Kyle sat hunched over an uncomfortable desk, in his uncomfortable robe, and sweated away at the test he’d been given. Had Kyle been asked about it a few months previously he would have said he knew magic. After all, he had a magical engineering degree as well as several years of experience as a professional spell-caster.
He had re-discovered, or at least half re-discovered, one of the most important techniques in magic aided only by the knowledge of one unusual binding. He had used that to launch a successful magical business, and when that business had brought him to the attention of a malevolent Archmage he had managed to withstand the attacks that had been sent after him. None of those things were minor feats.
However, the test was making him feel like a rank amateur. For Kyle, learning magic from Archmage Charles was like a modern linguist learning Latin from a Benedictine monk. Certainly the modern scholar would be able to read the language. But how would their penmanship fare? Could they memorize, and then flawlessly recite, long texts? Would they have sufficient capacity at illuminating capital letters? They certainly wouldn’t know how to make their ink or quill pens.
The monks might well be far from easily pleased; Charles certainly was.
Taking the test, Kyle felt rather like he was involved in trimming a quill pen. When Charles had first taken Kyle on as an apprentice he had quizzed Kyle on his knowledge of bindings. Kyle had explained what he knew. The light-sensitive binding, of course, some bindings for power storage, flow regulation or measurement, and the slip-knot; a binding useful for setting a spell up on a time delay. Those were the bindings students learned while studying the physical properties of magic and they were generally considered sufficient for an industrial mage who wouldn’t be dealing directly with magical infrastructure or circuitry. After all, an autocaster could duplicate the results of any binding and then go considerably further.
Charles had been disgusted. He’d really looked like he was suffering the physical effects of a bad taste when Kyle had repeated that bit of conventional wisdom. So he’d set Kyle to learning what he considered a sufficient subset of all of the possible magical bindings. On its own, that might have been interesting. Kyle had learned much more efficient ways of doing several things, and he’d even learned some things were possible that he’d never previously considered doing without equipment.
What made it all painful was Charles wasn’t happy with him just naming, explaining, identifying, or even performing the bindings. He had required that Kyle draw them using a very specific calligraphic system for rendering the 3d shapes on a 2d surface that had first been developed when Latin was still used to haggle over the price of fish. It had a number of unpleasant quirks, but the worst of it was anything in the binding that would be close to the caster was drawn with a thicker line than anything which would be further away. A very specific brush was used to achieve this effect, it was a pain to use, and Charles graded tests for penmanship.
Tongue between his teeth Kyle sketched out the last of the bindings required for his test. Finished, he sat back and eyed his work. It was, he thought, pretty good. The neat shapes of the bindings looked like some sort of art when done well. The odd thought crossed Kyle’s mind that they’d make cool abstract tattoos; perhaps he could sell them for that if the whole wizardry thing didn’t work out.
It was working out, though. The Archmagi controlled the world’s access to certain forms of magic. Illusion was one of those. The mage who used to be in charge of that had been named Thomas. However, he’d gotten corrupt and he’d been killed. Kyle shuddered slightly remembering that. A powerful and ancient magical force had killed the man and it had done an impressively thorough job of it. The police had needed to identify the body using DNA.
At any rate, after the death of the previous mage controlling illusion Kyle had been given a role in disseminating illusion spells to the public. To set this up a holding company controlled by the Archmagi, though an eye blistering series of intermediaries, had “purchased” Kyle’s small illusion firm, rolled it in different corporate packaging, and then returned it to Kyle in such a way that he no longer looked like the owner. That bit of corporate Three Card Monty had also injected capital and several important patents into the business. It now had a staff and was growing rapidly. The profit from the business was almost entirely Kyle’s, and he was now probably fairly rich. That fact had surprisingly little bearing on his life as he was also an apprentice to one of the Archmagi, so instead of spending his days like he was living in a rap video he spent them taking tests and doing calligraphy. That and practicing calligraphy and studying for tests.
He sighed and passed a roller of blotting paper across the test so as to dry the paper without smearing it. Another thing that was necessary because he was apparently living in the 18th century.
That finished Kyle glanced over at the clock and rose from where he set in a rather bland interior room, left the room, and threaded his way out into Charles’s impressive Caribbean mansion. Despite having lived there for several months, Kyle hadn’t quite gotten used to the rich surroundings. Most of the floors were tiled with some sort of natural stone Travertine, Kyle thought, that probably cost 10 or 20 dollars a square foot. Given that the house was probably somewhere near 50 thousand square feet that meant the cost of flooring alone would have purchased a very nice home almost anywhere else. That wasn’t the only sign of extravagance. The general style was Spanish, which tended toward the unadorned. But many of the ceilings were exotic hardwood, nearly every room seemed to have a wide balcony, and the decor included more than a few recognizably famous works of art.
Still, intent on getting his test to Charles in under an hour, Kyle didn’t spend much time admiring. Instead he exited the house, walked past a beautifully landscaped pool, across a brief courtyard, and over to the actual beach. It was another sign of the house’s luxury that it had a pool just a few hundred yards from the beach. Charles claimed that was practical because sometimes the weather might not be good for swimming in the ocean, but the pool was heated and could even be covered if need be. Kyle would have found that a bit more believable if he’d ever seen Charles swim.
What he had seen Charles do is what he was doing when Kyle found him; napping on the beach. “Master,” Kyle inquired just loudly enough to wake the Archmage.