Having an apprentice was a lot more work than I had expected. It seemed like it should be easy- teaching someone the basics of things that I already knew by heart. The problem was that I hadn’t done it before, so I was stumbling my way through even with the assistance of Master Uvithar’s book. It wasn’t that Jerome wasn’t learning, either. He was in fact learning very well, which was the issue. He’d been behind in several subjects, but had rapidly caught up and even tested out of the rest of the school year. Now he had more free time which he mostly used to study more.
He didn’t turn into a complete shut-in, like mages were often prone to do. He still interacted with friends and played basketball with other local youths, but a majority of his time was spent on efficient study of academics and magic.
“It’s simple, see,” Jerome explained. “I have to wait for mana to regenerate, so I just alternate between spellcasting and whatever else I’m doing. It’s easier when I don’t have to go to school because there’s not always a good time to practice.” He gathered mana for a moment and then his fingers crackled with electricity. “And look! I learned Shocking Grasp! I haven’t actually used it yet, though. But I can use it inside unlike Firebolt.” He shrugged, “I think I got an upgrade in it, but I’ve mostly been using other stuff. I think I’m already level four! Still can’t cast a full Energy Ward though.”
“It will be nearly impossible until you are level nine. Even then, using half of your mana at once is a risk. I hope you have been practicing safely?”
“Don’t worry,” Jerome said. “I usually practice on the couch. If I pass out I fall into a pile of pillows.”
“I hope that doesn’t happen too frequently.”
“I’m getting pretty good at judging my mana stores,” Jerome answered. “It hasn’t happened in more than a week.”
At that point, there wasn’t much more I could say without being a hypocrite. “Just make sure you keep it in mind. Could I help with anything else?”
“I’d prefer to know more lower level spells,” Jerome said. “Since I could cast them more times for practice.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t know many of those spells…” They weren’t useful for combat, and I’d learned pretty quickly that was required to level- or rather, going from level 1 to 2 had been a major pain. Firebolt admittedly hadn’t helped much since I was only rarely allowed to use it, but at least it was something. I also hadn’t been able to replicate my recent learning of Water Breathing. Whether it was the high stress environment, the necessity, or some other factor I didn’t understand it wasn’t clear. “I could pick out one thing to demonstrate, if you wish.”
I immediately discounted all of the combat spells. They were either exceedingly weak or second level, and I only had a lone point to spend. Combat with Stargirl’s fan-thugs hadn’t been particularly lucrative in experience. Somewhere around ten experience total, which meant I’d have to repeat that a dozen times to get a level. Except of course repeating the same thing was not as effective.
Jerome thought, “Maybe a Light spell? That would be easy to practice.”
“Certainly,” I nodded. “But when would you need it? I understand you cannot see in the dark, but with lightswitches everywhere and the availability of hands-free flashlights your time would better be spent buying a cheap piece of technology.”
“Unless a tech super puts out all the lights,” Jerome pointed out. “You don’t think it would be good practice? I guess you wouldn’t want to spend a point on something you don’t need…”
“No, hold on, you make a good point,” I stroked my chin. “I hadn’t considered that there are several categories of powers that might directly negate technological light sources. Technopaths aren’t the only possibility. Electricity control could drain a battery, and anything physical can be destroyed. The only thing that would reasonably counter a light spell would be a light based power,” I nodded, thinking to myself. “And it would be good practice. The only trouble is that there are two spells.”
“Oh?” Jerome asked, then looked back at the list. “I guess so, yeah. Light, and Dancing Lights. One is static in position or attached to an object, the others are mobile but shorter in duration. I think those would be more useful, maybe? At least for learning control.”
“The secondary uses for them are also more versatile,” I nodded, “You can blind enemies with them.”
“Really?” Jerome said with surprise. “I thought another one did that. Umm, Flare.”
“It does. But just because it does that doesn’t mean something else can’t. Flare is a sudden burst of light in a specific location, focused on a target. Putting a light directly in front of someone’s face will still make them unable to see, but you have to track their movement- or touch them, for the Light spell. That provides a bit of waste since if you hand touches their face you could have done something more effective.” Depending on whether or not you were allowed to inflict grievous harm on people, at least. As a mercenary I was generally told to avoid the head if I could, where I wasn’t pressed to fight to my maximum at least.
“That seems good then,” Jerome nodded. “Dancing Lights.”
We quickly discussed the other options, but he didn’t need to worry about detecting poison or make minor visual or auditory illusions. At best he might wish to reproduce something he had seen or heard, but technology accomplished that remarkably well, if he had the presence of mind to record with his phone. His phone which was now smart, that is. Previously on a single parent income he had a more basic model, but he’d won it in some sort of competition- though he was also considering a part-time job to earn a little bit of money. Most jobs were not available to one of his age, but there were a few options still.
So Dancing Lights it was. I spent my only remaining point- until I leveled up again, which I always hoped to be soon. With a minor amount of effort- truly the smallest amount possible, since level one spells used a single point of mana- I conjured four little flickering balls of light. “Here they are,” I said. “They’d be more impressive if the blinds were closed.”
