Junior Professor Elise Merrihugh was short, black hair tied in back in a bun, well-rounded if not quite chubby, dressed in classic scholar’s robes with her New School cape. Her topic was spell cycles, in which you take a pattern spell and serially replace one part of it with a list of related parts. If I followed, there were several allowed lists of substitutes, and a lot of gaps. To judge from the vitriolic interruptions and assertions of counterexamples, the proposal was highly controversial. I hid in the extreme back, told myself I would not understand much of what I was hearing, and took notes. That evening, while my memory was fresh, I recopied my notes, adding details I remembered but had not had time to write down.
The next day my time in the ring came. I’d mentioned to the General Magic table where and when I had my test. Unlike the other first-year students at the table, I did not have an audience. Grandfather Worrow had drilled into me: There are no mock combats, except between fools. Mock combats teach you bad habits. I am not a fool. I was about to face a straw scarecrow, but I would face it with the readiness I would have had if I faced a barbarian horde. I wore full armor and carried my gnothdiar in its scabbard.
I stepped inside the outer circle, checked my wards, summoned my left- and right-hand spells, and opened the void node on each wrist. Then I stepped across the inner circle, grumbling under my breath that I was not allowed to reach for my gnothdiar before combat started. OK, it’s a realistic test on being ambushed. I spoke today’s password, ‘salt marsh’, to raise the inner warding circle.
At first nothing happened. There was supposed to be a target dummy. It was missing in action. I cast a weak sight spell, enough to spot something invisible. Nothing.
The attack came from directly behind me, strong enough to drive me down onto one knee. My presets triggered wards. My gnothdiar was most useful if I drew it, difficult when my right hand hit the ground almost hard enough to break my wrist. Reflexively, I released a half-dozen spell-breaker and warding spells, followed by area fire and lightning spells, all directed over my shoulder.