messenger flare” enchantment which Snyder had deemed both
harmless and useful, considering Tom’s station, and therefore
appropriately teachable.
Tom sent the flare up, expanding on its application by directing a message representing each of the judges. To show its
auditory function, he had one explode to the east with an echo of
Fortia’s speech at the opening ceremonies: “Some Trials have
been specifically designed to fool those who seek the most obvious or easy answer.” The next splinter of the flare lit up the
western skyline with a bright scrawl that illuminated “Burrell”
for miles away. Lastly the portion of the flare he sent to the
south reflected a bright white image of the mystery judge, a contrasting negative to the black cloaked figure who stood and
observed.
Tom could not gauge the reaction of the judges, especially in the dark of night, but they were no more yielding when
they returned to the softly lit rock chamber below. Tom knew
that the average person would have been impressed with such a
display of power, but the judges were not average people.
As Sasha led him away, Tom was still sour that Snyder
had not provided him with a better tool for this challenge.

~MR~
Sasha returned with Tom and collected Reid for his turn
at the Trial. Reid shook Stiggle awake and with the groggy imp
in tow, he followed Sasha out of the room. Finch could not help
but notice how he moved with very little enthusiasm.
The trip down the corridor seemed longer to Reid than he
knew it was, and facing the panel of judges took all his strength
just to resist the urge to turn and run. He had had enough of this
method of testing. He desperately wanted to go home.
“I bet you do, too,” he whispered to Stiggle.
With that declaration, Reid knew what spell he would
cast for his display. Not only would it go against what Gerant
253

Magic University
had deemed appropriate, it would likely alienate these judges for
good.
Stepping back, Reid released Stiggle’s leash and focused
on a small area of the wall. Digging into his repertoire, he came
up with a spell which Gerant had forbidden him, but which Reid
had learned anyway, once his mentor had passed on. Reid cast
it, opening a window into the plane from which Stiggle had originated. He had already deemed Stiggle’s assistance no longer
necessary, and this was the perfect opportunity to set the imp
free. He would release the creature, flaunt his Renegade magic
in the process, and effectively snub his nose at the stigma forced
upon him and his ilk by the University. He suspected his choice
of magic would generate a great deal of disgust from the judges.
There was one hitch to his plan that Reid had not expected. Stiggle refused to go through the small doorway.
“Go! You are free!” Reid barked at the imp.
The air beside the portal was hot and hazy, and the odour
of burning sulphur hung heavy in the chamber, but the imp refused. This time, he chose to cling to Reid’s leg.
“I release you. You can leave. Go home!” Reid
stomped around and shook his leg, but Stiggle would not let go.
After a few moments of trying to wrench a now shrieking
Stiggle from his pant leg, Reid had to concede defeat. He closed
the portal.
“I don’t understand you,” he growled at the imp, staring
into his blood - red eyes.
Stiggle finally released his claws from the fabric.
“You fight me every step of the way, but now that I’m
letting you return to your home and do as you please, you won’t
go? What am I supposed to do with you?”
The blurred judge in black was chuckling.
“That is none of our concern,” insisted Fortia. “This display will suffice. Sasha?”
A few seconds later, Reid was on his way back down the
corridor. The unleashed Stiggle sat squarely on his shoulder - a
more unwelcome presence than ever before. Reid’s attempt at
scoffing at the University had failed, and had become nothing
254

Power Display
more than a half-hearted joke. Reid scowled as he approached
the common room, suspecting that that moment had only been a
taste of what was to come.

~MR~
Tom sat huddled in a corner of the common room, avoiding all the others as best he could. He tried to repress his
curiosity, but his gaze occasionally wandered to settle on Snyder
and then over to Nia. He tried to distract himself with thoughts
of his family and Mathilde, but try as he might he could not escape strong feelings of denial and betrayal. As a last ditch effort
to redirect his attentions elsewhere, he approached Finch. Perhaps conversation with her might take his mind off other
concerns.
“What did you think?”
“Of the Trial?” She shrugged. “I don’t think I displayed
my true strength, but most of my better spells have already been
used in the previous Trials. As far as timing goes, I don’t think
this is the best place to put this Trial.”
“Maybe that was the intention,” Tom suggested, taking a
seat on a nearby cushion. “Maybe this was their way of weeding
out those with a limited repertoire, or magic wastrels. Maybe
those who burn themselves out early in the game are viewed as
weak or lacking in discipline. I suppose it is a way of gauging
our knowledge and experience.”
Finch frowned slightly.
“I’d prefer to think it was a way of luring out dangerous
Renegades. If they are willing to go beyond what is safe and
reasonable with what they know, this would be a way of finding
out.”
Tom was dumbfounded. That idea had never crossed his
mind. Would the University try to screen out those who were
too powerful and lacking control? If so, he would be indebted to
Snyder for holding back.
It was something Tom was not willing to consider. His
rage actually fuelled the adrenalin that was helping him over255

Magic University
come his fatigue. Why give up a perfectly functional tool, for
the sake of truth.
Tom withdrew again to a solitary corner as Sasha led
Reid back in and escorted Snyder out. Tom could read frustration in Reid’s face and noted that the imp was no longer leashed,
nor collared. Things seemed to change drastically from moment
to moment as the end of the Trials drew near.
Reid wandered over and sat himself midway between
Finch’s resting place and Tom’s new location. He shrugged off
Stiggle who begrudgingly hopped away to the warm comfort of
the hearthstones. Reid then settled in for a nap. Had it not been
for Edwin’s music, the stony silence in the air would have been
discouraging.

~MR~
Snyder stood before the judges, paralyzed by the stunning impact of their words. When he finally found his voice
again, it was difficult to maintain a civil tone.
“You can’t mean that.”
Burrell nodded.
“We can, and we do. We have good reason to believe
that you have purposefully not been completing these Trials to
the best of your ability. While we cannot disqualify you for this,
we can award you full points for the current Trial, as we have
deemed the full requirements met during a particular exhibit
while dealing with a problem that occurred during a previous
Trial. You are thereby exempt from participating and you are
free to return to the common room.”
Snyder realized that any objection would be a waste of
time and effort. Red-faced and annoyed, Snyder turned to follow Sasha back out of the chamber.
“We don’t know what game you are playing, Renegade,
but I suggest you drop the facade. Whatever it is that you want,
we will do our best to make sure that you don’t get it.”
It was Fortia who spoke this time, with a hatred Snyder
recognized all too well, and had experienced many times before.
256

Power Display
He did meet her gaze, nor even acknowledge she had spoken
before departing from the Trial Point. Snyder, however, did not
return to the common room. It would take a few minutes to recover from this encounter and Snyder did not feel like facing his
peers in the meantime. Gesturing for Sasha to continue without
him, he started down the tunnel network that led to the private
quarters.
Ebon met him in the hallway on the way in.
“Oh,” Ebon hissed. “I was hoping the dark elf would be
with you.”
Snyder shook his head, and stepped past the wraithmage.
“Have you seen Urwick? He has made himself scarce.”
Snyder shook his head again and proceeded further down
the hall.
“Read you the riot act, did they? If they are going to be
fair, there are several of us here deserving such treatment, according to their standards. Why did they pick on you? - Wait!
Let me guess. The demon banishing. If it makes you feel any
better, you earned my respect with that.”
Snyder eyed Ebon suspiciously, unaccustomed to the
wraith-mage being so friendly.
“Let’s just say they aren’t just playing judge, they’re also
playing jury, but I’m sure they’re just doing what’s expected of
them by others of their kind.”
“Not that I have that problem anymore,” Ebon continued. “I’m not technically a Renegade now. The magic I
currently possess is innate, neither Renegade nor Master at the
moment.”
Snyder found the door to his room and slipped inside,
unconcerned if he was being rude in the process. He had two
more Trials left to figure out how he would be able to recruit the
Renegade-fearing Nia. He needed time to think.

257

Magic University

~MR~
Shetland shrugged in response to their request. How
could he display a power he did not know how to control? Then
it struck him. He did have one ability that he could solidly identify.
“Do you have a magical lock that I could use in my display?” he asked.
Burrell threw him a quizzical look.
“How difficult a lock?”
“As difficult as the ones on the doors in the Way Stations.”
Burrell raised an eyebrow.
“Are you sure? Those locks are well sealed with strong
magic.”
Shetland nodded and grinned.
With a gesture and a few words, Burrell produced a small
locked box out of thin air. He passed it to the dwarf, a wave of
doubt flickering across his features. Shetland sat down on the
rock floor, placing the box before him. Then, as he had done
with some of the doors in the past, he pointed a finger and
lodged it into the lock. The metal seemed to warp and ooze
away from his obtrusive finger, and, within seconds, the box was
open. Burrell and Fortia both sat back in stunned silence.
The dark cloaked figure laughed quietly.
“That will be all,” intoned Fortia.
Sasha led Shetland out of the room.
“I believe an ‘I-told-you-so’ is in order,” the hidden
judge said. His face could not be seen but the wry smile he wore
was evident in his voice.
Burrell shrugged and Fortia merely glared. One more to
go and they could return to the comfort of their observatory.

~MR~
Nia moved closer to the fire and stretched out on the pillows. The orange glow of the flames glittered as they reflected
258

Power Display
off of her scales. She sighed in frustration. She did not like going last.
She looked over at Reeree, envious that the gnome had
completed the Trial so quickly and could now nap in comfort,
safe in the knowledge that she would not be called to the Trial
while groggy and half-asleep. Nia did have an awaken incantation, but she did not like to use it; it made her feel giddy and a
little light-headed. If it came down to that or succumbing to
sleep, however, the use of the spell would win hands down.
Feeling familiar eyes upon her, she turned to find Tom
watching her again. She met his gaze with an angry stare. She
still could not believe that he had dared suggest she might whore
herself for his pleasure - she did not care how rich or powerful
he was, nor how sweet the creature comforts offered.
Tom stood up and approached her. She turned away
from him icily. He crouched beside her, whispering.
“I don’t know why you are still here, Nia. You won’t
win this thing. The judges won’t favour you. They’ve already
proven that by their past decisions involving contested events,”
he murmured.
Nia shrugged, feigning a lack of concern, and trying to
ignore his stinging words.
“Say what you will. I have as much a right to be here as
you do. And to be honest with you, your highness, I believe
perhaps I have even more. I want, and even need, a win here.”
Tom pulled back, looking like a slapped puppy. After
pausing for a moment to regain his composure, he pressed on.
“I realize that by now most of you have learned of my
true identity, and therefore I may as well drop any pretences of
traveling incognito. It would appear some people do not know
how to keep a secret. But I don’t see how my status should restrict me from participating. If I have the magical talent, and
unlike some here I do have the talent, I have every right to be
here. Obviously the judges agree or I never would have been
invited. I will easily win this thing. You will fail miserably.”
Nia faced him once more, her eyes narrowing in disgust.

259

Magic University
“And you feel compelled to say this why? Because you
want me to despair? Because you are hoping that if I lose hope,
I’ll agree to trade myself to you for whatever comforts and trinkets you deem you can spare? I already told you - I’m not for
sale. You can’t buy me.”
“Suit yourself,” Tom responded, backing away. “I can’t
help but feel sorry for you and your soon-to-be predicament. I
thought you might want to know the offer is still on the table, if
you change your mind. After all, when you lose this thing,
where will you go? What will you do? You can’t go back to
your family, and you told me yourself that you put the last of
your savings into training for this. You’ll probably end up on
the streets, selling yourself to filthy strangers. Wouldn’t it be
better to accommodate my wishes and live like a King’s consort?”
Nia growled inwardly, facing the fire. Much to her distaste, Tom had managed to place a seed of doubt in her mind.
She was well aware that she was not likely to win. She did not
have anywhere to go, and she did not have any resources left
available to her, but that did not mean she would sink to the lows
that he had suggested.
“I’d rather die than see that smug bastard get what he
wants,” she breathed.
Nia felt a small hand on her shoulder. She looked up to
find Sasha standing over her.
“It’s your turn,” the girl stated quietly.
Nia was still bristling from her discussion with Tom, as
she followed Sasha. He was manipulative and controlling, perhaps desirable traits in a ruler. He was also cruel.
As she stood before the judges, Nia felt some frustration
at being their last choice for this display. This fact irked her almost as much as Tom had. Fortia explained the rules of the
Trial. As a further irritation, Nia realized that she had blasted
her way through her strongest spells in the previous Trials. The
one exception that slowly came to mind was a basic construct
spell that produced a temporary servant. She was very grateful
that someone had exploded something within the cavern in
260

Power Display
which she now stood, leaving a fine layer of rock dust scattered
about. She needed this dust for her spell.
As the scaled woman began the enchantment, she considered the fact that she could select the form that the servant
would assume, and a vindictive thought crossed her mind. The
dust servant taking shape before Nia looked remarkably like
Tom. Once fully formed, she had it turn to face her. She offered
it her hand.
“Kiss it,” she commanded.
The Tom-shaped servant complied.
Nia pointed next to her feet.
“Kiss them.”
The Tom-form got to his hands and knees and did as she
had directed.
With an evil grin, Nia then turned around and, bending
over, pointed at her rear end.
“Kiss it.”
The construct was in the middle of following orders
when Fortia cleared her throat and said, “That will suffice. We
get the picture.”
Nia turned and kicked the construct in the groin area,
dispelling it in the process. It dispersed in a great cloud of powdered rock. Burrell winced. Without waiting for further word
from the judges, Nia marched out of the chamber.
Fortia eyed Burrell with a sombre look.
“You don’t know how pleased I am that that one isn’t
leading the pack. She’s like a wild animal. Her presence in the
University would be disruptive and more than a minor headache
to her superiors.”
“Ah,” the cloaked figure responded. “But she has spirit,
something the university is sadly lacking. I’d trade her for five
of your favourite any day. Besides, you can’t discount her yet.
The winners are not yet decided, and that display was not without merit.”
“Although entirely without taste,” Fortia sighed.

261

Magic University

~MR~
“Everyone gather about,” Edwin declared. “It is time to
prepare for the next Trial. We will proceed in five minutes.”
Ebon and Snyder had returned to the common room at
Edwin’s summons. As Edwin spoke, Urwick slipped into the
room, hovering at the back of the crowd.
Ebon approached as soon as he noticed the dark elf was
there.
“Where did you go?” Ebon demanded.
“Wait...all will be answered within the next hour.”
“You mean you’ll tell me what I want to know by the
end of the Trials? Is that a promise?”
Ebon could not believe his ears. There would be a proper cumulating of events by the end of the day.
Urwick gave him a quick nod. The end of the Trials was
rapidly approaching and more than one question would finally
have an answer.

