Summoner (Ash and Magic 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Summoner (Ash and Magic 1)
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"So.  I hope everyone has learned a lot!"  Everyone was surprise when Montgomery started to wrap up his lecture.  Had it really been fifty minutes already?  "I will leave you with this one thought: theoretically, an extrinsic being can become more powerful than an intrinsic one.  They are limited by their internal power and most do not spend the time to learn spells or extrinsic magic because, why would they?  After spending years studying they would still be able to do less with spells than they can do with their own abilities.  Despite the fact that there is unlimited power out there to tap in the world, extrinsic magic is so difficult that few can master spells more powerful than tenth sphere.

"Guess what Melketh has been measured at."

Everyone turned to look at the infernal, gauging him.  He looked strong, which actually biased everyone against his magical abilities.  Before starting Magic High School most of the mages here had been smaller, picked on and misunderstood in their normal lives.  They did not believe that someone with raw physical power like Melketh would also have the mental faculties to control powerful magic.

"Uhhh, twelve?"  Cass spoke up first.  Montgomery was obviously waiting for someone to guess, and the way he'd phrased the question suggested that he was looking for a number higher than ten.  Ten was impressive, anyway.  It was rumored that the only living human who could control magic that powerful was Professor Smith, and even then he'd never demonstrated anything above nine on the University grounds.

Everyone murmured in appreciation, recognizing that twelve would indeed be powerful but not really believing Melketh could do it.

Professor Montgomery smiled a slow, superior smile.

"Twenty four."  He declared it loudly and simply.

A murmur of incredulity ran through the crowd.  That wasn't possible, and anyway, how could someone like Professor Montgomery contain a creature that could wield such incredible energies?  Most of them didn't have a good concept for what a twenty fourth sphere magical draw would look like.  In the logarithmic scale of sphere measurement, even ten was world-shattering.  Literally.  Some people pointed to ancient illuminated manuscripts that showed the Earth with two moons in the distant past.  Someone, Professor Smith was usually implicated, had destroyed the second one in a particularly powerful mage's duel.

"That's, uhh, not possible... sir."  Cass spoke up, giving voice to everyone's disbelief.

"Look it up in the library if you don't believe me."  Montgomery shrugged, that superior smile still on his face.  "Anyway, that's it for class today but it does bring me to the topic of your mid term paper."

A collective groan went up from the assembled students.

"Wait a second.  Be gone!"  Professor Montgomery clapped his hands twice as he said it and the original, impressive, magic of the spells happened again, only this time in reverse.

The holes opened back up, the howling winds filled the room and within moments both creatures had disappeared back into their own realms and the only evidence they'd ever been here in the first place was a fine patina of ash in the shape of the magical circles on the ground.

"Good.  So, your assignment.  I would like all of you to summon and interview an infernal or celestial being!"

A rumble of surprise went through the students.  They were supposed to summon something like those two!?

"Obviously not something powerful like Mel or Leth, but something small and easy.  Cherubs and imps are usually recommended.  There are spells to do so in your books and we will be having open lab times next Monday and Wednesday for you to walk through the necessary preparations with a TA if you need to."

And with that, the bell rang to indicate the change of classes.

Ash hadn't heard any of it.  She was staring at the ash which was all that was left of Melketh.  She stepped into the center of the spell, which was inactive now, wondering what she was searching for.  She expected to be overwhelmed by the smell of sulfur but wasn't.  Instead, the air held a faint trace of... cinnamon.

Melketh, a demon of functionally limitless power, smelled like cinnamon.  Ash smiled and touched her lips with a fingertip.

"Hey, Ash, listen... do you have a minute to talk?"

Ashley jumped.  Professor Montgomery's voice was coming from very close by.  He'd walked over to her while she was distracted, and he put a comforting hand on her shoulder now that he was close enough.

