Chapter III - The Eight Schools of Magic
Minaras leaned out of his second-story window and inhaled the fresh morning air. The salty smell invigorated him, although the overnight rains had diluted it somewhat. Below him, the Anxiar River surged higher than normal as it rushed to deposit its excess storm water into the Great Ocean, just visible on the horizon. Between his house and the ocean, dozens of fishing cottages rose from the Anxiar Delta on stilts, and behind them, the sails of Seaton’s fleet grew smaller as they headed for the prime fishing grounds of the southern waters.
The giant fluke were in season. Minaras couldn’t believe it had been a full year already. It seemed like yesterday that Thulin and Oswynn had begun their studies, and yet the two apprentices had barely completed a single subject.
Absently turning around, Minaras swept a stack of papers off his desk and replaced them with a heavy tome. He dropped into his padded chair and thumbed through the chapters, each describing one of the eight schools of magic:
Alchemy—the study of liquids and potions
Necromancy—the study of death and the dead
Conjuration—the study of imbuing everyday objects with special powers
Elemental—the manipulation of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water
Illusion—the study of disguise and deception
Sorcery—the summoning and control of spirits
Thaumaturgy—the study of blessings and miracles
Transmutation—the transformation of one or more objects into another
Leaving the book open to the chapter on necromancy, Minaras rose from his desk to prepare for the day’s lecture. He walked past a wall lined with spyglasses, sextants, and compasses on his way to the back of the room, where he grabbed two large beakers, two stirring rods, and two granite mortars. After placing one of each item on a pair of tables in front of his desk, he rummaged through the pockets of his robe until he found a flask of white pebbles and divided them evenly between the mortars.
Minaras returned to the back of the room and removed a human skeleton from a large trunk. The bones looked real but were replicas made by a local transmuter. The work was skilled yet not quite the quality that his former partner was capable of creating. The skeleton brought back memories of the days when Minaras had traveled throughout the land, battling fierce creatures and finding lost treasures. A spark came to his bright blue eyes as he ran a hand across his head, wondering where the time and his hair had gone. He neither felt nor looked half of his seventy years.
The old wizard had shared fabulous adventures with his old partner, Sigmus. Between his elemental magic and Sigmus’s transmutation, they made a formidable duo. One of Minaras’s favorite combinations was to throw a stone into the air and cast his Flying Boulder spell, causing the rock to increase in size as it flew. Sigmus would then transform the boulder into the shape of a spear. Neither beast nor building could stand in the way of the massive projectile.
Minaras sighed when he realized it was nearly time for his lecture. As if on cue, Thulin arrived carrying extra parchments and quills for his notes. In his late teens, Thulin was almost as tall as Minaras but had a lighter frame and a scholarly look. He quietly took his seat at the table and laid out his papers, careful to avoid touching the glassware.
Oswynn, five years younger and a head shorter, strolled into the study a few minutes later, still munching on his breakfast biscuit. As soon as he stepped into the room, he glanced at the beakers on the table and said, “I’ve had enough alchemy. It’s the weakest of all the schools.”
Minaras hung the skeleton on the wall behind his desk before calmly responding, “Alchemy might be the easiest to learn, Oswynn, but it isn’t weaker than any other school of magic. I’ve heard tales of an alchemist so powerful he could bring down an entire mountain. Magic is only a tool for wizards to use. The energy from within us determines how weak or strong a spell will be. Learn how to harness your energy and you’ll work wonders with even the simplest of spells.”
Oswynn gave his master a skeptical look. “Even the lowliest peasant knows alchemy is the weakest of the schools and elemental the strongest. You’re either mistaken or trying to trick me into enjoying an unworthy subject. An alchemist could never destroy a mountain.”
He rolled his eyes and fell into his seat beside Thulin, who looked horrified.
“Why don’t you teach us elemental magic and forgo the other schools?” asked Oswynn. “Aren’t you the greatest elementalist in the land? Why bother wasting our time with anything else?”
