Lessons continued the next day. Aside from runes and potions, the Summer Court required students to take a smattering of random subjects. Cal was surprised to find that most of them had nothing to do with magic at all. History, natural science, chemistry, and other dull subjects made the day drag on.
In Runes, after Teagan concluded her lesson, she took out the projects students had handed in for the first challenge. She plucked one from the pile and looked around. “Who did this?”
Rathana raised his hand. “I did,” he said.
“Congratulations,” Teagan said. “Let this be a lesson to everyone else in the room. When I said ‘impress me,’ I did not mean for you to remake what we did in class, nor did I mean for you make it brighter, nor did I mean this.” She held up one lamp. “To whichever jackass in this room decided to simply hand in their project with a small envelope containing some gold, you might as well leave Istima now before you embarrass yourself further.” She tossed the offending project on her desk, causing something to break.
“In comparison, your classmate here actually went above and beyond. Watch,” she touched the lamp and it changed in color, changing from blue to deep red. “This is a good first effort, and impresses me enough to earn a point for this challenge.” She set the lamp down.
Cal smiled as she saw the embarrassed and upset faces around the room, especially from the students who had left early in the last class. Jasten’s contorted features were especially amusing.
Before they were dismissed, Teagan gave them their second challenge: build a tool that could be worn. This time, when she walked out of the room, the students took the hint and left without being told.
Cal thought about congratulating Rathana, but saw a small crowd forming around him to ask about details of his design, so she left. Besides, there was no potions class today, and Alendra was free for lunch.
“Gods above, you’re court sounds more like a pack of ravenous dogs than a school!” Alendra said. Somehow the stacks of books and scrolls that surrounded her had doubled in size since Cal had seen her last. “I don’t know why anyone would pay to expose themselves to that level of cutthroat barbarism.”
“I can make it work.” Cal shrugged. “It’s not like I plan to advance anyway.”
“Still keen on your ‘in-and-out’ plan, I see,” Alendra said.
“Yup,” Cal took a bite of her meal. “Actually, I got a job.”
Alendra looked up from her book. “You? A job? An honest job?”
“Of course not. It’s a dishonest job. Speaking of which, let me know if you need any rare or illegal ingredients. I know some guys.”
“Thanks, but I’m good. Just be safe.”
“I’m always—“ Cal stopped as someone stumbled through the door to the tavern. “Rathana?”
The Aketsi saw her and limped over.
“Callion,” he said, breathing hard. “How fortunate.” He leaned against their table and Cal saw that he was bleeding from a gash on his forehead.
“I was set upon by some men,” he said.
“Gods, you were mugged?” Alendra said. “Did they steal anything?”
Rathana looked to her. “No, nothing was taken.”
“Strange,” Cal said. “Isn’t that the point of a mugging?”
“Not the time, Cal,” Alendra said, shooting her a glance.
“I believe they were put up to it.” The Aketsi touched his forehead and winced. “I had a disagreement earlier with a fellow student. Callion knows him, I believe. Lord Jasten from Runes?”
“Yeah, I know that asshole. What was it about?”
“He wanted to pay me to make something for the second challenge. I said no and he was angered. An hour later, men accosted me on my way to the Day Court.”
“That’s terrible! Surely you could tell the administration of the college?”
Rathana shook his head. “The rules of the Summer Court allow students to get away with anything that cannot be traced back to them. Unfortunately, his actions constitute fair play.”
“Like hell it does!” Alendra said. “That’s just… Cal, where are you going?”
Cal paused, she was out of her chair and putting on her cloak. “I’m going to go have a word with him.”
“Please, Callion, that’s hardly necessary—”
“By the way, I’d like you to meet my friend Allie. Why don’t you get to know each other while I’m out. It won’t take long.”
Before anyone could stop her, she left the tavern and headed west. She’d spent an afternoon following the stuck-up rich boy; where he frequented and where he lived. She hadn’t gotten around to robbing him yet, but that wasn’t on her mind right now.
It didn’t take long to find him. It was early evening and he was moseying down the street, probably from one bar to another. Cal followed him, watching from a distance until he disappeared down an alley.
In truth, she didn’t have a plan beyond this. She was a good thief, but that meant she hadn’t been caught enough to have to learn to fight well. Besides, he had magic and she barely had any.
Still, she went down the alley, creeping up close enough to smell the nauseating combination of perfumes he had doused himself in. She needed to do something quick before he noticed her. If she were Alendra, she could lift him into the air and terrorize him, but she couldn’t, all she had was the little light show parlor trick.
It would have to do.
She reached out and clamped her hands over Jasten’s eyes. As he tensed, she let the energy within her arc through her nerves and into her palms. Jasten screamed as searing white light filled his vision, leaking out between Cal’s fingers.