"Yeah, uhhh, sure professor."  Ashley brushed a lock of hair out of her face and looked up at Montgomery. A genuine smile crossed her face: she liked him, and she hoped that one day she would get to work with him.

Now was the best time to make an impression on him.  Too bad she was so distracted with thoughts of Melketh.

"How's your War magic coming?"

"Uhhh..."  Ash wondered what to tell him.  The truth, the abysmal truth, was not a good way to make an impression.  But, the truth was also public record, so she couldn't get away with lying for long.  "Not good."

"Awful, more like."  Montgomery laughed and clapped Ashley on the shoulder, sending her staggering a little under the weight of his hand.  "Now, listen, I don't care about that.  You hear me?  Smith has his little fiefdom and it helps make him feel like a big man, but the faculty in the other Colleges hate him."

"Oh?"  That was interesting, it was the first time Ash had ever heard of someone other than herself disliking Professor Smith.

"Sure!  He runs the most exciting class at the University, and the most difficult to pass for people like you and me.  He lords it over everyone and acts like he runs the place.  Once, I even saw him order around the President!"  Montgomery laughed but there was no humor there.  "Anyway, a lot of us also think that he is irresponsibly throwing away good, talented mages who just happen to be not great at dueling."

That about summed up Ashley's feelings on the matter, so she nodded.

"Anyway, screw him, huh?  I talked with him a while ago and all you have to do is win one duel.  It's quite an exception, you know?"

"I know."

"Each College only gets one student like that a year, you know?  Technically the War College gets one also but they almost always waive it."

"Almost always?"

"Sometimes a great researcher will come along who chokes during duels.  Not often, though.  Anyway!  You know all this already."

"I do, sir."  Ashley nodded, wondering where he was going with this.  She was going to be late for her next class if he spent too much longer talking.

"What I really wanted to talk you about was: being a TA!"

"Sir?"

"Oh, sir.  Psssh!  Montgomery is fine.  Or Monty.  Anyway, I've got a TA opening this fall in my Summoning 203 if you're interested?"

Ash's heart skipped a beat: that was the dream assignment for her!  Summoning 201 was the basic class that everyone had to take sometime before graduating, which meant that it was filled with a lot of War students who thought Summoning was a waste of time.  They were only there for the credit and nothing more.  203, on the other hand, was the beginning of the track for people intending to major in Summoning, like Ash.  They were people who were honestly interested in the subject and even though most of them would quit the major after going through a semester of dueling, at least they started out with the passion.

"Oh!  Yes!  Yes sir!  I mean Monty!  I'd love to... I'd absolutely love to!"

"Good, good.  Sam's going to be the other TA for that course.  I think you know him?"

Ash nodded.

"Great!  Just splendid.  Now, you just need to win a duel and we're all set."

"Wait, what?"  Ash wondered about that.  For all that the dueling class was brutal, you could take it again and again until you passed it.  There were a couple of third years in Ash's class and even a fourth year, all who had failed dueling before and were there to get the credit.  "Why?"

"You have to be an official third year to TA, you know?"

"Oh."

"So you have to pass the class.  Don't worry!  I'm sure you'll do fine."

"Sure."

"Talk to Sam in Office Hours some time.  He also barely scraped through Smith's shit show, so he should have some sneaky tactics up his sleeves to help you win."

"Right.  Yes.  Of course."  Ash was having a hard time being excited about the opportunity given the obstacles in her way.

This was her dream job: a way to hone her summoning talent and also hang out with other summoning-obsessed minds!  It would be great!

Not just that, but she'd get to spend more time with Monty!  Professor Montgomery.  She'd get to work with him more closely, talk shop, and maybe impress upon him how important it was that he take her on as a Grad student when she graduated.

Only... only there was one big, huge, lumberjack-shaped wall standing between her and her dreams.

Professor Smith.

Now, her weekly beating would also be a reminder of both how close and how far her dreams were.

"Great!  I'll see you on Monday?"

"Sure, yes.  Sounds good, professor."

