Artemisia had done a great deal of research on Asthrifel — she had visited the school three times, she has to read everything she could find about the place, she had devoured articles on going to college, on your first day at school, on how to study, on how to take an exam, on what spells were allowed and not allowed in classes, on school grounds, to be used by students at all — she’d removed three teas and four charms from her bag, but left the two that Sage and his wife snuck in there (because those, while not explicitly allowed, were also not explicitly disallowed. Sage was, after all a smart man.).
Nothing, none of her reading, none of her studying, none of the teas and charms and strange spells, none of it had prepared her for her first lecture class.
Artemisia had gone to a relatively small high school for the last three years of her secondary education — at her insistence, and in parallel with continuing the homeschooling that her mother had started when she was three. None of her classes had held more than thirty people, and that would have been an unusually large lecture.
This place had to have at least 500 people if not more. She sat down, took out her notebook at her textbook, tried to figure out how she was going to juggle both on the tiny desk and decided the textbook could sit on her lap, looked at the chalkboard — but there was no chalkboard, she realized; it was a projector screen — pulled out her pen, and was just in time for the lecturer to start speaking.
“Hello and welcome to Introductory Theory and Underpinnings of Magic. I’m Teagan Rey, your lecturer for this class. You’ll meet your TAs over the next three classes. I know many of you — the number stands at nearly 20% – have already asked to test out of this class—”
Artemisia looked around. She had, of course, petitioned to test out (even before she realized how big the class would be) —- between what her mother and father had taught her, what Sage had taught her, and what she’d picked up just from reading books she wasn’t supposed to read, she was pretty sure she could handle any basic Theory and Underpinnings of anything, certainly basic College Magic.
“I’m going to ask you, as you were all asked when you requested to test out, just to stay through two weeks of this class. If you find that this is still elementary work for you, then and only then I will allow you to test out. If — and only if — you pass that test, I will sign the paper to allow you a late add to my Intermediate Theory of Magic and Underpinnings of the World class, which you will not have missed enough of to be notably far behind. I have to warn you—” here Teagan Rey smiled and, even as far away as the bottom of the lecture hall was, Artemisia could see the expression clearly “—in all of the years that I have been offering this option, only approximately 5% have ever had chosen to test out, and only less than 1% have succeeded.”
Artemisia glanced around. Who else had requested to test out? Certainly not the kid to the left of her, juggling what looked like a pre-used notebook, three pencils, and a hand-out, wearing an expression like either the professor, Artemisia, or the desk itself might eat them at any moment. Probably the centaur sitting in the back behind the seats, although with some centaurs you could never tell. Likely, the girl a couple of rows ahead, dressed all in black, who hadn’t even bothered to get out of pencil. But all in all, there were not that many magical creatures in the room, at least not visibly and Tinies did not, as far as Artemisia knew, generally go to university, at least not formally. Dweomers did not make up a whole twenty percent of the human-appearing population, although they might in a school like Asthrifel.
At a university like this, a university known to be a school with a magical program and catering to magical beings (more so than the Tower did, if you excluded Dweomers from your listing of ‘magical beings’, which was complicated enough that there was probably a class on the theories of it), how could there be something like four hundred students — not just 400 students, but 400 taking Introductory Magic every year — who had insufficient background in the magical arts?
“All right, class. This is, after all, an introductory class, so we’re going to start easy.” The smile on Teagan Rey’s face suggested anything but easy, and Artemisia began to wonder if the lecturer was related to her sister-in-law Audrey. “Who can tell me three methods of applying magic to life?”
Artemisia was among those who raised their hand but, from the looks of things, far more than 20% of the class joined her. The lecturer picked out three people – neither Artemesia, nor the Woman in Black, nor the Centaur were among them, although the harpy near the front was.
“Spells,” one of the humanoid ones offered.
“Very good. Although we’re going to break the definition of ‘spells’ down into several subgroups by the time next week is over, for the moment ‘spells’ is good enough. All right, another one?”
The second person offered up “magical being?”
That was another human-appearing student; the harpy looked a little disgruntled, if one could tell from the back of her feathers.
“Magical being.” Teagan Rey appeared to be tasting the words. “That is an interesting way of putting it. And, while accurate in a certain way of looking at things, to suggest that magic is being applied by the very nature of say our friend here…” here the lecturer gestured at the harpy. “…Very interesting. Next?”
The harpy fluttered her wings widely enough people on the either side ducked. “She took mine!”
“Come now,” Teagan Rey chided, “I’m sure you can think of another one.”
The harpy cawed. Everyone in the front rows flinched and leaned away.
In the back, Artemesia hugged herself. She’d heard what happened — she’d been nearby — when a harpy got too upset. She hoped those students would be okay.
The harpy pulled her wings in cleared her throat. “Infusions.”
“Very good, and using a broader definition too, I approve.”
“Artemisia, who had been about to say tea, suddenly felt rather glad she hadn’t been called on.
“All right,” Teagan Rey moved something on the desk and on the projector screen appeared three lines.
“Today,” Teagan Rey told them, “we are going to start with a very basic discussion of the spheres of magical use. And while this theory is widely accepted in academic circles, I am certain that every single one of you will encounter in your lifetimes, if you not have already encountered before now, at least one person who will say that this is rubbish. Can somebody give me a reason for that?” Most of the classroom is their hand; Artemisia swallowed a snicker as her mother’s voice complained in the back of her head. Rubbish was the least of it.
“Yes, you, eighth row, blue shirt.” Artemesia couldn’t tell anything else about the person answering except that he liked baseball hats and had a very nice tenor. “Is that because nobody knows?”
Half the class laughed nervously.
The lecturer smiled. “Very good, very good. The truth of the matter is not just that we are not entirely certain, but that some magics either by their use change the world and its underpinnings, or that by using magic you are changing your own impressions of the world, not just mentally but physically. That is, if you are prone to using teas and see magic through the lens of tea infusions, not only are you facing the ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail’ problem, but you have changed your own magic to work better through teas.”
The hall was quiet. Artemesia wrote down the words from the screen and stared at them.
She had a feeling she wasn’t going to be able to test out of this class.