So we did that, and I floated them around the room for a minute. I could set them on a course or control them directly, but moving several of them directly as I pleased at once was rather mentally taxing. After one minute, they were gone. I repeated the task, more slowly gathering the mana and forming the spell so that Jerome could get a good feel for it. It only took that second attempt for him to get it, but I had no idea if that was fast or not because that wasn’t the way people from my world learned magic. We just spent points, and then we knew how to do it.
Eight balls of light danced around the room, but only for around ten minutes. I had plenty of mana left, but Jerome was pretty much drained. We learned several things, including that stumbling around a room focusing on avoiding lights instead of furniture resulted in banged up furniture, and it would have resulted in banged up mages if the two of us didn’t always have Force Armor going. It did last a long time if it wasn’t being battered.
“I’ll tell your mother,” I said. “The damage isn’t that bad. I can’t repair it yet, but… maybe soon?” Even if I only got a measly handful of experience per day from sparring, it would simply be a few weeks. Sparring was usually better than that, but there were off days. And if I was lucky, Calculator’s prediction of me getting attacked weekly could speed that up significantly. Especially if anyone worthwhile attacked me.
“Mage!” Great Girl called out to me after lunch one day. “We’re sparring!”
“Okay,” I said. I wasn’t going to turn down that opportunity. She was one of the constantly busy members of the Power Brigade, so having her come to me was great. Even if she looked a bit angry. I didn’t think it was at me, but I figured I should ask. “… why today?”
“Because I have nothing else to do. I can’t go out on a random patrol because, well… you know.”
“I don’t believe that I do,” I said.
“… you really don’t interact with social media, huh.”
“I do not see why I would involve myself with something that people seem to view largely in a negative light,” I replied. “Anything important will be relayed to me by those who interact with it, eventually.”
“Okay, so,” Great Girl began to explain as we walked towards a sparring room. “You remember those thugs that attacked you?”
“Calculator was upset about putting one of them through a car. And a wall.”
“Oh yeah I saw that. It was awesome.” Great Girl coughed, “I mean, uh… excessive. Don’t do that.” Somehow, I didn’t feel particularly persuaded. “Anyway, that was in the video someone took of that whole incident. They planned that, and then Shooting Star shared it and demonized you and then…” Great Girl shrugged. “Anyway, I’m temporarily banned from ‘unsupervised activity’ unless on a specific mission.”
There was still something missing. I thought back and plucked the piece of information that filled in the gaps. “Oh, the crater.” That seemed to fit, but it wasn’t quite everything. Great Girl might throw cars at monsters, but she didn’t smash the ground beneath her just because she could. “I didn’t see the whole picture though.”
“You didn’t?” Great Girl said. “Hold on, I have to show you.” It didn’t take her long, and a few moments later she was holding out her phone. “See?”
What I noticed first was her slightly adjusting her height. Then I saw the image. “Oh, it’s Stargirl.” For being in a crater, she looked well put together- just some dirt, and her hair was messed up- but her uniform was intact. My brain processed for a few moments. “… You didn’t need to get into a conflict for my sake.”
“How could I not?” Great Girl said. “She deserved it! Even Calculator agreed!”
“And you’re on probation because…?”
“Because it still looked bad,” she sighed. “I kind of hindered the prosecution of those guys who attacked you as well. Someone managed to snag the unedited video, though, so it should work out. It doesn’t look good to have a recording set up ahead of time if you’re going to claim something was a random street brawl.”
“When they get a chance to attack me again, I will make sure nobody can hear their bones snapping,” I said. “And you can revel in their political defeat instead of punching Stargirl.”
“Yeah I guess,” Great Girl sighed. “So,” she said as we stepped into the sparring room. “I’d really like to just brawl. You have Stoneskin now, right?”
I nodded, “The components are not as expensive as I first thought.”
She punched her right fist into her left palm. “Alright, let’s get brawling then. I can cover that if you need it.”
“It’s alright,” I said. It was merely twenty dollars or so, and the experience from a proper brawl with Great Girl should be worth more. She didn’t bother with slowly ramping up her size, but instead grew directly to twelve feet, where she seemed to be sustainably comfortable. Also about my height when I cast Enlarge. Stoneskin went on first. Then I grew to match her.
We took our stances, and she frowned slightly. Did she grow just a couple inches taller? That didn’t seem important, and it could just have been the way she shifted her feet. Either way, a moment later we turned into a flurry of fists and feet. Grappling was involved too, and I was getting much better at that. Great Girl was still better at everything, though. I was also glad that she was better at slamming me into a wall in a way that didn’t twist my neck or overly strain my limbs.
I got in a few solid hits of my own, but I impacted dense muscle that easily resisted my attacks. At least I broke her stance once or twice, sending her into a wall. I knew the training facilities could repair themselves to some extent, but when we left I had the feeling they’d need to send someone in for some manual repairs.