Chapter 008

Perspective

"Here we are!" said Zach happily, twirling around with his hands outstretched. "What do you think?"

Zorian studied the meadow in front of him, his eyes darting back and forth with suspicion. At first glance the area was just a large patch of grass surrounded by a ring of trees, but Zorian couldn't help but notice signs of obvious neglect. The grass was too wild and tall, and the space between trees was full of young saplings fighting for their own place under the sun. It was a good place to practice combat magic at, but also a good place to hide a body in. In an even remotely normal situation, Zorian wouldn't be caught dead following a complete stranger into a creepy, isolated place like this one. Oh how far his perspective has shifted…

"I wonder what's keeping the saplings confined to that ring of trees," wondered Zorian aloud. "This meadow should be a copse of trees by now."

Zach blinked. "I never thought about that," he admitted. "You notice the strangest things, Zorian."

"I also wonder how a place like this can exist at all," Zorian continued. "I mean, we're in Cyoria. Land is very expensive here. Why is someone letting this place detoriate like this instead of selling it?"

"Oh, that's easy," Zach said. "It's my land. Or rather, it's part of the Noveda family estates. It's supposed to be a private garden for the Head of House, or something like that, so no one could do anything with it unless they had my explicit permission. But since I hadn't even known this place existed before the reverts… yeah."

"Hm," Zorian agreed. "I guess I should have expected something like that. Your home is pretty close from here, isn't it?"

"You know where I live?" Zach asked, surprise evident in his voice.

Crap. What to say, what to say…

"Of course I know where you live," Zorian said, looking at Zach like the boy was an idiot for asking. "Who doesn't know where the Noveda estate is located?"

A lot of people, probably. Zorian himself certainly hadn't known, not until he tried to track Zach down in one of the restarts.

"Heh. I'm pretty famous, aren't I?" Zach said, grinning widely.

Note to self: Zach is easy to distract by appealing to his pride.

"Yeah, yeah," sighed Zorian. "So is the great Noveda going to help me learning combat magic like he promised or not? Daylight's burning."

Zach snapped his fingers, apparently remembering just why they came here in the first place. His hands blurred into a sequence of gestures, and several humanoids made of earth rose from the ground on the other side of the clearing.

Zorian gaped. Now that was impressive. Zach didn't even have to chant anything to cast that spell, and he went through the gestures with such speed Zorian had trouble remembering what they even were. Plus, those earthen constructs weren't just immobile statues – they moved. It was in times like this that Zorian remembered he was dealing with a vastly superior mage that had him beat in virtually every conceivable way. It was humbling, to say the least.

"Wow," he said out loud.

"It's not as impressive as it looks," Zach said. "They're nearly useless in actual battle. They make good targets though, since they're pretty resilient and reform each time you mess them up."

Zach fired a quick magic missile at one of the statues to demonstrate, hitting it square in the chest. The earthen construct took a step back from the force of the bolt, and a web of cracks erupted from the impact point, but the cracks quickly sealed themselves shut and the construct otherwise completely ignored the attack.

"I don't believe this," Zorian stated incredulously.

"What do you mean?" Zach asked. "They're just animated earth so it's-"

"Not them," Zorian protested. "The magic missile! No chant, no gestures, no spell formula, no nothing! You just pointed your finger at the target and produced a magic missile!"

Which, admittedly, was a gesture. Not one that should be sufficient to produce a magic missile, though.

"Oh, that," Zach said, waving his hand dismissively. "That's not terribly special either. That's just reflexive magic. When you cast a spell enough times-"

"Mana shaping becomes instinctive and you can start leaving out spell components," finished Zorian for him. Any serious mage had at least a couple of spells they knew so intimately they could leave out a couple of words and gestures and still get it working. "But getting a spell to work with something as simple as pointing a finger would take years!"

Zach simply grinned from ear to ear.

"Which, uh, I guess you had," Zorian concluded, feeling rather stupid. "This time travel thing is really convenient, isn't it? How many reflexive spells do you have, anyway?"

"You mean, how many are as reflexive as the magic missile I just showed you? Shield, hurl, recall, flamethrower, and a couple of other easy combat spells. There are a lot of spells I'm familiar with, but I can't exactly throw fireballs by pointing my fingers."

"Right," said Zorian sourly. He was getting way past 'humbling' and straight into 'feeling mightily inadequate' territory. Better steer the conversation back to the lesson before Zach completely demoralized him. "So where do we start?"

