Chapter 20 can be read below the cut.
Veitlen stood outside Morgaine’s house with a bucket filled with dark magic. His arm was still in a cast, but he’d been able to go without the sling for a week now. He stretched out his right arm, and directed a line of dark magic through the air.
He heard footsteps behind him and assumed it was Morgaine. Her voice a few seconds later confirmed it. “You’ve certainly been getting better over the past few weeks,” she said.
Veitlen left the magic floating in the air and turned around to look at her. “So you’ve been spying on me?” he said.
“Veitlen, this is my backyard. You’re in my backyard,” said Morgaine. She touched one of the magic pieces. “Still wobbly.”
Veitlen let all the magic drop to the ground. “Wobbly!?” he demanded.
“Aaaand there it goes,” Morgaine sighed.
The end-of-year magic test was on June 7th. All four squads – Tjara’s, Riskiara’s, Sajikitin’s, and Daidlis’s – waited in one of the larger lecture halls. Some of the students were talking to each other, but Nymue sat silently, drumming her fingers against the desk she sat at.
“Rozenbarr! You’re up next,” Tjara called.
Nymue made her way to the front of the lecture hall. There were a couple of petri dishes of both light and dark magic set up on the desk. “I’m just going to see how your control of magic has changed,” said Tjara.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” Nymue asked.
“I don’t see why not,” said Tjara.
Nymue hovered her hands over the light magic. “We’ve already been tested for our magical aptitude. Why this particular test?” she asked.
“To see how well you’ve improved at controlling magic as individuals. I thought that was obvious,” said Tjara.
“I checked the records. End-of-semester magic tests have only existed for about fifteen years,” said Nymue.
Tjara nodded. “That’s when I became Professor of Magic Application. Some people have drastic shifts in their ability to control magic. They get a lot better or a lot worse. Or something even stranger happens. It’s dangerous not to document that sort of thing.”
Nymue absently let the light magic swirl around in circles. “Like you, for instance,” Tjara continued. “You’ve become much more graceful.”
“It’s similar to my spirit weapon. I think that’s why it’s so easy for me,” said Nymue.
“You can stop now,” said Tjara. “Now I need to see how well you can manipulate your spirit weapon.”
Nymue manifested the gold around her as a lotus. “Wow!” said Tjara. She grabbed her clipboard from the desk and wrote something down. “I rarely see this sort of improvement from a fluid spirit weapon in just one year!”
“So do I pass?” Nymue asked.
“Yes, of course. You can go now,” said Tjara. She looked out at the rows of desks. “Veitlen Tyvokala! You’re up next!”
Veitlen ran down the stairs past Nymue without a word to her. She frowned at him, then shook her head and went back to her desk.
“Let’s see how well you’ve improved since the last test, Tyvokala,” said Tjara.
“What? Do you still think I’m going to be terrible?” Veitlen asked.
“You’ve been consistently terrible, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re still terrible,” said Tjara. She gestured at the petri dishes. “Show me what you’re capable of.”
Veitlen lifted the shards of dark magic into the air. Tjara stared at him in shock. “When did you learn how to do this?” she demanded.
“I’ve been practicing!” said Veitlen. “I’ve been going out to the rural northern district every weekend for the past three and a half months. It’s helped a lot.”
“I can tell. This is certainly impressive,” said Tjara.
Veitlen took a deep breath. “There’s actually something about dark magic I’d like to ask you,” he said.
“Ask away,” said Tjara.
“I noticed that some of the magic gets used up,” said Veitlen. “There will be a spark, or something, and then it disappears, like the mass gets destroyed.”
“That’s exactly what happens,” said Tjara.
Veitlen’s feeling of surprise extended to some of the dark magic crystals, which jumped in the air. “It just…that’s what happens?” he asked.
“Nice of you to let me know you haven’t been paying attention in my class,” said Tjara. “Destroying magic is something we’re capable of. It’s not unusual for it to happen on accident.”
“So it’s completely normal?” Veitlen asked.
“Yes. It’s something you’ll be learning about in-depth in your second year. Also, it’s something you’ll be doing out in the field. Cleaning up dark magic is part of your job,” said Tjara. “You can put the magic down, Tyvokala. Now I just need to see your-”
Veitlen summoned his sabre into his hand and held it out. “I know. I saw you asking everyone else,” he said.
