Reil ran a hand through his messy blond hair as he sat half awake in the mess hall waiting for breakfast to be served. An equally tired man, six years Reil’s senior, sat across from him with his face in his hands.

          “I don’t believe any of the Suns in the Galaxy are up on any planet at this Lightless time,” the young man groaned through a covered mouth.

          “I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be rested,” Reil mumbled as he slumped in his chair.

          It had been six days since Reil woke up in the medical bay of the Everlight, and four days since he started his training with Ars, the Master Trainer aboard the ship. One more day until Cent was woken from his medically-induced hibernation. Three more days until Reil’s twenty-first birthday. Four more days until Reil’s date with Erica. It was a big week.

          The young man across from him was named Alden Vitters, twenty-six years old and Reil’s only partner in the Wizard training program. He had silver and black hair, wavy and cut just around his shoulder-length with faintly golden eyes. He was jovial, if a bit melodramatic, into literature and poetry, and Light-blessedly awful at casting.

          In the four days of the program, Reil had proceeded to surprise Ars with his ability to catch on to lessons almost immediately, while Alden was still on their very first assignment, which was to alter the wind and cause a plastic pinwheel to spin three full rotations.

          At first, Reil dreaded his future as a Wizard, but the Commander and Federico had given him a couple days to get used to the idea. In that time, Federico and Gaspard tried desperately to get him to understand that importance of his using his powers correctly, how they could lead to scientific advances, and help end the war ever sooner.

          In the end, only one thing got through to Reil, and it was something Roshen had said. “Reil, accept this training. A wizard is worth a hundred Destroyers, and a Wizard with your potential is worth a million. Accept this training, and when you are strong enough, I give you my word… You will help me lead Al’Mathria to a victory at Taiath’Rhowar. You will take back your homeworld.”

          It was the motivation Reil needed, and every night since, he had dreamed of sending the GavFed soldiers retreating back into the depths of space and him standing once more peacefully in the dark growth of the Alvennis.

          In addition to his revenge fantasies, the training was the best way he had found for taking his mind off of the darker aspects of his life. Worrying about Cent’s condition was harder when he was fully focused on Magic, as was worrying about what had happened to Victoria. Even more so it helped Reil stop thinking about his last moments with Quentin. It wasn’t that he wanted to forget those moments, but remembering them was too painful. It wasn’t just Quentin, but the entire family he had found at the Thief House. The memory of Brody’s body splattering on the concrete still woke Reil up at night with sweat on his face.

          Training had been a far more exhausting process than he initially expected; waking up earlier than he ever had before and staying awake long into the night studying texts and instructional books. Reil was happy to have Alden with him for the experience however, as the man’s over exaggerated quotes of Pelicar and Kilearn’s poetry during their eighth straight hour of casting or studying rarely failed to get him to smile.

          While he resisted in the beginning, Reil had begun to enjoy his progress in Magic. Casting wore him out, but it also made him feel more alive than he had since he was taken from Taiath’Rhowar at only eleven years old.

          Since that day, Reil had lived his life trying to maintain as much control over it as possible. That was one of the biggest reasons he chose the thief life back in Feldrin when there were plenty of options for him as a legal employee of one factory or another.

          With the war upon them, it felt like Reil no longer had any control, that is until he began exercising his ability in Magic. Casting allowed him to single-handedly alter the world around him and make things how he wanted them to be. Making the pinwheel spin was only the beginning, and each consecutive trial felt better and better. Folding a piece of cardboard into a U-shape without touching it, opening a can of Fizz, and the most recent trial of lighting a candle.

          “Eat up, boys. And don’t be leaving no scraps like last time, Master Ars told me to shove ‘em down ya throats if I had ta’.” Elith, the mess supervisor, was an older lady from the Colonies, as they were called; a group of planets in an almost entirely inhospitable System with claims from over ten empires within it. A dust storm destroyed all crops on Elith’s home planet and she emigrated to Al’Mathria when no help came.

          “Yes ma’am,” both men echoed. Reil began shovelling the food into his mouth, fighting to even breathe between bites. Ars had he and Alden eating three times as much as the mess hall gave as standard protocol. Casting without an extremely high calorie diet and energy injections before and after lessons could be deadly.

          Reil personally didn’t feel as though his body required the injections, though Alden claimed that the post-casting shots made him feel like he had come back from the dead. Reil chalked it up to being more in shape than Vitters thanks to his time as a thief.

          “I’m gonna go pop by Cent’s med-room before lessons. Meet ya there,” Reil forced the last scrap of food into his mouth and unbuttoned the top button of his pants before darting off to the medical bay. It had become his ritual to stop by Cent’s room each day; seeing his best friend was comforting, and he would get a glimpse of Erica and maybe even a quick “hello” in before she had to see another patient.