"Kyron gave you a spell rod and told you to practice magic missile, didn't he?" asked Zach.

"Yeah," confirmed Zorian.

"Well, let's see how that's working out for you first," said Zach, waving his hand in the direction of the earthen constructs. "Fire a couple of missiles at the mud people."

"Mud people?" asked Zorian incredulously. "Is that-"

"Probably not," Zach admitted. "I kind of forgot the official name of the spell, so I just refer to it as 'Create Mud People'. It doesn't matter all that much since the spell is obscure and obsolete, and virtually no one except me uses it."

"I guess," agreed Zorian. He was tempted to ask more, but figured he would never get to actual spell practice if he kept distracting Zach with his questions. He pointed the spell rod Kyron gave him at the closest… 'mud person'… and fired. He was a bit surprised when the construct tried to side step his magic missile instead of soaking the spell like it did when Zach targeted it, but that didn't save it – he had enough control of the spell to alter the missile's flight path accordingly, even if he couldn't get the bolt to home in on the target on its own. Of course, the bolt did very little actual damage to the construct, and even that repaired itself quickly. Undeterred, Zorian kept firing. His next shot was a piercer aimed at the head of the construct, which succeeded in hitting it squarely in the forehead but failed to actually punch through the animated earth. He tried to shape the next bolt into a cutter, but all he got was a diffuse blob of multicolored light that popped like a soap bubble half-way to the target. The next two were regular smashers, one of which missed when its target leaned to the side at the last moment before the bolt hit him.

Zorian stopped at this point, not wanting to completely deplete his mana reserves. He demonstrated pretty much everything he achieved so far, anyway.

Zach clapped overdramatically, completely ignoring the mild glare Zorian sent his way.

"You've only been practicing, what, for a couple of days?" asked Zach. Zorian nodded. "And you can direct your bolts already? You're a lot better than I thought you'd be."

"Oh?" asked Zorian, a hint of warning in his voice. "And why is that?"

"Let me ask you this instead: how many magic missiles can you cast before you run out of mana?" asked Zach.

"10," answered Zorian. He didn't see what that… oh. "Ah. Normally learning time corresponds to mana capacity, doesn't it?"

"Yup! The bigger your mana reserves, the longer you can train each day," confirmed Zach. "It means mages with larger reserves tend to learn faster than their less gifted compatriots."

"Assuming everyone is equally dedicated and equally good at shaping mana," noted Zorian.

"Assuming that," agreed Zorian. "Though the difference in mana reserves tends to overshadow almost everything else. Do you know how many magic missiles I can cast before I run out of mana?"

Zorian hadn't forgotten Zach's seemingly inexhaustible mana reserves that he demonstrated during the invasion, and was aware that the number must be pretty high. Still, there was a limit to how big your mana reserves could get. The booklet Kyron gave him said average mages can fire somewhere between 8 to 12 magic missiles before running out of mana, while very gifted ones could manage as much as 20 or 30. Furthermore, while mana reserves increased with age and practice, they were not unlimited in potential – most people's maximum was roughly 4 times the amount of mana reserves they started with, and usually less. Assuming Zach was in the above average range (something his comments and attitude strongly suggested), and that he achieved his maximum due to the time loop…

"50?" he tried.

"232," said Zach smugly.

Zorian almost dropped the spell rod in shock, but in the end settled for staring at Zach like he just swallowed a live chicken. 232? What the hell!?

"Admittedly I'm at the extreme high end when it comes to mana reserves," Zach said. Understatement of the century! "And unlike you, I've spent years building them up, so they're as high as they're ever going to be. Still, even if you had a lifetime of practice, you'd probably never go over 40. That would make my reserves almost 6 times larger than yours. Quite a disadvantage to make up for."

"No kidding," agreed Zorian. "I'm guessing that's where you come in. Unless you've brought me here just to tell me how much I suck compared to you?"

"Hah! I admit the look on your face when you realized how awesome I am was absolutely priceless, but that's just a bonus," said Zach.

He beckoned for Zorian to come closer and Zorian complied, allowing Zach to cast a completely unfamiliar spell on him.

Zorian felt the spell seep into his eyes, foreign mana straining against the innate magical resistance possessed by every living creature, and briefly considered snuffing the spell out before it took root. Not because he thought the spell was harmful, mind you, but out of principle. Zach just cast a spell on him without asking for permission or explaining what the spell did, which was a major breach of magical etiquette no matter how you looked at it. In the end he decided not to be that spiteful and simply reeled in his magical resistance, allowing the spell to do its work unopposed.