~MR~
Fortia and Burrell shimmered into view inside their observatory. As Fortia drifted over to her seat by the pool, Burrell
shook his head in wonder.
“Don’t make yourself too comfortable,” he said. “We
will have to leave here again before too long. One more Trial in
here and, as long as all goes as planned, neither of us will be
back here for several years.”
“I’m sure you thought that when you were here last year.
How do you know your next apprentice won’t blow him or herself to smithereens?”
“I had last pick that time,” Burrell reminded. “Juter was
a big, clumsy, arrogant oaf and thought himself more capable
and clever than he actually was. I’ll be able to choose between
two candidates this time, and if I’m able to select my current
preference, I’m sure she will not follow suit. She tends to do

262

Power Display
things in a precise and well-thought out manner, not to mention
the fact that she seems to be reasonably humble.”
“Humble but eccentric,” Fortia agreed. “Then again, I
suppose most eccentricities have never been anything to fear.
Several of my students were a little odd, but performed well
nonetheless. Of course, we shouldn’t discount anyone yet. The
80 points remaining could bridge most of the gaps, and the final
Trial has a high disqualification rate.”
“Don’t remind me,” Burrell sighed. “That’s how I got
stuck with Juter last time. Out of the nine candidates, four got
themselves disqualified and one got himself killed.”
At mention of this possibility, the two judges chose to
distract themselves by looking in on the candidates en route to
the next Trial.

263

16
Strong Ties
After they had made their way back to the entrance, Edwin had them wait until Sasha appeared bearing a leather-bound
scroll.
“These are the results of your latest Trial,” he announced
clearly. “I will read them out in order of display. Urwick - 28,
Ebon - 40, Reeree, also 28, Finch - 14, Tom - 39, Reid - 35,
Snyder - 40, Shetland - 40, and Nia - 36. I’ll remind you of current standings. Ebon is at the top with 319, Reeree 284, Tom
279, Reid 271, Finch 266, Nia 252, Snyder 217, Shetland 194,
and Urwick 131. Any questions?”
The competitors shuffled and murmured, making no inquiries. Ebon was by far the leader in this race now, but with
only a handful of points separating the next five contenders, this
truly would be a race to the finish. The general sense of fatigue
had now been replaced by one of apprehension.
They were quiet as they followed Edwin back up into the
starry sky of desert night. The trek this time was a short stroll
from the previous Way Station. A towering adobe building
came into view as a lone cloud drifted out from in front of the
moon. Bathed in moonlight, the soft beige walls glowed a
ghostly silvery-white. As the competitors neared the building, a
glow of a different kind appeared to be coming from behind the
edifice’s perch.
264

Strong Ties
“Hmph!” exclaimed Shetland. “They have some sort of
canyon back there, and it’s all lit up.”
The others squinted, trying to see what it was the dwarf
was describing.
“Magical light,” Ebon rasped at Shetland. “It’s all I can
see aside from you.”
They arrived at the front door, and Edwin directed them
into the building.
“I’m sorry, but there are no private chambers here. No
time for such things. If you manage to complete the Trial in the
time allotted and do not wish to join the others in the common
room, you may remain at your Trial Point until summoned for
the last Trial. Now I leave you to your next attendant.”
With a flash of white teeth, Edwin bid them adieu and
left them in the foyer of the small castle-like Way Station.
A few moments later they were greeted by the sound of a
somewhat lop-sided rhythm. A heavily cloaked figure, draped in
thick gray robes, drew closer then stopped. The hood this attendant wore fell back to reveal a bizarrely misshapen goblin
woman. She took them all in with a shaky twist of her head.
They stared unintentionally in return; she had closely cropped
black hair and large warm brown eyes which contrasted visibly
with her pale, mottled, olive-coloured skin.
“Welcome to the Trial of Strong Ties. I am your attendant, Degra. The common room can be found at the end of
this hallway. I will meet you in there.”
With a swirl of her cloak she was gone.
“Quickly, please,” came Degra’s voice, summoning them
from the common room. The competitors hurried down the
hallway to the doorway at the far end.
It was a plainly adorned chamber, with a few terra cotta
statuettes and a couple of small beaded wall tapestries. The entire room smelled of cinnamon and the only seats available were
thick fur rugs that were laid out beside a low lying brazier at the
centre point of the chamber. The decor was simple, but unlike
the cold, bland unwelcoming atmosphere at Moe’s Way Station,
this common room captured warmth and beauty in its simplicity,
265

Magic University
and beckoned to those who might enter. The colours were subdued - tans blended with pale corals and turquoises. It also held
several rows of lit candles for both light and ambiance. The
strange little sorceress sat cross-legged on one of the mats, bracing herself against a twisted-bone and tendon-twined staff. She
gave them a mild smile, without parting her lips.
“There are ten small rooms aside from this one in this
building, and each one serves as a Trial Point for this Trial. You
will each go into one of these and declare your preference:
whether you wish to attempt to bind yourself to a person, item or
creature. You then must use some magical means to link yourself to the person, item or animal with which you are presented.
Success results in full point value for this Trial. Failure results
in no points. Time is very limited and while you may choose the
general form of the target for your spell, you will not be able to
select its specific nature.
When this contest is complete and you have satisfied the
judges’ requirements, all ties you have initiated during the Trial
will then be severed before you proceed to the final Trial. Are
there any questions?”
Finch raised a weary hand.
“Are there any spell restrictions?”
“None. You may use any spell you have if you deem it
helpful in the binding process. Anyone else?”
Aside from a few yawns, the room was quiet.
“Okay - consider the Trial commenced. Seek out your
Trial Point and begin,” Degra directed.
The competitors scattered. Within moments they had
each found their room and settled in for the Trial.
Snyder was the first to both locate his Trial Point and
begin the Trial process. This was definitely an area where, as a
bard, he could excel.
“Please choose a spell target,” spoke a disembodied
voice. “Item, creature or person?”
Snyder ignored the option for object or animal and selected person. The talents of a bard worked best on an audience.
A portal opened before him.
266

Strong Ties
The individual in question was an adolescent peasant
girl. She had straw coloured hair and rosy cheeks sprinkled with
freckles. While her facial features suggested a normally cheerful
disposition, there was a nervous edge to her every breath. He
wondered how much they must be paying her to be here. It
would have to be enough to make her disregard this obvious
fear.
Snyder pulled out his flute and started into the “infatuate” spell that would draw his target to him. The spell that
would enchant her had enough strength that she would be willing to do his bidding, as long as it were not something she would
normally be completely unwilling to do. What counted, however, was that the connection would be there, and she would be
partially under his control.
After a few moments of playing the gentle seductive
tune, there was a visible change in the girl. Her stance relaxed,
the nervousness dissipated with each note, and her eyes were
drawn to Snyder’s face as she gazed adoringly upon him. The
bond was complete and the voice acknowledged success.
Snyder released the girl from his spell, and she staggered
back, dazed and disoriented. Her face reddened from shame, a
common side-effect of releasing someone from the spell. The
not-so-ethical bards who used it to take advantage of young
women, usually did so only when they were planning on leaving
town the next day, and not returning. It tended to make them
highly unpopular with the locals.
Snyder had considered using it for his own pleasure in
the past, but in the end his conscience had never allowed it. The
one time he had been tempted, the girl had given herself over
willingly before he had resorted to such underhanded influence.
He had to wonder how Nia was faring, and he decided to
approach her when they met up again in the common room.

~MR~
Nia frowned, contemplating her choices. She did not
have any enchantments effecting other people or creatures, and
267

Magic University
any spell for an item would be dependent on the nature of the
object. She opted for the item and crossed her fingers.
A portal opened before her to reveal an oaken wood staff,
with each end carved in the form of an acorn. She could not use
her earth spells on it as she had hoped, something in metal or
rock would have been preferable. However, all was not lost.
Nia’s mentor had once taught her a spell to place a tracer
on wooden or leather items. The tracer would direct the caster to
them as long as they remained within a three mile radius. This
type of magic was most often used by those who spent a fair
amount of time traveling in the wilderness. They would plant
one of these enchanted items every couple of miles along their
route to mark their pathway, then they would follow them back
to return to their point of origin. Nia’s mentor had had a more
manipulative purpose to the spell. She would enchant her servant’s boots so she could monitor their whereabouts at all times.
Nia had despised this infringement on her privacy, but had willingly endured it for the sake of learning magic.
Nia cast the spell. The staff glowed momentarily, and
when the glow faded, the scaled woman now sensed the staff’s
presence as one would sense their own finger or thumb, an extension of her person.
“Thank you, you are free to go,” confirmed the disembodied voice.
Nia hesitated before leaving, a moment of sadness and
anxiety passing over her as she considered there was but one
Trial left to go.

~MR~
Reeree made her way back to the common room. After
some deliberation she had chosen to bind herself to a creature,
knowing full well that she was capable of doing so within a reasonable amount of time. To her surprise, no beast appeared
before her, and the voice had confirmed her success. Apparently, the Trial device had detected her link to Rex and considered
it a successful completion. She only hoped that there would be
268

Strong Ties
no “severing of the tie” in the case of a spell that had been cast
prior to the Trial, as she would be less than pleased to suddenly
find herself without her connection to her lizard/finch companion. He had been a worthwhile friend for the last two years, and
had proven to be a formidable tool in the Trials. She suspected
Reid, despite his obvious annoyance at times, felt the same way
about Stiggle.
To Reeree’s relief, there seemed to be no change to her
bond with Rex upon exiting the room. As she peeked into the
common room, she saw that aside from Degra, their hostess, only Nia and Snyder sat within. They were seated fairly close to
one another talking about the current Trial, and the other ones in
general. Reeree also noted they both seemed to be avoiding the
topic of the Trial of Power Imbuement. She could not make out
everything they were saying, but she could read their body language. Snyder broadcast his feelings in a less than subtle
manner, likely without realizing it. Reeree knew Nia could
sense his eagerness and that it made the scaled woman uneasy.
Rex, growing bored with his perch on Reeree’s shoulder,
rustled his white feathers and chirped loudly. Snyder and Nia
turned and caught sight of Reeree where she stood in the hallway. Knowing she did not have a choice now, Reeree grinned
and stepped into the room.

~MR~
Tom gazed at the three portals, but his choice was a simple one. He, as Snyder, was well versed in the use of the
“infatuate” spell. He had nagged Snyder into teaching it to him,
much to Snyder’s regret. It had been a boon to Tom, allowing
him to increase his number of conquests threefold, but it did not
work unless the target was at least somewhat willing. With his
good looks, smooth charm and magnetism, it was rare to find a
woman completely averse to the idea. Had there been several
days or weeks available to him, he would have won most of the
women over eventually, but their travels usually had them entering and leaving towns from one day to the next.
269

Magic University
The portal opened and Tom drew in a sharp breath. This
would be more enjoyable than he had expected. The young
morsel before him had a gypsy look to her, with soft olive-toned
skin, shiny blue-black curls and large almond-shaped eyes, dark
and impassioned. His libido stirred immediately in response to
her shapely curves and pouty lips.
Without an instrument, Tom knew he would have to sing
the spell, but his voice was acceptable, despite lacking in power
and control. He started low and quiet, staring into her eyes as he
sang. He did not smile, but merely stared, knowing she would
be more likely to respond to his offer if it was offered with serious sensuality. He got so caught up in the entire seduction, he
was completely unaware that the disembodied voice had told
him he was successful and he was welcome to leave.
Tom watched the girl carefully, years of experience allowing him to read the subtle signs of receptiveness. As her own
large eyes met his, and a slow measured breath escaped her barely parted lips, he seized his opportunity and drew his hand up to
caress her cheek. The girl moaned quietly, leaning into him
slightly. Tom allowed his fingers to drift down, sliding them
gently along her exposed throat and towards the crest of her
breast. An electrical rush of lust raced from his fingertips to his
groin and his skin began to tingle. He was about to drop his hand
further and move in even closer when his fun came to a sudden
end. Someone cleared their throat behind him, quite loudly.
Startled, Tom whirled to find Fortia standing there. She
eyed him with a haughty look of distaste.
“I suggest you cease this nonsense right now. We did
not bring this girl in here to serve as your wanton plaything.”
Fortia snapped her fingers and the girl disappeared.
“I thought I should warn you that if you anticipate attending our university, such behaviour will be considered
inappropriate and unacceptable. This Trial does not exist to provide you with some fresh target for your overabundant desires,
especially not while under the influence of your magic. If you
wish to be one of our students you will have to learn control and

270

Strong Ties
respect for others. The Renegade attitude of acting on a whim
will not do.”
Tom stared at the tight-lipped elfin woman without allowing her the satisfaction of any display of shame or anger on
his part. He could tell Fortia was making great effort to restrain
her own emotions, and was successfully withholding the bulk of
her outrage. Beautiful she was, but too constricted, he thought.
She would probably be as tight as a shrunken boot.
Fortia glared at him, as though anticipating some sort of
response, but he did not acknowledge her words. Instead, Tom
stepped out of the room.
Fortia watched him leave, her expression grim. As much
as she hated to admit it, there was a good possibility that he
would end up as her apprentice. Of all the competitors with a
chance of winning, she could honestly say she liked him the
least, royalty or not. With a huff of frustration, she snapped her
fingers and disappeared.

~MR~
Finch paused for a few moments before making her selection. She had a spell her mother had created, the “landmark”
spell, which would allow her to link herself to any stationary object. Once linked, the object served as a homing beacon,
allowing her to gauge her direction based on its whereabouts,
without having to actually see it. A moderately strong spell, it
worked well for trackers and travelers alike. Finch had mastered
it many months ago, but it took a fair amount of time to cast, and
the time restrictions of this Trial were harsh. Finch decided that
she would have to choose a faster, but less reliable spell and
hope the one that she settled on would prove useful.
“Creature,” she announced.
A portal opened before her to reveal a large rodent-like
creature, akin to an oversized guinea pig. It seemed relatively
harmless, if not docile, and she hoped that it would yield easily
to her friendship spell. Finch would prefer little to no struggle,
if one could be avoided.
271

Magic University
The rodent watched her suspiciously as she proceeded to
cast her spell. It tensed, preparing to flee at the first sign of danger, and it sniffed at the air, shifting nervously from left to right.
Finch waited as the spell attuned itself to the beast and
the battle of spell versus will ensued. A dazed look formed in
the creature’s eyes as it trembled with excitement.
Then the moment passed. The spell won over the rodent’s tiny mind, surpassing the feeble resistance of its will. The
animal then approached Finch with the familiarity one would
expect from a child approaching its mother. It scurried up to
Finch and scrabbled up onto her boot. Finch reached down and
picked it up, allowing it to settle into the crook of her arm as it
whuffled happily.
“Thank you. You are free to go,” said the room’s voice.
Placing the rodent back on the floor, approximately at its
point of origin, Finch dispelled the friendship enchantment. The
portal opened and in a disoriented rush, the creature made its
escape back from where it had come.
Finch was still in the running, and pleased that this day
was almost over. She expected her mother would have been
proud of her efforts, win or lose. Her fate, as well as those of
her eight rivals, was soon to be decided.