          It felt odd to Reil, feeling the way he did about Erica. Sure he’d flirted with his fair share of girls in Feldrin, but it was always just playful. He knew that Lyrin was the only girl for his Heart, and whether she survived the GavFed bombings or not didn’t change that. But for once, he found himself introducing Erica to the Alvennis in his dreams, instead of walking through it with Lyrin. Even the knowledge that Lyrin possibly survived and was a GavFed slave couldn’t quite get Reil to stop thinking about the hiccup-plagued young nurse.

          Finding his way through the layers of sliding doors and well-lit signage, Reil finally stopped for a breath next to Cent’s body, resting in medically-induced stasis. “Hey buddy, since you can’t defend yourself right now I’m just gonna come out and say it. I could beat you into the Vein of Light any day of the week. And I’m taller than you,” Reil smiled at his childish ways. Cent had that effect on him, apparently even when the thief was unconscious.

          “That’d be terribly lame coming from most people, but from you, it was pretty cute.” Erica let her hand brush against Reil’s as she walked past him to extract the data from Cent’s stasis chamber. “You’re friend is doing well, his body is a lot stronger than we initially calculated,” no hiccups were present when the nurse told good news.

          “As per protocol, we’re still keeping him in stasis until the original date programmed, but when he wakes up, physical therapy should be much shorter than anticipated. Perhaps as little as five days,” Ms. Ashe smiled brightly at Reil.

          “That’s wonderful news. Thank you so much, Erica. For helping ease my mind on so many things,” Reil tried to casually run his hand through his hair, but got caught on a thick knot. “And for still being my friend despite how thick headed I am.” They both laughed as Reil carefully detangled his hand from the forest of blonde.

          “No need for thanks, you’ve helped make my time here better than I ever expected. And I’m very excited to hear your opinions of life aboard the Everlight over coffee soon. It can be a bit,” she searched for the word, blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes, “harsh, sometimes. And you especially must be busy as a Wizard in-training.”

          “Oh Mother, training. I gotta run, Master Ars will have me ejected off into space if I don’t get over there fast. Great to see you again, our coffee date is all that’s keeping me going through these training lessons.” Reil rushed off, hoping to Yvesu he wouldn’t be late. He also got stressed every time someone brought up his being a Wizard.

          That alone was a huge deal, doubly so during the largest war in the history of the Cycle. It was obvious everyone would know about his training and who he was, but he also knew he couldn’t disclose what had happened the day he landed on the Everlight, and that he was forbidden from even talking about the details of his training.

          Reil walked a fine line between having near celebrity status as a training Wizard, while at the same time having to make sure no one figured out the details of his abilities. He had never met a Wizard before this time, so he had nothing to go off of, but he had to assume there was something different about his entrance into Magic.

          No one had told him that pulling himself toward a star cruiser, and partially pulling a star cruiser toward him, was an extremely uncommon way for a Wizard to discover his powers. Reil had always been told stories of how immensely powerful Wizards were, it seemed obvious that in a time of great stress he’d have been able to do what he did.

          The young Wizard in-training arrived at the training room fully ready for a nap, but knowing his day had only just begun. A walking mass of muscle with tanned skin and no hair named Ars barked a greeting to Reil when he saw him.

          “You look tired, princess. I imagine it’s from all the extra studying you chose to do last night and not from rushing here from seeing that nurse.” Ars grinned a wide smile as Reil dropped his head in shame. “Don’t be so embarrassed. A meek man never won the woman. Keep at her, son, just don’t let it interrupt your training.”

          “Yes, Master Ars,” Reil shed his shirt, it would get drenched in sweat during lessons anyways, and lined up next to Alden.

          “Today we have something a bit different. You still have your usual lessons that you’ll be working on through today, but to start with you’ll be taking a sort of assessment test, to let me get an idea of where your ability stands now after a short introduction. We’ll then repeat this test every three months to judge how effective your training is, and build off of that information.” Ars opened a small metal box in his hand, eyes glowing slightly as he cast the lock open.

          It was a common way for Wizards to secure things, by adding a lock that could only be opened by casting. Master Ars removed a purple crystal from the box, holding it in one hand and casting the box off onto a shelf against the back wall.

          “This is your test. As I explained to you these past few days, casting Magic requires the use of three Aspects of yourself, your Heart, Soul, and Spirit. Reil, which Aspects would you use to alter the wind?”

          Reil answered quickly, remembering moving the pinwheel for the first time, “Soul to initiate the alteration, and Spirit to strengthen it, if you need to. Sir,” he almost always forgot the “sir” at the end of an answer.

          “Very good. Alden, which Aspects would you use to cast fire?”

          “Soul to initiate the alteration, then Heart to start burning the fire. Spirit would be used to strengthen the fire if needed, though with a strong enough Heart, you can cast more fire without the use of Spirit, sir.” That was the lesson Reil was currently on, and the first time he had to use all three Aspects at once. He hadn’t succeeded yet.