"You already have control over your magical resistance?" asked Zach. "Sweet! I usually have to teach people how to do that, first. Hell, I didn't know how to do that before the reverts."

Zorian frowned, ignoring Zach's comments in favor of trying to figure out what the spell actually did. It was concentrated in his eyes, so he should… see…

Oh.

A glowing, mind-bogglingly huge pillar rose into the sky, warping and undulating like a living being, occasionally spawning short-lived whorls of glowing matter along its length. It only took Zorian a moment to realize what he was looking at.

"That's how the Hole looks like under mage sight?" he asked, focusing back on Zach.

"Magnificent, isn't it?" Zach said. "Watching that huge geyser of mana rising into the sky always puts things into perspective for me."

"Mage sight shouldn't work in Cyoria, though," remarked Zorian. "Too much ambient mana saturating everything. Why aren't I blinded by painful glow emanating from everything in sight?"

"It's an experimental variation that tries to filter out such 'noise', showing only the important stuff," said Zach. "It's not terribly reliable, but it will do for our purposes."

"Those being?" asked Zorian.

"I'll cast magic missile repeatedly and you'll watch what I'm doing for a while before trying to copy me," Zach said. "I'll be using the proper invocation this time, and go at it as slowly as I can. Try to memorize the words and gestures, because you'll be using them instead of the rod Kyron gave you. A spell rod is more useful in combat, but for training purposes it's better to work with actual invocations."

Zorian was completely on board with the idea – he had been trying to find invocations for combat spells for a while now, anyway. Zach was underestimating him, though. 'Try' to memorize? Zorian might not have Zach's absurd mana reserves, but his memory was quite good. It took only one proper casting from Zach and Zorian had already burned the casting procedure into his memory.

Unfortunately, the rest of the session was a lot less impressive. Zach kept performing the spell a few more times before instructing Zorian to give it a try, upon which he found out that performing combat magic with classical invocations wasn't only slower than using a spell rod – it was a lot harder too. Thankfully, the fact that he actually saw how the mana was supposed to be shaped during Zach's demonstration drastically improved his learning speed, so he managed to fire off a passable magic missile in the end. He was completely out of mana by then, however, and Zach decided that was a good time to stop for the day.

Walking back to his apartment, Zorian was lost in thought. Zach's comment about the giant pillar of mana putting things into perspective for him seemed oddly applicable to his situation as well. Time loop or not, he would never beat Zach and people like him at their own game. Clearly Zorian couldn't bulldoze his way through with combat magic, like Zach intended to do. No, if he was going to get out of this in a favorable manner, he had to forge his own path.

If only he knew what that path was, though. At the moment, getting to the bottom of what caused this time loop and how the damn thing worked seemed to be just about the only thing he could do to help himself. Which was unfortunate, because he just didn't have the skills to unravel the mystery. Apparently he had to spend some time improving his magical abilities. Time, at least, he had in spades. Probably. He could never be sure the time loop would continue happening, but Zach certainly didn't behave like it would end any time soon, and Zorian decided to follow Zach's lead in that regard.

He really wished he had someone other than Zach to ask for advice on how to proceed in his quest to improve himself. Typically, this was what a student's mentor was for, but he already knew what Xvim would tell him: more shaping exercises. Then he'd throw marbles at him.

Although… Ilsa did offer to take over his mentorship in a couple of restarts, didn't she? Hmm.

- break -

Despite his desire for some additional help, Zorian delayed approaching Ilsa until he actually had a few sessions with Xvim. That would require a lengthy wait, but it would make it easier to complain about Xvim's mentoring methods, since he wouldn't have to explain how he knew so much about the man already. It wasn't like he didn't have anything to amuse himself in the meantime – Zach was, if anything, even more enthusiastic about their combat magic practice sessions than Zorian was, insisting they meet up every day after classes. After two weeks of such practice, Zorian was not only able to weave a proper homing function into the magic missile spell, but also learned how to cast shield and flamethrower spells as well. He was keenly aware that his ability to cast such spells would amount to exactly zero against a human battlemage, but he also knew they weren't the only threats he faced. Those spells might buy him a second or two against a winter wolf or a troll, which could be the difference between life and death.

Zach returned to classes the day after their first practice session, apparently completely recovered. For a guy that lost a good chunk of his memory, he was surprisingly exuberant. Zorian admired his fellow time traveler for his ability to maintain good cheer in poor circumstances, but Zach's attention grabbing behavior only made his inexplicable improvement in skill that much more noticeable. It was almost a repeat of the very first time he lived through this month, only instead of hanging out with Neolu and that other mystery girl, Zach was hanging out with him. Which, of course, made Zorian a target for every curious classmate that wanted to know how Zach suddenly got so good all of the sudden.

