Scholar of Magic – Michael G. Manning

Will stared up at the towering stone edifice that loomed over him and the other workers. The Lanover Dam was a massive structure that rose eighty feet above where he currently stood, at the base on the downstream side. Not stone, concrete, he reminded himself silently, using the term from his engineering class. It looked like stone, though. As he had recently learned, there were several different types of dams, but the Lanover Dam was what was known as a buttress dam. Originally it had been built as an arch dam, but the structure had shown signs of incipient failure and later builders had added the buttresses, massive iron and concrete supports that angled up from the downstream side, to reinforce the dam wall. “They should have built it with buttresses in the first place,” opined Will. “There’s no way a wall that thin could hold all that water.” The lead engineer, a man named Duncan, shook his head. “It did, though, for nearly fifty years. But you’re right, it wasn’t quite thick enough.” “I don’t see how it would last five minutes, much less fifty years.” “It’s the arch that does the trick. As it comes under load, the hydrostatic pressure compresses the concrete, increasing its strength,” explained Duncan. “They just miscalculated a little when they first built it.

It’s a miracle they managed to fix their mistake before it collapsed.” “Why didn’t they just fill in the downstream side completely?” asked Will. “Like a gravity dam.” “You’re talking about a huge increase in the amount of filler and concrete to do that. An arch dam solves the problem with structural elegance and saves a lot of expense.” Will gave his preceptor a lopsided grin. “And yet they had to buttress it anyway, and now we’re doing it again. Why do we have to remove this buttress anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to just build two new ones on either side of it?” “We’re going to do that, but removing the old one is just as necessary. Damage can’t be fully seen until we get it out of the way. If we just put a bandage over it by filling it in, we won’t be able to see if there’s seepage.

” “If it’s seeping, wouldn’t we see the water?” “Not if it’s underground, which is most likely where it would be. We could bury this thing under stone and concrete only to have the entire thing wash out from underneath. Then it would all come crumbling down in a rush. Trust me, doing the maintenance properly is well worth it.” Will’s fellow student, Stephanie Beresford, was sitting in a camp chair nearby. Being the daughter of a viscount, she seemed to feel that field work was beneath her and she wasn’t shy about showing her displeasure. “I really don’t see why we need to be here,” she whined as she poked lazily at the tiny fire elemental hovering in front of her with one finger. Duncan sighed. “Even as a lady of the realm it’s always handy to be well educated about practical matters.” “I don’t see why,” she huffed.

“I’m never going to be an engineer anyway.” The instructor looked away, but not before Will saw the look of annoyance on the man’s face. Being a commoner, Duncan couldn’t afford to offend the young aristocrat, even if she was his student. Most of the teachers at Wurthaven were noblemen themselves, but some, like Duncan, weren’t, which forced them to perfect a balancing act of authority and their lower social standing. Will could definitely sympathize. He didn’t plan on becoming an artificer or engineer himself, but he had gained a lot of respect for the meticulous thought and planning that went into their work. Contrary to what he had once believed, a lot of rigorous math and preparation went into building things. It was every bit as much of a science as alchemy, and in the case of a dam, a lot more people’s lives depended on the engineers getting it right. As Will watched, the laborers finally peeled back the concrete casing that made up the bulk of the buttress they were carefully demolishing, exposing the iron brace. Seeing them hard at work destroying the structure made him nervous, but a new buttress had already been completed on one side and a heavy iron temporary brace was already in place on the other side to take up the slack as the damaged buttress was removed.

“Would one of you like to do the honors?” asked the instructor. “Honors?” asked Stephanie, who had finally gotten out of her chair. “Now that the metal is exposed, we can accelerate their work by changing the properties of the iron,” said Duncan. “He wants us to weaken it,” added Will helpfully. Stephanie sniffed. “No thanks.” The instructor grimaced. Having a sorceress do the job was preferable since using her power wouldn’t shorten her lifespan, but the young noblewoman didn’t have much concern for the problems facing engineer wizards. “I’ll do it,” volunteered Will. “Are you sure?” asked Duncan, barely concealing his relief.