"Monty!"

"I'm looking forward to it, Monty!"

"Anyway, it's not going to be as good as today's but I think you'll enjoy the subject matter."

"Oh, I'm sure!"  Ash didn't even have to pretend in order to say that, like some might.  She truly enjoyed Monty's lectures and relished them most days.  Only Fridays were a little dicey, because her duels were up just before Professor Montgomery's class.

Now she would have extra reason to hate those duels: they were going to destroy everything she'd worked for.

 

*
 

 

That Saturday night, Ashley was in her room pouring over a huge, leather-bound tome.  The pages were cured sheepskin, the writing was barely recognizable as English and the ink was something that still had a pungent odor to it.  Blood, most likely.  Older wizards had been so dramatic, these days everyone just used computers.

"Melketh, Melketh..."  Ash ran her hands across the spell contained in the tome, as if touching it would help her understand its intricacies better.  The entire tome contained only one piece of magic: a summoning.  A dangerous, powerful summoning that could tax even the most experience wizard.  The price of getting it wrong was dire.  So, there were two things in the tome: a very lengthy warning about not using what was inside, followed by the spell itself.

For the fourth time that night, Ashley's phone rang.  This time she picked it up, frowning at it.

"Hey?"

"Ashley!  I've been trying to reach for an hour!  What's up?"

"Ummmm..."  What could Ashley say?  That her brain had been occupied, obsessed you might say, since Professor Montgomery's demonstration Friday?  That she needed to find out the secrets of how to do that spell?  That she wanted to, just onCe more, see Melketh.

Talk to him?  He hadn't said anything during the class but maybe he was just shy, or he and the professor had worked out a deal beforehand.

"Hey, guess what the most interesting part of that spell Monty did on Friday was!"

"Monty?"

"Sorry, professor Montgomery."

"I don't know Ash, the part where he summoned a demon I think."  Cassey sounded annoyed.

"No!  Listen, he... this isn't like a normal summoning.  Even someone with the professor's abilities doesn't have the magical heft in order to actually summon something as powerful as Melketh into our world.  So, this isn't a summoning at all!  What he actually did was temporarily draw a piece of the infernal realm into ours!  That's why Melketh couldn't leave the circle."

"You lost me."

"If he left the circle, he'd break the spell and the piece of his plane would disappear!"

"Okay?"

"So... remember, he's got too much magical gravity or whatever.  He can't make the trip here, so he'd be sucked back."

"Ah.  That's kind of neat, but I don't know why you're looking into it."  Cassandra sighed.  "You already know enough about summoning to pass those classes with flying colors, Ash.  You should be studying War if anything."

"I..."  Ash nodded, although Cass couldn't see it.  She did need to study up on her War magic if she ever wanted to win a duel and pass the course.  She just... that was not what she wanted.  It barely interested her, and besides, casting the spells had never been a problem.

"Anyway, it's Saturday and there's nothing important due so I don't know why we're talking about school!"

"You asked what I was doing."  Ash set the phone down, switched it to speaker and went back to looking over the book.  She'd read it cover to cover twice now, and was on her third reading.  This time she was taking notes as she went, writing down the more complicated pieces of the spell and making sure she could memorize the chant.

"Yeah, okay, my fault I guess."  Cass laughed.  Over the phone it sounded tinny and fake.  "So, listen, Brad thinks he's perfected his fake ID spell!"

"Uh huh..."

"Come on!  It didn't fail that badly last time, and we still had fun didn't we?  Anyway, we were thinking that we could all go out to a club and get our drink on!  I'm thinking Cowgirls Inc.  I've heard that place is totally trashy!"

The Wizards University was co-located with the University of Washington in downtown Seattle.  That sometimes led to people who thought they were funny referring to it as 'Dub U' since the abbreviation for the University of Washington was usually 'U Dub'.  Mostly the people of U Dub were unaware of the second University on their campus because it was slightly out of phase with theirs.  They shared the same physical location, but they were out of time and space with one another.  The first thing you learned at orientation was the spell to shift in and out of Dub U's time bubble. 