"What am I supposed to tell them?" he asked Zach. They were both in the cafeteria, and he had noticed a couple of students glancing at him a bit too often, doubtlessly waiting for the chance to talk to him when Zach leaves. "I can't exactly tell them you're a time traveler."

"Why not?" Zach asked. "Time travel. It's what I say every time they ask me how I got this good."

"You actually tell them you're a time traveler?" asked Zorian incredulously. He didn't know whether to laugh or bang his head against the table.

"Yeah," confirmed Zach. "What's the worst that could happen?"

Zorian felt a pang of phantom pain in his chest where, in another timeline, a masked assassin stabbed him through and killed him. Did Zach honestly never experience consequences like that when trying to convince people of his story? Then again, he said he tried to convince them he was a time traveler, not that he told them about the invasion. In fact, he didn't actually tell Zorian about that either – he danced around the topic whenever Zorian tried to lead the conversation in that particular direction.

"This could have all been avoided if you just held back a little in classes," Zorian sighed.

"I kind of like the attention," Zach admitted.

"Really?" asked Zorian. "I'm only going through this once and I'm already sick of it. You're saying the novelty of all that attention still hasn't worn off after, what, more than a decade?"

"Oh come on, do you really think I spend these reverts attending classes, of all things?" scoffed Zach. "That got seriously old after the third revert or so. I spend most of the time doing my own thing. Hell, usually I'm not even near Cyoria! I only attend the classes when I want to relax or when I am feeling nostalgic. The only reason why I'm here right now is because I got kind of roughed up in my last revert and I'm still trying to sort out the holes in my memory. Oh, and because you've kind of caught my interest."

"Why did I caught your interest, though?" asked Zorian. "Not that I'm complaining or anything, but how come you're willing to invest so much time in me? Isn't it all going to be useless in the next revert?"

"That's a pretty cold way of thinking about things," Zach said. "I don't really think like that. I've tried to get to know all of our classmates in these reverts, even though some of them were pretty uncooperative with the idea, and I've never thought of it as a waste of time. This is the first time I've gotten you this friendly, and I have no idea what exactly I did to cause that. It's best to make use of it while I can."

Now he was starting to feel pretty bad. Not only had he never tried to get to know any of his classmates during the reverts, the idea had never even occurred to him. And this wasn't the first time Zach had insinuated that Zorian was kind of a jerk to him in the past. Just what had happened between Zach and past-Zorian to leave that much of an impression?

"I see," said Zorian uncertainly, not knowing how to respond to that.

"I really do wonder about you, though," Zach continued. "You're so different from the Zorian I knew, I'm starting to wonder if you're really the same person."

"Who else would I be?" asked Zorian, honestly at loss as to where Zach was going with this. He didn't appear to have figured out that Zorian was 'reverting', as he would say, so what was he getting at?

"I think I may have shifted timelines, or something," Zach said.

Zorian gave him an incredulous look. Shifted timelines? That's his explanation? Really? Really really? He almost revealed himself right then and there, just so he could tell him how silly that was. Almost.

"Or something," deadpanned Zorian.

"Whaaat?" protested Zach. "It could happen. Do you know how temporal mechanics work? No? Didn't think so."

"I did look up a couple of books about time travel after our first meeting," said Zorian. It was a lie, of course, but only a small one – he had sifted through time travel related texts, just not in this particular restart.

"And learned nothing," concluded Zach. "It's a total wasteland. All they write about is about various ethical dilemmas and time paradoxes and whatnot. That was the first and last time I set foot in the academy library, let me tell you."

Zorian gave him a strange look. "That was a joke, right?"

"Which part?" Zach asked.

"The part where you only visited the academy library once," clarified Zorian.

"Err, well…" tried Zach, chuckling nervously. "What can I say? I don't really like to read…"

Zorian stared at Zach, wondering if the boy was pulling his leg. He would totally understand if the old Zach, the one he knew before the time loop, told him he never set foot in the library. He wouldn't be terribly unique in that regard – lots of students never visited the library before their third year, since they couldn't access the spell repository before their certification, anyway. But this Zach had lived through this month over 200 times, and had access to the spells buried within its depths. And he never tried to search through it. Because he didn't like to read.