She let go and jumped back as he slumped to the ground, clutching his face. She reached down and grabbed his silk coin purse, ripping it from his belt.
The magic had drained her, but all the same, she ran back to the tavern. Alendra and Rathana turned as she burst through the door.
“Callion!” The Aketsi said. “You returned.”
“With money,” Alendra said, “wonder how that happened.”
“I had a small chat and I believe he, uh, saw the light.” She looked down at the bag. There was probably enough gold in it to sustain her for a month or two, but… she held it out to Rathana. “Here, as reparation.”
“I—thank you, Callion. That was very kind of you to do.”
“Yes,” Alendra said, eyebrow raised. “Yes, it was.”
“Don’t act so surprised,” Cal said, slumping into her chair. Her food was stone cold by now, not that she had an appetite anymore.
“Allow me to repay you,” Rathana said. He reached into his bag and retrieved a book. “Here, this book contains the runes I used in my project. Perhaps it can help you in this next challenge.”
“Don’t you need it?”
“I may not be of much worth in a fight, but I have a quick mind.” Rathana tapped his forehead. “Everything worth knowing is already in here. Had Jasten asked nicely, perhaps this book would be his. Alas, he did not.” He held out the book. “Take it. Please. If only so that no one less scrupulous may reach it.”
Alendra opened her mouth, closed it, and then shook her head. “Well, perhaps Cal can use this to further her studies, if she plans to stick around, that is.”
“You intend to leave?” Rathana said. Cal still couldn’t read the expressions of the Aketsi well, but she saw sadness in his big, watery eyes.
“Nothing was decided yet,” Cal said, glaring at Alendra. “For the moment, I’m still very much a student.”
“Excellent! Then I cannot wait to see what you create for the second challenge.”
“Yeah,” Cal hefted the book of runes in her hand, “neither can I.”
That night, in her quiet, little room above Sable and Burr’s shop, Cal cracked open Rathana’s book of runes. Reading had always come easy to her, Cal’s childhood had been filled with what she deemed ‘practical’ reading: street signs, notice boards, and price tags. Alendra talked about reading as a source of joy, of being transported to distant shores and impossible fantasies, but Cal much preferred numbers. When it came to joys, there were few things that could beat counting a stack of stolen coins.
But the book, entitled “A Wise Grammatist’s Guide to Runic Lore,” was unlike anything Cal had ever seen. The writing was in a dense, flowery script, full of archaic prose and inventive grammar. The saving grace was the large woodcut diagrams of different runes and their functions. The book even specified that it had used dotted lines to ensure that the runes wouldn’t accidentally activate or bind to the page.
The challenge Teagan had given the class was to make something wearable. Cal flipped through the book until she landed on a section entitled ‘Absorption and Redirection.” She saw a diagram of the first rune and smiled. She grabbed her boots and her knife and set to work.
A few hours later, Cal was standing in the hallway within the administrative tower of the Summer Court. It had taken time, and at least one bribe, but she’d reached her destination: Teagan’s office. She knocked on the door and, after a few moments, it swung open.
“Yes?” Teagan said. She was wearing her usual apron, and her hair was in a tight braid. Cal couldn’t tell if the mess in her office was from some project or if that was its usual state.
“I’m handing in my project,” she said.
“Ah. Callion, I was wondering if you were going to skip out on this one challenge too.”
“You, uh, noticed that?”
“I did. So, where is your project?”
“I’m wearing it.” She lifted a boot.
“Alright,” Teagan crossed her arms, “show me.”
Cal stomped around a couple of times. Teagan raised an eyebrow.
“Is something supposed to be happening?”
“Actually, no,” Cal said. “In fact, they don’t make any noise at all.” She stomped again and the boots made no sound as the heel hit the stone floor. “The energy is stored and, when you click the heels together, released all at once to—”
“Jump to great heights, I see.” She nodded. “Let me see them.” Cal slipped off the boots and handed them over. The professor studied them closely, pouring over the runes. “Interesting. Vibrational energy is often overlooked, and the runes for it are uncommon. I don’t see any limiter on the release of the energy.”
Cal gave her a blank look.
“You have no way to control the jump. If you walked all day and then released it all at once… well, we’d probably have to scrape you off the cobblestones.”
“A good mistake. You should learn from it. I’ll see you in class.” As she began to close the door, she paused. “Actually, there is one more thing.”
“Did you blind another student?”
Cal kept her expression level as she shrugged. “From what I have heard, it was temporary, though I don’t know much about the situation.”
Teagan blinked. “Well, I commend whoever did it. Goodnight, Callion.”
Only when the door closed did Cal realize she’d just given over her only boots.