“Most wizards concentrate on just one school of magic, but a few are adept at two or three. There are legends of a powerful mage who mastered all eight schools many centuries ago. Ultimately, it’s your choice, and I wouldn’t be a good teacher if I failed to give you a broad range of knowledge upon which to base your decision.”
Minaras fingered a page of the large tome on his desk. “I’m looking forward to teaching you the fundamentals of elemental magic, but today you’ll be studying necromancy.”
Oswynn’s face brightened with the news, but Minaras didn’t care. He buried his head in the book and began the lecture with a dry reading.
“Necromancy is magic dealing with death and the dead. One of the eight schools of magic, necromancy is closely related to both sorcery and alchemy.”
He continued reading about necromantic theory in a bored monotone, occasionally lifting his eyes to his students.
Thulin listened attentively and took frequent notes, glancing back and forth among the various papers on his desk. He always understood the theory, but there was something missing in practice. He was like an aspiring artist who knew the names of every color in his palette but was unable to combine them into a coherent picture.
Oswynn was the exact opposite. If he were an art student, he wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between crimson and scarlet, orange and ochre, or yellow and dandelion, but he could use those colors to form a painting of the sunset that rivaled the beauty of the real thing.
Once again, Oswynn didn’t appear to be listening. During the lecture, he focused exclusively on the items in front of him. He shook the container, stirred the water with the glass rod, and watched the liquid spin into a small vortex before settling down.
“Put the beaker down,” Thulin cautioned under his breath, “and listen to our master.”
Oswynn flicked some water at him with a smile and turned his attention to the lecture, probably faking renewed interest.
Thulin wiped his arm while continuing to take notes.
“Why do you put up with such disrespect?” he asked when Minaras paused ever so briefly. “He never takes his work seriously.”
Thulin glared at Oswynn’s rough, calloused hands. “You should return to the farm where you belong. You’d be better off weeding than wizarding.”
Minaras ignored their bickering and quoted from the old tome for another hour before it was time for his students to experiment on their own. Oswynn’s eyes were half-closed, but he perked up at the sound of the book closing.
“You’ll find bone fragments in your mortar,” said Minaras. “First, you must crush them into a fine powder and…”
“Using what?” asked Oswynn.
Minaras quickly realized his oversight, pulled two pebbles from a pocket in his robe, and chanted, “Aweaxan stan lang. Aweaxan stan lang.”
Upon completion of the spell, both stones elongated into cylindrical shapes. Minaras held them in his outstretched hand, nodding at Oswynn.
The younger apprentice dutifully retrieved a pestle for both himself and Thulin.
“That was a transmutation spell,” he said. “Will we be learning it soon?”
Minaras smiled and continued his instructions. “When you finish crushing the bone fragments, take one ounce of the resulting powder and stir it into the water with the following incantation, ‘Brim hweorfan blaec awendan.’ Your water will turn into Dark Whey, a common component used in many necromantic spells.”
Oswynn pulverized the small pieces of bone in his mortar. With a yawn, he grabbed a handful of the white powder, threw it into the beaker, and shook the mixture while chanting the magic words. Instantly, the water turned black.
“This is no fun,” he said. “Why can’t we raise the dead or make that fake skeleton walk around the room? Why else would it be hanging on the wall if not to be animated? Necromancy is just as boring as alchemy.”
Beside him, Thulin was having difficulty with the spell. After crushing the pieces of bone into a beautiful powder of uniform texture, the older apprentice measured exactly one ounce, carefully poured it into his water, and stirred it with the glass rod to the rhythm of his chanting. A beaker of cloudy water was his only reward. He kept stirring and repeating the enchantment with no effect.
“Why doesn’t this work?” he asked. “I followed the instructions precisely.”
“You should give up,” said Oswynn. “Your parents might be great conjurers, but magic isn’t for you.”
He shook his beaker of inky black liquid in front of Thulin’s face.