He had even less desire to use his magic if he could avoid it. “For something this big we usually prefer to have a sorcerer on hand, for obvious reasons.” But at least he has a good reason, thought Will. “Anything she can do, I can do,” he announced. “You’re aware of the cost?” Will nodded. “It won’t cost me anything. Talk to Master Courtney if you don’t believe me.” Alfred Courtney was the head of the Research Department at Wurthaven and one of the few people who knew some of the details of Will’s unique capabilities. The engineer nodded. “He said something to that effect, but it’s hard to believe.

Very well, show me what you can do.” He waved a hand in the direction of the crumbling buttress. Will moved closer, until he was standing directly beside the exposed iron. Working from memory, he constructed the sixth-order spell that would allow him to manipulate the metal’s material properties. At the same time, he expanded his outer shell and began to absorb as much turyn as possible. He waited until he was at capacity before channeling the energy into the spell and releasing it upon the iron. Its appearance changed before his eyes, and the iron began to look dry and powdery on its surface. Will motioned to one of the workers, who tested it with a cold chisel. The brace flaked and fell apart as though it was brittle stone rather than solid iron. The man nodded at Duncan.

“It’s good.” Then he addressed Will, “How long do we have?” “It’s permanent,” said Will. The instructor stared at him. “How much power did you invest? You should have used a temporary transformation.” “It didn’t cost me anything,” repeated Will. “This way we don’t have to do it again later.” Duncan studied him with curious eyes. “Aren’t you tired at least?” Will shrugged. “I’m not opening my gate—my source—to get the turyn. I absorb it from the environment.

It does take some effort, but I don’t get tired according to how much turyn I use. It has more to do with how much focus and concentration it requires.” “I’m not sure that makes sense,” replied his instructor. “It’s like the difference between digging a hole with a shovel and reading a book,” said Will. “For most wizards using magic is like physical labor, because they’re using up the turyn that keeps them alive. I’m not doing that. I’m using ambient turyn that I absorb, so for me the fatigue comes mainly from concentration. It’s a purely mental exercise, so I don’t get exhausted as easily and it’s more of a mental fatigue.” Stephanie broke in, “The important thing is that we know how special he is. Otherwise he’ll be forced to tell us, again and again.

” She punctuated her words with a sour grimace of disgust. Will ignored her, studying the dam with his eyes rather than giving her remark any attention. After a second he remarked, “Knowing that this buttress can’t support any of the load makes me feel nervous.” The instructor nodded. “That’s a natural reaction, but not to worry, that’s why it’s designed with double the tolerances needed. The buttress on the left and the temporary brace we’ve installed are each capable of handling the load by themselves, just in case either one should fail. We’re perfectly safe until we finish the repair work.” A sharp noise, a crack that was reminiscent of thunder with a muffled tone, rang out. It was a sound unlike anything Will had ever heard, and it made his heart jump in his chest. Stephanie glanced at him in confusion, but Duncan recognized the sound immediately.

“Watch out!” yelled their instructor, leaping forward to grab their wrists as a massive slab of broken concrete fell toward their heads. It was far too late, however. Will and Stephanie’s reactions were too slow and by the time their brains had registered what was happening, they were on the verge of being flattened into jelly. Will’s point-defense spell snapped into being even before he consciously decided to use it, and the massive block slammed into it and split into several pieces that fell to either side. His shield vanished and reformed twice more in quick succession, shunting the larger fragments away from them. It happened faster than he could think, at a level below conscious thought, just as Arrogan had once told him it would: “Force ef ects that you can instinctively cast operate at the speed of the soul.” The instructor and his two students froze in place as the massive fragments settled to the ground in a shower of stone chips and dust. Will was almost as surprised by what had happened as the others were, even though it had been his magic that saved them. Looking up, he saw a long crack growing along the surface of the dam accompanied by more cracking and popping sounds. Smaller pieces of stone continued to fall, and water began to spray from the crack.

Duncan’s mouth fell open. Then he muttered, “We’re dead.” Stephanie turned to run, but Will caught her wrist. “We can’t outrun it. We’d need an hour’s head start to get somewhere safe. We have to shore up the dam.” Even as he spoke, the buttress to their left shifted sideways as it surrendered under the immense strain. The temporary iron brace was also beginning to bend. It appeared neither of them were operating according to the designer’s expectations. The sorceress’ face was red as she jerked and tried to pull away, but Will’s grip was like iron.