The mind boggled. Well, Zorian's mind boggled.

"You've clearly read our textbooks," Zorian noted. "There's no way you'd excel as well as you do otherwise."

"Yeah, well, I didn't say I don't read at all," Zach countered. "Just that I'd rather avoid it if I can. I learn much better by example anyway."

Funny, it was just the opposite with Zorian – he tended to learn much better when he had the chance to study the topic on his own before trying. He still thought it was a pretty serious flaw for a mage to avoid books, but Zorian had to remind himself that Zach was clearly achieving results somehow. Come to think of it, there was a serious shortage of anything dangerous in the academy spell collection, so a mage that was chiefly interested in the more restricted areas of magic would find the library of very limited usefulness.

"So you learn primarily by mentorship?" guessed Zorian. "I'm surprised you can convince mages to teach you in less than a month. Don't they all require apprenticeships lasting for several years before they'll agree to teach you anything useful?"

"Well, usually," said Zach. "But I'm the last Noveda, don't you know? I had highly respectable mages tripping over themselves to teach me my whole life. Usually I just have to show up and tell them who I am and they're all too happy to help me out."

Zorian suppressed a wave of jealousy that washed over him. Zach was just making the most of his unique situation, just like Zorian would have in his place. It still bothered him, though, reminding him of how Daimen and Fortov could ask and get all sorts of help and concessions from their teachers, only for Zorian to fail in securing the same for himself. His parents had lectured him endlessly that the difference was in their attitudes – that if only Zorian was more sociable, more polite, more everything… he too could enjoy the same benefits. To Zorian, it always seemed like his brothers had some sort of invisible tattoo on their foreheads that only mages could see, and which marked them as somehow more special than him.

Zach wasn't his brothers, though, and didn't deserve to be the target for Zorian's personal frustrations.

"Convenient," said Zorian out loud, giving his fellow time traveler a smile that was somewhat forced. Zach didn't appear to notice.

His jealousy aside, he was really starting to wonder if his assumption about Zach being an accidental stowaway like him had any merit at all. Zach had ridiculously huge mana reserves, probably the largest of any student currently attending the academy. He was the last member of a famous Noble House, enjoying all the prestige that comes from that without having to deal with nosy parents who might be freaked out by Zach's sudden transformation. In addition to the power inherent in his name, the boy was also fairly charming and outgoing, further improving his chances of getting help from otherwise unapproachable high-circle mages. He was not your average spoiled prince, by any means – there was a lot of potential in the boy, if only he would get enough time to bring it out. Time that Zach now had. It was… convenient. A bit too convenient, in Zorian's opinion.

That is why, despite Zach's seeming friendliness, Zorian just didn't feel at ease with the boy. Not enough to reveal himself as a stowaway, in any case. Right now, his main advantage was that he was an outside element in this game Zach was playing. An unaccounted variable. He intended to use and abuse that advantage for all it was worth.

Whatever force was behind Zach, Zorian had no intention of revealing himself to it any time soon.

- break -

"Take a seat, mister Kazinski," Ilsa said. "I sort of suspected I'd be seeing you soon."

"You did?" asked Zorian.

"Oh yes," Ilsa said. "Usually students come knocking at my door immediately after a single session with Xvim. You actually waited until the second one, so points for patience."

"Right," said Zorian sourly.

"I can't transfer you to another mentor at this time, though, so I'm afraid you'll just have to bear with him for now," she said.

"I sort of expected that," Zorian said. Why should her answer be any different than it was the last time he asked her? "It's not what I'm here for."

"No?" asked Ilsa, raising an eyebrow.

"No," confirmed Zorian. "Since everything I've heard and experienced about Xvim suggests we'll never progress beyond the basic three, I've decided to be proactive about self study. I've been hoping for some pointers from you – where I should start, what I should watch out for, that sort of thing."

Ilsa sighed heavily. "It's hard to give that sort of advice, mister Kazinski. That's why the academy gives students mentors – because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I suppose I could give you advice about my own subject, though. How good are you at the basic three?"

"Depends who you ask," said Zorian. "Most of the teachers from my second year told me I had them mastered. Xvim says I'm a shame to mages everywhere."

She snorted and handed him a pen. Actually handed it to him, not threw it at him like Xvim would have. Ah, the joy of interacting with sane teachers…

"Levitate that," Ilsa said.

She wasn't even finished talking and the pen was already spinning above his outstretched palm.

"Oh, so you can already spin the levitated object?" Ilsa said, sounding pleased. "I bet Xvim was very happy with that." No, not really. "Do you know any other variation?"