~MR~
Reid’s path had not been as cut and dry as Reeree’s.
There was no spell binding him to Stiggle any longer; the imp
now stayed with him by choice. Instant success not being an
option, Reid considered his spell repertoire before making his
selection.
The object was his best chance. He might not get what
he needed to use one of the four spells he had in mind, but he
had no spells to bind him to a person and his two creature spells
had a much lower rate of success.
Stepping back, he expressed his desire to the room that
he wanted an object. The portal opened and before him rested a
small silver mirror.
272

Strong Ties
Reid chuckled to himself. The spell he had least expected he would be using, and one of the last ones Gerant had
taught him before his mentor’s untimely demise, was a window
spell. The spell let Reid link himself to a mirror or other reflective surface so that the item could be left with a loved one and
they could observe the caster when they desired. Most teaching
mages would have their apprentices learn and cast the spell for
their own purposes, assuming possession of the windowed item
so they could keep track of the student. There was also a reverse
version of the spell that allowed the caster to look in on the possessor of the item, and there were several bawdy stories of such
an enchanted item being gifted to the daughter of some nobleman so that the wizard who had given the item could scry the
girl as she dressed or bathed. The offending enchanter would
always be caught and chased out of town and the mirror in question destroyed.
Reid himself had never been guilty of misusing the spell,
but the same could not be said of all the spells Gerant had taught
him. Reid had a somewhat vindictive spirit, and if he felt slighted, it was not beneath him to use a lesser spell in a mischievous
manner to rebuke the one who had committed the perceived
wrong.
Reid completed the casting of his spell.
“Thank you, you are free to go,” instructed the disembodied voice.
Reid stepped into the hallway, and came upon Finch and
Tom who were talking together. Only three of the doors still
remained closed, but as Reid approached the other two competitors, one of these three doors opened and Urwick stepped out.
“There are only a few minutes left in the Trial,” Tom
pointed out to Finch and Reid. “Unless they are just in there for
privacy, whoever is left in those two rooms may not succeed at
this all or nothing Trial. Of course, they could just be saving
their win until the last few seconds. I wouldn’t put it past Ebon
to taunt us like that.”
Finch nodded in agreement, eying the two doors with curiosity.
273

Magic University
Reid continued on into the common room, followed
closely by Tom and Finch. There was a definite feeling of excitement in the air. The looming finish line was an invigorating
stimulant to those waiting in the room. No one showed the effects of fatigue or frustration at this point. Rather, everyone
present was riding a visible high.
As the newcomers moved into the room, Reeree approached.
“My guess would be that there will be little change in
standings after this Trial. Ebon’s lead may lessen, and Shetland
may end up trailing by more, but it looks like the last Trial will
truly decide the winners.”
The gnome plopped down on one of the mats, and wiggling into a comfortable position, looked up at them again before
speaking.
“Have you ever considered what you will do after this,
win or lose? I would love the opportunity to study at the university, but I will be satisfied for having just lived this experience. I
don’t know if I’ll be able to return to my old life though...”
Finch stared at her feet for a moment, visibly disturbed
by the thought of failure.
“I’m afraid I never really considered that. I understand
just how much I want this now, and if I don’t get in this year I
will be back. Perhaps I can find someone who can improve on
my training so that I’ll be better prepared for next year. I suppose I’ll just keep doing that until my savings run out. This
university is where I’m meant to be.”
As Tom listened to Finch, he eyed Reeree with a suspicious frown and wondered if she had started this line of
discussion with some ulterior motive. They all knew exactly
what he would do if he did not place in the top three. There was
still a personal war raging within him with regards to what he
would do if he actually won a seat; would he turn away from his
throne and pursue magic as a career, or would he shy at having
to give up wealth and status? It was not something he could answer just yet. What had truly placed doubt in his mind was that
he had anticipated that training at the university would allow
274

Strong Ties
him more freedom, for which he would be willing to sacrifice
money and power. After Fortia’s little intrusion and speech,
however, he was now wondering just exactly how much things
would change for the better. According to her standards, he
would not be any freer to choose his path nor to live the life that
he wanted than he was now, and he would have to work terribly
hard to get some of the things that he already had.
Tom walked away from the women. Every time he
found himself facing the truth that his life would never be his
own, he wanted to lash out at the world, at someone who had all
of the freedom he desired, but who did not recognize or appreciate their situation. The average person saw him as spoilt and
thoughtless, Tom knew that much, but they did not see that
money and status had a down-side. Such luxuries were not just
privilege – they were bait in a trap that obliged you to live in
such a way so as to maintain them instead of enjoying them
while they were there, a self-perpetuating cycle. Were it not for
the comforts they allotted, perhaps he would not remain their
slave, but slave he was, and likely would always be.
Tom heard laughing and noticed that Snyder was once
again trying to sway the reluctant Nia into taking up the life of a
Renegade. At that point in time, Tom despised Snyder with every ounce of his soul. Snyder had never known wealth and
therefore was free from its binding grasp, but the half-satyr had
known power, great power, and somehow had managed to keep
power-lust from overwhelming him. To make matters worse,
Snyder had denied him choice, had denied him experience, and
now could deny him Nia, whom Tom also resented at that moment. She had more freedom than Tom would ever know, but
perhaps that could change.
As Nia drifted away from Snyder to fetch some water,
Tom approached her from behind.
“The success of all of your rivals must be somewhat disturbing to you. So you have plans now for your future. You
will lead the Renegade life? I did not think that was your style.”
She watched him cautiously.

275

Magic University
“It’s not. I don’t want that. But it certainly is a better offer than what you suggested. I’ve told Snyder that it’s not for
me.”
“A good move…Snyder would only use you and offer no
access to any real power. When you are his student, he obsessively controls what you will learn even though he can offer
much more. I know the true extent of his power, and he is more
dangerous than appearances would belie. He can’t provide any
real future for you. If you don’t have one of the three seats at
the end of the competition, you’ll have nothing.”
Nia scowled.
“And you will have everything, either way. You must
consider yourself quite fortunate. Some of us just aren’t that
lucky.”
Tom grinned, a hint of bitterness lending an edge to his
smile.
“It’s more than luck. The world is a place of checks and
balances. Whether you start off with a silver spoon in your
mouth or not a penny to your name, it is all a matter of choices.
Some are destined to make poor choices every step of the way.
The only person to blame for a bad lot in life is the person taking
the wrong risks and treading the wrong pathways. Snyder is a
good example of this. He started off as poor as they come, but
he solved his own problems, unlike others.”
Nia’s nostrils flared in annoyance.
“Of course,” he continued, “Those are the people who
are doomed to live life without any real success. Try as they
might, they hit bottom every time. They are often too blind, or
too stupid to acknowledge this fact and they persistently make
the same mistakes over and over again.”
He gave her a suggestive look, staring intently.
“If you are trying to convince me that I’m one of those
people, you may as well give it up,” Nia growled. The truth
was, he had struck an unhealthy chord within her and she found
herself succumbing to doubt. She had yet to have a single success to show for all the efforts of her life. She had lost
everything she had ever valued. She had also had the strength of
276

Strong Ties
will to struggle back to her feet, starting from the bottom after
each fall, but was that really how she wanted to live the rest of
her life?
As Nia inventoried the endeavours of her life, she realized that she had no victories to claim as her own. Not only that,
this little trip down memory lane reopened old wounds, some
long healed and others fresh and still stinging. She felt weighed
down by many of the burdens she had once managed to shrug
off so that she could go on with her life. Tom’s words had done
more damage than he had intended.
Tom read the insecurity in her expression and sensed a
psychological victory. Nia would no longer stand before him as
an example of many of the things he wanted but could not have.
He had stolen her freedom as much as he had felt robbed of his
own. Satisfied, he left her there to stew.
Tom smiled; if Snyder wanted Nia that badly, let him
deal with the mess that would be left over now that her spirit had
been crushed. It would serve his ex-teacher right for trying to
claim something that Tom wanted but could not keep.
Snyder had not had the chance to observe the little interaction between the scaled woman and the prince, and he was not
given the chance to witness the aftermath either. Nia chose not
to remain in the common room. Making sure no one would follow, she slipped over to the door and stepped out into the
corridor. Once there, she moved away from the doorway, sliding her back up against the wall and letting herself sink to the
floor.
Nia shuddered as Tom’s words ate away at her like a
slow-acting poison. Until now she had managed to rise above
the bad memories and to maintain her sense of self despite each
defeat and each sorrow. Along with a pain-fraught childhood,
the loss of her family, exile from her lands, and the constant conflict with her magical mentor, Nia had yet to make a mark in the
world that truly mattered. Add to this her current level of fatigue
and the stresses of the competition, and she found that, emotionally, she was barely able to keep her head above water. She was

277

Magic University
drowning in her own despair and it was Tom who had given her
that final shove that would push her under.
Nia suddenly felt more alone than ever before in her life.

~MR~
In the Common Room, Reeree had left Snyder to sit and
relax in the candlelight. The half-satyr glanced about, looking
for Nia, but before he could confirm her whereabouts he was
approached by Reid.
“You aren’t here to win, are you? Why are you here, exactly?”
Snyder eyed him.
“You are pretty perceptive. I guess I have three reasons:
to make sure my student got here safely, to observe his performance, since he was my first student, and I guess to find his
replacement, because win or lose, he’ll be leaving me. I
couldn’t stay where I was, so why not accompany him here. I
have a space nearby and I plan on returning there after this has
all come to an end.”
“A little aimless wandering never hurt anyone, but if you
feel the need to settle, I can’t fault you for that. I have my own
plans too. I think I’ve had enough of playing the student. I want
to try my hand at being the teacher. I have to dispose of some
property I inherited, and then I may just set up a school of my
own.”
“You plan on taking on an apprentice?” Snyder cocked
an eyebrow. “Do you think you have enough experience to do
so? You’ve barely finished your own studies as a Renegade.”
“Oh I admit it; I’m not prepared just yet. I have some research to do, and more experienced mages to recruit, but it will
be a legitimate business with several students and more than one
teacher. I plan on running a full-fledged academy. Interested in
joining me?”
Seeing a chance at a powerful partner, Reid decided there
was no harm in asking. Snyder did not even acknowledge the

278

Strong Ties
proposal at first, looking about the room with concern, his brow
creased and his expression unsettled.
“Probably not. I’d prefer to remain freelance for the moment. However, it’s all a matter of circumstance. We’ll see how
things work out for me. I could end up knocking on your door
someday, all my worldly possessions in hand.”
Reid followed the bard’s gaze, curious about the cause of
Snyder’s distress. Tom stood not far from Finch and Reeree
who were involved in a light-hearted conversation. Urwick lingered further back in the room, watching his rivals in quiet
contemplation, and occasionally glancing towards the door.
Stiggle lay sprawled on a mat, sleeping soundly.
How strange, Reid thought, that the dwarf was not present, snoring away in a similar fashion. How strange, as well,
that the wraith-mage was also absent from the room.

~MR~
Ebon seethed in frustration. Of all the skills they could
require a mage to exhibit, this was the area in which Ebon was
most lacking. If he could have bound himself to some element
of this plane, he would not have been in his current predicament.
He glared at the portal, with the question of item, creature or
person left unanswered several minutes into the Trial.
He tentatively reached out to touch the minds of those
within close proximity. As far as he could tell, he and the dwarf
were the only competitors present in the Trial Points. The others
had finished and gone. Of course, he had no way of knowing if
Urwick and Snyder were actually there or not because he had
difficulty delving into their thoughts. They had methods of
evading him which he could not identify, when they chose to do
so. Snyder, however, had been weakened somewhat and had
become easier to detect. Based on that, Ebon concluded that the
Renegade bard had finished with the Trial.
Shetland, in contrast, glowed like a burning ember at the
edge of Ebon’s line of vision, even through the thick clay walls.
The wraith-mage could not seem to escape the glaring magical
279

Magic University
essence that was the dwarf, and as a result, was only too aware
that Shetland stood contemplating the item he had summoned up
in the neighbouring Trial Point. Ebon was not surprised to find
that the dwarf’s frustration far outweighed his own. He could
sense as well that Shetland’s magical energies sought to link
with the cold iron rod he had received, but lacked the catalyst
required to begin the process. For that, Ebon had a cure.
Shetland had worried the metal bar every way imaginable. He had chomped on it, spat on it, stood on it, stomped on it,
scratched at it and licked it, but to no avail. So far, he had not
managed to trigger any accidental binding effects.
Ebon sat and observed for a few moments longer, knowing his own plight to be futile. He could offer his assistance, if
the binding spell would allow it. He prodded gently with the
idea of channelling the outer planar energy into Shetland as he
had with Urwick. It was not a spell, but merely a source of
power that would allow Shetland to make use of his own innate
ability. It was a magical device, per say, which the rules clearly
stated could be shared. Just as he had thought, the binding spell
offered no resistance. Ebon was free to act.
“I can help you,” he told Shetland.
The words reverberated through Shetland’s thoughts and
the dwarf paused. Having experienced the mental intrusions of
the wraith-mage before, he knew exactly where it was coming
from.
“What? I told you to stay out of my head,” Shetland
growled.
“I can help you…if you want.”
Shetland fingered the rod and glanced sideways at the
rock walls. Unlike Ebon, he could not distinguish from which
direction the voice was originating, but he assumed Ebon must
be close by.
“Why would you do that? I’m your rival in this contest.
Or is it just an act of pity? Besides, the binding spell will stop
you...”
Ebon pressed on.