“Let me go, churl! I’m not dying here with you!” He ignored her as he constructed a different force spell above the palm of his other hand, one meant to conjure a flat, wall-like force effect. Unlike the point-defense spell, he couldn’t cast it reflexively, but it was only third-order, so it only took a few seconds to prepare. Will invested it with power and applied it to the weak portion of the dam above them. As Will had learned previously, force effects ignored basic physics in several important ways. For one, they ignored things like mass, inertia, and momentum. A force shield couldn’t be moved by any amount of normal matter. Its key limitation lay in the amount of turyn required, for the energy needed increased exponentially as a function of both distance from the caster and the size of the effect being created. In this case, the wall that Will created was over thirty feet above his head, and it covered a ten by twenty-foot area. Those two factors combined meant that he wouldn’t be able to maintain the spell for more than a minute, even though he had already expanded his outer shell and begun absorbing turyn as quickly as possible. The instructor pointed out that fact almost immediately.

“Nice idea, but we can’t keep that up.” The workers beside the failing metal brace looked at Duncan uncertainly. They were seconds from panic. Will spoke quickly, “I can keep it in place for a minute or two. Stephanie, if you use your elemental to supplement your power, you and I can take turns keeping a force wall in place. The workers can sort out the problem with the iron brace while we do that, right, Instructor?” Duncan nodded. “We don’t have any other options.” “I don’t know that spell,” said Stephanie, pulling away. “Let me go!” Will’s hand clamped down harder on her wrist. “You’re hurting me!” she shrieked.

Will found it hard to believe she hadn’t learned one of the most basic spells they had been taught at the beginning of their second year. Nobles! Stupid, lazy… He pushed those thoughts away. They wouldn’t help. Instead he attached a source-link to her with barely a thought and began draining her turyn. “What are you doing?” she asked, her eyes widening in alarm. “Stop!” “Draw from your elemental. Together we can hold this,” Will explained. Stephanie continued to struggle, but her strength faded quickly. She did draw some turyn from her elemental, so she wound up helping him inadvertently. As the seconds ticked by, Will saw Duncan join the laborers and begin working to reinforce the iron brace.

From what he could see without joining them, the central beam had started to fold in an unusual manner, though whether that was because of a flaw in the material or unexpectedly high stresses he didn’t know. The workers wrestled the heavy iron bars into place while Duncan took the unusual step of welding them directly with magic. Will knew it took a lot of turyn to do, and he worried about the cost to his teacher, but it wasn’t as though they had any better options at that point. “How much longer?” yelled Will. Stephanie and her elemental had run dry, and the turyn he was absorbing wouldn’t be enough to last much longer. “Ten minutes. Can you hold it that long?” called the instructor. Will nodded, closing his eyes as he released Stephanie’s hand. She slumped to the ground beside him, exhausted but still conscious, barely. She watched him with angry eyes.

Internally, Will tried not to panic, but he knew with certainty that he wouldn’t last another minute, much less ten. What do I do? What do I do? His thoughts ran in circles without providing solutions. I need to absorb turyn faster. He stretched outward, trying to make his outer shell, the boundary that he drew turyn in with, larger. He failed, but he kept pushing. Something happened then, and it felt as though his body was slipping away. For a split second he was looking down on himself, as though he floated in the air. Unfortunately, his control also vanished. The energy stopped completely, until his perspective snapped back into its accustomed place, and then he had to work furiously to catch up. The brief loss of control had put him even further behind.

Sweat rolled down his forehead, and the world began to turn gray as he came to the end of his supply of turyn. Oddly, something occurred to him then, a memory of a lesson in alchemy. “The rate of dif usion of one solute into another is dependent on the dif erence in concentrations.” Who had said that? Arrogan, or perhaps Professor Karlovic, it hardly mattered. It worked for liquids and gases, surely it would be the same for turyn as well. Desperate, he split his concentration as he tried something new. He pushed outward with his absorption shell, while at the same time pulling inward on the turyn that entered it, keeping the turyn compacted at the center to create an energy vacuum within most of the space around him. It had just been a vague notion in his mind, but it made sense, and somehow, it worked. His rate of turyn absorption increased, and as the seconds ticked by, he began to feel hopeful. It seemed he was absorbing close to the same amount of turyn he was using.