Local businesses sometimes wondered why there seemed to be so many more people around than the attendance for U Dub would suggest, but not enough to complain about it.

"Mm hmm..."

"And girls get in free!  Brad says that we'll have to pay his cover because he's the one getting us in there but whatever, that should be fine right?"

"Hmmm?  What?  No, I'm not going to a club tonight Cass."

"Come on!  It'll be fun!"

"Sorry, I'm busy."  Ash reached for the End Call button on her phone, barely looking at it as she did so.

"Please?  There's, like, ten of us going but it won't be the same without you!"

"Maybe next time?"

"You always say that."

"And I usually mean it."  Ash sighed and looked at the phone more seriously.  She was being a bad friend.  Cass was right, there were no major assignments due in the next week and spending time with your friends doing wild things was supposed to be part of the University experience, right?  You had to get out there and seize every opportunity because this was one of the few times where that was even possible!

"Please?"

"Sorry, Cass."  Ashley looked over at her book.  If she ever wanted to succeed at that spell, she was going to have to spend time during the evening on it.  It was complicated, and school was going to heat up next month.  She quite literally might not get another time like this until after midterms.  "Talk to you later."

"Wait, Ash-!"

Beep.

An hour later, Ashley was in her study.  Everyone at the University got a spacious dorm room to themselves, which was nice as a perk, but the reason was that magical studies required a place to practice.  Everyone's accommodations included their sleeping area and then a second, large, stone room.

Your manse.

Most kids who started had never had a proper manse before.  At Magic High School there was a common area devoted to spell practice, and almost none of them could practice at home.  While Cass had the advantage of magical parents, most people didn't and so they couldn't very well go around blowing things up and starting fires at home.

Here, though, here you got a study room all to yourself.  It was blank so that you could do whatever you wanted with it.  Most people who weren't into summoning like Ash would put a nice desk in there, some work benches, and they could still practice their magic against the wall.

Ash, on the other hand, had the room completely clear on the inside.  Summoning spells often included very large circles as one of their components, and the summoning for Melketh needed a huge one.

Ashley was wearing a comfortable set of underwear and nothing else.  Clothes got in the way and they could accidentally brush complicated spell components aside, so this was the most practical outfit for doing precise magic in.  She had her hair pulled up into a top knot with a scrunchy and her face was smeared with a yellowish, stinking substance.

Someone knocked on the door to her room but she wasn't paying attention.  She was biting her lip, scrunching her eyes in concentration and trying not to screw up.

The third circle, the third most important component of the spell, was almost complete.

Knock knock knock.

Ash didn't say anything, she barely even heard the door.  All of her focus was on the ground.

"Knock!"  The voice from outside the room was Brad's, and his tone was clearly one of spell completion.  The pressure in the room changed as the door banged open and Brad strode inside, looking worried.  "Hey, Ash, you okay?  I... whoa."

Ashley didn't look up.  She was two centimeters away from finishing the circle.

"Listen, Ash, I... ahem.  Look, I was just... I didn't mean... it was..."  Brad's face was burning a bright red and he was deliberately looking away from Ashley's manse.

Ash was holding what was, essentially, a brimstone crayon.  The formula was actually surprisingly easy and mostly involved binding agents that would make the sulphur into a kind of natural paste that you could then write with.  Ashley had done similar things before, and actually got the recipe out of the textbook with the imp summoning spell in it.  Sometimes, the simple things were the most powerful.

"Cass said that I... you know... and you... we're, uhhh... just..."

Ash finished the circle and then looked up.  It took all of her willpower not to jump and scream at the sight of someone else in her room.

"Ah!  Brad!  Where did you come from!?"

"I was just... wait, you didn't notice me?"