"No," said Zorian. "Don't tell me learning those is standard procedure?"

"Not like Xvim is teaching them," Ilsa said. "But yes, most mentors will give students variations of the basic three to improve their shaping skills."

"And how many of those variations are there?" asked Zorian.

"Oh, thousands," said Ilsa, confirming Zorian's suspicions. "But most students only learn 6 or so by the end of their third year. Here."

She pushed a rather heavy book into his hands, patiently waiting for him to leaf through it. It was apparently a book describing 15 'particularly interesting' variations of the basic three, 5 for each exercise.

"Let me guess: you want me to learn everything inside this book," Zorian sighed.

"That would be a pretty neat trick," Ilsa snorted. "Didn't you hear what I said? Most people learn 6 or less… in a year. You'll probably be finished with the academy by the time you've learned everything inside that book. Assuming you want to, of course – I'm not making you do anything."

"6 in a year, huh?" asked Zorian carefully, an idea forming in his mind.

"That's right," Ilsa confirmed.

"So what if I could master all 15 before this month is done?" asked Zorian.

Ilsa stared at him for a second before bursting into laughter. It took her a few seconds to calm down.

"My, aren't you the confident one?" Ilsa said, chuckling softly. "If you were really that good, I'd fill out the transfer forms right now, regulations be damned, and take you as my apprentice. I'd never pass up an opportunity to teach such a legend in the making. Not that I think you could do it, mind you."

Zorian just gave her a wicked smile.

- break -

Of course, there was absolutely no chance for Zorian to master all 15 exercises in this particular restart, but that was beside the point. Thanks to the wonder of the time loop, he had far more than a few measly weeks to learn the contents of the book. It was even available in the academy library, so he didn't have to go to Ilsa in the next restart to acquire it. And who knew, maybe if he learned those he could get Xvim to cut him some slack too. A man could dream.

Besides, the book was actually fairly interesting. Not only did it explain how to perform each variation in great detail, it also explained the reasons for including each particular exercise, as well as providing a background for understanding why the basic three were being taught to students in the first place. Zorian briefly familiarized himself with each of the variations before starting to read earnestly from the start.

Making an object glow, levitating it, or setting it aflame… these were very simple effects, requiring only rudimentary shaping skills. The levitation exercise, for instance, was just repelling force emanating from the mage's palm. It doesn't get much simpler than that. There were actually a lot of these simple effects, certainly more than the three they were taught, but these three were deemed a priority. Production of light, heat, or kinetic force were common components of many spells, giving the basic three the sort of general usefulness that most other simple exercises lacked.

The variations listed in the book were not in the same category as these simple, or starter exercises. Although Xvim, Ilsa, and the book itself referred to them as 'variations', Zorian realized they were more like 'upgrades', or perhaps 'advanced versions'. He hadn't realized it at the time, but the pen spinning exercise – which was the very first variation outlined in the book, albeit under a fancier name – was a whole another category of difficulty from simply levitating the pen above his palm. Not only did he have to maintain the levitation effect on the pen, he also had to shape an additional effect to make the pen spin. The variation was supposed to teach mages how to multitask, by making them maintain two effects at once.

Though Xvim would have disagreed, Zorian considered his pen spinning exercise mastered, and the guidelines in the book seemed to agree with him. As such, he started poring over the other 4 variations of the levitation exercise, trying to figure out which one was the easiest. He quickly realized they were not only arranged in an ascending order of difficulty, but that mastering the later variations probably requires mastering the preceding ones first.

Vertical levitation required him to make an object stick to his palm with attractive force, position his palm vertically and then make the object separate from his palm without falling down. The sticking part was easy, and something Zorian could already do, but making the object float off the palm without falling required that he balance the attractive force binding the object to his palm and the repelling force that made it separate from it. Without the ability to multitask he acquired from the pen spinning exercise, it probably would have taken forever to master this one.

Next was fixed position levitation, which required an ability to maintain the levitated object's position in space despite disruptions and changes in initial conditions. In other words, he had to be able to move his hand up and down, left and right, while keeping the levitated object static in space. It required the ability to balance attractive and repelling force he presumably acquired from the vertical levitation exercise, but this time he had to continually adjust the balance in response to changes.

And so on. Seeing how there was only one correct order in which these exercises could be learned, Zorian started practicing vertical levitation. Unfortunately, he wouldn't accomplish much in this particular restart.

The summer festival was approaching.