          “Correct. What do both of those, and all casting, have in common? Soul. That is how all casting is initiated. Casting is a way of striking a deal with Mother Yvesu herself. You give part of you in exchange for part of Her. She is everything in the Universe, and by altering anything beyond what it normally can be altered, a trade is required.

         “As you have shown you know, Spirit can be used to strengthen a cast after it has already been initiated. When you use Soul to begin the cast, depending how much you put into the initial cast is directly related to how much alteration Mother Yvesu gives you. If you need more than what you started with for any reason, using your Spirit, you can trade for more power.

          “Heart is for directing your cast in a particular manner. You can not cast fire without Heart, as your cast will begin as a simple alteration of whatever you are casting at. For example, if you were simply casting at the air, you’d only be able to alter the air. You’d be able to move it, causing wind, or stop it, possibly causing a halt to a tornado. You can take it away, removing the ability for someone to breathe, or concentrate more in an area, giving yourself an easier time breathing in a situation of high altitude. If you cast at a tree, you’d be able to kill leaves, or bring them up from a wilt. With enough power you’d be able to break branches or even cause the entire tree to die and crack apart.

          “But Heart, Heart allows change. If you cast at a candle for example, with Soul you could break the candle apart, unwind the fibers of the wick, and so forth. But with the addition of Heart, you could add in heat to the equation, and ignite a fire on the wick.” Ars demonstrated by lighting the candle at the far end of the room, then extinguishing it.

          “You already knew that, but the knowledge will be important for this assessment test. You will be casting at this crystal,” the Master Trainer held out the crystal in his palm, giving Reil and Alden a good look. It was small, each face being only two or three inches wide by Reil’s guess, and simple. Just eight sides, four on top and four on bottom, all the same shape and size.

          “You will begin with Soul, as always. You will try to simply alter the crystal; not in any way in particular, just cast with as much Soul as you can. I’ll be giving you much stronger injections today before the test, so you can cast with much more vigor that I normally let you. I want you to put your all into this.

          “The more you cast, the more this crystal will begin to glow. Once casting, you will feel a connection to this crystal, as you feel toward all things you use Magic on. You will feel it change at a moderate speed. As it changes, you will have to change your casting technique. At first all it will require is Soul, then it may require Heart to keep the light glowing, then maybe it will switch to Spirit, or Heart and Spirit, or all three at once.

          “Your success on this examination will be determined by both how long you can keep the crystal glowing, and how brightly.” Ars cast a stool toward him and took a set. “We’ll begin with you Alden.”

          Vitters nodded, taking a deep breath, as if he could breathe out all his anxiety. Reil had been trying to teach him his tricks to calming down, but Alden seemed to be perpetually nervous whenever he was working with Magic. He stepped forward and Reil moved back as he never quite felt comfortable around his friend’s attempts at casting.

          Master Ars leaned forward to give Alden an energy injection, the syringe tube being far larger than the usual ones Reil had been used to for lessons. “Now focus, Alden. Cast Soul directly at the crystal. It won’t take much at first, even less than moving a pinwheel,” the Master Trainer spread both hands and allowed the crystal to sit right in the middle.

          Reil watched intently as Alden’s eyes gave off the telltale glow of casting. The crystal had previously been resting on its side but slowly tilted into an upright position in the middle of Ars’s hands. The smallest of flickers of light turned on and off in the center, like sparks from scraping steel along a piece of flint.

          Abruptly, the crystal dimmed and fell back over in Ars’ hand before lifting back up. “The shift in Aspects is a fast one, Alden. Keep up.” Alden nodded his head, sweat pouring forth from his forehead and his brow knotted in concentration. Reil had no way of knowing how the test was scored, if it even was scored. He wasn’t sure if Alden was doing well or doing poorly, but he did know that he was ready for his turn.

          In short time, Vitters stumbled as one of his legs gave out under him. He quickly caught himself and even tried to keep casting at the crystal, but Ars quickly called an ending to the exam. Muscle failure while casting was a sign your body was nearing its limit. Casting Magic required direct extraction of a Wizard’s life; Soul, Heart, and Spirit. Without time to recover, casting was fatal.

          “You did well Alden. I’ll be writing up a report of your exam for the Commander tonight. Go take a rest, and don’t forget your second injection, you used a lot of energy today,” the Master Trainer handed Alden a small slip from his back pocket. “Go by the library and check out this book. It’ll be your reading assignment for today. Whenever you finish it, which I fully anticipate to be before seven o’clock tonight, you will come back here and keep working on the pinwheel.”

          Alden nodded sleepily and stumbled away towards his quarters. Reil hadn’t seen Vitters that tired any of the days of lessons prior. Time to find out what I’m made of.

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