“Well? Any changes with your spirit weapon?” Tjara asked.
“It doesn’t break much anymore. That’s about it,” said Veitlen.
“You’ve done well. You can go now,” said Tjara.
Temurlin was standing in the middle of the aisle with his arms crossed. “That’s how you’ve been spending your weekends?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Veitlen.
Temurlin raised an eyebrow. “It was really so important that you couldn’t even say a little bit about what you were doing?”
“Yes,” Veitlen grumbled. He looked away.
Temurlin sighed. “I mean, you could have said something like, ‘I’m going up to Senna to do some important stuff I can’t tell you about’. I don’t need specifics. I just want to know that you’re okay.”
“I’m sorry. Really, I am,” said Veitlen. “You know, I think most of my time this summer is going to be spent hunting, but if I have a free weekend, do you want to come up to Senna with me?”
“To Senna?” said Temurlin.
Veitlen smiled. “Yeah! There’s gotta be some weekends where we’re both free. I got a driver’s license a little while ago! Nym isn’t taking me anymore. So I can take you there myself without anyone else helping.”
Temurlin smiled. “I think I’d like that.”
One week later, Veitlen, Kallinu, and Perturin stood in the forest in the early morning. There was what looked like an ancient stone gateway nearby, broken down and covered in vines and other plants. Veitlen assumed Nymue would be able to tell him something about it if she’d been here.
“So, Perturin,” said Kallinu. “Yer spirit weapon is made of phosphophyllite? Isn’t that…you know…incredibly weak?”
Perturin looked perturbed. “Yeah,” ze said.
“So have ye ever gone on a hunt before?” Kallinu asked.
“Back in February,” answered Perturin. “You weren’t there. You were with the other group – with Veitlen.”
“So have ye ever killed a demon?” Kallinu asked. Veitlen briefly wondered how bored Kallinu had to be if ze was making small talk like this.
“I’ve shot a couple, but I’ve never got close enough to stab one,” said Perturin. “What’s this about, anyway?”
“Just curious,” said Kallinu.
Veitlen looked up to see Ariana and Juno walking toward them. “We’re gonna go on a hunt!” said Juno. “Well, we just need Veitlen and Kallinu. Perturin needs to go back to the camp.”
“Where are we going today?” Veitlen asked as he followed the two of them through the forest.
“South. It’s not too far from here,” said Ariana.
Veitlen frowned. “You sure the demons all haven’t run off by now? I mean, we’re not exactly being quiet and sneaky out here in our cabins.”
“They’re not that close, Veitlen,” said Ariana. She leaned in closer so that no one could hear what she said next. “And it’s not like we’re gonna have trouble finding demons with you around.”
“Ari, I don’t think most demons are as stupid as the ones we ran into before,” said Veitlen quietly. Ariana scowled. “I get that they’ll probably go directly to me! I’ll try to stay out of trouble.”
They met up with Tjara at the camp and then went south, through the meadows and into another part of the forest. The forests of the southeastern district were comprised of different trees than in the north, though Veitlen didn’t know what they were called. There were also a lot of stone ruins, which was uncommon in the other districts.
Tjara stopped in front of what looked like the remains of a village. The stone foundations and some stone walls remained, but the actual buildings were gone. The area wasn’t as overgrown as the some of the others, and Veitlen saw a couple of bootprints in the dirt. Someone had been here recently.
“It doesn’t really look like there’s a place here for demons to hide,” said Juno.
Tjara pointed toward the nearest foundation, which had an open cellar. “There are multiple interconnected cellars that have remained in remarkably good shape. Professor Jukikynai’s group was attacked by a demon while initially scouting this area. They saw several others,” she said.
“So they know we’re coming,” said Juno.
“They’re probably watching us right now,” Kallinu pointed out. Ze looked a little too excited.
“Yeah, probably,” said Juno, side-eying Kallinu.
Veitlen manifested his sabre into his hand and pointed at the cellar. “You’re absolutely sure they’re down there?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Tjara. “That’s where you’ll be going.”