He wasn’t sure if it was slightly more, or slightly less, though. Time would tell. “Are you holding up?” asked the instructor worriedly. “This is taking longer than I thought.” Will opened his eyes to stare at Duncan, but he didn’t dare speak. The world was spinning, and he felt as though the slightest disturbance might cause him to topple into disaster. He gave a faint nod, then closed his eyes again. Watching them didn’t help his state of mind. It just made it seem as though time was passing even more slowly. I can do this, he reminded himself, trying to deny the panic bubbling up just beneath the surface of his conscious mind.

Don’t think about the time. His breath came in short gasps as his strict turyn control left his body bereft of its normal energy for autonomic functions. He had to consciously remember to breathe. As if I don’t have enough to worry about. An eternity ticked by with agonizing slowness. He began to think he might make it. The instructor and the workers had to be close. It was then that his heart began to lose its rhythm, and unlike breathing, he had no idea how to manage it consciously. It felt as though it was racing, then his chest tightened with pain and the world started to grow black. “It’s ready! Let go, Will!” came the instructor’s words, ringing loudly in his ears.

With a gasp, Will released the spell and forgot everything as his body jerked and he fell to the ground. A convulsive spasm shot through him, and he thought he might be dying, but then the tightness in his chest faded and his vision began to return to normal. He didn’t bother trying to stand up. Lying down was enough, and he focused on breathing. “Is he alive?” asked Duncan, leaning over and looking down at Will. Stephanie answered acidly, “It appears so, unfortunately.” “He saved our lives, Miss Beresford. You ought to be grateful for that,” snapped the instructor with a stern expression on his face. The young noblewoman didn’t reply, but Will spoke up faintly to reassure his teacher, “I’m fine. I think.

” Stephanie found her tongue then. “You won’t be after I report your assault.” She rubbed conspicuously at her wrist as she stared down at him. Will caught sight of the red skin which was probably the first sign of a bruise. In his panic he had probably gripped her arm far too firmly, but then again, if she hadn’t been trying to abandon them, he wouldn’t have had to do so. Ordinarily he would have felt bad about having hurt her, but instead his fatigue and the look of spite on Stephanie’s face combined within him to produce a different reaction. He began to laugh. “What’s so funny?” she demanded, staring at him suspiciously. “You,” said Will, still chuckling. “You won’t find it a laughing matter once everyone knows about your awful behavior,” she snapped.

“Once I explain to them what you tried to do to me!” Her visage had taken on a look of almost gleeful malice. Still lying on the ground, he looked up, meeting her eyes evenly. “Really? Is that what you think? Are you sure you’ve thought this through properly?” Stephanie had never shown herself to be particularly bright in class, or anywhere else that he had seen, but as he watched her face, he could almost see the moment that her mind finished the social calculus, and she realized her error. A hint of uncertainty showed in her eyes. “They’ll believe me when I show them this,” she insisted, lifting her injured arm. He sat up, shaking his head sadly. “I used to live in fear of people like you. You twist the truth to suit your whims, and regular people, people like me, are forced to simply accept the results. But that isn’t the case anymore, is it Stephanie? Maybe you should rethink your plan for revenge against me for saving your life. There’s two ways this can play out after we return.

“One, you can stick to the truth, and we’ll both leave out the part about your shameful cowardice. Or two, you can spread lies and we’ll see who winds up with more shit stuck to them in the end. You remember who my wife is now, don’t you?” Her eyes narrowed. “Assuming she doesn’t cast you aside after she hears what—” Will rose, dusting himself off. “Go ahead,” he said, interrupting. “Selene trusts me, and not for any reason you’d understand. We’ve been through fire and blood together. Unlike you, she doesn’t judge people according to their wealth or social standing. She’ll see through your lies before I even tell her my side of the story.” He turned his back and began walking away.

“So say whatever you wish when you get back. I would personally recommend the version in which you heroically assisted me in keeping this dam from failing, because the story you were thinking about telling ends with you bringing shame to your family.”

.

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