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Skipping Stones part 3

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Continued from Skipping Stones Part Two, begun at Part One 



She was fourteen, and it was too quiet.


It took all her concentration to not fidget as she waited. It wasn’t going to work, she already knew that. The only question was how bad it would get. At best, she figured, she would just have to try again. At worst….


Paper rustled, and she jumped. He was scowling, she knew it, she didn’t need to look, the floor at her feet could be captivating enough while she waited. Someone behind her snickered, and she started to whirl on them, jerking herself to a frozen stop before she could turn away. Had the motion been noticed? She couldn’t stop herself, and glanced forward, and up.


Instructor Torfasen shifted the papers again. Then, as if aware that she was watching, he set them down on his desk and looked back at her.


“What,” he asked flatly, “exactly, is this?”


She hesitated. There was another snicker. She shut them out, and took a deep breath. “An amplification channel transform diagram, sir.”


“No,” the instructor mused, leaning forward over the paper. “It isn’t. I’m not sure it is. Your definition of ‘diagram’ seems to include a level of precision and clarity which could be matched only by drawing with your face on the surface of a muddy field, but this,” he flicked one of the sheets off his desk to the floor at her feet, “is something else entirely. It has no overflow bleeds, the translation discharge is reversed, and you junction in the same flow in three places! So what, may I ask, happened to the design you were supposed to diagram?”


“It…” she bit her lip, and considered. “I couldn’t make it work.”


“You couldn’t make it work.” Instructor Torfasen considered with a hum, and nodded. “You couldn’t do the work you were assigned, so you turned in this,” he flicked another sheet off the desk, “instead.”


The snickering behind her grew into an outright laugh, and she shot a glance back over her shoulder. Most of the students were watching impassively, this was not a new scene for her. The snickers were coming from the two smug boys in the front, Cyppel and Brendis. To the side, the only other girls in the class were huddled around something, not even looking.


She scowled. Cyppel and Brendis she could take, they were from mage family lines and probably had this transform printed on their wipes as infants. The three girls, though? They spent every waking moment on the city greens talking about boys, and never even bothered to study, and they still knew all the transform diagrams. She’d never get to be a mage if those three could brush by her that easily, and they weren’t even paying attention.


“It works.” She looked across the desk at the instructor again. “The other one wouldn’t go together right, it didn’t want to go together that way so I tried to find one that-“ She saw his fingers draw back to flick the last sheet away, and smacked her hand down onto it to stop him. The crack of her hand landing was much louder than she’d expected, and she jumped. Instructor Torfasen was halfway to his feet, but she couldn’t just stop now. Not after getting everybody’s attention like that. “It works.”


He was already drawing in a breath, to begin one of his famous scathing tirades she knew, so she did the only thing she could think of. Flow, define, terminate, identify all the pieces. Power. She grit her teeth and pushed, and a flare of purple light pulled itself into a distinct shape, lines and hard edges, hanging in the air before her. It was simpler than the floating runes hovering near the ceiling of the classroom, or the markers around every wall or door in the city, but it was stable and it was bright, and she grinned triumphantly. 


Her grin didn’t last long, as the instructor scoffed and waved a hand at the construct. She felt it waver and begin to fragment, lines bending, flows beginning to pull apart at the corners. She leaned forward over his desk, pushing harder into the glyph, pouring everything she could into it, and it held.


Now she had his full attention, too. He could push harder than she could, a lot harder, and her glyph wouldn’t hold up to a counterspell with some real effort behind it, but he hadn’t expected her to be able to hold it through that at all. If she was going to make a statement, now was the time.


Focusing on the transform construct, she reached through it, gathering all the magic she could and pulling it back through the construct towards her. This pattern she knew, and the transform filtered the magic into the proper form, and all she had to do was drag the magic back to herself.


The mental amplification spell was simple, and would be one of the first they were going to learn. That was why they were learning this particular transform diagram, after all. She felt the hairs on her arms stand on end, and everything became sharper, clearer, more brightly defined. She could see the scratch in the edge of the desk, watched Cyppel and Brendis choke off their snickering mid-breath, could read the love-note the three girls were working on in the corner. She could even see the pulse of magic flowing along the lines of her transform glyph.


And then she was face to face with Instructor Torfasen, his face nearly as purple as the glyph’s energy.


“It works! Did you see that? It would take any of them hours just to build their transform, let alone apply it to the spell! I can do this, and without a written diagram to wo-“


She saw his hands move. She even saw the constructs flickering in and out around them, even though they lasted only a moment. They weren’t constructs she recognized, even their forms. Then she was falling, landing halfway across the side of Cyppel’s desk and knocking it to the floor with her. She couldn’t blink, she could only feel her spell chip and peel away from her vision, cracking and tearing like a boiled eggshell, each fragment crumbling further as it was pulled away. She gasped, jerked sharply, then panted for breath.


“Yes.” It was simple, flat, toneless. “It would have taken any of my other students hours to do that. They would have needed written plans, and detailed instructions. But,” he turned away from her, stepping over her diagrams and walking to sit back down behind his desk, “they would have used the transform diagram I assigned.”


He shoved the last sheet off his desk. She watched it drift to the floor in front of her face, not really wanting to get up to collect it, but she still jumped when he bellowed again.


“Suzanne! Your work.”