“What? Seriously?” Juno exclaimed.
“How is that a good idea?” Ariana asked.
“Fortunately, Professor Jukikynai and her team were able to map the cellars. There are two exits,” said Tjara.
“So we go in, push the demons toward one exit, and the people there kill them,” said Ariana.
“You’ve got it,” said Tjara. She set the map on the ground. “I want Juno and Ariana at the exit. Veitlen and Kallinu will drive the demons toward you. I’ll stay here at the entrance.”
“Is that the best arrangement?” Ariana asked.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” asked Tjara.
“Veitlen attracts demons. Shouldn’t he be at the exit?” said Ariana.
“I’m not going to be your demon magnet!” said Veitlen.
“I’ve made my decision. You’re sticking to it unless something drastic and unforeseen happens,” said Tjara.
Veitlen stood at the entrance to the cellars and looked around. “There’s so much dark magic around here. Down there, too,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I could make a barrier and push the demons forward.”
“Even with how well you’re able to control magic now, that’s fairly risky,” said Tjara. “It could literally end up blowing up. With the amount of magic around, that could definitely kill you.”
Veitlen and Kallinu pinned their flashlights to the front of their shirts and dropped down into the cellar. Completely ignoring Tjara’s words, Veitlen immediately summoned some of the dark magic in front of him as if it was a shield.
“Whoa!” said Kallinu.
Veitlen grinned. “Let’s go find those demons.”
They walked forward, and Veitlen heard the heavy footsteps of something bipedal. “That’s the demon,” he whispered. He brought up even more of the dark magic and ran forward, pushing the magic in front of him.
“Hey, wait up!” said Kallinu.
The wall of magic hit something. Veitlen saw a shriveled, discolored arm and felt elated as he saw the demon scrabble along the ground and walls for something to hold on to. It couldn’t do anything against him.
There was a doorway to the left of the hall, which Veitlen assumed was connected to another cellar. A demon peeked out and made a beeline toward Kallinu. “VEITLEN! YOU MISSED ONE!” Kallinu shouted.
Veitlen turned around and pointed with his left arm at the demon reaching for Kallinu. Some of the magic left in the halls started to swirl around it. He snapped his fingers.
He’d been hoping that the magic would turn into spears and stab into the demon, but that wasn’t what happened. The magic around the doorway detonated. Over the sounds of magic exploding, Veitlen heard a gunshot, and he hoped it was from Kallinu shooting the demon.
Veitlen pointed his sword at the demon in front of him and attempted to summon up more magic to shield himself. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to be able to stop the magic shards from exploding. He ran forward, pushing the magic and the demon forward and summoning up more shards of dark magic to replace the ones that exploded. Those ones, in turn, exploded as well.
“Kallinu, deal with the one back there if you haven’t already!” Veitlen yelled.
Veitlen thought he heard Kallinu swear. He looked forward and saw daylight – he was almost at the exit. “JUNO, ARI, KILL IT!” he yelled, hoping they could hear him over the noise.
He finally let go of the magic. It started to fall to the ground, but it still kept exploding. Juno and Ariana stood there, the demon dead at their feet, staring at Veitlen in disbelief.
“What the fuck?” said Juno.
“Where’s Kallinu? Where’s the other demons?” said Ariana.
Veitlen turned back to look down at the cellar. A shard of magic popped near his cheek, and he winced. “Other demons? There was only one other one,” he said.
“Are you actually sure about that?” Juno asked.
“VEITLEN!” Kallinu yelled from the hall. Ze ran up into the light, looking extremely angry. “YE FUCKING PIECE O’ SHITE! WHY DID YE LEAVE ME DOWN THERE BY MESELF!?”
“I was preoccupied with the other one! I couldn’t just let it get away!” said Veitlen.
“Ye left me there!” said Kallinu.
“Tyvokala, Jurne, stop this,” said Tjara. “Tyvokala, I’m not even going to bother chastising you for not listening to me. The demons here are dead. You need to prepare the graves.”
After that was done, Veitlen went back to check the cellars and halls. There was some dark magic left, but most of it was gone. It was exactly like Tjara had said – the magic had been destroyed.