280

Strong Ties
“It’s not that simple. I think we can help each other,
your magical idiosyncrasy being the key to both of our problems. As an example of good faith, I’m willing to help you now.
Perhaps, you can help me later. The binding spell won’t get in
the way. I checked.”
Ebon had not been in this position since he had suffered
his transformation. He foresaw a partnership, a co-dependency
that could be beneficial to both of them. The challenge now was
to make Shetland recognize it as well. This was the perfect opportunity.
“You aren’t lying, are you,” Shetland murmured.
“Let me help you. That should be proof enough,” Ebon
offered.
“Alright. What do you need me to do?” Shetland demanded, returning to the familiar gruffness Ebon had come to
expect.
“Approach the wall to your left – no, your other left, and
extend the rod before you. Yes, like that. I will give things a
push. Then you must try everything you have tried before.”
Ebon prepared to reach into the alternate plane.
Shetland scratched his head, scowling, and braced himself.
The channel opened easily to Ebon’s questing hand and a
short pulse of energy escaped, directed by Ebon’s efforts
through the wall and into the dwarf. Shetland jerked as the pulse
penetrated his body at the elbow and flashed from him to the
rod. His hand went numb and his fingertips began to tingle.
“Now,” commanded Ebon.
Shetland repeated the earlier process, of biting, stomping
and scratching. After nothing seemed to result from this, he
tossed the rod away in disgust. It stopped in mid-air, hovering
for a moment, and then returned rapidly in a boomerang like
fashion to Shetland’s hand. Shetland had not been expecting this
and was caught off guard. He yelped as the cold metal slapped
roughly against the skin on the palm of his hand.
“Thank you. You may go now,” the room’s voice intoned.
281

Magic University
Shetland hopped up and down ecstatically, celebrating
his victory. In the middle of his shuffling dance of joy, the rod
dropped from his hand with a clink on the floor, and the Trial
Point door clicked open. Ebon’s did as well. Their time was up,
and the only competitor who had proven unsuccessful was the
wraith-mage.
Ebon and Shetland proceeded into the common room and
Degra waved them forward.
“We will be going out the back door,” she instructed.
One by one the competitors filed out through the narrow
door into a dry, spacious yard that ended abruptly in a great gaping ravine. Despite the blackness of the night sky, the area was
well lit, illuminated by giant glowing globes that hung in the air
above them.
Shetland tiptoed carefully over to the edge, gazing down.
The plummet to the depths below was easily enough to kill any
of them but the wraith-mage. Degra turned to address them.
“This will be your final destination – the last Trial,
known as the most dangerous one. This is the Leap of Faith. I
will read off your current standings and then leave you to your
final attendant.”
She withdrew a scroll from within her obscuring robes.
“Cerissa June leads with 324, Thomas Regal and Ebon the Misplaced are tied for second with 319. Reid is fourth with 311, and
Finch is fifth with 306. Sixth is Nia with 292, seventh Snyder
with 257, and last is Shetland, with 234.”
Degra then snapped her fingers and disappeared, leaving
the competitors to themselves.
Reid made a mental note that Degra had excluded Urwick from the tally. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he trailed
by far more than the point value of a single Trial, and therefore
had no hope of finishing in one of the top three positions. Perhaps she was trying to save the dark elf some embarrassment.
The contestants lingered about in the yard, awaiting the
appearance of the next attendant. A few moments passed, and
then a few more, but no one new arrived to greet them. Growing
impatient, Nia frowned and stared at the door.
282

Strong Ties
“Why are they taking so long? Let’s just get this thing
over and done with...”
“Actually,” spoke a voice from amongst them. “I just
wanted to see how long it would take for someone to get antsy.
I’ve been here all along.”
All turned and stared at the person who had just spoken.
It was Urwick. He grinned his usual wry grin.
“That’s right. I am the final Trial attendant. But that’s
not all. I’m also a judge.”

283

17
Leap of Faith
Stunned into silence by Urwick’s revelation, no one
spoke. Some stared in disbelief, while others chuckled, thinking
it a big joke. Ebon approached him.
“You aren’t kidding, are you? You are the third judge.
It all makes sense now,” he exclaimed.
Others were not so pleased. In fact, Nia was downright
outraged.
“You deceptive, manipulative fraud! You cheated me
out of some well-deserved points!” she spat in fury.
Urwick shook his head.
“If you are referring to the rod of truth incident, I did no
such thing. The device worked as intended. You chose not to
believe the response I gave to you. If you had trusted your original instincts about it, you would have retained those points and
been onto my secret long before any of your rivals. But you
chose to believe that I was mocking you and that the item did not
function as you had thought. That was your decision. No one
forced your hand in that.”
Disgruntled, Nia backed down. The difference would
have only been a few points, but to Nia it seemed huge.
“What about the mirror?” Reid demanded. “How come
it didn’t reveal your true nature?”

284

Leap of Faith
“I had help with that one,” Urwick confessed. “It took
the combined efforts of three powerful mages to keep the mirror
at bay, but it was necessary for the judging process. We have
discovered, based on past experience, that the best way to prevent cheating and to avoid accidents is to hide one of the judges
in amongst the Trial competitors. Since I was a new graduate
with no real reputation, I was the most obvious choice. Jadira,
whom you met at the first Trial, is my wife, and I was once her
apprentice. It was my turn to take on an apprentice.”
Urwick watched them all with a hint of mirth as they
tried to absorb the truth. Reflecting on everything that had happened recently, many questions suddenly had an answer, and
small inconsistencies were finally explained.
“Now it is my duty to tell you exactly how this final Trial
works. It is very straight-forward. If you peer into that ravine,
you will notice that there are lights at the bottom as well as these
globes up top. Consider those lights down there your finishing
line. Burrell and Fortia, as well as a small audience of select invitees are awaiting your arrival as we speak. When I direct you
to begin, you must use your magic to descend to the bottom of
the ravine, and join the celebrations. Of course, the objective is
to get to the bottom as quickly as possible while remaining safe
and sound. The first person to arrive safely will receive full
points for their efforts, with a decreasing value for each person
thereafter.
I must mention three items of importance, which you
must keep in mind as you complete this Trial. Failure to finish
here will result in disqualification from the competition, no matter how high your score. If there are any ties at the end of the
point tally, your placing in this competition will decide your
standing. Are there any questions, or are you prepared to take
the Leap of Faith?”
“There are millions of questions,” Ebon insisted. “But
you’ve already answered the one at the top of my list and the
others can wait. Of course, I wouldn’t mind knowing who has
won your little contest about the most interesting secret...”

285

Magic University
“The Trials aren’t over yet, my friend. I’ll decide that
when we get to the bottom.”
Urwick eyed Shetland, who had approached the edge of
the ravine and was staring into the windswept depths.
“How many people have died here?” Shetland asked, a
stern look settling over his features.
Urwick’s demeanour immediately switched from cheerful to grim.
“I can’t lie to you. I believe the number is up to seven at
last count. People aren’t necessarily prepared to meet this challenge, but they are so desperate to finish that they take stupid
risks.”
Nia shifted uneasily. The others stared into the deep
chasm, regressing into a quiet gloom. Dismayed at this sudden
chill in the air, Reeree breached the silence.
“Are there any time restrictions, or spell restrictions?”
“You have just under thirty minutes to reach the bottom,
and you may use any spell that will get you down there in one
piece,” Urwick replied.
Reeree could see that Urwick was becoming disturbed by
the current line of questioning. He was watching the competitors with a sense of urgency and anxiety. He truly did not want
anyone getting hurt while in his charge.
“Is that everything?”
No one spoke up.
“OK. I will give you a few moments to gather your wits,
then, on my word, you may begin.”
Urwick moved over to a bench positioned directly below
one of the large globes of light. He made a point of reviewing
each competitor’s efforts to prepare themselves, using his magic
to observe both their outer and inner behaviour.
Three of the contestants worried him. Finch was in a
mild state of panic, frantically trying to work out a plan to get to
the bottom. Despite her anxiety, Urwick did not feel overly concerned about her safety. She did not seem to be any threat to
herself. Her overpowering fear of the fall would prevent her
from doing anything stupid.
286

Leap of Faith
Shetland was equally at a loss, and Urwick could sense
the dwarf was anticipating an attempt at climbing down. This
unnerved the dark elf. Any attempt at a safe descent would far
exceed the thirty minutes allotted for the Trial. What was worse
was that there was little in the way of fear to impede the dwarf’s
desire to meet this goal. The only motivation present in the
dwarf’s psyche was a grim sense of determination to finish the
Trial.
And then, there was Nia. Urwick shuddered in response
to the chilling calm which had settled into her spirit. Knowing
her tendency to act on impulse, Urwick could tell that there was
something frantic and desperate lurking below her surface
thoughts. She did not have a rational solution to her dilemma,
which meant she would be trying something rash, and Urwick
was powerless to interfere. Neither, technically, could anyone
else, but Urwick hoped that someone might try. He did not want
anyone dying on his watch.
Unable to hold onto this moment any longer, Urwick was
forced to announce the start of the Trial.
Tom was the first to react. He pulled a potion out of his
belt pouch and downed it without delay. Taking flight, he
grinned at his fellow competitors and disappeared into the depths
of the canyon.
Ebon was the next to follow. He stepped off the edge of
the cliff and getting a good view of the lights far below, prepared
to plane hop directly to the finish line, beating even the speedy
prince to the end. Just before departure, he noticed Shetland had
clambered from his perch overlooking the ravine, and was gingerly picking his way down the cliff. The way was unwieldy
and one false move, especially at such an unsafe pace, would
result in an unsightly dwarven-shaped red stain at the rocky bottom.
Ebon paused.
“Shetland, don’t be foolish. Climb back up. We can discuss your situation after you’ve found a safer way to the
bottom.”

287

Magic University
“Get lost, you overgrown ghost. I didn’t come this far
just to give up now. Besides, I’m better off dead, rather than
stuck this way for the rest of my life.” He gazed up at the hovering Ebon with a pained look. “This is no way for one of my
kind to live. It’s like trying to mix fire with water.”
Ebon did not leave. Perhaps the dwarf had a point, but
mix fire and water and you get steam. Shetland still had a function. The wraith-mage decided reverse psychology was his only
avenue.
“Go ahead then, give up. I knew you were a coward the
first time I set eyes on you. I was wasting my time by offering
my assistance in the last Trial. You never had any intention of
honouring the agreement in the first place. I was foolish to think
you would hold up your end of the bargain. That would require
honour and integrity, and cowards have none.”
Shetland snarled in Ebon’s general direction.
“I may have lost some of my dignity, and the respect of
others of my kind, but no one can say that I have lost my honour.”
The crusty-natured dwarf pulled a full turnabout and
scrambled back up the cliff face to the top of the ravine.
“Go, you silly beast,” he spat at Ebon. “Go finish this
race before someone else beats you to it. You’re more use to me
if you win than if you lose. I’ll meet you at the bottom, and I’ll
keep to my word.”
Satisfied that Shetland had abandoned his fatalistic approach to completing the Trial, Ebon stepped out of that plane of
existence and was gone.
Reeree had been transforming Rex into a giant white eagle while all this was occurring. She had deemed this form a
suitable mount for the flight down and had clambered onto his
back. With a single piercing cry from Rex, they glided from the
cliff’s edge and descended into the darkness towards the awaiting crowd below.
Reid watched Reeree go, and then turned to look at
Finch. He had been expecting to find her in the midst of her
own enchantment, but she was unhappily regarding the open
288

Leap of Faith
locket she had been gifted by her mother. Consulting the locket
was a last ditch effort, and Finch was tearfully receiving unwelcome news.
“I cannot aid you with this, my dear. Physical influence
is beyond my scope. If you have no items nor source spells to
facilitate your descent, I’m afraid this contest is lost to you. And
as this is the last Trial, I’m afraid I must leave you now. The
magic I used was only binding to this point. Know, at least, that
you have done me proud. I will love you always.”
There was a slight shimmer and the portrait grew still. It
would speak no more.
“I don’t understand. I only used it once. How come she
couldn’t help me again?” Finch murmured sadly.
“Maybe she had faith in you and did not expect you to
use the locket more than was necessary. Didn’t it help just to
know it was there if you needed it?” Reid said.
Finch nodded.
“I didn’t feel like I had to use it again until now, but I
don’t have any means of flight left, and while I can levitate I
have no way of propelling myself downwards. I have no cushioning spells, no shape-changing spells, no gliding spells and no
portals. I’m stuck.”
Reid considered his options. He could stand back and let
things take their course. Finch would fail to make the Leap of
Faith and would be disqualified. She would not become a university student this year. It would be a lesson in humility. But
that was not really what Reid wanted. He had developed a soft
spot for Finch, a warm and fuzzy fondness, and truthfully, he did
not want to stand there and watch her dreams be dashed if he
could do something to prevent it - and there was something he
could do to prevent it.
Reid pulled off his bracer and handed it to Finch.
“Cast your levitate spell. Take Stiggle. He can get you
to the bottom.”
Finch’s jaw dropped. She stared at him wide-eyed.
“What about you? How will you get down?”
Reid shook his head.
289

Magic University
“I’m not going. I had already made that decision before
now. I don’t want this. You do, so take him. I have other
plans.”
Finch’s face lit up.
“I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay you. I will
someday, I promise.”
“We’ll think of something,” Reid assured her.
Finch allowed him to buckle the bracer onto her forearm,
and began casting her spell. Reid crouched down beside Stiggle.
“Hey there,” he said. “Will you do this for me? Will
you help Finch get down to those lights at the bottom of the
chasm? I promise I’ll buy you the biggest, juiciest chicken we
can find when we are done here. First chance I get. I mean it.”
Stiggle grimaced at him, but hopped over to Finch nonetheless. With a few half-hearted snarls, he darted up to the
bracer, latched on and began to pull. Finch’s form faded into the
night, becoming nothing more than a silhouette against the light
of the far-away globes.
Reid sighed and sat down. He realized all too well that
he had just hammered the last nail into the coffin of whatever
relationship they might have been able to have someday, friendship or otherwise. His choice had solidified his existence as a
Renegade, and may have finalized her opportunity to become a
Master.
Of course he had not guaranteed her the win. In fact, as
it stood, she would have to settle for fourth place, and that would
not win her a seat. In that aspect, it was not over yet. He sat
close to the edge, and watched her floating shadow grow more
distant.
Behind him, Nia and Snyder watched Finch go as well.
Nia glanced over her shoulder, first at Snyder, then at Urwick.
She took a few steps back, and then started a rapid advance towards the cliff’s edge. There was something in her expression
that chilled Snyder to the bone, almost as if she were abandoning
herself to some crazed urge, some warped response to a hopeless
situation. It was as if she expected to somehow beat the odds.
He touched her mind, against his better judgement, and was
290

Leap of Faith
shocked to find no solid plan of action. She had a minor cushioning spell that would absorb some of the shock from the fall as
she plummeted to the rocky bottom, but without any other means
of slowing her descent she would not escape terrible injury, or
more likely, death.
A terrible soul-burning pain coursed through Nia; she
was volleyed by grief, anger, doubt, frustration, and strongest of
all, despair. Snyder staggered from the emotional backlash that
erupted from that brief contact. He glanced back at Urwick, but
knew in an instant that the dark elf could not, or would not, do
anything to stop her. That left things in Snyder’s hands, and he
had a huge obstacle - the binding spell.
As he watched Nia approach the edge, seemingly in slow
motion, Snyder reached as deep as he possibly could into his
own internal source of magic and railed at the binding spell with
all his might, weakened as he already was. To hope to interfere
with Nia’s potentially fatal plunge, he would have to overcome
the power of the combined forces of Fortia and Burrell, but
Snyder’s internal power source was still drained from his encounter with the demon. Feeling twisted and torn, Snyder
pushed with everything he had left, fear and desire driving him
as much as anything else. Finally, and miraculously, he found a
nearly undetectable weak spot, a warping in the magic of the
binding spell. The spell tore there at his prodding, and then dissipated. Snyder was through.
Without another breath, Snyder reached out with his last
remaining thread of magic and seized Nia in mid fall. He could
not draw her in with the little strength he possessed unless she
offered no resistance. He would have to convince her to allow
herself to be pulled to safety, and back onto solid ground, and he
could tell from her expression, this would not be an easy task.
Snyder stumbled to his knees from the strain, perspiring
and breathing heavily.
Urwick watched from his seat on the bench, his fingers
taut, and his eyes wide.