"Umm."  Ashley frowned and rubbed a hand over her temple, smearing brimstone paste on it.  "I was concentrating."

"I'll say.  I... eugh, what's that smell?"  Brad suddenly frowned and put his sleeve over his nose.  "Ashley, what are you holding?"

"Brimstone.  Sulfur.  It's the component in raw eggs that makes them smell, you know?"

"Yeah I do... I thought the imp summoning thing wasn't due until next week?"

Ashley looked down at her design.  Any idiot could tell that this was more complicated than an imp summoning, but Brad was clearly not paying attention to the markings on the stone floor of her manse.

"Listen, what do you want?"

"Cass said that I should try one more time to get you to come out with us."

"Cass... didn't I just talk to her?"

"Like, an hour ago.  She just finished getting ready."

"That was nice of her..."

"What?"

"Well, what if I said yes?  Then you'd have to wait another hour while I get ready."

"Umm.  Ha ha.  Two if you wanted to get that smell out."

"Very funny, Brad.  Listen, did you know that the third circle in Monty's spell yesterday was actually a completely different spell?"  Ash knelt down and admired her circles.  She had not yet started on the actual magic that would be activated, but the circles by themselves were powerful.  If she lidded her eyes and looked with her Mage Sight, she could see the way the energy in the room responded to their presence.  Even without being imbued with magic, they adjusted the flux in here to their will.

"Uhh, no."  Brad let out a long whistle and looked away from Ash.  Then he looked back.  Away.  With her back to him it was hard to not notice the lacy white panties she had on.

"Anti-magic!  Can you believe it?  It was an anti-magic field.  No spells could cross through it.  Do you know why?"

"Hadn't thought about it.  Uhh, so, are you coming or...?"

"Well, look.  There's no way that a wizard could hold something as powerful as Melketh, not even Professor Montgomery.  I doubt even Smith could do it!"

"Don't let him hear you say that..."

"But!  Anti-magic is immutable.  It's sixth sphere so it's already very hard to do, but it... kills off the flux, you know?  Nothing magical can pass through it, and that means that Melketh can't use spells through it either."

"So?"  Despite himself, Brad was getting interested in the discussion.

"Well, a being as powerful as he is... even though he's also physically trapped inside the circles, once he had a foothold here he could certainly... I don't know, summon himself?"

"What?"

"I'm just guessing.  He could probably have killed us all if he wanted to.  And, you know, if the anti-magic field had not been solid."

"That's-"

"Thrilling!"

"Terrifying.  Anyway, Ash, are you coming or...?  It's going to be a good time."

"I... hmm."  Ash turned around and suddenly her face was covered in an exaggerated frown.  "Bradley!  What are you looking at?"

"Uhhh, I... umm... you."

"I...!  Okay, I'm a little flattered."  Gingerly, Ashley stepped out of the circles she'd drawn and passed so close by Bradley that they almost touched.  He was trembling with the effort to keep his hands to himself.  "But you know we discussed this."

"I know... I know!  You're not looking for a relationship right now."

"Exactly!  And, like..."  Ash looked over at Brad and let out a long, slow sigh.

Brad was widely considered one of the most handsome students in all of the second year cohort.  He had just enough stubble to look manly, just enough muscles to look athletic, just enough style to look put together.  He made it all look easy and that was probably because it WAS easy for him.  He'd been one of the popular kids in school and only by dint of his natural magical talent did he get into the Wizards program.  He'd certainly never sought it out, but magic was addicting.  Once you had a taste of it you couldn't go back to a normal life.

He'd had a string of girlfriends since coming to Dub U and yet none of them bore him ill will.

Brad was too nice.

Normally, at least.  He wasn't doing so well this evening between breaking into Ash's room and sneaking peeks that he shouldn't have.

"What?"

"I'm busy this evening, Brad.  You go and have fun with Cass."

"Sure, okay.  Umm..."

BOOK: Summoner (Ash and Magic 1)
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