“At least I’m no farmer,” said Thulin. “You’ll see. I’ll convert this water into Dark Whey. I must have forgotten something. Maybe my measurement was off by a fraction.”
He rummaged through his notes, added a pinch more of the bone powder to compensate, and continued stirring. Nothing happened.
Stepping away from his students, Minaras gazed through the open window at the noon sky. The river had ebbed, and he could just make out the distinctive smell of low tide, a combination of mud, seaweed, and mussels drying in the sun. Eventually, his mind returned to the lecture, and he shuffled around the table behind Thulin and Oswynn.
“How do you fare with the spell?” he asked, leaning back and forth between the two of them while peeking at the door out of the corner of his eye.
Thulin looked up from the table. “My water remains cloudy…”
“Keep trying,” said Minaras. “This spell is fundamentally important to understanding necromancy. Now, I must attend to an errand. The village of Two Rivers is unable to contain its floodwater and has asked me to train the local elementalist before the excess water destroys the crops. You two will research the mystical properties of bone powder and complete a full paper on your findings by the time I return this evening.”
A moment later he was gone, leaving his two students to finish the work on their own.
Oswynn watched Thulin riffle through his notes with one hand while stirring, chanting, and adding bone powder with the other. After an hour of frustration, the older apprentice was still unable to turn the water gray, let alone black.
“You have too much powder in your water. Spill it out and try again,” said Oswynn, trying to be helpful.
Thulin scowled at him. “I know what I’m doing. Shouldn’t you begin your research as our master ordered? Or can’t you find your way to the library?”
“As you wish,” said Oswynn, jumping up from the table and accidentally spilling his beaker.
The black liquid oozed onto Thulin’s notes and dripped into his lap. Oswynn grinned as he skipped out of the room. He’d let Thulin clean up the mess before returning to his failed attempts at the spell.
Later that evening, Minaras had yet to come home, but his absence was no surprise to Oswynn. It was more common for his master to extend his outings by a day or two than to shorten them by an hour.
The young apprentice brought his dinner upstairs to the library, where thousands of books had been stacked randomly about the floor, packed into shelves, and hidden under a circular table. The only two spots devoid of clutter were the entrance to the room and a small section of the back wall containing nothing but a painting of a doomed ship navigating a stormy ocean.
Oswynn was staring at the painting when he heard Thulin’s footsteps.
“Have you given up on the Dark Whey?” he asked, quickly turning around.
Thulin shrugged and stepped over a mess of books. “If Minaras were to organize these materials instead of throwing them about, he’d have a truly impressive collection. The dust covering the less-used tomes makes it difficult for me to conduct any type of ordered research.”
“Does it matter?” asked Oswynn. “You always impress him with your assignments.”
Thulin placed a mug of cider and a plate of cured meats on the table across from Oswynn and grabbed an old book. He poured through his selection, A Treatise on the Relationship Between Alchemy and Necromancy, while occasionally taking a bite of food.
Oswynn was almost finished with his meal and had yet to open the large tome next to his plate, a lengthy catalog of alchemical components. He swallowed his last bite and pushed the book to the center of the table.
“I’m tired of all this studying,” he said. “You might enjoy endless lectures and reading, but I want to learn powerful magic. If it’s neither transmutation nor elemental, we should skip the subject.”
“Our master will teach us all we wish to know in due time,” said Thulin without taking his eyes off the page.
Still absorbed in his work, he pushed the book back to Oswynn. “Start reading now or you won’t finish before he returns.”
Oswynn thumbed through a few pages, not paying much attention to the contents.
“This is of no use. It’s a dull list of ingredients, and I want to learn spellcasting.”
His gaze returned to the painting at the back of the library. The ship called to him, begging him to save it from its treacherous journey.
“I could teach myself powerful magic if I had the proper materials. Perhaps there’s something of more interest in the back room,” he said with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
“Minaras has forbidden us to enter his personal archive,” said Thulin.
Oswynn snickered as he flipped through the pages of the catalog, barely peeking at the words.