291

Magic University
“Hold onto her,” he breathed into the chill night air. He
wished he could somehow lend the half-satyr more strength.
“Make her understand.”
Nia glared back at Snyder, her eyes ablaze with outrage.
“Let go of me,” she screamed. “You aren’t allowed to do
this.”
“I don’t care, Nia,” Snyder murmured, through clenched
teeth. The pull was overpowering and his surroundings wavered
and blurred before his eyes. “I can’t let you do this.”
“You can’t let me finish this Trial??! You aren’t supposed to stop me! This is against the rules!!”
Now it was Snyder’s turn to allow his anger to erupt.
The rage helped him fuel his strength and hold on for a few moments more. “And what spell do you plan on using to stop your
fall? A minor cushioning spell! Will it stop you? Will it!”
Nia grew quiet, her anger subsiding as quickly as it had
emerged.
“A little, but...”
“Not enough!! You can’t throw your life away like this.
You have so much to offer. Nia, I need an apprentice. I know
you want nothing to do with Renegade magic, but can it be any
worse than what you are doing right now? I’ll teach you anything you want to learn...”
“Well...”
Nia’s tone changed. She was considering what he had
said. With a plaintive look, Snyder pushed on, knowing he had
little time left.
“A trial basis, Nia. Assist me and learn from me for one
month. If you don’t like it you can leave, and I’ll pay you for
your time. You can start fresh. And I won’t try any funny stuff,
I promise. Now please, will you let me pull you in?”
Nia’s features held doubt, then as suddenly as she had
succumbed to the impulse to jump, she relented to Snyder’s request. She stopped resisting the spell and allowed herself to be
drawn back onto the cliff’s edge. The moment she found herself
standing on solid ground, Snyder blanched and toppled forward
into the dirt in a dead faint.
292

Leap of Faith
Both Nia and Urwick approached him where he lay. Nia
crouched beside him and touched his downy cheek, a slight
frown settling on her brow. She sighed.
“What exactly is it that you see in me, gentle soul. What
fascinates you so?”
Urwick stood back in silence, suppressing the urge to
walk over and slap the scaled-woman for her suicidal transgression. Steeling himself against this impulse, he instead opened a
magical portal to the end point at the base of the ravine.
“Shall we go?” he said quietly, gesturing towards the
shimmering doorway.
Nia gazed up at him, then without a word, she gathered
up Snyder’s limp form, effortlessly slinging him over her shoulder, and made her way into the portal. Shetland trundled in
behind her, and Reid followed after him.
Urwick breathed heavily, and stepped in after they had
all gone through, closing the portal behind him.

~MR~
Fortia and Burrell waited at the base of the ravine, accompanied by approximately two dozen onlookers. They gazed
up at the sky, excited to see who would be the first to arrive. A
few moments later, Tom touched down before them. Fractions
of a second after that, a plane portal opened before them and Ebon stepped out. The crowd applauded and cheered loudly.
Barely allowing the spectators a pause for breath, Reeree
swooped in on Rex’s back. The landing was a bit haphazard, but
Reeree hopped off gleefully. It would soon be the time to celebrate the end of the Trials, and better yet, to sleep.
Everyone continued to watch the skies, as the tiny silhouettes at the top of the ravine moved and shifted about, but the
winds prevented anything from being heard and no one could
quite make out exactly what was happening.
When the silhouette of a figure being towed by a small
creature appeared above them, the competitors all assumed it

293

Magic University
was Reid who approached. They were more than a little surprised to see Finch alight before them.
“Where’s Reid?” Tom asked, but Finch ignored him,
peering anxiously back up at the top. She had overheard the beginning of the conversation between Snyder and Nia and
dreaded seeing the scaled-woman come toppling down from
above.
“What’s wrong?” Reeree inquired, well aware of what
Finch’s anxious look suggested.
Before Finch could respond, a portal opened beside her
and Nia stepped through, still bearing her half-satyr burden from
above. Finch and Reeree both grew pale and rushed over.
“What happened? Is he OK?” they asked.
At this point, Shetland and Reid walked out behind them,
followed directly by Urwick.
“He just needs rest. Nia, follow me,” Urwick instructed,
and headed for one of the nearby pavilions. Nia was starting to
feel the weight of her fallen saviour, but she gritted her teeth and
made no complaint.
When they arrived inside the tent that held a series of
cots in varying sizes, Nia took advantage of the opportunity to
put Snyder down, but she did not stray from his side.
“We keep this pavilion in case of an emergency,” Urwick
stated.
“While this case wouldn’t be qualified as lifethreatening, I think it merits the use of a cot. As much as I
would like to speak with Snyder when he awakens, I’m afraid I
can’t stay. I have some other business to attend to. Will you be
OK here with him?”
Nia nodded, but did not face Urwick. He took no offense
at this, inspecting Snyder momentarily before stepping out of the
tent.
Nia stared down at the unconscious Renegade mage before her, trying to make sense of what she felt. In a moment of
sheer insanity, she had nearly thrown everything away, when the
people around her were least likely to be able to stop her. She
tried to imagine what might have happened if Snyder had not
been able to intervene. He had stripped himself of every last
294

Leap of Faith
vestige of strength to save her, placing himself at risk in the process. She could not understand why.
“He will be okay?”
Nia whirled to face the intruder. Reeree had stepped
through the tent flap. Relaxing slightly, Nia nodded.
“Urwick says so. He depleted his internal resources”
Reeree smiled.
“Finch told me what happened, or at least, what she
managed to hear before the winds became too overpowering.
It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it? You are very lucky, you
know that?”
Nia nodded.
“I would feel better if I could understand why. I haven’t
given anyone out there a reason to care what happened to me.
Considering the fact that I’ve only known you all for about
twelve hours, this just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Reeree took a seat beside the scaled-woman.
“I suspect that Snyder is guilty of breaking a measure of
Renegade etiquette. Perhaps for Tom’s safety, but possibly just
as much for his own, I believe he stole a look at our surface
thoughts, just as Ebon did, at the start of the Trials. It was probably just an attempt at getting an idea of who we were and what
our intentions were. Something about your thoughts must have
intrigued him, and he delved deeper, a practice frowned upon in
most mage circles as inappropriate and intrusive. I’m thanking
your lucky stars that he chose to break this taboo and found
something he liked there, because otherwise, he either would not
have bothered to try and stop you, or he would not have found
the strength to break the binding spell.”
Too wrapped up in everything else going on, Nia had not
even considered the fact that Snyder had had to overcome the
spell placed upon them at the beginning of the Trials, and had
managed somehow, despite his diminished capacity. It made
sense now, why he had had nothing left over.
“He saved me twice,” Nia murmured, “Once from a
monster, and once from myself. I owe him.”
Reeree shook her head.
295

Magic University
“If my guess is right, he owed you, for prying into your
most personal thoughts. No, the only thing you owe him is anything you agreed to up on top of that cliff...”
Snyder groaned and began to stir. Suddenly aware, he
bolted upright.
“Nia!”
Reeree managed to catch him before he rolled off of the
cot.
“Whoa there,” she said calmly. “Everyone is safe. You
can rest easy now.”
Snyder grimaced as he lowered himself back into the cot,
but he visibly relaxed as he caught sight of the scaled-woman.
Seeing him in the lamp light of the pavilion, Nia noticed for the
first time the bruising on his arms and face from his topple into
the dirt. He had also grazed his chin and cheek.
“The Trials...?”
“They’ve already started the final judging.”
Snyder sighed. It did not really affect him. He had been
disqualified, as had been Nia, but he was curious to see who
would win.
“Don’t worry,” insisted Reeree. “Sleep. We will wake
you if anything exciting happens.”
Snyder did not argue. Exhausted, he lay back and let his
mind drift away.

~MR~
Tom stood outside the tent, trying to get an earful of
what was being said. He had won this contest of power, he was
sure of that much, but he had missed the bizarre altercation that
had occurred on the cliff after he had flown away, and curiosity
was gnawing away at him.
“If you are planning on going in to gloat, I would advise
otherwise.”
Tom swivelled to face the one who had spoken behind
him, but all he saw was shadows.

296

Leap of Faith
“Hello, Ebon,” Tom replied. “No, I don’t feel the need
to gloat. Have you come to bemoan your second place finish.”
“Unofficial second place finish,” Ebon reminded him, his
voice suggesting a hint of amusement. “And I think I can endure
second place, if I must suffer the lesser standing. I’ve won some
bigger rewards today.”
“Bigger rewards?” Tom scoffed. “What reward could be
bigger than coming in first?”
Ebon chuckled. “A few hours ago, I would have agreed
with that statement, but the truth is, the only thing I wanted more
than winning this thing was to have my true form restored to me,
and I may have found a tool to aid me in that quest. As a result,
not placing first is now a minor disappointment.”
“A tool?” Tom queried.
“I don’t appreciate being called a tool,” Shetland grumbled as he came around the corner. He had an odd glow to him
that Tom had not noticed before.
“Call it what you will,” Ebon said, “but you’ve renewed
my hope that someday I’ll be able to restore my original form.”
“And I’ll get to be a regular dwarf again,” Shetland added.
“Sure, and everyone will live happily ever after,” Tom
jeered. “I can’t believe how many people around here are walking around with their head in the clouds. The only one here with
any real reason to celebrate is me, and maybe you and Reeree,
for placing in the top three.”
“Head in the clouds? I’m just happy to have my feet on
the ground,” Shetland growled. “You may have won this contest, but I think you’ve come out of this thing with the least
gained.”
“Hmph! Well, if you start at the bottom it’s easy to gain
a step up or two. If you start at the top, you don’t have much
further to go.”
Tom was growing annoyed. He had thought that winning these Trials would bring him a great deal of satisfaction.
Instead, few seemed to acknowledge his accomplishments and
even he was not sure if he truly desired to claim the prize. The
297

Magic University
only thing his win had done was proven that Snyder had not
failed him in his teaching.
At this thought, a twinge of conscience managed to fend
off Tom’s ego, and he actually felt compelled to apologize to his
friend and mentor. Abandoning Ebon and Shetland, he stepped
into the pavilion. Snyder lay on a cot, sleeping, closely attended
by Reeree and Nia. Tom was startled, for aside from the halfsatyr’s obvious lassitude, he also appeared to be somewhat battered.
“What happened to him?” Tom asked quietly.
Nia glanced furtively at Reeree, who decided to be selectively evasive. “He over exerted himself and had a bit of a fall.”
Tom considered waiting around until the bard awoke, to
express his regrets and make an attempt at a meaningful apology, but was made somewhat uncomfortable by the presence of
Reeree and Nia. Instead, he retreated from the tent. He suspected there was more to this situation than they had revealed, but he
decided he did not really want to know the details.

~MR~
Finch pulled off the bracer and handed it back to its
rightful owner. She realized his solution had not likely resulted
in a seat for her at the university, but she still appreciated Reid’s
gesture, and the fact that he had willingly given up his own
chance at a seat. It meant a great deal to her.
Reid clipped on the bracer and watched Stiggle return to
his preferred perch. He was actually quite satisfied with his decision not to make the leap. He was meant to be a Renegade,
eternally the outcast, and would now embrace the lifestyle without regret. Finch would never understand this decision, and they
would never really be able to establish any true friendship. It
was a loss he would have to accept. He doubted he would ever
be able to alter her beliefs with regards to Renegades, ingrained
and reinforced by her mother’s memory. She would never approve of whom he had chosen to be.
Tom approached them from the pavilions.
298

Leap of Faith
“Congratulations,” Reid said, knowing Tom was likely
thrilled by his first place finish. To Reid’s surprise, Tom look
perturbed, and for the only instance since Reid had known him,
somewhat unsure of himself.
“Mmmm, but the judging has not been finalized. I am
the unofficial winner, but depending on what the judges decide,
that could possibly change,” Tom murmured, glancing over at
Finch with a curious expression.
“I wonder what they could possibly have to say,” she
said, puzzled by his tone.
Only time would tell.

299

18
The Judgement Hour
Fortia and Burrell watched Urwick from across the table.
Fortia sat tensely, her shoulders stiff and her eyes narrowed.
Burrell looked agitated, shifting in his seat every few seconds as
though tormented by some unreachable itch. Both judges
seemed less than pleased. Finally, it was Fortia who broke the
suffocating silence.
“He overcame the power of the binding spell. How
could you let that happen? Not only did it affect the outcome of
these Trials, but he is now free to expose our secrets to others.
This is a dark day for Magic University; one that I’m sure could
have been prevented.”
Her irritation was evident in her voice, mingled with the
presence of fear. If Urwick had had a more sadistic nature, he
would have enjoyed watching both of them squirm in their seats.
“And what would you propose I have done? I had no
hand in his penetrating the spell. To be truthful, I’m thankful he
succeeded. You two may enjoy a bloody finish to a long and
harrowing day, but I prefer something a little more light-hearted
than seeing one of the candidates become a mangled mess at the
bottom of the cliff. The death toll for this event is high enough
as is. I can’t imagine what sort of monster thought up this Trial
to begin with. Besides, Snyder would have failed at his task had
it not been for the magical distortion that—”
300

The Judgemenr Hour
“Distortion?” Burrell interrupted. Urwick grimaced.
“The dwarf was the cause, I believe. I have detected
multiple irregularities during the competition: his manipulation
of the Way Station locks, the malfunction of Trial Devices, the
demon incident, and more. He has even had some effect on personal spells that had nothing to do with the competition. His
influence does not seem to be a simple matter of spell disruption
either. There appears to be a random effect to his presence, with
the disruption, strengthening, even reversal of spell effects. I
will be requesting the time and resources to study him further, if
the university will oblige.”
Fortia looked incensed.
“Distortion or no distortion, he had the power to overcome the binding spell. That fraudulent little Renegade has been
playing us for fools from the moment he set foot on these Trial
grounds. He could have wiped the playing field clean with his
magic, but chose instead to make a mockery of our traditions.
As I’ve said before, we should consider a complete ban on...”
Burrell interrupted again, his discomfort at this line of
discussion clear. Aware that Urwick had originally come to
them as a Renegade, he found Fortia’s lack of tact embarrassing.
“This is no time to be discussing the Trial selection process. Until he fought through the binding spell, Snyder did
nothing that the rules disallow. In fact, based on your own predisposition against Renegade magic, his performance, which
avoided all use of Renegade magic until the demon incident,
would be worth applauding. Would it not be somewhat hypocritical to suggest that he should make use of the very magic you
berate him for possessing? Personally, I would consider his efforts admirable.”
“And I would have to agree,” Urwick added. “However,
this is all a moot point as he managed to disqualify himself during the final Trial. I don’t think it appropriate to consider
reversing a disqualification unless another competitor’s cheating
was involved. If you wish to discuss reversing Nia’s disqualification, that would be another subject entirely, but Snyder broke
the rules and failed to complete the Trial, so I don’t see how this
301

Magic University
merits any further debate. Besides, his low score would preclude him from placing in the top three, as things stand.
Therefore, I think we should move on to considering the other
candidates.”
He regarded Fortia’s cold, hard stare without flinching.
This was not the first time that they had found themselves at
odds.
“Fine,” she acknowledged. “We will leave off that train
of thought until the next review of the rules. As far as I am concerned all of the other disqualifications should stand.”
Despite Fortia’s calm disposition, Urwick was well
aware that below her polished surface, a storm was brewing.
She would use all of the problems that had occurred during these
Trials as a means of promoting her beliefs that Renegades were
nothing but trouble, and should be excluded from the competition. In a way, he felt vindicated that the current unofficial
winner of the contest was a Renegade.
Burrell nodded.
“I have no objections to that. So, what of the four who
actually completed the course? Were there any problems or
questionable behaviours? Should the scores be left as is, or are
there any adjustments required?”
“There were no examples of foul play from Thomas. He
played by the rules and has earned his first place finish,” Urwick
began.
“Despite less than admirable conduct,” Fortia offered
with a hint of a frown.
“Our purpose is not to serve as a judge of character, Fortia,” Burrell insisted. “We are here to observe and calculate the
candidates’ skill with magic, and their ability to adhere to our
rules. None of the contestants who presented themselves for
these Trials are without flaw. If we were allowed to make a
choice based on personal preference alone, there would be no
reason for putting people through such a gruelling challenge. I
would suggest you set your character ideals aside for the moment and focus on the actual requirements of the Trials. Have

302

The Judgemenr Hour
these requirements been fulfilled, or is there reason to question
the methods these competitors used?”
“I would say yes, the requirements have been fulfilled.
From my observations, there was only one minor effort to resist
the binding spell, aside from the incident with Snyder,” Urwick
put forth. “But there was no actual struggle involved. The moment the candidate sensed resistance to their actions or
intentions, they discontinued their efforts.”
“Can you elaborate?” Fortia demanded.
“Ebon considered violent actions versus one of the other
competitors. I think it was only an attempt to test his limitations
within the binding spell. I would not consider it something worthy of penalty.”
Urwick chose not to mention the questionable events that
did not directly instigate a reaction from the binding spell. Ebon’s suggestion of mentally breaking Nia, and Tom’s war of
wills with the scaled woman that had actually resulted in Ebon’s
intended effect were not things he felt were appropriate to discuss at this moment. There were only so many limitations one
could actually stress within the binding spell before the spell
would become burdensome and overly restrictive. The competitors had to be allowed some means of expressing themselves and
challenging one another.
“I will mention that there was one occurrence that didn’t
fall within the boundaries of the binding spell, but might be considered somewhat questionable,” Burrell pointed out. “To the
best of my knowledge, I do not recall a similar situation from
past Trials. The wraith-mage opened a power channel from his
alternate plane of existence, and assisted the dwarf in the process. The binding spell ignored this development based on a
technicality. The power line was not effectively a spell, so the
binding spell treated the situation as though the competitors were
sharing a magical device. I think the event went against the intent of the rules. If we deemed it a breach of intent, we could
choose to disqualify him for this abuse of power.”
Fortia regarded Burrell with some interest, and then
turned her attention to Urwick.
303

Magic University
“I personally would have no objection to doing so.”
Urwick thought for a moment, avoiding any exhibit of
emotion.
“That may be so, but if we choose to eliminate him due
to his profiting from a loophole in the rules, it would be unfair
for us not to also eliminate any candidate who made use of the
imp. Stiggle’s presence also went against the intent of the rules.
That would mean striking Finch from the qualifiers as well, reducing our qualifier count to only two people, and leaving Fortia
without an apprentice for this year, unless we agreed to reinstate
Nia due to Snyder’s interference.”
Fortia paled. Her hands trembled slightly as she restrained herself. Burrell seem nonplussed with this idea. After a
few moments of tense silence, Fortia finally found her voice.
“Perhaps you are correct, Urwick,” she said. “Allowing
for clever methods of circumventing the rules may not be such a
bad thing after all. Besides, it is the best way of assuring we try
to avoid such loopholes in the first place. If we can arbitrarily
adjust the rules as we go, we might grow sloppy in administrating them to begin with.”
“True,” agreed Burrell. “There is also the fact that this
event had no effect on the outcome of the Trials, as the dwarf
did manage to disqualify himself. I think we can let this issue
rest.”
“We have not even touched the fact that if Ebon had not
done the same for me during the Trial of Power Imbuement, we
may have had a tragic mess on our hands, beyond the regular
scope of the Trials,” Urwick added.
Fortia and Burrell were noticeably disturbed by the mention of this incident. Besides the fact that it could have
completely disrupted the Trials, and resulted in the destruction
of several of the potential apprentices, it also stood as a reminder
of Snyder’s skill level as a Renegade.
Attempting to lighten the mood in the room, Burrell
chuckled nervously.

304

The Judgemenr Hour
“It never fails to amaze me how these candidates manage
to come up with new ways of getting around the rules every
year.”
“I seem to recall that I used less than pristine tactics for
my own win. So that is it then? The scores will stand as is. All
that is left is to go out there and inform everyone that we have
reviewed the Trial process and confirm the winners,” Urwick
said.
Burrell nodded. Fortia also agreed, with much more reluctance.
“Then so be it.”

~MR~
After what seemed to be forever, but was only the greater
portion of an hour, a herald finally appeared from beyond the
entranceway of the judges pavilion. He stepped up onto the
small stage at the far end of the tents.
“Please be seated!” he proclaimed. “Closing Ceremonies
will commence in five minutes!”
Tom, Reid, Shetland and Finch took their seats in the
front row. Ebon, as was customary in crowded situations,
avoided the others and stood hovering at the rear in the dark.
A few moments later Nia and Reeree appeared, helping a
visibly weakened Snyder to his seat.
As per the herald’s announcement, after five minutes
Urwick, Fortia and Burrell emerged from the judge’s pavilion.
With a grand gesture from Fortia, they disappeared, only to
shimmer into view upon the stage, now bedecked in garb of the
University’s official colours. Urwick held a scroll which was
gold-tasselled and wax sealed.
“We have reviewed all that has occurred during the Trials and we have come to a final decision. It is time now to declare the official winners.” He paused, unrolling the scroll.
“Third place goes to Cerissa June. Her performance was
an admirable one, and she has proven herself above and beyond
our expectations. We will be proud to call her one of our own.”
305

Magic University
Urwick glanced down at Reeree, waiting for her to join
them before continuing. She paused long enough to give Snyder
and Shetland a brief hug each, sitting on either side of her, before scurrying up the steps to Urwick’s side. The dark elf read
the next passage.
“In second place is Ebon the Misplaced. I think all
would agree that he is likely the most powerful candidate that we
have ever seen. I believe his presence at Magic University will
heighten the experience for both teachers and students alike.”
Not waiting for Urwick to complete his speech, Ebon began making his way towards the stage. This was something he
had been waiting for long before he had even arrived at the Trial
grounds. As Ebon settled in next to Reeree, Urwick began making what he believed would be the final proclamation of the
official winners.
“And lastly, in first place, we have Thomas Regal. He
demonstrated a great range of skill, resources and tactical expertise during these Trials and it is our honour and privilege to
award him the coveted first seat for this year’s apprenticeship.”
He waited for Tom to approach the stage, but the prince
did not even rise from his seat.
“Thomas, will you join us on stage?” Burrell requested.
Tom stood, glancing first at Snyder, and then up at
Reeree. After a moment’s hesitation, he spoke.
“No. I am happy to have had the opportunity to participate in these Trials. It was an amazing experience and one that I
will treasure for the rest of my life, but it has been brought to my
attention that I have to make a choice between the responsibilities of the throne and my desire to attend this University. After
giving the situation serious consideration, I’ve decided that my
obligations to my family and the Crown outweigh my magical
ambitions, and as much as I would like to do otherwise, I must
refuse the seat that you are offering me. Award first place to
Ebon in my stead. He really does deserve it.”
Fortia and Urwick looked startled, and Burrell’s jaw
dropped.

306

The Judgemenr Hour
“No one has ever refused a placement before,” he stammered.
Tom nodded, aware that this was not something anyone
had expected. He had not even been aware that he would do this
until that very moment.
“It is a difficult choice for me, but I truly believe it is
what I must do. I am sorry I could not have foreseen this prior
to agreeing to participate in the Trials. I have been fraught with
indecision for the last few Trials, despite my obvious inclination
towards magic. I can’t bring myself to disappoint my family for
the sake of satisfying a selfish dream, nor can I deny the seat
from someone who needs this much more than I do. So my decision is final. I’m sorry.”
“Well then,” Fortia stated, with a slight smile. “As unorthodox as your choice may be, we cannot insist that you accept
the prize if you do not want it. Therefore, first place shall be
passed to Ebon, second place thereby goes to Cerissa, and I’m
please to award the third seat to Finch Loreleaf, who placed
fourth in the Trial standings. Finch, your performance was
pleasing and I’m sure you will work hard and strive for greatness
now that you have been gifted with this opportunity. You are a
very fortunate young woman.”
Finch was floored, unable to speak or move at first.
When she finally managed to overcome her astonishment and
rise from her chair, she almost tripped over her own feet trying
to make her way up onto the stage. Her excitement was considerable, unable to fathom how someone could walk away from
such a spectacular prize. Still, she was grateful, to Tom, to Reid,
to each person she felt had played some part in this moment.
She felt as though she would remain forever in their debt.
As she reached her place on stage, the judges approached
the University’s new students.
“Part of our traditions with these Trials,” Fortia began,
“Is the selection of a student by each of the teachers who have
earned the right to take on a new elite apprentice. That time has
come. While customary for the best candidate to be selected

307

Magic University
first, this is not a requirement. Urwick, you have been deemed
deserving of first pick this year, so the choice is now yours.”
Both Fortia and Burrell held their breath as Urwick
strode back and forth before Ebon, Reeree, and Finch. Urwick
gave the new apprentices a wink and a flash of his usual wry
smile, purposefully delaying his selection to prolong the discomfort of his peers. The truth was, he had made his choice hours
before this point in time. Finally, he paused before Ebon.
“I don’t have to choose you, but I think I’d like to. So
what do you say?” He eyed the wraith-mage with some amusement. “Do you think you can tolerate my presence every day for
the next few years? Or do you think my prying will be too much
for you to bear?”
“I’ll gladly suffer through whatever torments I must endure if you are honestly willing to teach me what I need to
know...and as long as you will accept Shetland’s presence along
with my own. I have made him a promise and I fully intend to
keep it.”
“Done,” Urwick declared with great satisfaction. “We
will have a lot to learn from each other, I’m sure.”
The dark elf stepped back.
“Your turn, Burrell.”
Burrell had been fraught with anxiety as he had anticipated the loss of his candidate of choice. He did not give one
moment’s pause before moving forward to meet with Reeree and
offer her his hand.
“It will be a pleasure to teach you, if you will accept,” he
stated earnestly, wearing a broad grin.
Reeree matched his smile and shook his hand with great
enthusiasm.
“The pleasure is all mine, sir.”
Burrell stepped back, leaving Fortia to greet her new apprentice. The elven woman’s lack of expression had given way
momentarily to relief and even a touch of pleasure. The thin
smile that temporarily warmed her cool lips had formed the
moment Tom had refused his seat, and had strengthened with
Urwick’s selection of Ebon. She approached Finch with grace,
308

The Judgemenr Hour
her body language devoid of any excitement or enthusiasm, despite being thrilled at the fact that she had a student she knew
she would easily be able to mould.
“You have no objection, then, to being placed within my
charge?” Fortia inquired.
Finch shook her head, her eyes bright and her disposition
eager.
“I’ll learn and serve diligently. I promise.”
“Then so be it,” declared Urwick. “This concludes this
year’s Entrance Trials for Magic University. On to the State
Room and let the celebrations begin!”
The small crowd cheered, and led by Fortia and Burrell,
they proceeded to rise from their seats and parade through the
forest to the Main Hall of the University.
Urwick lingered behind, shadowed by both Ebon and
Shetland. Tom, Snyder and Nia also refrained from following
the others.
“Will you be joining the festivities?” Urwick asked.
Tom and Nia did not respond, but Snyder gave a half-hearted
smile and shrugged.
“For as long as I can manage,” the bard replied.
“Well, if you don’t mind, perhaps we can allow the others to go on ahead of us,” the dark elf suggested. “We can catch
up to them later. I have a last bit of judging to complete.”
Realising what Urwick was referring to, Ebon, Tom and
Shetland nodded and drifted off into the darkness, moving towards the sounds of laughter and music. Only Nia paused a few
seconds before leaving, glancing back with some suspicion.
Once they had gone, Urwick turned to face Snyder, and
extended his hand, opening it with the palm facing upwards.
There, in the crease, sat a small ring, set with a brilliantly blue
stone.
“A token prize for the winner of an altogether different
contest,” Urwick murmured.
Snyder raised his eyebrows.
“I would have thought you might claim that for yourself.”
309

Magic University
Urwick smirked.
“Seeing as how I was the judge of this little competition,
that hardly would have been fair, now, would it. Besides, if you
didn’t have me beat on quality, and you do, you certainly had me
beat on quantity. I didn’t think it was possible for someone to
live life hiding as many things as you do. How much more do
you plan on telling Nia?”
There was a brief pause, as Snyder stood in contemplation, looking mildly uncomfortable. He had never intended to
reveal as much as he had to Urwick, but he had kept so many
things from so many people for so long, the desire to tell all had
been overwhelming. The promise of complete confidence on
Urwick’s part, sworn under a spell of truth, meant that Snyder
could expect no better confidante. He was tired of running and
hiding.
“I’ll tell her what she needs to know, for the moment.
Only time can decide how much more I’ll feel compelled to reveal to her. Besides, there are so many gaps in my memory, that
I’m not sure how trustworthy my own accounts will be. In some
instances, my history is built on what my bardic mentor and
Tom revealed to me, although strangely enough, I remember my
training as a Renegade quite well. It wasn’t until...”
Snyder hesitated. He had been about to offer up even
more to Urwick, with little prompting.
“Anyway,” the half-satyr continued, “Nia may not stick
around. I don’t intend on offering her anything until I have a
better idea of how long I can expect her to stay.”
Urwick nodded, but had lost his customary wry grin.
“So, did you get some sort of warped satisfaction out of
playing confessional?” Snyder asked.
Urwick threw him a sideways glance. “It served its purpose. I found out what I wanted to know about each of you and
I got the information I needed to help me make my final decision, on both accounts. There’s a lot more to everyone here than
what you can glean from the surface, but I’m sure you are well
aware of that.”

310

The Judgemenr Hour
“What you are saying is that, effectively, my secrets
served to drive you away?” Snyder said, chuckling.
“I wouldn’t exactly put it that way,” the dark elf insisted.
“Rather, it let me know that there was little I would be able to
teach you. In fact, with your background I would wager you
could probably teach me a thing or two. For example, I couldn’t
have broken that binding spell, despite the distortion.”
“Distortion...yes - what was that? I couldn’t believe it
when I found that weak point.”
“I’m still not sure. You never would have been able to
get through otherwise,” Urwick replied.
“You noticed that ahead of time? You could have reinforced that weak point, couldn’t you? But you didn’t. Why?”
“I didn’t realize it was there until just before you did.
Need I say more?”
Snyder shuddered and shook his head.
“Back to my little wager,” Urwick continued, returning
to the original topic of discussion. “Another reason I play this
little game is because any of you might be a very powerful mage
someday, if you aren’t one already, and this gives me ammunition against potential rivals and leverage with potential allies, if
needs be. Not that I would ever use their secrets against them,
out of hand.”
Snyder grinned mischievously. “Keep your friends close
and your enemies closer. Is that it? But what about your promise
that they were secrets for the keeping?”
“That they are, as long as you don’t go on some wild
rampage or killing spree. Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of ever sharing what you told me with anyone else. That
doesn’t mean I won’t use it against you if I have to.”
Snyder was not sure what Urwick meant by that. Until
that day, the only person he felt was truly a threat to him in that
manner was Tom.
“Keep that in mind the next time you might be tempted,”
Urwick joked, offering Snyder a hand. Snyder clasped it, and
then gestured towards the Main Hall.

311

Magic University
“You go on and join the festivities. I’ll follow right behind you, but I want a little time to be alone. That hasn’t
happened much lately.”
“Are you sure?” Urwick asked, frowning. “Nia and
Reeree will have my hide if I don’t get you back to the State
Room in one piece.”
Snyder nodded.
“Alright, if you are certain,” Urwick yielded. He understood the half-satyr’s desire for solitude more than Snyder
realized. “But if you insist, then I must also insist that you put
that ring on. It is a Ring of Warning. It will let you know if
danger is lurking or even give you a gentle alert if the possibility
of a threat exists. The former will result in a small but intense
stinging pain to jolt you into action, the latter a dull throbbing
just to put you on your guard.”
Urwick paused to show Snyder that he wore a similar
device on his left hand.
“It has saved my tail end on more than one occasion, and
I won’t leave home without it.”
Snyder smiled, and obeyed Urwick’s command, slipping
the ring onto his middle right finger. Satisfied, the dark elf
turned and wandered off into the night.
After giving Urwick a few moments head start, Snyder
took a deep breath and started casually up the path. He had
barely gotten twenty feet when the ring began to throb lightly.
Based on the concentration and strength of the sensation, Snyder
was able to source the potential trouble to his immediate left,
somewhere within the trees. Without needing to reach out and
probe the mind of the person who crouched there, Snyder knew
who watched him.
“Tom.”
The prince stood upon mention of his name, and stepped
out onto the path before the bard.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Tom began. “I just wanted to say goodbye before I left. We probably won’t see each
other ever again.”

312

The Judgemenr Hour
“You’re leaving? What about the festivities?” Snyder
demanded, more than a little surprised.
“My family will have people out looking for me, very
skilled people. I want to enjoy my last shred of freedom before
it is taken from me, just one night of feeling like an average joe no great ambitions, no great responsibilities. The further I get
from this lot, the less likely I am to be found. They’ll come
looking for me here.”
“So this is it then. I was hoping we could put off this
moment, if only for one more night,” Snyder murmured, not trying to hide his disappointment. This goodbye would be so final.
Tom nodded, with a hint of sadness. “You held up to
your end of the bargain, I have to hold up to mine. As long as
you stay away from Seaforest, no one will come looking for you,
but if you ever head back that way, I can’t guarantee...”
The two regarded each other in the shifting shadows,
each wearing a very solemn look. Patterns from the leaves
played across their faces in the subtle globe light.
Snyder considered their predicament. Snyder was a
wanted man in Seaforest and would not be welcome there ever
again. By choosing to return to his duties, Tom would be virtually enslaved to the kingdom, leaving only when diplomatic
missions or affairs of state managed to draw him away. The
chances of them ever encountering one another were slim to
none. They had had a lot of great times together during Tom’s
training and on the road. If Snyder disregarded all that had
gone on between them today, he would be heartbroken. Their
brotherly bond had begun to dissolve the moment they had set
foot on these Trial grounds. From the point at which they had
become rivals, even with Snyder’s diminished capacity, they had
lost something that had been there before. That had never been
Snyder’s intention, but the damage had been done. He could
only hope that the choices of the day would not come back to
haunt him, nor Tom.
The prince stared off into the distance. “I wanted to see
you before I left also because I wanted to tell you that I was sorry. You obviously did teach me all that I needed to know. I
313

Magic University
should never have doubted you...” Tom had too much else to
say, and no way to properly express himself. “Enjoy your life.”
Without giving Snyder so much as another glance, he
ducked back amongst the trees, and was gone.
Snyder stood for a moment staring at the place Tom had
been, and hoped the same could be said for the young prince.

~MR~
Reid gazed up at the extremely high ceiling in the university function room. A small orchestra played in one corner of
the lofty State Room, which was adorned from one end to the
other in stained glass, marble and subtle tapestries. A sparkling
golden wine bubbled up from the bowl of an ornate crystal fountain directly across from the gargantuan double doors through
which they had all entered. The scene was so perfect that Reid
dared not move, lest he disturb something and ruin the mystique.
As he scoured the crowd, he found it difficult to pick out
Finch. It was almost as if she had morphed into one of them
from the moment that they had summoned her onto the stage.
Eventually, Reid managed to locate her trailing behind a mingling Fortia, who was taking advantage of this opportunity to
introduce her young ingénue to people she deemed worth knowing. Finch followed eagerly, looking nervous, but elated.
Reeree approached Reid from behind, giving him a slight
nudge.
“I think you’ll have to wait until morning if you want to
bid her a proper adieu. You’d need a crowbar to pry her from
that one’s grasp. I can’t blame you for handing over the imp. I
wouldn’t want to be in that girl’s shoes right now. She may be
comfortable with Fortia as her mentor, but I can’t say any other
competitor would trade places with her if given the chance.”
Reid watched Fortia and Finch for a few seconds more
before facing Reeree.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d have to agree. I
don’t think I’d be able to adhere to the rigid set of rules she’ll
expect Finch to accept without question. When it comes to ex314

The Judgemenr Hour
tremes, Fortia sits on one end the spectrum and I sit quite close
to the other. I’m afraid Finch leans quite a bit more Fortia’s way
than mine.”
“Why did you come here, Reid? This wasn’t something
you truly wanted.”
Reid laughed with little feeling.
“This is supposed to be what every mage-in-training
wants, isn’t it? That’s what Gerant always told me.”
Reeree gave him a sympathetic look.
“I never knew what I wanted until now, so what choice
did I have other than to listen to what everyone else told me I
wanted. Things will be different from now on. I promise.” As
he spoke, Reid shifted from one foot to the other. It had taken a
day of strenuous competition and the chance to re-examine his
life’s direction before he could realise he had to make his own
ambitions and stop trying to live someone else’s. But there was
always one very specific down side to his decision, and tomorrow, he would have to bid Finch her farewell.
Tonight, however, he could at least pretend they might
have reason to see each other again, and perhaps find some
common ground so that they could remain friends. He had lied
to himself before. Why stop now?

315

19
Tomorrow
Bleary eyed, Reid rose from his bed, taking a moment to
scan his surroundings. He had forgotten where he was at first,
awakening to stiff muscles and a general feeling of disorientation. He stared at the room that could have been his for the next
few years, had he chosen that route. Shrugging off the remnants
of confusion and fatigue, he dressed and then wandered onto the
landing. As Reeree had suggested the night before, he wanted to
take this opportunity to find Finch and say goodbye. He did not
anticipate returning here. The neighbouring town of Anthis, on
the other hand, was a different story altogether.
As he descended a flight of stairs to the ground floor,
Reid heard voices in the corridor beyond. Snyder and Nia were
already packed and ready to leave, but had stopped long enough
to bid some of the others farewell. He watched them follow
Reeree out of the main door and into the courtyard.
Reid glanced about the hallway at the many doors exiting
into rooms and a further flight of stairs at the far end. How he
would ever manage to find Finch in this labyrinth, he did not
know. As if the question had been spoken aloud, he heard a soft
voice behind him.
“Leaving so soon.”
Reid turned to find the goal of his seemingly impossible
quest standing directly behind him. He smiled and nodded.
316

Tomorrow
“There’s not much point in me staying. Beyond breakfast, for those of us who didn’t win, our invitation ceases. I’d
just as soon hit the road as early as possible. It’s a long trek
home.” He tried not to look disappointed that he had such a
lonely journey ahead of him, but still worn with fatigue from the
day before, he was having difficulty holding back. He was
dreading this moment, despite having known all of these people
for less than a day. Suffering under the same stressful situations
seemed to bring people together quickly, forcing an odd bond in
a very brief span of time. He glanced at Finch, tentatively. She
touched his arm.
“I won’t ever forget what you did for me, Reid. No one
has ever offered me so much without asking something in return.
I’ll feel indebted to you unless I can someday repay the favour.
If you ever need my help, I’ll be there for you,” she said, her
eyes sincere.
Reid placed his hand on hers, giving it a light pat.
“You don’t have to repay anything, but I’ll keep your offer in mind. Someday, when you are a high-powered mage, I
may come knocking on your door with some great dilemma.
Who knows where our paths will take us.”
“Where do you plan on going from here?” she asked.
“I’m assuming your choice not to finish the Trials means that
you won’t be back here again next year...”
Reid tensed. He had been enjoying this friendly farewell
until this topic had come up. He did not want to be deceitful, but
he knew that she would never approve of his plans for a Renegade academy. The course he had charted would be fraught with
conflict and daily struggles. He preferred that their friendship
remain intact for as long as possible. Someday, she would probably despise him, especially since she was now under the
influencing hand of Fortia.
“Well,” he finally said, mostly deflecting the question, “I
have some business to wrap up at home, some loose ends that
need tying and a few old things to sell, and then I’ll probably go
the way of the entrepreneur.” He did not expand on his designs
– a lie by omission perhaps, but one with good intentions.
317

Magic University
“I think the others want a chance at their good-byes as
well. They are out in the courtyard if you want to join me.”
This comment had originated from Urwick. He had
come along unnoticed, and intruded upon their little discussion.
Startled, Reid stepped away from Finch, almost colliding
with the dark elf in the process. Urwick laughed out loud and
threw an arm around each of their shoulders.
“Don’t look so glum. This isn’t the end of the story. It’s
just the beginning of a new chapter.”
And with that, Urwick herded them both out of the door.

~MR~
Snyder stooped to give Reeree a quick hug.
“Congratulations,” he said. “I hope they teach you as
much as you deserve to learn; and don’t let them push you
around.”
“Stop being so casual about all of this. The predicament
you have gotten yourself into is a serious one. You and Nia
scared the life out of us last night, and I’m not so certain this
whole apprenticeship thing is a good idea - neither one of you
made it through yesterday unscathed. She feels like you are
some sort of hero and she owes you the world. And you - well I
told you that this whole dispute between you and the princeling,
with her in the middle, was definitely a bad idea. You aren’t any
less at fault in this than he is.”
Snyder glanced back at Nia who had been approached by
Urwick, Reid and Finch.
“It’s not like that, Reeree, I promise.”
“If I find out you’ve been disrespectful to that girl, or
that you somehow have taken advantage of her, I’ll track you
down and make you wish you had never met either of us,”
Reeree growled.
Snyder placed his hands on her shoulders and stared into
her pink eyes.
“I expect Nia and I will have all the time in the world to
get to know each other. I’ll keep things the way she likes them,
318

Tomorrow
no strings attached. She’ll be free to leave on a whim, if that’s
really what she wants, and unless lightning strikes, we won’t be
setting foot anywhere near Seaforest and Prince Thomas. There
really is no need to be concerned.”
Reeree took a step back, withdrawing from his grasp, and
she crossed her stubby arms.
“Lucky for you, I believe you’re being sincere. Go on
then. Get out of here and have a good life.”
Snyder grinned and gave her a hearty hug.

~MR~
Shetland groaned loudly. It was morning, closer to noon
than not, judging by the way the sunlight streamed painfully in
through the window. He had a headache to end all headaches,
and only a part of it could be attributed to the copious amounts
of alcohol he had consumed the night before.
He groaned again, trying to shield his eyes. Crawling out
of bed, he carefully shuffled over to the window. He wanted to
get a look at the University grounds proper in the daylight. It
would after all be home for some time.
There were people in the courtyard, and from the looks
of things some of them were packed up and preparing to leave.
Shetland scowled slightly, scratching at his hairless chin
and cursing under his breath. He could not understand why
these people seemed so invested in one another, after knowing
each other for such a short time. A mere 24 hours after they had
all met at the crossroads, and they were all behaving as if they
had known each other for a lifetime.
As he stomped away from the window in disgust, Shetland was struck by a sudden sense of loss. He gazed back at the
window, wondering if somehow they had managed to suck him
up into this ridiculousness. Of course, if he did want to say
goodbye, now would be the most opportune time.
He shrugged off this notion and shook his head. The
idea of returning to bed seemed much more sensible. As he
reached for the blanket, a niggling urge lingered at the back of
319

Magic University
his mind, pushing him towards the door. Groaning yet a third
time, he abandoned his plans of returning to the warm oblivion
of sleep. He muttered unhappily as he exited the room, and
made for the stairs.
Reaching the courtyard, Shetland could not help but notice Ebon and Tom were not there. Ebon’s absence came as no
surprise, but the dwarf did think it strange that the young prince
was not present. He had been much more a part of the general
camaraderie of the group than Shetland, although occasionally
stand-offish.
Before the dwarf could approach any of the others, a
sudden flapping of wings directly in front of his nose, and an
ear-piercing screech, let Shetland know that Stiggle was present.
Batting the imp aside, Shetland roared, and then winced.
Reid came over and scooped Stiggle away from harm.
He needed only wave the bag in Stiggle’s general direction to
quiet his pesky companion.
“Sorry, Shetland. We won’t be hanging around much
longer. Until then, I’ll try and keep him out of your...hair.”
The dwarf grimaced, and then grinned.
“Can’t say I’ll miss the little guy, but he certainly made
yesterday kinda’ interestin’. What are you gonna’ do with him
now that yer done here?”
Reid shrugged.
“I don’t think that’s up to me anymore. He’s free to
leave when he chooses. For some reason, he has decided he
wants to stick around. Can’t say exactly why. Who knows,
maybe he’ll come in handy again someday.”
“So whatcha gonna do with yerself, now that yer finished
here and all. You gonna stick around to see if you got a chance
with the little lady?” the dwarf mused.
“I don’t think that’s really an option. I’m going away to
settle up some unfinished business, but there is a good chance
I’ll be back this way before too long. If you are still around,
maybe we can go share a pitcher of ale in town and catch up on
things.”

320

Tomorrow
Shetland gave him a toothy smile and clapped him on the
back. “You know,” he said, “For a demon-keeper, you’re not all
that bad.” With that the dwarf turned and headed off to bid farewell to the others.
Meanwhile, Nia had finished wishing Finch good luck
and stood alone with Urwick. She laughed softly, tilting her
head. “After finding out that you were married to Jadira, I don’t
feel nearly as insulted by your rejection. Maybe someday you
can tell me all the down and dirty secrets of your courtship,” she
teased.
“My dear, there will be plenty of time for secrets down
the road. For now, just concentrate on the here and now.” He
edged in closer and whispered, “You put me in a terrible spot
last night. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. I don’t know if
you’ll ever understand just how lucky you are. You were as
good as dead. I couldn’t do anything to stop you.”
Nia shook her head.
“You’re wrong. I do understand,” she insisted. “I won’t
ever forget it either.”
She looked over her shoulder at Snyder who stood with
Shetland and Finch. He caught her glance and smiled. She
turned back to Urwick.
“I may not see things the way either of you do, and I may
take risks you would deem insensible, but I can appreciate it
when someone has gone out of their way to do me a huge favour. I can’t promise I’ll stay with him, I’m still dubious about
this whole Renegade thing, but it’s worth a try. He was right
about that much.”
Urwick nodded.
“You know, Nia, just because you lose something you
value, it doesn’t mean that something similar, or even better,
won’t be available to you if you keep striving. Life is always a
challenge in some way, even to those we believe have everything. Next time you find yourself dwelling on things you’ve
lost, focus instead on what the future might have to offer. We
can’t alter what has been, but we can have an effect on what will
be.”
321

Magic University
“I’ll keep that in mind. You take care, and don’t let Ebon step out of bounds. I know he likes to push the limits, and
I’m sure he’ll try to push your buttons.”
Urwick laughed.
“I think you have that wrong, Nia. I have a feeling I’ll be
doing most of the button pushing.”
It was at this point Snyder neared them.
“We should be going, Nia.”
“One moment. I want a last few words with Reeree,” she
insisted. Snyder nodded, and the scaled woman scampered off.
“Your prize got its first trial run last night. I think it will
definitely come in handy,” the half-satyr commented.
“I only wish you weren’t in the position where you will
likely need it. Wouldn’t it be best if you just faced your troubles
head on...get them out of the way and give you and Nia a fresh
start on things? That way, you won’t have to worry about all of
the secrets,” Urwick suggested.
Snyder shook his head. “It’s a lot more complicated than
that. I didn’t tell you everything.”
“Well, just remember, secrets have a way of creeping up
on us when we least expect it, of ambushing us when we think it
is safe. The ring won’t save you from that.”
“I’ll be wary,” Snyder murmured.
Urwick suspected that his words were lost on Snyder.
The half-satyr had his own ideas of how things should work, and
would not be swayed with simple suggestions.
Nia returned to Snyder’s side, and without any further
discussion, they turned and started back down the path towards
the crossroads. After a few seconds, Reid caught up to them.
“I figured since we are going at least as far as the crossroads together, it wouldn’t hurt to have some company. I have a
long walk home ahead of me.”
“Sure,” Snyder replied, without stopping.
“So where is Tom? I would have expected him to be
joining us,” Reid inquired.
“He left last night, for personal reasons. He came to
these Trials without letting his family know where he was going
322

Tomorrow
or what he would be doing. I suspect they have someone out
looking for him as we speak.”
Nia remained silent as the two men spoke, reflecting on
Urwick’s words and nervous about what was to come.
As they neared the crossroads, they noticed a lone figure
seated in the same spot where Shetland had sat and eaten his
lunch before continuing on to the opening ceremonies. The
stranger was a middle-aged man, slightly taller than average and
a little on the lanky side, with light brown hair and hazel eyes.
He had a slight moustache and goatee and watched them warily
as they approached.
“My friends,” he began “might I divine by your appearance here this morning from that particular direction that you
three are unsuccessful candidates from the University Trials?”
Reid and Snyder halted abruptly in their tracks, but Nia
drew up beside the stranger, regarding him carefully.
“Why do you want to know?” she asked.
“The name is Gillis,” he remarked as he stood and
brushed a bit of dirt from his clothing. “And I’m looking for an
apprentice. I believe the University is foolish in turning away all
but the top three of its contestants. I’m hoping to recruit some of
that wasted talent and see that it gets put to proper use.”
“You must be a Renegade,” Nia stated bluntly. “I’ve
heard that your type lingers about and tries to take advantage of
this situation.”
“I’m afraid you’re too late,” Reid added. “Snyder here
has already agreed to take Nia on as an apprentice himself, and I
am through with playing the role of student. I intend on opening
a school for Renegade magic in Anthis.”
Gillis drew back in astonishment.
“Anthis? Are you out of your mind? You’ll be in direct
conflict with the University.”
“That was my intention, yes,” Reid chuckled. “I can
fight the good fight from long distance or meet my enemy head
on. I’d rather keep them where I can see them, so I have a better
idea of what they’re up to.”

323

Magic University
“Besides that,” Nia teased, “he has a bit of a crush on one
of the three new University students who just completed the Trials.”
Gillis leaned back, trying to restrain his laughter.
“Whoa, when you go out of your way to complicate
things, you don’t mess around. Well, I guess if that’s the case,
I’ll have to go look for a student elsewhere.” He glanced mischievously at Reid, “Unless you might have a teaching position
that needs to be filled in that school of yours.”
Reid looked interested at this prospect.
“It will be a while before I get it started, but if you want
to stick around, and help me sort out some of my belongings,
deciding what to keep for the school, and what to sell to help
finance start up, I could probably be convinced to hire you on.
Heck, if you impress me enough, I might make you a partner.”
“Well, that’s the best offer I’ve had so far today, and it’s
not like I had any other plans.” Gillis stooped to pick up a pack
he had with him. “Lead on.”
“One moment,” Reid said, turning to face Snyder and
Nia.
“I’ll be back in a year or two. I’d really like it, Snyder, if
you would reconsider my offer. I’ll need more than two teachers
if I’m going to make this thing work.”
Snyder shook his head, giving Reid a sad smile.
“I don’t want to fight the battle you’ll be waging. I’ve
had enough conflict in my life - I need some peace. However, if
you ever need somewhere to get away from it all for a few days,
my home will be open to you. In the meantime, I just plan on
fading into the background. Let the world forget me.”
Reid shrugged, but could not hide his disappointment.
Snyder continued.
“Your plan is noble, Reid. There is too much discrimination against Renegades in this day and age and it is about time
the University got brought down a peg or two, but I’ve been at
this far longer than you have, and while your idealism will help
fuel your efforts, mine burned out several years ago. Aside from
what I have to teach Nia, you can consider me retired. I’ll stick
324

Tomorrow
to the calm and gentle ways of a bard - that’s where my happiness has taken root.”
Reid wanted to argue with this logic, but without knowing what experiences had influenced Snyder’s decision, he could
not debate him effectively. Conceding defeat, Reid shook the
half-satyr’s hand.
“I wish you the best of luck, but don’t make this a one
man crusade, or you’ll never win. If you can’t get more support
than Gillis here, I suggest you let this go and move on to another
dream. It’s not worth it.”
Reid nodded one last time, and then rejoined Gillis.
They set off down the path, great ambitions pressing them forward.
Snyder sighed.
“I hope he’s extra mindful of whom he chooses to trust.
Those University mages can be so ruthless. I’m not saying Renegades aren’t without fault, either. There are bad seeds on both
sides.”
“Remember, my initial training is from a Universityschooled mage,” Nia muttered. “If you want me to keep an open
mind about Renegades, you need to do the same for me.”
Snyder grinned.
“Okay, from now on, a mage is a mage is a mage. We’ll
disregard how they were trained and focus only on how they behave. Does that sound good?”
“It works for me. So where exactly are we going. You
mentioned something to Reid about a home. Does this mean
you have somewhere in mind?”
“That’s right,” the bard acknowledged. “It really isn’t
much, a cottage located in Ashwood, in a very large hollowedout tree. Reid isn’t the only one who inherited something from a
departed mentor. My bardic instructor left me the place along
with several other things, none of which are valuable in the traditional sense, but I prize them.”
“I’ve probably lived in worse,” Nia said, drifting back to
Snyder’s side. “At least it will be home.”

325

Magic University
The two set off, walking in silence. Snyder considered
everything that his bardic instructor had given to him, much of
which Nia would likely never be aware - intangible, and deeply
private. In fact, their existence were part of the secret he had
revealed to Urwick As far as Snyder was concerned, it was a
part of his life that was over with, and one tale he never intended
to share with anyone else, even Nia.
Nia’s line of thought was much different. Since hearing
the revelation of Tom’s true identity, she found herself wondering what might have happened if Tom had used a different
approach in trying to win her over. If his offer had been a more
meaningful one, perhaps a real job offer or something else that
would have allowed her to return to Seaforest with him with her
dignity intact, she would likely be traveling on a different road
right now. There would have been no great conflict between her
and the prince, she would not have succumbed to despair in response to his cruel taunts, and she would not feel as though she
owed everything to Snyder. Considering what life in the palace
might have been like, Nia realized that Tom would have likely
gotten what he wanted in the end. Instead, they would go on
with their lives as separate as they could be, in completely different circles, with completely different ambitions.
With one quick mental shove, she pushed away everything that had happened and everything that might have been.
From now on, she would focus on what would be, just as Urwick
had suggested.

~MR~
Urwick stared off into the distance. The courtyard was
empty now, as Reeree, Finch and Shetland headed off to the
Dining Hall for breakfast. He alone lingered behind, immersed
in thought. Or so he believed.
Ebon drifted from the shadows where he had been standing and watching everyone say their goodbyes. As he drew
close to the dark elf, Urwick sensed his presence.

326

Tomorrow
“You didn’t feel compelled to wish the others farewell,
and yet you still felt that you must be here to watch them leave?
I can see that I actually do have something to learn about the
way you think.”
“I don’t do goodbyes,” Ebon rasped. “Besides, if you
think that is the last time we will see that lot, you can guess
again. Reid intends to set up shop in Anthis.”
Urwick grinned.
“A little competition will do this place some good. It has
been stagnating as of late, and while I won’t point any fingers as
to who is to blame for this, I will say it can be attributed to
‘those who are most reluctant to welcome change.’ Besides, I’m
sure with the right people behind him, he’ll fare quite well. He
may not realize it, but he has the potential to lead others very
effectively.”
Ebon paused, debating whether to launch into one of his
typical sarcastic remarks or speak his true feelings.
“Do you think they will be okay? You and I both know
that this world is hard on Renegades,” he said.
“Snyder is gun-shy, which ought to keep Nia in control,
and Reid doesn’t seem to suffer from power-lust, so I think they
should fare well, given time. It’s just a matter of what enemies
Reid manages to make - that’s my only concern. It’s not like
they have any real allies to speak of.”
“They have us,” murmured Ebon, and on that note, he
began to float away, headed in the direction of the laboratory
which, for the next few years, he would call home.
Urwick watched the wraith-mage go, wearing a slight
smile. It eventually blossomed into a chuckle. Ebon was already showing signs of outgrowing his old self, but there would
be much more Urwick would have to teach him, besides the
magic. Despite the occasional doubt he had experienced the day
before, Urwick was now certain he had made the right choice.
Whistling quietly to himself, he turned and followed Ebon down
the hall.

327